|Travel Security Advice for Panama|
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|Travel Security Advice for Panama|
Panama is a constitutional democracy with an executive branch led by a president who is elected to a 5-year term, a unicameral legislature, and judicial branch. The country is divided into 11 provinces and one territory and became independent from Colombia on November 3, 1903. Panama has a rapidly developing economy but suffers from a weak, non-transparent judiciary. Outside the Panama City area, which has many first-class hotels and restaurants, tourist facilities vary in quality. The U.S. dollar is the paper currency of Panama, and is also referred to as the Panama Balboa. Panama mints its own coinage. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Panama for additional information regarding the people, culture, government, economy, and history of Panama.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in Panama are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. citizens traveling by air to and from Panama must present a valid passport when entering or re-entering the United States. Sea travelers must have a valid U.S. passport (or other original proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a certified U.S. birth certificate with a government-issued photo ID). Complete information for American citizens is available on the Passport Information page at travel.state.gov or by calling 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on applying for a passport.
Panamanian law requires that travelers present a passport valid for at least three months, and must either purchase a tourist card at the airport in Panama before clearing customs, or obtain a multiple entry visa from a Panamanian embassy or consulate before traveling to Panama. Further information may be obtained from the Embassy of Panama, 2862 McGill Terrace NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel. (202) 483-1407, or the Panamanian consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, San Juan or Tampa.
As of August 26, 2008, U.S. tourists are allowed to stay in Panama for 90 days, without extension. If they want to stay longer, a “change of migratory status visa” should be requested through a Panamanian lawyer before the expiration of the 90 days in country. An initial fee of $250.00 must be paid for the “change of migratory status visa.” Please note that the approval of the change in migratory status falls under the Panamanian Immigration Office’s discretion.
More information on visa types and the necessary steps to take in Panama is available at the National Migration website.
U.S. citizens transiting the Panama Canal as passengers who do not plan on disembarking from the ship do not need to obtain visas, report to customs, or pay any fees. If citizens plan to disembark, they need to obtain a tourist card from the cruise line or a visa at a Panamanian embassy or consulate prior to traveling. If they are piloting private craft or planes, then they need to have a pre-stamped visa from a Panamanian Embassy or consulate, as do persons crossing into Panama by land. U.S. citizens piloting private craft through the canal should contact the Panama Canal Authority at (011) 507-272-4567, (011) 507-272-4200, (011) 507-272-1111 or consult the Canal Authority web site to make an appointment.
Minors who are citizens (including dual-citizens) or legal residents of Panama are required to present birth certificates and notarized consent from both parents (in Spanish) in order to exit the country if not accompanied by both parents. This documentation is required at all land, sea, and air ports. Even if minors are not documented as Panamanian citizens and are documented as American citizens, they may be denied departure.
Visit the Consular Services tab of the Embassy of Panama website for the most current visa information.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Panama. Panamanian immigration does not require an HIV/AIDS test, but Panamanian law does allow for deportation upon discovery by immigration. Embassy Panama is not aware of any American citizens who have been deported due to HIV/AIDS. Should you have questions, you may wish to inquire directly with the Embassy of Panama before you travel.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
U.S. citizens are warned not to travel to remote areas of the Darien Province off of the Pan American Highway. Embassy personnel are only allowed to travel to the restricted border areas of the Darien and San Blas Provinces on official business and with prior approval of the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer and Deputy Chief of Mission. This restricted area encompasses the Darien National Park as well as some privately owned nature reserves and tourist resorts. The general remoteness of the region contributes to the potential hazards. Due to scarcity of roads, most travel is by river or by foot path. This combined with spotty medical infrastructure outside of major towns makes travel there potentially hazardous. While the number of actual incidents remains low, U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals and Panamanian citizens are potentially at risk of violent crime, kidnapping and murder in this general area. Moreover, all around the Panama-Colombia border area the presence of Colombian terrorist groups, drug traffickers and other criminals is common, increasing the danger to travelers. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) operates in Panama’s Darien Province, including in areas far removed from the immediate vicinity of the Panamanian-Colombian border. Note: The Secretary of State has designated the FARC, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
From time to time, there may be demonstrations protesting internal Panamanian issues or manifestations of anti-American sentiment by small but vociferous groups. While most demonstrations relate to labor disputes or other local issues and are typically non-violent, it is nonetheless a good security practice to avoid demonstrations. The Panamanian National Police generally do not use force to breakup demonstrations, but there have been occasions where tear gas has been used. Demonstrations and marches can and do occur in many locations around the country, to include areas along the Pan-American highway. U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution near the campus of the University of Panama, the Presidential Palace, and the National Assembly which have been the scenes of frequent protests.
