Monday, July 26, 2010

Panama's Curious Currency

Officially, Panama's currency is the Balboa, which has been fixed at a rate of 1:1 to the U.S. dollar since Panama became an independent nation in 1904.

It's named in honor of Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who lead the first European expedition across the Isthmus of Panama, in 1513.  In doing so, he and his men became the first Europeans to make it to the Pacific Ocean.

But while the Balboa is the official currency, you'll never see a Balboa bank note.  They don't exist.  In fact, they were only ever printed on one occasion, in 1941.  And those notes were recalled seven days after they hit the streets.

Instead, the country simply uses U.S. dollars.  But when you get change, take a close look at the interesting coins you receive.

You might receive regular U.S. coins.  Or you might get some of these:

The big coin on the left is a Medio Balboa, or half-dollar.  Unlike in the U.S., where half-dollars have disappeared, the half-Balboa coins circulate freely here.

Next is the Cuarto de Balboa (quarter), the Decimo de Balboa, Cinco Centesimos (5 cents), and the Centesimo (penny).

And yes, the Balboa coins are made to the exact same dimensions, weight, and composition as their U.S. counterparts.  In fact, they are minted by none other than the U.S. Mint.

In Panama, use either Balboas or U.S. coins.  Your change will often include a mix of the two.

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