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Panama Business Etiquette, Culture, & Manners

Panama etiquette and manners                   Panama culture, etiquette, manners, gift giving, protocol, and more   

Panama Introduction

Panama has a population of 2.4 Million people and is one of the smallest countries in Central America. It’s ethnic composition is 70 percent mestizo (a mix of Indian and European), 14 percent West Indian, 10 percent European, and 6 percent Amerindian. Panama is a constitutional democracy, with a president, two vice-presidents, a cabinet, a unicameral legislative assembly serving 5 year terms, and a supreme court. The president is the head of state and the head of the government.

The official language is Spanish. Because of the extensive U.S. influence, most Panamanians are bilingual in Spanish and English. The majority of the people (85 percent) are Roman Catholic, although Panama has no official religion. There are also small numbers of Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, and others.


Panama Fun Fact

Columbus reached Panama in 1502 on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. The country was first explored by Balboa in 1513. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914 and is under control of the U.S. . It is due to return to Panamanian control on 31 December 1999.

Geert Hofstede Analysis for Panama

The Geert Hofstede analysis for Panama is similar to it’s Latin American neighbors. There is a high power distance indicating that inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society. Uncertainty avoidance ranks high which indicates a high concern for rules, regulations, controls and issues with career security – typically, a society that does not readily accept change and is risk adverse. Individualism ranks lowest which signifies a society of a more collectivist nature and strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.

Panama has Power Distance (PDI) as the highest ranking Hofstede Dimension at 95. This score of 95 is tied with Guatemala as the highest Power Distance of all Latin American countries, where the average is 70. (see the Latin Graph below)

This high Power Distance (PDI) ranking for Panama is indicative of a high level of inequality of power and wealth within the society. This condition is not necessarily forced upon the population, but rather accepted by the society as part of their cultural heritage.

Panama's second highest Hofstede Dimension i Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) at 86, which is more typical of all Latin American countries with an average of 85. This high Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) ranking, indicates the society’s low level of tolerance for uncertainty.

In an effort to minimize or reduce this level of uncertainty, strict rules, laws, policies, and regulations are adopted and implemented. The ultimate goal of this population is to control everything in order to eliminate or avoid the unexpected. As a result of this high Uncertainty Avoidance characteristic, the society does not readily accept change and is very risk adverse.

Panama has a relatively low Individualism (IDV) ranking at 11, compared to other Latin countries average of 21. The score on this Dimension indicates the Panamanian society is Collectivist as compared to Individualist. This is manifest in a close long-term commitment to the member 'group', be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.

Of note is that Panama has the second largest divergence of Power Distance (PDI) to Individualism (IDV) of any country surveyed in the world, with a difference of 84 (PDI-95 minus IDV-11 = 84). Guatemala is first with 89 and Malaysia third with 78.

In many of the Latin American countries, including Panama, the population is predominantly Catholic (see Religions Graph below). The combination of Catholicism and the cultural dimensions shown in the Hofstede Graphs above, reinforce a philosophy predicated in the belief that there is an absolute ‘Truth”. As Geert Hofstede explains about peoples with a high Uncertainty Avoidance Index, their attitude is, “There can only be one Truth and we have it.” More Geert Hofstede Details

Written by Stephen Taylor - the Sigma Two Group


Religion in Panama


In a country that has over 50% of its population practicing the Catholic religion, we found the primary correlating Hofstede Dimension to be Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). There were only 2 countries out of 23 that did not follow this correlation, they were Ireland and the Philippines. (See accompanying Article)

Based on our studies and data, the majority of predominantly Catholic countries (those with Uncertainty Avoidance as their highest ranking Dimension) have a low tolerance for ambiguity. This creates a highly rule-oriented society that institutes laws, rules, regulations, and controls in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty within the population.

Panama Appearance

International Business Dress and Appearance   Conservative business suits are appropriate for men. Panamanian businessmen in higher positions wear suits; others wear camisillas (a lightweight, open-necked shirt that is not tucked inside the trousers). Women should wear a dress or skirt and blouse. Women should avoid wearing any kind of revealing clothing

International Business Dress and Appearance   Most North American gestures are understood


Panama Behavior 

International business behavior, introductions, gift giving, protocol, culture  Panamanian women are taking more and more managerial jobs, but still it is relatively rare. Women should emphasize the fact that they are representing their company

International business behavior, introductions, gift giving, protocol, culture  Have business cards and other material printed in Spanish as well as English

International business behavior, introductions, gift giving, protocol, culture  When dining, the host usually sits at one end of the table with the guest of honor at the other end

International business behavior, introductions, gift giving, protocol, culture  Foreign businesswomen should always include spouses in invitations to business dinners

International business behavior, introductions, gift giving, protocol, culture  Gifts are not normally exchanged when entertaining


Panama Communications 

International Business Communication, handshaking, introductions  Handshaking the custom; old friends embrace

International Business Communication, handshaking, introductions  Titles are important and should be included on business cards. Address a person directly by using his or her title only. A Ph.D or a physician is called Doctor. Teachers prefer the title Profesor, engineers go by Ingeniero, architects are Arquitecto, and lawyers are Abogado. Persons who do not have professional titles should be addressed as Mr., Mrs., or Miss, plus their surnames. In Spanish these are:

  • Mr. = Senor
  • Mrs. = Senora
  • Miss = Senorita

International Business Communication, handshaking, introductions  Most Hispanics have two surnames: one from their father, which is listed first, followed by one from their mother. Only the father’s surname is used when addressing someone

International Business Communication, handshaking, introductions  In business, conversations begin with much small talk

International Business Communication, handshaking, introductions  Good conversation topics: family, hobbies, basketball, baseball

International Business Communication, handshaking, introductions  Bad conversation topics: former Canal Zone, race problems, politics




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Page authored by: Joni Nicol

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