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Latest travel advice for Panama including safety and security, entry requirements, travel warnings and health

2017-03-10T15:18:02.588+00:00: Latest update: Entry requirements section – you may be detained by immigration officials if you attempt to renew your tourist visa by visiting a neighbouring country, including Costa Rica; you must follow the relevant rules and procedures when seeking to extend a visa

UK health authorities have classified Panama as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.

Most visits to Panama are trouble-free. 

If you travel to the Darien province you should do so only with an organised group and to recognised tourist destinations protected by the Panamanian police. See Local Travel

Foreign driving licences are only valid for 90 days following your entry to the country. See Road Travel

There is a low threat from terrorism. See Terrorism

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

Safety and security

Crime

Personal attacks, including sexual offences, are rare but there have been some in recent years. You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK.

Official crime statistics have shown increased levels of robberies, murders and assault in San Miguelito, El Chorillo and Juan Diaz. Most of these crimes are among members of rival drug gangs, but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings against the risk of street crime. Robberies at restaurants have been on the increase in some of the more popular areas in Panama City like Obarrio, San Francisco and El Cangrejo (Via Argentina).

Don’t carry large sums of cash or valuables in public. Use a hotel safe wherever possible. Be vigilant when using ATMs installed in public places. People have been attacked after withdrawing cash. There have also been instances of devices being inserted in ATMs, which allow cards to be cloned. Beware of pickpockets in busy areas, on buses and at bus stations. Watch out for muggers, particularly in the main shopping areas of Via España and Avenida Central, the area of Calidonia, the old town (Casco Viejo) in Panama City, the old Panama ruins (Panama Viejo), the Madden Dam area - off the main Panama to Colon road and the city of Colon, where unemployment, street crime and drug usage are high. 

The area near the border with Colombia is particularly dangerous (east of a line drawn from Punta Carreto in the Comarca de San Blas on the Atlantic coast, to Yaviza in the eastern Darien province, down to Punta Piña on the Pacific coast). Political and criminal violence in Colombia can spill over into Panama. There are regular incursions by Colombian guerrillas and other armed groups. Foreign nationals and Panamanian citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, kidnapping and murder in this area.  

Use registered taxi companies. Picking up multiple travellers in Panama is common practice, but you should insist that taxi drivers do not do this.   

Be cautious if you are approached by visitors seeking access to your property. Criminal gangs have used this method to enter and then commit burglaries. If you are in any doubt call the police. 

Local travel

If you are travelling to the Darien province, you should do so by air, and only with an organised group to recognised tourist destinations protected by the Panamanian Police. Don’t stray from the protected resort area.   

If you’re hiking in the hills of the town of Boquete in the Province of Chiriqui, you should do so with an experienced guide. Don’t go hiking without taking the necessary precautions.

Road Travel

Driving standards are poor. Panama has a reasonably good road system, except in Darien Province where there are very few surfaced roads. Watch out for pot-holes and unfinished repairs. Traffic is very heavy, especially around peak hours, and there are a number of construction works throughout the city that worsens the situation in some areas.

A 2015 survey stated that 70% of all road accidents were as a result of drink driving (which is not strictly monitored) or using a telephone whilst driving. Take extra care when driving.

By law seat belts must be worn by drivers and front seat passengers. Children under 5 must travel in the back in fitted child seats. If you are involved in an accident, Panamanian law requires that you wait with the vehicle until the traffic police (Transito) arrive.

In 2013, the new Metro Bus system replaced old buses, also known as Diablos Rojos (Red Devils) in Panama City. Taxis are generally in poor condition and are responsible for a significant proportion of accidents due to poor maintenance and driving standards.

To drive in Panama, you’ll need a valid photo-card UK driving licence. The Panamanian authorities will not accept paper licences. Foreign driving licences are only valid for 90 days following your entry to the country (make sure you carry a copy of your passport with the date stamp as proof of entry within the allowable period). In order to obtain a local licence, you should bring, from the UK, a legalised certificate of entitlement issued by the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and once in Panama, contact the issuing agency SERTRACEN for further information on the requirements needed.

Swimming and water sports

Take great care when wading swimming or taking part in water sports on Pacific and Caribbean beaches as in some places there are strong currents and undertows. Beaches seldom have signs warning of the dangers and there are a number of drownings every year.

Don’t bathe in the Bay of Panama; it is highly polluted with untreated sewage and industrial waste.

Political situation

Political demonstrations occur occasionally in Panama City, mainly around Panama University and the main road known as the Transistmica, as well as the main road from Bocas del Toro. Some demonstrations by construction workers, indigenous groups and students have turned violent in the past. Monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.

Local laws and customs

Don’t become involved with drugs in any way. Possession of even very small quantities can lead to imprisonment of up to 15 years. The judicial process is slow and prison conditions are very harsh.

Simply being in the company of someone who is using drugs is sufficient grounds for arrest. From the time of arrest, it can take two years before you even appear before a judge.

