PanamaOfficial Name: Republic of Panama
Passport must be valid for three months after entry.
BLANK PASSPORT PAGES:
One page required for entry stamp.
TOURIST VISA REQUIRED:
Not required for stays less than 180 days. USD$50/month fine for overstay. Immigration may grant extensions if requested before 180 days are complete.
Suggested: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, and typhoid. Routine immunizations recommended in the U.S. 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 Panama.
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR ENTRY:
Currency in excess of USD$10,000 must be declared.
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR EXIT:
Currency in excess of USD$10,000 must be declared.
Embassies and Consulates
Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas,
Telephone: +(507) 317-5000
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(507) 317-5000
Fax: +(507) 317-5568
Panama is a democratic country with an executive branch led by a president elected to a 5-year term, a unicameral legislature, and judicial branch. The country is divided into 10 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. Panama has two official currencies, the Balboa and the U.S. dollar. While both the Balboa and U.S. dollar units circulate in coin form, the U.S. dollar is the only paper currency in use. When traveling to or doing business in Panama, please take note of the many national and regional holidays as the government and most businesses close on these days. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Panama for additional information.
Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements
U.S. citizens traveling by air, road, or sea must present a valid passport that has a remaining validity of at least three months. U.S. citizens attempting to enter without a valid passport will be returned to their point of departure in the U.S. on the next available flight. Panamanian immigration strictly enforces this law.
Tourists must present a return trip ticket or fare back to their home country or next destination upon arrival. 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 (USD$500) 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 checks. Travelers planning to enter/exit along the Panama-Costa Rica land 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 Migration Service (Servicio Nacional de Migracion); information is available on their website only in Spanish, with contact information listed under “Contactenos.”
U.S. tourists arriving by air or road may stay in Panama for 180 days without obtaining a formal visa. U.S. citizens entering Panama by commercial flight as tourists are charged a USD$5 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 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 USD$5 fee. This initial permit may 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 visit 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 USD$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.
U.S. citizens navigating Panamanian waters on private vessels should adhere to regulations established by the Government of Panama. These include respecting the length of time the Government of Panama grants transiting crews to remain in country, and adhering to the Panamanian Government’s prohibition against operating unlicensed businesses from foreign vessels. The Embassy has received reports of crews and vessels overstaying their legal time limit in Panama, particularly in the San Blas Islands area, and engaging in tourism-related businesses without proper permits. Information on Panamanian Government regulations is available to arriving mariners at Panama’s Ports of Entry. Registration fees may be required for the use of your boat in some coastal areas.
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 USD$250 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.
Issues affecting minor children: 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. If a minor is traveling with both parents, authorities will request a birth certificate to confirm the relationship between parents and child. 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 but are documented as U.S. citizens, they may be denied departure without the consent letter and birth certificate. Before being accepted at Panamanian immigration entry and departure points, consent documents notarized in the United States need to be authenticated in the U.S. with an Apostille by the designated authorities in each jurisdiction, generally the Secretary of State’s office. Electronic scans of documents that have been e-mailed, or faxes of the documents, will not be accepted, only the original documents. You must bring the original documents with you from the U.S. if your children are accompanying you to Panama.
HIV/AIDS Restrictions: Visitors and foreign residents of Panama are subject to HIV/AIDS restrictions. Panamanian immigration does not require an HIV/AIDS test, but Panamanian law does allow for deportation upon discovery by immigration. The U.S. Embassy 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.
Social Security Benefits Information: If you receive benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and you will be outside of the United States for more than three months, SSA policy mandates reporting your foreign address to the Federal Benefits Unit of the U.S. Embassy by completing a form SSA-21. This change will not affect your payments.
If you wish to apply for Social Security benefits, you may do so at the Federal Benefits Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Panama City.
International Direct Deposit Program: If you receive benefits from a U.S. Government federal agency (VA, SSA, OPM, RRB), and you wish to receive your benefits in a Panamanian bank, you may enroll in this program. International Direct Deposit is the mechanism by which your monthly benefit payment will be electronically transferred from the U.S. Federal Government to your bank account in Panama.
Safety and Security
Avoid travel to remote areas of the Darién Province off of the Pan American Highway. U.S. Embassy personnel are not allowed to travel to the restricted border areas of the Darién and San Blas Provinces except on official business and only with prior approval of the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer and Deputy Chief of Mission. This restricted area encompasses the Darién 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 footpath. 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.
There have been reports of Colombian terrorist groups, drug traffickers, and other criminals operating in the Panama-Colombia border area, increasing the danger to travelers. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has been known to make incursions into remote areas of Panama’s Darién Province. 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 that are not marked on maps. This may be particularly true in the mining area along the Petaquilla River. Sections of this coastline are 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 are blocked or aggression is used against the police.
