COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: 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 9 provinces and three indigenous territories known as comarcas. It became independent from Colombia on November 3, 1903. Panama has a rapidly developing economy but also faces problems of corruption and has 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, though U.S. coins are also accepted. It is important to note the national and regional holidays of Panama as the government and many businesses are closed on these days, and may create delays in some activities in Panama. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Panama for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Panama, please take the time to inform the Embassy about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
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) 507-317-5000 or (011) 507-317-5030 from the U.S., 317-5000 or 317-5030 from Panama
Emergency after-hours telephone: (011) 507-317-5000 from the U.S., 317-5000 from Panama
Facsimile: (011) 507-317-5568 or (011) 507-317-5303 (317-5568 or 317-5303)
You may also send the Embassy inquiries by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: U.S. citizens traveling by air, road, or sea must present a valid passport when entering or departing Panama. U.S. citizens departing or re-entering the United States must likewise present a valid passport. Complete information on how to obtain a U.S. passport is available on the Passport Information page at travel.state.gov or by calling 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778).
Panamanian law requires that U.S. citizen travelers present a passport that has a remaining validity of at least three months or a passport with a Panamanian visa, and the visa has a remaining validity of at least six months.
If your passport does not have the required validity, you will not be allowed to leave the airport or enter Panama, and you will be returned to your point of departure in the U.S. on the next flight with available seating.
Upon arriving in Panama tourists must present a return trip ticket or fare back to their home country or next destination. Panama also requires a completed international boarding card which is provided by the airline and submitted by the traveler at the point of immigration. In addition to this, no less than five-hundred balboas ($500.00) in cash or its equivalent must be presented as proof of financial solvency. In addition to cash, travelers can show a credit card (with most recent credit card statement), bank reference, letter of employment, or traveler’s check. Please be aware that immigration officials on the Panama-Costa Rica border are making tourist entry requirements more strict. Travelers planning to enter/exit along the Panama-Costa Rica border should be prepared to present all required documents to immigration officials.
Travelers should be aware that Panamanian immigration law provides for the denial of entry or transit to any person who has a criminal conviction. According to Panamanian law, it is irrelevant whether the crime was committed on Panamanian soil or in a foreign country. Individuals denied entry or transit will be returned to their last point of embarkation. For further information, contact the Government of Panama at their website under ‘Contactenos’.
As of April 2010, U.S. tourists arriving by air or road are permitted to stay in Panama for 180 days without obtaining a formal visa. U.S. citizens entering Panama by commercial flight as tourists will be charged a $5.00 tourist fee when they purchase their travel ticket. To obtain a multiple entry visa, if, for example, you plan to stay more than 180 days or plan to engage in non-tourism activities such as university study, please contact the Panamanian Embassy or a Panamanian Consulate in the U.S. before traveling.
U.S. citizens transiting the Panama Canal as vessel passengers do not need to obtain a visa or pay any fees if they are not disembarking. If you are disembarking, the Servicio Nacional de Migracion will issue you an initial permit of twelve hours for a $5.00 fee. This initial permit can be extended for 72 hours without an extra fee (you may want to consider requesting the 72 hours upon disembarking to avoid visiting the Servicio Nacional de Migracion if your visa extends past the initial 12 hour permit). U.S. citizens arriving in Panama via private plane may obtain a pre-stamped visa from a Panamanian Embassy or Consulate in the U.S.
The Servicio Nacional de Migracion is currently enforcing an entry permit fee of $110 for sea travelers piloting their own boats or yachts and arriving as tourists. This fee permits entry into Panama for a period of three months, which can be extended for up to two years through an approved application with the immigration authorities in Panama. U.S. citizens navigating private craft through the Canal should contact the Panama Canal Authority at (011) 507-272-4570 or consult the Panama Canal Authority web site to make an appointment.
Further information on visas other than tourist visas may be obtained from the Embassy of Panama or its consulates in the United States. The Panamanian Embassy is located at 2862 McGill Terrace NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 483-1407. For travelers who wish to remain in Panama beyond the 180 days permitted to tourists, a “change of migratory status visa” should be requested through a Panamanian lawyer before the expiration of the 180 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 is at the discretion of the Panamanian Immigration Office.
More information on visa types and the necessary steps to take in Panama is available at the National Migration website. Or visit the Consular Services tab of the Embassy of Panama website for additional visa information.