Visitors should be cautious when swimming or wading at the beach. Some beaches, especially those on the Pacific Ocean and those in Bocas del Toro Province, have dangerous currents that cause drowning deaths every year. These beaches are seldom posted with warning signs or monitored by lifeguards.
On the Pacific Coast and Atlantic coasts, boaters should be wary of vessels that may be transporting narcotics, illicit materials, and illegal immigrants to and from Colombia. Bales and specially wrapped packages containing narcotics have been found floating in the ocean or lying on remote beaches. Boaters and beachgoers are warned to steer clear of these items, to not pick up or move these packages and to immediately report their location to the Panamanian authorities. Special permission is needed from the Ministry of Government and Justice and the National Environment Authority to visit the National Park on Coiba Island. The island is an abandoned penal colony, although on occasion, prisoners are sent there to care for the animals. Boaters should avoid the southeastern coast of Kuna Yala Comarca (San Blas Islands), south of Punta Carreto, on the Atlantic Coast.
Local maritime search and rescue capabilities are limited and well below U.S. standards.
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs' website,
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.
Crime in Panama City is increasing and the Department of State recently increased its evaluation to “High” for purposes of providing increased resources to protect Embassy employees housed in Panama City. The increase in violent crime is primarily related to narco-trafficking related violence. The city of Colon is also a high crime area. Police checkpoints have become commonplace on weekends on roads in both cities. Based upon reported incidents by local police, the high-crime areas around Panama City are San Miguelito, Rio Abajo, El Chorrillo, Hollywood, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Panama Viejo, Casco Viejo (particularly at night), Santa Librada, San Miguel, Cabo Vierde, and the Madden Dam overlook.
Crimes are typical of those that plague metropolitan areas and include shootings, rapes, armed robberies, muggings, purse-snatchings, thefts from autos, thefts of unsecured items, petty theft, and "express kidnappings" from ATM banking facilities, in which the victim is briefly kidnapped and robbed after withdrawing cash from an ATM. There has also been a recent spike in the number of credit card and ATM card fraud reports. Criminals are capturing credit and ATM card information to credit fraudulent cards. There have been several targeted kidnappings, including in Panama City, one of which involved a U.S. citizen with the complicity of corrupt law enforcement officials. If concerned for their safety when being stopped by Panamanian law enforcement, U.S. citizens should consider slowing down and turning on their hazard lights, acknowledging the request to stop, and proceeding deliberately to a safe public place at which to stop.
Panama City has a curfew for those under 18 years of age, which is being enforced with new vigor since July 2009. Under the law, students attending night classes must have a carnet or permit, issued by the school or, if employed, a Certificate of Employment. Minors who are picked up for a curfew violation are subject to detention at a police station until parents or legal guardians can arrange for them to be released into their custody. Parents or legal guardians may be fined up to U.S. $50.00 for the first violation.
Panamanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Panama of items such as firearms and ammunition, cultural property, endangered wildlife species, narcotics, biological material, and food products. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Panama in Washington or one of Panama's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Division in the U.S. Department of Justice has more information on this serious problem. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
If you are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see beginning of this sheet or see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates). This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The Panamanian Government also sponsors a program to assist victims of crime. The program is managed by the Oficina de Asistencia a Víctimas de Crímenes, located at the Policia Tecnica Judicial in the Ancon area of Panama City. Its telephone numbers are (011) 507-262-1973 or (011) 507-512-2222.
As in the United States, the emergency line in Panama is 911.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Persons violating Panama’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Panama are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Anyone not bearing identification, including tourists from the United States, will be penalized by the Panamanian authorities. U.S. tourists need to provide an original and valid passport at entry in Panama. While in Panama, American tourists should carry either their passport, or a photocopy of the bio-data page in their U.S. passport and a photocopy of the page in their passport that contains the entry stamp to Panama, or their tourist card with a picture I.D. such as driver’s license.
