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Do They Speak English in Panama?

Do They Speak English in Panama

If you’re planning a trip to Panama or curious about its linguistic landscape, you might be wondering, “Do they speak English in Panama?” Here’s a comprehensive guide to understanding the languages spoken in this Central American nation.

Key Takeaways

Official Language of PanamaSpanish
Percentage of English SpeakersApproximately 8% to 10%
Areas with Higher English ProficiencyUrban areas, tourist regions
Reasons for English in PanamaUS influence, tourism, education

A Brief Overview of Panama’s Language Landscape

Panama, located in Central America, has a diverse culture influenced by its history, geography, and people. While Spanish is the official language, Panama’s connection to the global economy and its historical ties with the United States have resulted in English becoming increasingly popular.

Historical Influence

The US had a significant influence on Panama, particularly during the period when it managed the Panama Canal. This American presence resulted in English being spoken among many locals and the establishment of several bilingual schools.

Tourism Influence

The tourism sector in Panama has boomed over the years. Popular destinations like Panama City, Bocas del Toro, and Boquete see a large influx of English-speaking tourists. To cater to this demographic, many locals have learned English, especially those in the hospitality sector.

English Proficiency in Panama by the Numbers

Understanding the depth of English proficiency in Panama can be better grasped by looking at some data.

MetricPercentage or Number
Panamanians who speak English fluentlyApprox. 8% to 10%
Bilingual Schools in PanamaOver 50
Tourists visiting annuallyOver 2 million

Note: It’s important to consider that while a segment of the population can converse in English, not everyone is fluent. Many might understand and speak basic English, primarily in touristy areas.

Where You’ll Likely Hear English

Urban Areas

Panama City, being the capital and the largest city, boasts a higher number of English speakers. The presence of multinational corporations, expat communities, and international schools means English is commonly heard.

Tourist Spots

Regions popular among tourists, like the aforementioned Bocas del Toro and Boquete, have locals who interact regularly with English-speaking tourists, making English more commonly spoken.

Educational Institutions

Many schools in Panama offer English as part of their curriculum. Plus, there are numerous bilingual schools where subjects are taught both in Spanish and English.

Tips for Travelers

If you’re traveling to Panama and wondering how to navigate the language, here are some suggestions:

  1. Learn Basic Spanish Phrases: While you’ll find English speakers, especially in tourist areas, knowing basic Spanish phrases can be invaluable.
  2. Use Translation Apps: Technology is your friend. Apps like Google Translate can assist in translating signs, menus, or even assist in basic conversation.
  3. Engage with Locals: Panamanians are friendly and will appreciate your effort in trying to speak their language. Even if they know English, starting a conversation in Spanish can be a good ice-breaker.


While Spanish remains the dominant language in Panama, English has carved out its space due to historical, economic, and tourism-related reasons. If you’re traveling to Panama, you’ll likely find English speakers in urban and tourist-centric areas. However, embracing the local language and culture will only enrich your experience in this diverse and vibrant country.