Minors (children under 18) who are citizens (including dual-citizens) or legal residents of Panama are required to present both parents’ identification documents, birth certificates, and notarized consent from both parents (in Spanish) in order to exit the country if not accompanied by both parents. Any child born in Panama automatically obtains Panamanian citizenship.
This documentation is required at all sea and air ports as well as at all border crossing points.
Even if minors are not documented as Panamanian citizens and are documented as U.S. citizens, they may be denied departure without the consent letter and birth certificate. If your consent documents are notarized in the United States, they still need to be authenticated in the U.S. with an Apostille stamp before being accepted at immigration entry and departure points.
Electronic scans of documents that have been emailed, or faxes of the documents, will not be accepted, only the original documents. You must therefore bring them with you from the U.S. if your children are accompanying you to Panama. 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. U.S. Embassy Panama is not aware of any U.S. 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.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Avoid travel to remote areas of the Darien Province off of the Pan American Highway. U.S. Embassy personnel are allowed to travel to the restricted border areas of the Darien and San Blas Provinces only 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, the presence of Colombian terrorist groups, drug traffickers, and other criminals is common throughout the Panama-Colombia border area, increasing the danger to travelers. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) operates in the remote areas of Panama’s Darien Province. Note: The Secretary of State has designated the FARC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Similarly, U.S. citizens should not travel to the area of Panama referred to as the “Mosquito Coast,” an extremely remote and inaccessible area along the Panamanian north coast bounded by Boca de Rio Chiriquí on the west and Coclé Del Norte on the east and stretching inward from the coast for five kilometers. Embassy personnel are allowed to travel to this area only on official business and with prior approval of senior Embassy management. Access to the region is almost exclusively by boat and/or aircraft. The area may also have a few unimproved roads and/or paths which are not marked on maps. This may be particularly true in the mining area along the Petaquilla River. Sections of this coastline are frequently used for narco-trafficking and other illegal activities.
From time to time, there may be demonstrations to protest internal Panamanian issues or, more rarely, manifestations of anti-American sentiment by small but vociferous groups. While most demonstrations are non-violent, it is nonetheless a good security practice to avoid demonstrations. The Panamanian National Police have used tear gas and/or riot control munitions in response to demonstrations, particularly when roadways have been blocked or aggression has been used against the police. Demonstrations and marches can and do occur in many locations around the country, to include areas along the PanAmerican highway. U.S. citizens should exercise caution near the campus of the University of Panama, the Presidential Palace, and the National Assembly, which have been the scenes of protests.
Protestors have blocked remote roadways and the Pan American Highway on an intermittent basis since February 2012. Longer duration protests can last for several days, sometimes trapping travelers on the roads without access to food and water. During these extended road closures the security situation can be tense and the potential for violence between Panamanian authorities and protestors is a real possibility. U.S. citizens traveling by road outside Panama City should travel with full fuel tanks, keep extra potable water and food in their vehicles, and ensure cell phones are charged during their travel. For the most recent information on possible road closures, the Embassy advises U.S. citizens to monitor local news and consult local police.
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 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 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. However, if you are experiencing an emergency at sea or know of someone who is experiencing an emergency off the coast of Panama, please contact the Embassy immediately which can contact Panamanian authorities.
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CRIME: Panama remains relatively safe when compared to other Central American countries, yet crime rates are still higher than one would encounter in most of the United States. Violent crime in Panama started to rise in 2007. However, new efforts by Panama’s National Police (PNP) to combat this trend appear to have made an impact. Starting in June 2010, the number of homicides in the country declined and continued a downward trend through 2012. Unfortunately, the rate of simple theft was up, with "Blackberry"-type smart phones being a particular target. The three provinces with the largest cities also had the highest overall crime rates: Panama, Colon, and Chiriqui. The entire city of Colon is a high crime area; travelers should use extreme caution anywhere in Colon.
Police continue to conduct vehicle check points at key intersections in the city in an effort to raise their visibility and hamper criminals’ movements. The high crime areas in and around Panama City are El Chorrillo, San Miguel, Santa Ana, Cabo Verde, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Santa Librada, Rio Abajo, San Miguelito, Panama Viejo, 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 locked autos by breaking windows for entry, thefts of unsecured items, petty theft, and occasionally "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 clone and create fraudulent cards. Kidnappings have been on the rise of late, including in Panama City. Many of the kidnappings appear related to drug or criminal activity.
