April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Money in Panama

The money in Panama could be pretty familiar to anyone coming to visit from the United States. That is because the "Balboa" is their name for the Dollar (and is also the name of a popular beer); the balboa has been tied to the dollar since its inception in 1904 after Panama's Independance from Columbia (wikipedia info link), and currently, the paper money is all US Dollars, although stores often use the "B/." symbol instead of the "$".

But while Panama uses US coins, there are also Panamanian versions of the coins as well, and the peso (50-cent piece) is actually used with some frequency. All the coins have the same composition as their US counterparts. I have not been able to figure out yet where their coins are minted however. And they do not seem to mint every year. I have found quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies from 1996 (when the shields got smaller and other design changes were made) and 2001 for example, but nothing in between and only quarters since, with 2003, 2005, and 2008 versions, each with a different design. As they are the same size and have the same value as their US versions, you'd have no trouble spending Panamanian coins in the United States.

(From the top, clockwise: un centavo, un peso, una quara, un real, y diez centavos)

In recent years, the US Mint has begun a program of changing the obverse or reverse of US coins, making your pocket change much more interesting to look at and much more popular with coin collectors, who now try to hoard a copy of each style. Panama has been making small changes for years. Here are some of the versions I've collected in our time here.

Similar to in the states, one cent is called un centavo. But not a "penny".

(One cent pieces, with various front images; Urraca is a historical/mythological freedom fighter, who led the indigenous against the consquitadors in the 16th century)

The five cent piece in Panama is an integral part of the monetary system. Instead of a "nickel", it is called un real. And many items are commonly priced in reales. For instance, if you buy a soda for 20 cents, the shopkeeper will likely say, "cuatro reales", or "four nickels". This is true at least up to items that cost a dollar. So something that costs 75 cents would be "quince reales" or "fifteen nickels", not "setenta-cinco centavos".

(These five cent pieces sometimes have the shield, sometimes the face of Sara Sotillo, a Panamanian educator born around 1900 and instrumental in the development of teachers rights and responsibilities.)

You'll have to refer to the picture above of all the coins to judge the size, but Panamanian ten cent pieces (un decimo de balboa) are the same smallness as US dimes and are probably the most boring of Panamanian coins.

(Panamanian ten cent pieces don't have their own name, like "dime". These two reverses show two shield designs, the newer slightly smaller.)

To me, the 25-cent piece is the most dynamic. Here is the obverse (the Balboa profile) and five of the six reverse designs I have seen (I was missing the Childrens' Hospital, the newest design, that day).

(Panamanian Quarters, with from top left, the original shield design (at least 1966 to 1993), the smaller shield design without bottom fronds (1996 and 2001), the Panama Vieja tower (2003), the Puente del Rey (2005), and the Protégete Mujer (2008) with a Protect Women ribbon.)

While not as changing as the quarters, the peso, or 50-cent piece, is really neat mainly because they actually use it here in Panama. I have gotten one as change numerous times. While the coin holders that the bus drivers and ayudantes use do not have a space for them, they are not at all averse to getting or giving them, and toss them in a box to hold them.

(Half dollars, or medio balboas)
So, if you decide to visit Panama, you'll have no trouble spending your US money, and you'll have something interesting to bring back and share with the grandkids or just the clerk at the local tienda. :)
I did spend a US "gold" presidential dollar at a tienda on the island. One was willing to take it, probably more as an interest item, while another didn't want it and wanted paper. That is one coin that doesn't have a large circulation here. Of course, it doesn't up in the US either. :)


Brittney R said...

question on the 5 cent coins how much are they worth in America if made in 1996 with the shield??


Anonymous said...

Hello, I have a panama penny and I would like to know how much it is. This penny says 1996 on it. Also, this penny has the face of a person. I think it might be a woman, but I don't know. I also have this other penny that says Canada on the back. This penny is from 1980. On the front it says Elizabeth II D~G Regina around the corners. In the middle of the coin it has the face of a women. I would also like to know how much this coin is. If you can tell me I would be very happy to know. Thank you, Samantha =)