Panama Travel Advice
Security travel advice for Panama
Threat level: Low-Medium
Most visits to Panama are trouble free. The country enjoys revenue from the Panama Canal tolls and is the second most competitive economy in Latin America according to the World Economic Forum. The Panama Canal is a highly important and strategic waterway that could be considered a terror target for those groups targeting Western interests.
Colombian terrorist groups, drug traffickers, and the flood of illegal immigration on the Panama-Colombia border led to the border being closed in May 2016 for a period. This closure enabled the Panama government to try to stem the flow of both illegal narcotics heading north and the illegal immigration heading south.
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Recent Security Risk Events
Gang warfare and drug use is a big issue in many parts of panama. June 2016 saw the government start to crack down heavily on a number of gangs involved in transnational organized crime.
Political demonstrations do occur (mainly around Panama University) but are mostly non-violent, the Panamanian National Police have used tear gas and/or riot control munitions in response to demonstrations. Visitors are advised not to get involved with demonstrations and are advised to leave the vicinity should any take place.
Gangs are often involved with organised crime and in some areas pickpockets and robberies at ATMs are on the rise. Tourists are advised to remain vigilant in and around bus stations and on public transport as these are areas where pickpockets and robberies occur most often and where you are most at risk.
Violent crime including gun crime is very common in Panama. Crimes against tourists are common place in Panama City, Colon, Chiriqui province, San Miguelito, El Chorillo and Juan Diaz. Care should be taken and visitors are advised to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Do not get involved with drugs in any way, this includes being in the presence of those taking drugs. Panama has very strict laws on drug possession and trafficking; the courts do impose long sentences and it can take up to two years to even get put before a Judge.
Best practice is not to outwardly display wealth. Stay low key and ensure that valuables are secured in your hotel room and are not left unattended in vehicles.
2016 saw Panama in the world press with the release of the "Panama Papers", detailed financial and attorney–client information for more than 214,000 offshore entities.
Panama has very good international relations and is not involved in any disputes with its neighbouring countries. Canada, China and India all enjoy a good diplomatic and trade relationship with Panama.
The United States has a great relationship with Panama, and in 1989 the United States invaded Panama to depose the 21-year long dictatorship of Manuel Noriega, helping the country to re-establish its democracy.
The standards of driving in Panama are not good compared to US or European standards. The roads are very congested at peak times and drink driving is a common cause of road traffic accidents. Panama boasts good roads within large cities and towns but in rural areas roads remain in a bad state of repair.
Car hire is readily available with many of the large international firms operating in Panama. Visitors for the UK and USA may drive on their national licenses for a period of 90 days only. If visitors are going to self-drive it is important that they plan their rout well and totally avoid driving at night in rural or high crime areas.
Public transport is quite good in major cities, 2013 saw a new Metro Bus system known as Diablos Rojos (Red Devils) in Panama City. These are a great improvement and easy to use, but visitors are reminded to remain vigilant for pickpockets and criminal gangs.
Taxis should on the whole be avoided; the standard of the taxis and maintenance of most vehicles is not at all safe. Best practice is to organise a driver via your hotel as and when required.
Currency: United States Dollar and Panamanian balboa
Time now in Panama City:
Visitors to Panama from the UK, US and EU do not require a visa, and may remain in the country for a period of up to 180 days however if you are entering the country via sea you will need to have a valid visa.
All visitors must provide evidence of a return ticket and that they have the equivalent of US$500 or a credit card.
It is advised that visitors to Panama are up-to-date with primary boosters such as MMR. It is further recommended that most travellers get Tetanus and Hepatitis A vaccinations. You may also want to consider Yellow Fever vaccinations as there is a risk of infection in some parts of the country. You should check with your local health professional prior to your departure as the yellow fever vaccine is not suitable for all travellers or areas of Panama.
Other health risks
Mosquito borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are common throughout the year in parts of Panama. Cases of the Zika virus are also on the rise. It is strongly advised to take all possible precautions and use mosquito nets in affected areas.
For more information on the Zika virus, see: Zika virus facts
Health care is quite good in Panama City and on par with US and European standards. In rural areas the standards are much lower and prescription medication may be difficult to obtain. Visitors are advised to ensure that they have enough medication with them to last for the duration of their stay.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
Flooding and landslides due to heavy rainfalls during the rainy season (April to December) are an issue but more so in rural areas.
Panama is subject to earthquakes, the last of note was the 2003 Puerto Armuelles earthquake, this caused some power outage, damage to buildings and landslides.
U.S. Embassy Panama
Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas,
Telephone: +507 317 5000
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +507 317 5000
British Embassy Panama
4th floor Humbolt Tower,
Calle 53 Este,
Telephone: +507 297 6550
Other useful info
All emergency services: 911
Police emergency: 104
Fire emergency: 103
Medical emergency: 103