There has also been a recent increase of thefts from cars. We encourage travelers and residents to take all valuables out of their cars and place them in their trunks before they get to their destinations. Drivers should keep their windows up while the car is in motion or stopped in traffic, at traffic lights, or at their destinations to prevent items being stolen while driving.
Taxis are a very helpful way to maneuver around Panama; however use caution when getting into a taxi. Check to see that the number on the side of the taxi matches the number of the license plate. Ensuring the car is a registered taxi with a number on the side is a quick way to help prevent any incidences. Regular taxis are yellow in color. Also, never get into a taxi which already has a passenger and instruct the driver not to pick up any additional fares while en route to your destination. Many hotels also have “tourist taxis” that are not yellow but only pick up passengers in front of well-known hotels.
U.S. citizens are advised to never let a “helpful” stranger direct you to a particular taxi or taxi stand, and always negotiate the fare before getting in to ensure a fixed price.
In regards to non-drug related crime, the use of weapons (handguns and knives) in the commission of street robberies is common; however, gratuitous violence is uncommon as long as the victim complies and hands over the property. In 2013, there was an increase in violence during theft. Home burglaries and, more worrying, home-invasion robberies do appear to be on the rise, especially in the more affluent neighborhoods. Panama City has a curfew for those younger than 18 years of age that is generally from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The times are subject to change depending on your location within Panama. If you are concerned about the exact time you may contact local police. This curfew applies to both Panamanian and foreign citizens. 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 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. Contact the Embassy of Panama in Washington or one of Panama's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law. 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.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
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. The police can be reached directly by dialing 104.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Panama, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you.
Driving under the influence can land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. For example, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States, as is commercial sex with a person under the age of 18.
If you break local laws in Panama, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution, and the embassy cannot get you out of jail or prison. Keep in mind, if you are arrested you must be sentenced before you can be repatriated to the United States. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Persons violating Panamanian 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.
If you are arrested in Panama, authorities of Panama are required to alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request that the police notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Anyone not bearing identification at all times, including tourists from the United States, may be held and will be penalized by the Panamanian authorities.
U.S. tourists need to provide an original, valid passport at entry in Panama. While in Panama, U.S tourists should carry either their original passport or an original, valid photo I.D. such as driver’s license with 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.
The U.S. Embassy in Panama regularly receives calls from persons who have been contacted regarding fraudulent requests for bail funds. These calls are from international money-wiring fraud rings targeting older U.S. citizens in the United States.
The typical scenario is that a family member – parent, aunt, or grandparent – receives a call regarding an emergency involving a son, nephew, or grandchild allegedly in Panama. The call is sometimes from a third party (such as an attorney), sometimes from someone claiming to be the actual family member in trouble. Sometimes the "emergency" is because of a traffic accident, an arrest, an immigration violation, or other ruse.
In all instances, the victim needs approximately $3,000 to solve their problem with the local authorities, be it an attorney, the police, a hospital, or immigration. Once the money is sent, more is requested. The family member is sometimes falsely told that the U.S. Embassy is involved on behalf of the victim and is given a phone number to contact “Embassy personnel” for information on wiring funds. In other cases they are told not to contact the U.S. Embassy because it will make their situation worse.
In all cases, the victim is told that sharing the information with law enforcement could have negative implications for their loved ones. These calls are fraudulent and no Embassy personnel are involved. Anyone who receives such a call is advised to first contact their loved one at their usual number in the United States. In most instances, the alleged victim has been reachable by normal means. Please notify the Embassy as well as local authorities or the FBI about such schemes.
The U.S. Embassy in Panama has received numerous property dispute complaints. The complaints include lost property, broken contracts, demands for 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 a 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. U.S. Citizens should exercise more due diligence in purchasing real estate than they would normally do in the United States.
Engaging a reputable attorney and licensed real estate broker is strongly recommended. U.S. Citizens considering purchasing property in Panama may wish to contact the American Chamber of Commerce in Panama City at www.panamcham.com for further guidance. For more information, please see our Property Information Sheet, which also includes a link to a list of attorneys that are willing to assist US citizens abroad.