The U.S. Embassy in Panama has received numerous property dispute complaints. The complaints include lost property, broken contracts, additional payments, accusations of fraud and corruption, and occasionally threats of violence. There are two root causes for a large proportion of the complaints – title issues and weak judiciary. The majority of land in Panama and almost all land outside of Panama City is not titled. The lack of clear title leads to competing claims to property and frequently to lawsuits. The judicial system’s capacity to resolve contractual and property disputes is weak and open to corruption. Americans should exercise more due diligence in purchasing real estate than in the United States. Engaging a reputable attorney and licensed real estate broker is strongly recommended. For more information, please see our Property Information Sheet.
Panamanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Panama of items such as firearms and ammunition, cultural property, endangered wildlife species, narcotics, biological material, and food products. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Panama in Washington or one of Panama's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our Customs Information page for more information.
Although Panama City has some very good hospitals and clinics, medical facilities outside of the capital are limited. When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have found it to be life-saving if a medical emergency occurs. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. In Panama, most hospitals accept credit cards for hospital charges, but not for doctors' fees.
During May 2009, Panamanian health authorities placed travelers suspected of carrying the H1N1 flu in quarantine.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Except for antibiotics and narcotics, most medications are available without a prescription.
The 911 call center also provides an ambulance service, however, the ambulance might not always be available and given difficulties in transitting traffic jams and poor road conditions, it might arrive too late to do much good. There are also private ambulance services people can subscribe to.
The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Panama is provided for general reference only, and may not be applicable for a particular location or circumstance.
Panama's roads, traffic and transportation systems are generally safe, but traffic lights often do not exist, even at busy intersections. Driving is often hazardous and demanding due to dense traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained streets, and a lack of effective signs and traffic signals. On roads where poor lighting and driving conditions prevail, night driving is difficult and should be approached with caution. Night driving is particularly hazardous on the old Panama City – Colon highway.
Buses and taxis are not always maintained in a safe operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. Third party liability auto insurance is mandatory. If an accident occurs, the law requires that the vehicles remain in place until a police officer responds to investigate. Traffic in Panama moves on the right, as in the U.S., and Panamanian law requires that drivers and passengers wear seat belts.
Flooding during the April to December rainy season occasionally makes city streets impassible and washes out some roads in the interior of the country. In addition, rural areas are often poorly maintained and lack illumination at night. Such roads are generally less traveled and the availability of emergency roadside assistance is very limited. Road travel is more dangerous during the rainy season and in the interior from Carnival through Good Friday. Carnival starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday and goes on for four days.
There is often construction at night on Panama's portion of the Pan American highway. There are few signs alerting drivers to such construction and the highway is not well lit at night. When traveling on the highway, travelers should be aware of possible roadblocks. The Pan American Highway ends at Yaviza in the Darien Province of Panama and does not continue through to Colombia. The paved portion of the road ends at Santa Fe, with all-weather surface through Canglón. Travelers going to South America by car may wish to ship their cars on a freighter.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, we suggest that you visit the websites of Panama’s Tourism Authority, Transportation Authority, and the national authority responsible for road safety in Panama, for helpful information on road conditions in Panama.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Panama’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Panama’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA safety assessment page.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Panama dated March 18, 2009, to update sections on Country Description, Entry and Exit Requirements, Threats to Safety and Security, Crime, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Embassy Location.
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information for Panama HERE....
There is also a Malaria Warning for Panama HERE....
The SW Team........Physical location: Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas, Building No.783 in the Clayton section of Panama City.
International mailing address: Apartado 0816-02561, Zona 5, Panama, Republic of Panama.
U.S. mailing address: U.S. Embassy Panama, 9100 Panama City Place, Washington, DC 20521-9100.
Telephone: (011) 507-207-7000 or (011) 507-207-7030
Emergency after-hours telephone: (011) 507-207-7000
Facsimile: (011) 507-207-7278 or (011) 507-207-7303
You may also send the Embassy inquiries by e-mail.