Foreign travel advice

Panama

Important COVID-19: travel is different

To understand the risks in a country, including the latest COVID restrictions (including for entry), follow FCDO Travel Advice.

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Check what you need to do to travel abroad and return to England, or read travel guidance for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Safety and security

Crime

If you are a victim of crime in Panama and wish to report it to the local authorities, do so before leaving the country, otherwise your case may not be investigated.

Personal attacks, including sexual assault, have been reported in tourist destinations across Panama. You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK.

Violent crime, including gun crime, rarely involves foreign tourists. Take care when travelling in unfamiliar areas and avoid walking through less travelled areas at night alone. As with most major cities, street crime can happen anywhere, however the areas of San Miguelito, El Chorillo and Juan Diaz are known to have greater levels of crime compared to other areas. Most of these crimes are between members of rival drug gangs. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings against the risk of street crime.

There have been incidents of crime/violence on the road. If you are involved in a traffic accident with another driver, move the vehicle out of the way of ongoing traffic. Wait for your insurance representative to arrive and the transit police inside your vehicle. See Road travel.

Don’t carry large sums of cash or valuables in public. Use a hotel safe wherever possible. Where possible use an ATM within a bank and always protect your PIN. Be vigilant when using ATMs installed in public places, as people have been attacked after withdrawing cash.

Beware of pickpockets in busy areas, on buses and at bus stations. Watch out for muggers, particularly in main shopping areas and tourist sites, including Albrook Mall, 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.

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. In 2016, the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace agreement; however, the threat of incursions by Colombian guerrillas and other armed groups remains. 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

Only travel to the Darien province with an organised group to destinations under the surveillance of the Panamanian police. Don’t stray from your group.

If you’re hiking in the hills of the town of Boquete in the Province of Chiriqui, 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, however, roads are poorly lit. Recent 2019/2020 data shows that most collision accidents happen on weekends with an increased amount occurring at night. Darien Province and other remote rural areas may have very few surfaced roads, so prepare accordingly for travel. Watch out for pot-holes and unfinished repairs.

Traffic is very heavy in Panama City and other populated areas such as Pacora, Chorrera and Capira. Take precautions while travelling, especially around peak hours, given that repair work and construction sites are common in these areas. Drunk driving is illegal in Panama. If caught driving with your blood alcohol level higher than 0.0% you will face a fine, risk your license being revoked and your car being impounded.

By law, seat belts must be worn by drivers and front seat passengers. Children under five must travel in the back in fitted child seats. If you are involved in an accident, remain in the vehicle until transit police and the insurance representative arrive at the scene, and follow their instructions.

Public transport is available in Panama City via the citywide Metro Bus and Panama Metro Rail network. Other forms of transportation include yellow taxis, ride-share platforms and inter-city buses. Facemasks are mandatory on all types of public transportation.

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

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.

Travellers with limited mobility

Many places in Panama are not wheelchair accessible often due to limited or uneven paving, lack of lifts and ramps. This includes all types of public transportation.

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 Parliament, the University of Panama and other public institutions. Monitor local media on developments and follow advice from local authorities. Avoid protest and demonstrations; some have turned violent resulting in injured participants.