Pre-trip Advice

Check out all the great resources on traveling abroad from OIA on their Carmen site.

If you are a U.S. citizen, register with the U.S. embassy U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Currency / Debit & Credit cards

The official currency of Panama is the Balboa, which is equivalent in value to the US dollar. Panama uses the US dollar and coins that resemble US coins in size, shape, and denomination.

There are ATM’s in Panama that work with most US bank cards. All major credit cards are accepted in most establishments, but cash is necessary for small payments. Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted.

Before we leave for Panama, make sure to let your bank and credit card company know you will be traveling, so they don’t put a hold on your card. Also, ask if your debit/credit card has a foreign transaction fee.


Tap water is safe to drink in most areas of Panama, and bottled water is sold at most supermarkets. The tap water on BCI is NOT safe to drink, but bottled water is available free of charge at the facility.


Please visit the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and consult your doctor or visit the travel clinic to determine what vaccinations you will need.

As we will be in the “Canal Zone,” there is no need for a Yellow Fever vaccination or Malaria medication according to the CDC .

The government of Panama does not require any vaccinations in order to enter the country. Most medicines are widely available in Panama City and at a similar rate to that in most western countries. Most medicines are sold by the same trademark names used in the U.S. However, please bring a full supply of any medicines you anticipate needing while in Panama, especially any prescription medications.

For emergencies, there are many good private clinics and hospitals, with the biggest and best equipped located in Panama City (30-45 minute drive from Gamboa).



To make international calls, calling cards are required and available at the local store or pharmacy.


Internet is freely available at the Gamboa Schoolhouse. We do not recommend that you bring a computer. We will have one course laptop that can be used to check email (but this time will be limited).


The voltage and plug types in Panama are the same as in the U.S.A., so no need for an adapter.

Packing Guide

Pack lightly! We will be able to launder our clothes while we are staying in the School Building in Gamboa. Keep your valuables with you in your carry-on along with a change of clothes (in case your luggage arrives late).

Important Documents

  • Passport – expiration at least six months after our return
  • 2 copies of your passport
  • Health insurance card
  • Some cash for souvenirs and miscellaneous expenses. ~$100 should be adequate depending on how many souvenirs you plan to buy. There is an ATM in Gamboa, so you will be able to get cash there, and most shops in Panama City accept credit cards.
  • Money belt or passport pouch that can be concealed beneath clothing

Luggage (2)

  • For the majority of your gear, use a duffel bag, large backpack, or soft-sided suitcase. Make sure your luggage is easily accessible by airport security
  • Bring a moderate-sized daypack, which can be used as your carry-on and in the field.


  • Toiletries (e.g., shampoo, toothpaste, contact lens solution, tampons)
  • Medical supplies including any required medications. We will have a first aid kit, but consider bringing a small supply of aspirin, antiseptic, hydrocortisone cream, and Band-Aids. If you have severe reactions to insect stings, you should bring an emergency adrenaline kit, such as “Anakit”, available by prescription.
  • Insect repellent
  • Sun screen (SPF 30 or higher).
  • Inexpensive, water-resistant watch with alarm clock
  • If you are a light sleeper, bring ear plugs for sleeping
  • Sunglasses
  • Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses in case yours get broken or lost.
  • One towel; thin and fast-drying

Field Equipment

  • Flashlight/headlamp (with extra batteries)
  • Binoculars (You will be able to rent them from OSU – we will provide you with more information). These are essential to see wildlife as well as leaves and flowers in the canopy
  • Notebook: 1 spiral bound 8 ½ x 11 for lecture notes. You’ll be provided with a small field note book.
  • Pencils and pens with waterproof ink. 1 or 2 “Sharpie” type waterproof markers. (Ink runs when it gets wet and your field book will most likelty get wet)
  • Large envelope or plastic folder for handouts and other papers you will accumulate.
  • Compass (Will be provided)
  • Whistle (Will be provided)
  • Umbrella
  • Extra batteries for all your electronics
  • Large reusable water bottles or camelback systems. You must be able to carry 2 liters of water with you. Stay hydrated as it will be hot and humid!
  • Camera
  • Some zip-loc bags for wet items


Plan to bring one set of clothes for the city, two/three sets of field clothes that can get muddy and wet, and something to relax in after the field. It will be hot and humid, so bring light, quick drying clothing. Heavy cotton and jeans tend to be hot and uncomfortable. Do not bring expensive watches or jewelry.

  • Fast drying hiking boots or inexpensive rubber boots with extra insoles, preferably that cover your ankle. I tend to use rubber boots.
  • Tennis shoes to wear around town
  • Sandals for inside/around town and for showering
  • lightweight cotton or quick-dry long pants for the field (they may get torn or stained)
  • long-sleeved shirts for the field- something that dries quickly
  • short-sleeved shirts for the field- to wear under the long-sleeved shirts
  • Comfortable clothing (t-shirts/shorts) for when we are not in the field
  • comfortable but nicer, non-field clothes for the zoo and city
  • Sweater, sweatshirt or fleece for evenings and when in air conditioning
  • lightweight rain jacket or cheap poncho
  • Underwear (cotton recommended)
  • Socks; at least 4 pairs, including sturdy cotton or wool tube socks. We will be doing a lot of walking and will get wet feet at various places.
  • Bathing suit
  • Bandanas
  • Soft-foldable hat with brim for sun protection