In case of a death abroad, contact the US Embassy and request a death certificate. The Embassy can also aid in helping the next of kin retrieve the belongings of the deceased and help in assisting you organize the funeral arrangements or transport the remains back to the United States.
LGBT Rights: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals enjoy full legal rights in Panama. However, Panamanian law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and there is societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For further information on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in Panama, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. Panamanian law only mandates access to new or remodeled public buildings for persons with disabilities, which is being enforced for new construction. While some public buses and buildings do accommodate wheelchairs, many do not. Handicapped parking is often available at many larger parking lots.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Panama City has some very good hospitals and clinics, but medical facilities outside of the capital are limited. Hospitals in Panama are either private hospitals or government-run public hospitals.
Many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service. Medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. In Panama, most hospitals accept credit cards for hospital charges, but not for doctors' fees.
Except for antibiotics and narcotics, most medications are available without a prescription.
The 911 call center also provides ambulance service. However, an ambulance may not always be available and, given difficulties with traffic jams and poor road conditions, there may be a significant delay in response. There are also private ambulance services available on a subscription basis.
Panama is actively promoting medical tourism, and many companies are now offering vacation packages bundled with medical consultations for assisted reproduction technology treatments, dental procedures, and a wide range of plastic surgery. While there are advantages, like affordable costs, quality health care, and a chance to recuperate while vacationing, there are also risks.
Individuals considering plastic surgery should always make sure that emergency medical facilities are available in or near the facility where the surgery will be performed. Some “boutique” plastic surgery operations offer luxurious facilities but are not hospitals and are therefore unable to deal with unforeseen emergencies. Anyone interested in traveling for medical purposes should consult with their local physician before traveling and refer to information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC ).
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out before you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. Many of the hospitals within Panama may ask for cash upfront before they admit you to the hospital and begin treating your needs. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
Most US medical insurance carriers require you to purchase a rider in order to have Medevac insurance which covers an emergency air medical evacuation from out of the country. We strongly suggest that you contact your insurance carrier to discuss this option prior to your departure.
U.S. Citizens traveling abroad also need to understand that Medicare does not provide for medical services outside the United States. In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page. 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.
The Foreign Medical Program (FMP) is a VA health care benefits program available for U.S. veterans with VA rated service connected conditions or specific disabilities who are living or traveling abroad. It is important to apply for this benefit before your arrival to Panama to insure proper coverage. In 2011, the Government of Panama introduced a free tourist insurance program. Tourists who enter Panama through Tocumen Airport in Panama City are eligible for this program, under certain conditions, for up to 30 days. During this initial 30 day time period, tourists are eligible for medical coverage up to $7,000; this covers hospitalization and medical expenses as a result of injuries from an accident or from contracting a disease on Panamanian territory. For additional details on Panama’s tourist insurance, please see VisitPanama website or call 204-9300 for more information on services provided and the restrictions involved. You will be required to show your valid passport and entry stamp at the hospital before receiving services under the program.
No specific vaccinations are required for entry into Panama from the United States but Hepatitis A and typhoid immunization is recommended for most travelers and those planning stays longer than a month should consider Hepatitis B and rabies immunization. Routine immunizations recommended in the US should be up to date prior to traveling to Panama. Travelers coming from countries where yellow fever is endemic must have had a yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the country.
Dengue and Malaria: Prevention of mosquito bites is the best way to avoid these illnesses. Use of topical repellants and wearing long sleeves and pants are recommended in areas affected.
Dengue fever outbreaks have been occurring annually in Panama in both urban and rural areas, this is a mosquito borne virus that can cause fever, severe headache and body aches, it can also cause severe disease with bleeding and even death. Dengue carrying mosquitoes are different than those carrying malaria and bite during the day and frequently live in homes and hotel rooms.
Malaria, also mosquito borne, occurs in rural areas of Panama. Malaria in Panama is almost exclusively P. vivax (P. falciparum transmission is minimal and limited to areas east of the Canal Zone). Transmission occurs throughout the year.
Malaria Chemoprophylaxis is recommended for all travelers: throughout the provinces and comarcas of Darién, Kuna Yala (including the San Blas Islands), Kuna de Madugandi, Kuna de Wargandi, and –Emberá.