Protestors have on occasion blocked remote roadways and the Pan American Highway. During these road closures, the security situation can be tense with a potential for violence between Panamanian authorities and protestors. 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 often do not have posted warning signs or 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 wrapped packages containing narcotics have been found floating in the ocean or lying on remote beaches. Boaters and beachgoers are warned to avoid these items and 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. 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 U.S. Embassy immediately who will contact the Panamanian authorities.
To stay connected:
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.
- Bookmark the Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.
- Follow the Bureau of Consular Affairs on Twitter and Facebook, and follow the U.S. Embassy in Panama on Twitter and visit the Embassy’s website as well.
- In the event of an emergency, contact us at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or via a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries.
- Take some time before traveling to consider your personal security, and check for useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
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. The number of homicides in the country has declined continuously since 2010. Unfortunately, the rate of simple theft has risen, with 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 when in Colon.
Police continue to conduct vehicle checkpoints 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 occurred in Panama City, many of which 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 and doors locked while in the car to prevent items from being stolen when stopped in traffic or at traffic lights.
Use caution when taking taxis. Use only licensed and registered taxis. 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 that 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.
The use of weapons (handguns and knives) is common in street robberies; 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 their released to them. Parents or legal guardians may be fined up to USD$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.
Do not 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:
- Replace a stolen passport.
- For violent crimes such as assault or rape, help you find appropriate medical care.
- Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and, if you want us to, we can contact family members or friends.
- Although the local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime, consular officers can help you understand the local criminal justice process and can direct you to local attorneys.
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 (Office of Assistance to Victims of Crime), located at the Policia Tecnica Judicial in the Ancon area of Panama City. Its telephone number is 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.
Local Laws & Special Circumstances
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 from our own. In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you do not 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 will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution, and the embassy cannot get you out of jail or prison. Keep in mind, if you are arrested for an offence, tried and convicted, you must be sentenced before you can be repatriated to the United States to complete your sentence in the United States. This process can last three or more years. It is very important to know what is legal and what is 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 not required to alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest unless requested to do so. 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 a valid passport to enter Panama. While in Panama, U.S tourists should carry either their passport or a valid photo I.D. such as driver’s license with a photocopy of the bio-data page of their U.S. passport and a photocopy of the page in their passport that contains the Panama entry stamp.
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. Protect yourself by reading about common international financial scams on our website.
The typical scenario is that a family member – parent, aunt or uncle, 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 someone claiming to be 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, and 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.
Much of the land in Panama 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 extreme diligence in purchasing real estate.
Consulting 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 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 U.S. Embassy and request a death certificate. The Embassy can also help the next of kin retrieve the belongings of the deceased and assist you in organizing the funeral arrangements or transport the remains back to the United States
LGBT RIGHTS: Same sex marriages are not conducted nor recognized in Panama. 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.
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 USD$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 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 to this, 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.
U.S. citizens traveling abroad 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 does not go with you when you travel, it is a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. 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.
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 to stay longer than a month or to undergo medical procedures while in country should consider Hepatitis B. Although uncommon in Panama, rabies immunization should be considered for those staying longer than a month, especially if they will be in rural areas and potentially have contact with animals. Routine immunizations recommended in the U.S. 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, chikungunya, 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 from those carrying malaria as they bite during the day and frequently live in homes and hotel rooms. The risk of chikungunya has spread to the Caribbean and may develop in Panama at any time. The same mosquito that carries dengue carries chikingunya.
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 Panama Canal). 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 Panama Canal. 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 Panama Canal. 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.
Tuberculosis: Significantly more common in Panama than in the U.S. Although no particular precautions are recommended, those with extended stays (greater than 3 months) or extensive contact with disadvantaged populations should discuss TB testing before and after their travel to Panama with their medical provider. For further information, please consult the CDC’s information on TB.
Travel & Transportation
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 carries a fine.
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. Use caution when driving at night; night driving is particularly hazardous on the old Panama City – Colon highway. Riding your bicycle on the streets is not recommended. As an alternative, there are a number of parks throughout the country where riding is permitted and safe.
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, if safe to do so, 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 the SINAPROC website or follow @SINAPROC_PANAMA on 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 Darién Province of Panama and does not continue through to Colombia.
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. Taxis lack regulatory enforcement and are not always maintained in a safe operating condition.
Public transportation should be used with caution. While we do still receive reports of thefts and pick-pocketing, new metro buses, with bigger windows and better lighting, have been introduced, and according to PNP reports, seem to have reduced the instances of violent crime. The first rail line of the newly inaugurated Metro de Panama system started operation in April 2014. Riders should be aware that not all of the stations are currently operational and that trains will not stop at a station until construction is complete. Riders should determine if their desired stop is operational before riding. The metro, though equipped with state of the art security features, will traverse through and stop in some of the highest crime areas of the city. Confined spaces, such as on the metro trains, provide excellent environments/opportunities for pickpockets and other criminal activities. PNP have established a Metro Police Unit responsible for the security of the trains and platforms.
Public Transportation riders should always be aware of their surroundings, their possessions, and others traveling on the train with them regardless of the area where the train or bus is operating. 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.