Terrorism

There is a low threat from terrorism, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Entry requirements

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Visas

British nationals don’t need a visa to visit Panama except if arriving by sea. You must have a return or onward ticket and the equivalent of US$500 or a credit card.

If you enter Panama by land from Costa Rica, and are not a legal resident of Costa Rica, the immigration authorities may ask you to show proof of onward or return travel to your country of legal residence.

You may be detained by immigration officials if you attempt to renew your tourist visa by visiting a neighbouring country, including Costa Rica. You must follow the relevant rules and procedures when seeking to extend a visa. The British Embassy can’t intervene in decisions made by the immigration authorities. For more information visit the Panama National Migration Service website.

An initial stay of 180 days is granted on entry to Panama. Extensions are not normally allowed unless you apply to change your immigration status within the 180 days (for business purposes, marriage, etc). For further information on entry requirements, check with the Embassy of the Republic of Panama in London.

When transiting the Panama Canal, if you disembark the ship, your passport will be stamped by the immigration authorities. You do not need a visa unless you are staying in Panama for more than 90 days. Immigration officials do not board transiting cruise ships to check passports.

If you arrive in Panama by sea, except via a cruise line, you will need a visa. There is a fee of $100 plus $5 registration per person for passengers and crew members of vessels. Other fees may be charged, for example for cruising permits. Make sure immigration officials properly stamp your passport with the date of entry into the country. Check with the Embassy of Panama in London for further details.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of exit from Panama. Your passport must also have several unused pages.

Airport tax

A US$40 airport tax (payable only in cash) is charged on departure. This is usually included in the airline ticket fare. Check with your carrier.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

New permanent residency law

The Government of Panama has created a subcategory of permanent residency for foreign nationals of 22 countries with which Panama has especially friendly relations, including the UK. The decree allows British nationals to apply for a permanent residency permit to undertake commercial or professional activities (subject to certain limitations). For more information contact the  Panama National Migration Service on (507) 507-1800 or contact a local solicitor prior to your arrival in Panama as a number of the documents required must be legalised (issued with an apostille), which can only be done by the Legalisation Office in the UK.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Panama. Your ETD must be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Panama.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

Panama City has some good private hospitals and clinics, but medical facilities outside the capital are limited. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

Malaria and dengue fever are common throughout the year in parts of Panama, including some outlying areas of Panama City.

UK health authorities have classified Panama as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.

Cases of Chikunyunga virus have been confirmed in Panama and the number of reported cases in the region is increasing. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

In the 2010 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 20,000 adults aged 15 or over in Panama were living with HIV. The prevalence percentage was estimated at around 0.9% of the adult population compared to the prevalence percentage in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Natural disasters

Earthquakes

There is a possibility of earthquakes in Panama. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, visit the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Rainy Season

During the rainy season (April to December) occasional flooding and landslides occur in rural areas and some city streets become impassable due to flooding. October and November normally have the heaviest months of rainfall. Monitor regional weather forecasts and take local advice.

Money

Make sure you have enough money for your stay and return journey. Bank transfers are difficult, expensive and can take several days. Money transfer services like Western Union or Money Gram may offer a quicker service. Foreign cheques can’t be cashed in Panama. Travellers’ cheques are difficult to exchange and rates of commission are very high.

Some major banks offer currency exchange services and there are a number of exchange bureaus in the main shopping area around Via España and Via Argentina. Currency exchange services are also offered within Tocumen International Airport.

ATMs are widely available and they accept most major British credit and debit cards. The daily withdrawal limit varies between banks, as do fees.

Credit and debit cards are also widely used for payment. A number of establishments only accept MasterCard or Visa credit cards.

Many restaurants, hotels and shops will only accept US$20 notes or require identification for use of larger value notes because of problems with counterfeit $50 and $100 notes.

Travel advice help and support

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send us a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.

See also

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  • British Embassy Panama City

    Title:British Embassy Panama City
    Email:panama.consulate@fco.gov.uk
    Address:

    British Embassy
    Humboldt Tower, 4th Floor
    Calle 53, Marbella
    (PO Box 0816-07946)
    Panama City
    Panama

    Contact: Switchboard: (507) 297 6550
    Facsmile: (507) 297 6588
    Visiting:Office hours:
    Monday to Thursday 7:30am to 4:30pm
    Friday 7:30am to 12:30pm
    Services:
  • Department for International Trade Panama

    Title:Department for International Trade Panama
    Email:ariel.perez@fco.gov.uk
    Address:

    Ariel R. Perez Price LL.M - DIT Director
    British Embassy, Commercial Section
    4th floor, Humboldt Tower
    53rd Street ,Marbella
    Panama City
    P. O. Box 0816-07946
    Panama

    Contact: General enquiries: +507 297 6580 / FTN 84586580
    Visiting:
    Services:

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The latest news, travel advice, and information for Panama, updated regularly for all British travellers by the UK Foreign Office. Including British consulate and embassy addresses in Panama (Panama City).

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