Protective measures: Evening and nighttime insect precautions are essential in areas with any level of malaria transmission. Atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone or generic), doxycycline, and mefloquine are protective east of the Canal Zone. For the exceptional case of a vulnerable traveler with underlying medical conditions and/or the potential for an especially adverse outcome from malaria, chloroquine and other antimalarials (atovaquone/proguanil, doxycycline, and mefloquine) are protective west of the Canal Zone. Drug choice should be discussed with your medical provider before travel.
Traveler's Diarrhea: Moderate risk exists even in deluxe accommodations; high risk exists elsewhere. Food and beverage precautions are essential to reduce the likelihood of illness. Diarrhea risk can be minimized by avoiding fresh fruit and vegetables that cannot be peeled or are not cooked and served hot. Tap water is not safe to drink in many areas of Panama, and visitors should use bottled water. Traveling with antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin and the antimotility agent loperamide in case of diarrhea should be considered.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Tuberculosis is significantly more common in Panama than in the US. Although no particular precautions are recommended those with extended stays (more than 3 months) or extensive contact with disadvantaged populations should discuss with their medical provider TB testing before and after their travel to Panama. For further information, please consult the CDC’s information on TB.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Panama, you 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. Travelers should carry identification with them at all times and be prepared to stop for unannounced checkpoints throughout the country, especially at night.
While U.S. citizen tourists are permitted to stay in Panama for up to 180 days without a visa, current Panamanian law allows foreigners to drive in Panama using their valid foreign driver’s license for a period of only 90 days. Driving without a valid driver’s license is illegal in all areas of Panama. Drivers stopped for driving while intoxicated may face the loss of their driver’s license, a monetary penalty, and vehicle impoundment. Talking on a cell phone or drinking an alcoholic beverage while driving also carry fines.
Panama's roads, traffic and transportation systems are generally safe, but frequently traffic lights do not exist, even at busy intersections. Traffic in Panama moves on the right, as in the U.S., and Panamanian law requires that drivers and passengers wear seat belts.
Driving in Panama is often hazardous and difficult due to heavy traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained streets and a shortage 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. Riding your bicycle in the streets is not recommended, but there are a number of parks throughout the country where riding is permitted and safe.
Traffic roundabouts are common in Panama, and extreme care should be taken when entering and exiting them. Generally speaking, vehicles already in the roundabout have right-of-way over those entering, but demanding your right-of-way may result in an accident. Most roundabouts have two lanes all the way around, so it is a good idea to plan your exit and get in the proper lane so that you do not have to cut across traffic to exit. Be especially careful of taxis, as the drivers can be very assertive.
Buses and taxis are not always maintained in a safe operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. Public transportation should be used with caution, especially the local city buses found in Panama City called Diablos Rojos or "Red Devils." A modern public transit infrastructure, using modern buses, is being rolled out and the Diablos Rojos are being retired, but as yet the security of the new transit system cannot be evaluated.
Third party liability auto insurance is mandatory, but many drivers are uninsured. If an accident occurs, a recent law requires that the vehicles be moved off the roadway; failure to do so could result in a fine. Individuals involved in non-injury accidents should take a photo of both cars and then pull their vehicle off the roadway. Exchange information with the other driver and wait for the police to arrive. Emergency response in Panama is not regularly reliable. Police may take hours to respond to routine accidents, though response is often quicker for serious accidents. Ambulances will take all injured persons to a public hospital for treatment unless proof of health insurance is provided at the time of arrival.
Road travel is more dangerous during the rainy season (April to December) due to flooding. Rainy season occasionally makes city streets impassible and washes out some roads in the interior of the country. In addition, roads in 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. Heavier road traffic during Carnival through Easter Sunday makes road travel in the interior provinces more difficult and dangerous. Carnival starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday and goes on for four days. If you are interested in receiving real time weather, earthquake, and high seas information from the Panamanian Government, please visit their website or follow @SINAPROC_PANAMAon Twitter.
There is often construction at night on Panama's portion of the Pan American highway. There are few signs alerting drivers to 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 Panama Metro is currently under construction throughout Panama City. This public transportation project includes the construction of 13 stations, of which eight will be underground and five aboveground. There are ongoing traffic pattern changes and additional traffic delays, particularly during rush hour, due to the project.
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 (Spanish-only) for helpful information on road conditions in Panama.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: 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’s safety assessment page.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Panama dated October 8, 2013, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Medical Insurance, Special Circumstances, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.