US Consular Information Sheet for Panama Updated - 5 April 2006
Saturday, April 08 2006 @ 10:45 pm EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel fm the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
U.S. citizens transiting the Panama Canal, as passengers do not need to obtain visas, report to customs, or pay any fees. U.S. citizens piloting private craft through the canal should contact the Panama Canal Authority at 011-507-272-1111 or consult the canal’s web page at http://www.pancanal.com.
Panamanian law requires all persons to carry official identification documents at all times. This law applies to both Panamanian citizens and people visiting the country. Due to an increase in illegal aliens in Panama, the police have been checking documents more frequently, resulting in the detention of people not carrying identification. For this reason, all Americans are encouraged to carry their passport or other official identification at all times.
See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Panama and other countries.
See Entry and Exit Requirements for more information pertaining to dual nationality and the international child abduction. Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: U.S. citizens are warned not to travel to Darien Province. Embassy personnel are only allowed to travel to Darien Province on official business with prior approval of the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer. This restricted area encompasses the Darien National Park as well as privately owned nature reserves and tourist resorts. While no incidents have occurred at these resorts, U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals and Panamanian citizens have been the victims of violent crime, kidnapping and murder in this general area. There is also the absence of reliable communications and medical infrastructure in the region, which makes travel therein potentially hazardous. Moreover, all around the Panama-Colombia border area the presence of Colombian terrorist groups, drug traffickers and other criminals is common, adding danger to travelers. Note: The Secretary of State has designated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations
Fm time to time, there may be demonstrations protesting internal Panamanian issues, or manifestations of anti-American sentiment by small but vociferous groups. While most demonstrations relate to labor disputes or other local issues and are typically non-violent, it is nonetheless a good security practice to avoid demonstrations. U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution on the campus of the University of Panama, where members of radical, anti-U.S. student groups are active. For updated security information, contact the U.S. Embassy Consular Section at the address below.
Visitors should be cautious when swimming or wading at the beach. Some beaches, especially those on the Pacific Ocean, have dangerous currents that cause drowning deaths every year. These beaches are seldom posted with warning signs.
On the Pacific coast, boaters should be wary of vessels that may be transporting narcotics northward fm Colombia. Special permission is needed fm the Ministry of Government and Justice and the National Environment Authority to visit the National Park on Coiba Island. At this time, the island, a former penal colony, has fewer than 20 prisoners. Boaters should avoid the southeastern coast of Kuna Yala Comarca (San Blas Islands), south of Punta Carreto, on the Atlantic Coast. (QUESTION – if it is a former penal colony, why does it still have prisoners?)
Local maritime search and rescue capabilities are limited and well below U.S. standards.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the State Department’s Internet web site at where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available fm 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Panama City is moderate, but growing, particularly because of the activities of youth gangs. The city of Colon is a high crime area. Police checkpoints have become commonplace on weekends on roads in both cities. Based upon reported incidents by local police, the high-crime areas around Panama City are San Miguelito, Rio Abajo, El Chorrillo, Ancon, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Panama Viejo, and the Madden Dam overlook. Crimes there are typical of those that plague metropolitan areas and range fm rape to armed robberies, muggings, purse-snatchings, "express kidnappings" fm ATM banking facilities, in which the victim is briefly kidnapped and robbed after withdrawing cash fm an ATM, and petty theft. Tourists recently experienced a problem with armed bandits during an organized canoe trip on the Chagres River.
Panama City has a curfew for persons under 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. $50.00 for the violation.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting it to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can provide general information on the local criminal justice process and on obtaining a Panamanian attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime .
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Although Panama City has some very good hospitals and clinics; medical facilities outside of the capital are limited. When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it life-saving. Some insurance policies also include coverage for sychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. In Panama, most hospitals accept credit cards for hospital charges, but not for doctors' fees.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained fm the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly fm those in the United States. The information below concerning Panama is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Panama's roads, traffic and transportation systems are generally safe, but traffic lights often do not exist, even at busy intersections. Driving is often hazardous and demanding due to dense traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained streets, and a lack 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.
Buses and taxis are not always maintained in a safe operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. Auto insurance is not mandatory and many drivers are uninsured. If an accident occurs, the law requires that the vehicles remain in place until a police officer responds to investigate. Traffic in Panama moves on the right, as in the U.S., and Panamanian law requires that drivers and passengers wear seat belts.
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, 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 fm Carnival through Good Friday. Carnival starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday and goes on for four days.
Traveling on the Pan American Highway: There is often night construction on Panama's main highway, the Pan American Highway. There are few signs alerting drivers to such 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 does not go through to Colombia. It ends at Yaviza in the Darien Province of Panama. The paved portion of the road ends at Santa Fe, with all-weather surface through Canglón. If destined for South America, automobile travelers may wish to ship their cars on a freighter.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Panama's civil aviation authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Panama's air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
DOMESTIC AIR TRAVEL: Prior to the year 2000, there were several fatal crashes involving small domestic carriers, while other flights experienced mechanical problems resulting in cancellations, emergency landings, and non-fatal crashes. Government air safety oversight has increased significantly in recent years however, and there have been no incidents involving scheduled passenger services since 2000.
Tocumen International Airport, serving Panama City, maintains airport security measures that meet international standards. Security measures at some domestic commuter fields serving popular travel destinations such as Colon, Contadora Island, Bocas Del Toro and Kuna Yala islands (or San Blas Islands) are lax.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Panamanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export fm Panama of items such as firearms and ammunition, cultural property, endangered wildlife species, narcotics, biological material, and food products. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Panama in Washington or one of Panama's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. Please see our information on Customs Information .
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly fm those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Panamanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Panama are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information onCriminal Penalties.
RETIRING IN PANAMA: Recently, Panama has gained popularity as a destination for retiring Americans and Americans seeking vacation or investment property. As with any major investment, U.S. citizens are advised to seek independent legal advice on topics including Panamanian taxation, immigration and property laws, as well as U.S. tax regulations applicable to foreign sourced income and capital gains before entering into any agreements.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: Panama is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Panama are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Panama. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located in The Clayton Building (formerly Fort Clayton Building 520) in the Clayton section of Panama City.
The international mailing address is: Apartado 0816-02561, Zona 5, Panama, Republic of Panama.
The U.S. mailing address is U.S. Embassy Panama, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20521-9100.
The telephone numbers for the Embassy are 011-507-207-7000, after hour emergencies, 011-507-207-7200; Consular Section 011-507-207-7030 and fax 011-507-207-7278.
The Embassy web site is http://usembassy.state.gov/panama. E-mail inquiries may be addressed to Panama-ACS@state.gov.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated May 26, 2005 to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirement, Safety and Security, Crime, and Retirement in Panama.