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 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, though U.S. coins are also accepted. 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 tell our 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.
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.
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.
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, please contact the Panamanian Embassy or a Panamanian Consulate in the U.S. before traveling.
U.S. citizens transiting the Panama Canal as passengers, regardless of their intention to disembark from the ship or not, do not need to obtain visas or pay any fees. U.S. citizens arriving in Panama via private vessel or 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 $105 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. U.S. citizens navigating private craft through the Canal should contact the Panama Canal Authority at (011) 507-272-1111 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 stay longer, 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 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 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 Panama’s Darien Province. 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.
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, sometimes for periods lasting several days, and 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 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.
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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 "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.
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. 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. 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. 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 regarding fraudulent requests for bail funds. These calls are from international money-wiring fraud rings targeting older Americans 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, 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.
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 manycompanies 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 the information from CDC at the link below.
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. 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 U.S. 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.
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. 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.
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.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 taxicabs, 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.
Taxicabs are a better form of public transportation, especially radio-dispatched taxis. U.S. citizens are advised to never get into a cab that is already occupied, never let a “helpful” stranger direct you to a particular taxi or taxi stand, always negotiate the fare before getting in to ensure a fixed price and that no other passengers are picked up along the way.
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.
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, 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. 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 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 April 27, 2012, to update sections on STEP, Entry/Exit Requirements, Threats to Safety and Security, Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.