Everyone in Panama uses it.
WhatsApp is essential for anyone living in Panama.
It really is.
And WhatsApp is one more reason to get a smartphone. That is if you are someone still stubbornly holding out on getting one.
Find out about your cell phone options in Panama
What is WhatsApp
WhatsApp is a messaging app that allows you to send and receive:
- Phone calls
- Video phone calls (similar to Skype)
- Voice messages
- Photos & videos
Free, But Need Internet
In order to use WhatsApp, you do need wifi or data on your phone, but otherwise, it is free.
And it is not limited to your phone. You can use WhatsApp on your computer too.
Encrypted & Secure
Also, WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption so your communications are secure. Not even WhatsApp’s employees can read the messages that are sent across its network.
WhatsApp is Everywhere
In Panama, it is common to see WhatsApp contact numbers everywhere from business cards to advertising campaigns. People not only use it to message their friends, but also doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and maids.
In the US, a common expression is “Google it“. In Panama, it’s “Mandeme un WhatsApp”, the Panamanian equivalent of “give me a call”.
WhatsApp groups are another good reason to use the app. WhatApp groups are very popular.
For instance, my neighborhood in Panama has one. There are also WhatsApp groups for expats in my town of Puerto Armuelles (and in most towns). It is a great resource to get questions answered, to announce get-togethers, to ask for help, and more.
A Tip: Make sure you turn off the auto download setting. If you don’t, all the images shared via these groups will automatically be saved to your camera roll. You can still save the ones you want.
Voice messaging is a very popular way to communicate via Whatsapp. You will often see people with their phones in front of their face, talking into the phone. They are sending voice messages.
Myself, I much prefer the voice to text function – for both sending and receiving. I’d rather read a message at a glance, esp since you cannot listen to voice messages just anywhere, at least not without headphones. Although, it is nice to hear a person’s voice sometimes.
Why WhatsApp is Everywhere
WhatsApp is not only popular in Panama, but in most of the world. Its initial attraction was due to SMS text fees.
In the US, texting usually is unlimited and is packaged with your cell phone service plan. But in many other places, the fee for texting is an issue. Which is where Whatapp’s free service steps in.
Since it started in 2009, WhatsApp has become the primary social network in many countries, including Panama, Brazil, India, and in large parts of Europe.
It is so popular that you will often see advertisements from local cell phone carriers offering free data for WhatsApp use. It undermines their own texting services, but it entices people to chose their company for data.
You know it is a WhatsApp number if it starts with a plus sign (+).
A WhatsApp number follows this format:
+ then country code then cell phone number.
- A Panamanian WhatsApp Number: +507 6979-2222
- A US WhatsApp Number: +1 (415) 579-2222
About Phone Numbers in Panama: There are no area codes in Panama. Cell phone numbers in Panama are 8 digits long and always start with a 6. Landlines are 7 digits long.
What To Know Before Downloading Whatsapp
Here is some information that is helpful to know before you download and set up your WhatsApp app.
Your WhatsApp number will be whatever your cell phone number is at the time you download and set up the app. If you download the app in the States, it will be your US phone number.
As long as someone also has WhatsApp, they can WhatsApp your WhatsApp number regardless if they are in the US, Panama, or Egypt – for free.
How To Change Your WhatsApp Number
If you want, you can easily change your number on WhatsApp. For instance, say you put a new SIM card into your phone when you get to Panama. You can choose to make that your WhatsApp number, not your US number.
To change your WhatsApp number, simply open WhatsApp, click settings, then Account. You will then see an option to “change number”. Follow the simple instructions.
It is easy and has no repercussions.
You do not need to notify all your contacts to let them know you changed your number. It is seamlessly done. They can continue to contact you at your US WhatsApp number and you will receive it. They never need to know you changed it. Your text threads will remain unchanged. (However, if they have never Whatsapped you on your old number, I believe they need to use your new number to successfully contact you.)
No Need To Change Your WhatsApp Number
The wonderful thing is that you can still use your original WhatsApp number, even if your cell phone number subsequently changes.
I switch SIM cards when I go to the States and again when I go back to Panama. This means that although my phone number changes, my WhatsApp number stays the same regardless of which country I am in. Unless I decide to manually change it, as I explain how to do above.
Whether you are traveling or moving to Panama, it is a good idea to come armed with WhatsApp on your phone. Download it today.
And, just as important, ask your friends and family back “home” to download it too. That way, you can continue to communicate with them via your phone. It will almost be like you are still there. Well, except that you will be in a tropical paradise, and they won’t.
In future posts, I will discuss other essential apps to have in Panama
Don’t forget to read about your cell phone options in Panama.