Taking a taxi in Panama is probably a little different than what you may be used to. The taxis here are not metered, they can pick up multiple people during one cab ride, and when you finally get a cab to stop for you they will decide if they want to take you where you need to go. Also, taxi drivers will rip Americans (and other foreigners) off if they can because they know we pay a lot for taxis in the United States. The less they suspect you’re American, the less you will get charged. But taxis are cheap here and I recommend using them and the Metro Bus to get around.
So to start, you first need to wave down a taxi. To get a taxi here you can’t just hold your arm out, you need to hold it out and wave it up and down a little bit. Just watch a nearby local and try to mimic the same flapping motion. Also, you need to go on the side of the street that goes in the direction of your destination. This can be difficult to know if you don’t know the city well, but many cab drivers will not pick you up if they know they have to go through the trouble of turning around. Then once you wave a taxi down, tell them where you need to go and they will tell you if they will take you or not. Don’t be surprised if you have to stop 5 cabs before one will take you. As a safety precaution you may not want to get in the cab if there is already someone in there.
If you know Spanish and look somewhat Latino, you don’t need to do anything else. Just get in the cab and once you get to your destination say “Cuanto es?” and you are going to get charged a fair price ($2 – $3 depending on the location and traffic).
If you’re obviously American and speak very little Spanish, you are going to have to bargain for your price. Before you get in the taxi say “Buenas” and then say “Cuanto es para ir a (location). If they say something under $3, accept it and get in the back seat. If they say something higher than $3, tell them you want it for $1.50 and they will meet you somewhere in the middle.
While you’re in the taxi talk as little as possible, leave your phone in your pocket, and do not speak English unless you have too. If the cab driver asks how long you have been here, tell them 6 months (then they’ll know not to mess with you). Also, you do not need to tip the driver, they find it strange when you do.
Another strategy that I have heard of people doing is just giving the cab driver what you think the fare should be instead of asking. So if you know the destination should cost $2, hand them $2 when you get there and if they try to argue tell them you know that is what it should cost. Might be a good strategy if you are constantly getting ripped off.
If you need to call a taxi the best service to use is Yellow Car Taxi and their phone number is 396-9999. If you want to have the same driver pick you up all the time I recommend Vasco Juleta (6620-1625), he speaks English and he is a really nice guy. He mostly works at night but sometimes you can get ahold of him during the day.