Communications

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TRAVEL TIPS

Communications

Phones

The country code for Panama is 507. To call Panama from the United States, dial the international access code (011), followed by the country code (507), and the seven-digit phone number, in that order. Note that cell phones have eight digits. Panama does not use area codes. To make collect or calling-card calls, dial 106 from any phone in Panama and an English-speaking operator will connect you.

Calling Within Panama

Panama's telephone system, operated by Cable & Wireless, is cheap and highly efficient. You can make local and long-distance calls from your hotel—usually with a surcharge—and from any public phone box.

The bright blue public phone boxes all take phone cards and some also accept coins; you insert coins or your card first, and then dial. You can also use prepaid calling cards from them free of charge. Standard local calls cost 10¢ a minute, less with a prepaid calling card. .For local directory assistance (in Spanish), dial 102.

Calling Outside Panama

To make international calls from Panama, dial 00, then the country code, area code, and number. The country code for the United States is 1.

Many cybercafés have Internet phone services with cheap rates (they're usually posted outside the shop), but communication quality can vary. You can also make international calls from pay phones using a prepaid Telechip or card, which are sold in the abundant convenience stores. Dialing the international operator lets you make collect international calls. It's also possible to use AT&T, Sprint, and MCI services from Panama, but using a prepaid card is cheaper.

Calling Cards

Ovinicom prepaid calling cards can be used to make local and international calls from any telephone in Panama. Calls both within Panama and to the United States cost as little as 5¢ a minute; cards come in denominations of $3, $5, $10, and $20. To use them, you dial a free local access number, then enter your PIN and the number you want to call. You can buy cards at supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies. Ask for una tarjeta telefónica de prepago.

Calling Card Information

Cable & Wireless Panama. Cable & Wireless Panama's Telechip cards can be used in payphones for national or international calls. 507/800--2102; www.cwpanama.com.

Ovnicom. 507/200--5555; www.ovnicom.com.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are immensely popular in Panama. If you have an unlocked tri-band phone and intend to call local numbers, it makes sense to buy a prepaid Panamanian SIM card on arrival—rates will be much better than using your U.S. network. Alternatively, you can buy a cheap handset in Panama for $10–$20.

There are four main mobile-phone companies in Panama: +Móvil (owned by Cable & Wireless), Claro, Movistar, and Digicel. Their prices are similar, but +Móvil has better coverage in farther-flung areas of the country. You pay only for outgoing calls, which cost between 5¢ and 50¢ a minute. You can buy a SIM card (tarjeta SIM) from any outlet of either company; pay-as-you-go cards (tarjeta de prepago para celular) to charge your account are available from supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations, and kiosks.

You can also rent from companies such as cellular Abroad, Mobal, or PlanetFone. A basic phone costs $7 a day, but you have to pay for incoming and outgoing calls, and for theft insurance, so buying a phone in Panama is usually cheaper.

If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.

Contacts

Cellular Abroad. Cellular Abroad rents and sells GMS phones and sells SIM cards that work in many countries. 800/287–5072; www.cellularabroad.com.

Mobal. Mobal rents mobiles and sells GSM phones that operate in 190 countries. Per-call rates vary. 888/888–9162; www.mobal.com.

PlanetFone. PlanetFone rents cell phones, but the per-minute rates are expensive. 888/988–4777; www.planetfone.com.

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