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Registering for research, submitting proposals, requesting permits, preparing travel documents, getting vaccinations and obtaining health insurance are just a few of the things you need to do before starting or joining a project at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. In order to have a successful and productive visit, please thoroughly consult the following information. 

First Steps

To visit STRI as a scientific researcher you must first register on our registration website. Once you are registered, your next steps depend on whether you are principal investigator, field course instructor, fellow, intern or student — and whether you are a first-time or returning visitor.

Immigration Information

Panama welcomes hundreds of foreign scientific visitors every year. The country is supportive of STRI science and provides a generous framework to accommodate foreign researchers. Familiarizing yourself with immigration requirements will help get your visit off to the best start possible.

Vaccinations and Healthcare

Vaccinations for yellow fever are required for visitors to Panama who are either from or have visited a number of countries where the virus is endemic. Rabies vaccinations are required if you intend to work with bats or other mammals. Obtaining vaccinations in Panama can be difficult so please obtain vaccinations before arriving. Consult a travel clinic or government travel website for the latest information about immunization requirements, outbreaks and other recommendations. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is a good source of current information.

Health Insurance

Health insurance is mandatory. You will need to show that you have coverage or plan to buy health insurance in Panama. Insurance plans in Panama can be more affordable than plans obtained abroad.

Fees

STRI’s fee structure is built around categories depending on the status of visiting researchers and assistants. Categories range from A to H and by specific facility. Please refer to the visitor status guide to learn what category your visitor status goes under. Follow the link for detailed information about fees for lodging, meals, lab space and other facilities use.

Research Permits

Your research at STRI and in Panama may require permits. As a STRI researcher, the Scientific Permits Office is your sole liaison with the various Panamanian government agencies that issue permits. After your research project has been approved by STRI, the SPO will provide you with any permits required by Panama for you to complete. The SPO office will handle the application process for you and notify you once permits are issued.

Lab Space

After successfully registering your visit to STRI, you will be contacted by the Visitor Services Office about your lab space and other scientific facilities requirements. Please be as specific as possible during your registration process to ensure STRI can meet your needs for your visit. VSO staff will help you contact the appropriate facilities managers and staff who will reserve the space you need.

Housing and Accomodations

STRI facilities are often at full capacity, especially during Panama’s dry season from December to April, and during the northern summer, from June to August. Consult the facilities pages for housing options at each site. Please inform the Visitor Services Office when you register if you will require STRI housing.

Postal Service

Equipment shipped to STRI has to go through Panama customs. Make sure to allow plenty of time for your equipment to arrive. Get in touch with the STRI Procurement department and the scientific coordinator at the facility where you will work to make the necessary arrangements.

Research Transportation

STRI has a limited number of pick-up trucks, small boats and other research vehicles for visiting scientists. You will need a Panamanian government driver’s license to drive STRI vehicles and a boat license from the Panama Canal Authority to operate in Gatun Lake. Please contact the Visitor Services Office before you visit in order to make arrangements. In Panama City, STRI provides some transportation between facilities for special groups or events.

Hire an Assistant

If you would like to hire an assistant in Panama, you may need to coordinate with STRI’s Office of Human Resources. Panama’s labor code specifies salaries, vacations, benefits that need to be taken into consideration. Please allow plenty of time (4-6 months) if you intend to make local hires.

Money and Banking

Panama’s official currency is the U.S. dollar, which is sometimes referred to as the balboa. Some coinage is issued by Panama and has the same size and value as U.S. coinage. ATM machines are readily available in Panama City but are less common in the rest of the country. Credit cards are widely accepted in Panama City and Bocas Del Toro but many places accept cash only. You may need to inform your banking institution that you are traveling to Panama to assure that your cards will function abroad.

Try to avoid spending bills of greater $20 because these are generally hard to spend in Panama. Doing so will often require presenting identification and signing a form some businesses use to keep track of receiving $50 and $100 bills.

If you are staying in Panama for longer than three months, you will have the option to open a local Panamanian bank account. STRI has an agreement with a local bank. This option is most beneficial to interns and fellows in Panama City, Gamboa, and BCI. Bocas del Toro interns/fellows will not benefit from this, as there is no Banco General branch in Bocas del Toro. Please contact the Visitor Services Office for more information.

Phones

Unless you have international roaming coverage from your telecom provider, using your mobile phone in Panama may get expensive quickly. Most visitors choose to go to a mall in Panama City to purchase a cheap phone or a prepaid SIM card to use with their phones instead. Prepaid phone cards can be purchased at most supermarkets and convenience stores across the country.

Computers

STRI provides computer rooms and wireless Internet access across most of our facilities. If you bring a personal laptop to STRI, you will need to make an appointment with the Office of Information Technology at the Tupper Center or otherwise arrange for a technician to set it up for use on the STRI system.  

Scientific Diving

Everyone who dives at STRI facilities must be certified by the diving officer, or have a letter of reciprocity from their home research institution. Please contact Raul De Leon, STRI’s diving officer, at least three months ahead of your visit to make arrangements.

Packing Checklist

Visitors to STRI, especially first-time visitors, will find this list of packing suggestions helpful.

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