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Finding Employment

Panama - Finding Employment


Expats who wish to find a job in Panama should be know that they are only able to do so once they are legal residents. Those with residency do not need a work permit in Panama. Finding work in Panama is not an easy task as there are not many opportunities around, particularly for those who are not fluent in Spanish. Traditional jobs such as shop work are generally given to native Panamanians.

The unemployment rate during 2010 was approximately 6.7%, which was low when compared to other countries in the region. One of the reasons for this is that Panama remained largely unaffected by the economic downturn in 2008, which hit larger economies such as the US and the UK. However, this figure was even lower the year before, at just 5.8%. The highest level of unemployment in urban areas tends to be among the group between the age of 18 and 25 where it is as high as 50%. Plans for expanding the Panama Canal created many new job posts and lowered the unemployment rate further more.

Expats who are not residents can still find work in fields such as teaching English as a foreign language. It is usually the case that these jobs offer temporary contracts and the organizations that expats work for can help them apply for the relevant work permit. The application for a work permit in this instance must include a copy of the letter from the company that offers a job. Companies also have to prove that no legal residents of Panama are available or interested in the job post.

Those who are working without the relevant residency visa or work permit should be aware that it can lead to deportation. The companies that employ these kinds of workers can also find themselves in huge trouble as they bypass the social security system by operating this way.

Those who have a good knowledge of Spanish can find work much more easily, especially in tourism. However, most expats get jobs in foreign companies that have offices in Panama, as the international corporations always have a need for bilingual staff and vacancies for translators regularly appear.

Finding a job

There are numerous popular job websites in Panama, such as 3WJobs. This site offers a free service to job seekers and applications can be made online to the companies that are advertising here. The website keeps the details of job seekers confidential and the users can upload their CV so that it can be accessed by companies that are recruiting. The site has a useful FAQ section which gives additional advice on finding work and applying for jobs in Panama.

There are also various newspapers that have job advertisements, both in English and Spanish. Panama’s laid back approach to life also means that simply making enquiries with a company, even if they are not offering any vacancies, can find job seekers some work. It is also worth sending a CV to companies to keep on file even if they are not advertising at the moment.

Expats need to ensure that they have an up to date CV or resume before applying for a position. Those who send an application with a covering letter that has not been tailored to the vacancy or type of work that they are looking for, can expect to be ignored. It is definitely worth taking time on the letter in order to impress a prospective Panamanian employer.

Working life

The working week in Panama is Monday to Friday for the most workers. The working day generally begins at 8 am with a lunch break at noon and restarts at 2pm, finishing at 5 or 6 pm. Those who work in the retail sector should expect to work on Saturdays as well, usually on a rota and retail hours which are generally from 9 am to 6 pm. Workers are permitted to work a maximum of 8 hours each day and a maximum of 48 hours each week.

There are 11 bank holidays during the year. These days include the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Easter, Labor Day, Independence Days and Panama City day. Workers are not necessarily given any more leave than this although many employers do offer more; this largely depends on the company. The Labour Code has been established to set out the rights of foreign nationals working in the country and this also applies to Panamanian nationals who are working abroad.

All workers are entitled to a formal written contract of employment when they begin to work. If a written contract is not supplied then any information that is verbally given to the employee is taken as part of the formal contract.

Trade unions are common in Panama but tend to be used more in blue collar work. The trade unions can work with the employee and employer to settle disputes and negotiate salaries. It is not compulsory to join a union, but it is not uncommon in Panama to do so. Panama has a minimum wage structure which is regularly reviewed. There is no tier system where workers of a different age earn different amounts. The minimum wage system applies to all workers in the country. Those who are ill or injured can be entitled to 18 days’ paid leave. The employer is not able to recover the cost of this from the Panamanian government.

There is a compulsory maternity leave system which begins 6 weeks before the expected due date. A minimum of 14 weeks should be taken in this case. If the birth is later than the due date the mother can take paid leave for 8 weeks after the birth as well. An employee who is on maternity leave cannot have the contract altered or be penalized in any way. During the first year after maternity leave a worker cannot be sacked without a very good cause. There are currently no arrangements for paternity leave or rights for those who are adopting or fostering children.


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