Panama - Consular Information Sheet
October 11, 2000
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Panama has a developing economy.
Outside the Panama City area, which has many first-class hotels
and restaurants, tourist facilities vary in quality. U.S. currency
is valid in Panama, and is exchangeable on a one-to-one basis
with the Panamanian balboa. As of December 31, 1999, all former
U.S. military facilities in Panama were transferred to Panamanian
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: U.S. citizens are encouraged to obtain
a U.S. passport before traveling to Panama. Although entry into
Panama is permitted with any proof of U.S. citizenship (such as
a certified birth certificate or a naturalization certificate)
and official photo identification (such as a driver's license),
travelers may experience difficulties entering Panama or leaving
Panama to return to the U.S. when not in possession of a valid
U.S. passport. Panamanian law requires that travelers must either
purchase a tourist card from the airline serving Panama or obtain
a visa from a Panamanian embassy or consulate before traveling
to Panama. Further information may be obtained from the Embassy
of Panama, 2862 McGill Terrace, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009,
tel. 202/483-1407 or the Panamanian consulates in Atlanta, Chicago,
Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia
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 U.S. Embassy in Panama City for details on required procedures.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Travel toward Colombia beyond Yaviza
in Darien Province and Punta Carreto in Comarca de San Blas Province
may be dangerous. There is limited Panamanian police presence
in these areas, which are known to be frequented by Colombian
guerrillas and paramilitary groups, drug smugglers, and undocumented
Travel beyond Yaviza towards the Colombian border is possible
only by foot and is risky for individual travelers or small groups.
This information also pertains to the Ancon Nature Preserve at
Cana in the Darien National Park, due to its proximity to the
Colombian border and possible cross-border activity by Colombian
From time to time, there may be demonstrations or other manifestations
of anti-American sentiment by small but vociferous groups. While
there is no evidence that U.S. citizens might be targeted (most
demonstrations relate to labor disputes or other local issues)
and while such protests are typically non-violent, it is nonetheless
a good security practice to avoid demonstrations. For updated
Security information, contact the U.S. Embassy Consular Section.
On the Pacific coast, boaters should steer clear of Coiba Island,
which houses a penal colony, and be wary of vessels that may be
transporting narcotics northward from Colombia. Similarly, boaters
should avoid the southeastern coast of Comarca de San Blas, south
of Punta Carreto.
With the 1999 departure of the U.S. military from Panama, local
maritime search and rescue capabilities are greatly diminished.
CRIME INFORMATION: There is a moderate but growing level
of crime in the Panama City and Colon areas, and police checkpoints
have become commonplace on weekends there. Based upon reported
incidents, the high-crime areas around Panama City are Chorillo,
Ancon, Curundu, Vera Cruz Beach, Panama Viejo, and the Madden
Dam overlook. Crimes there are typical of those that plague metropolitan
areas and range from rape to armed robberies, muggings, purse-snatchings,
"quick-naps" from ATM banking facilities (in which the
victim is briefly kidnapped after withdrawing cash from an ATM
and robbed), and petty theft. Panama has seen an increase in the
number of crimes in which unlawful weapons were used, as well
as an increase in arrests for possession of illegal weapons countrywide.
There has been a substantial increase in incidents of armed violence
in metropolitan areas.
A curfew for minors under 18 years of age has been in effect throughout
Panama City since October 1996. 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.
The loss or theft abroad of a passport should be reported immediately
to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet
A Safe Trip Abroad for ways
to promote a more trouble-free journey. This publication and others,
such as Tips
For Travelers to Central and South America, are available
by mail from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs,
or via the
Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S.
citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which
sometimes differ significantly from those in the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences
and heavy fines.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Although Panama City has some very
good hospitals and clinics, medical facilities outside of the
capital are limited. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization
and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands
of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate
cash payment for health services. Most hospitals accept credit
cards for hospital charges, but not for doctors' fees.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always
valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs
do not provide payment for care outside the United States. Uninsured
travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.
Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your
policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation.
Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital
or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses
you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric
treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas
insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's brochure,
Medical Information for Americans
Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs
home page or via autofax at (202) 647-3000.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations
and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international
travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX
(1-888-232-3299), or via the
CDC Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign
country, U.S. citizens 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 totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair
Flooding during the rainy season, which lasts from April to December,
washes out some roads in the interior and renders others impassable
by car. In addition, roads in the interior are often poorly maintained
and lack illumination at night. Road travel is more dangerous
during the rainy season, and in the interior from Carnival through
Good Friday (Carnival starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday
and goes on for four days; from Ash Wednesday there are 40 days
to Good Friday). On roads where poor lighting and driving conditions
prevail, night driving is difficult, and should be approached
with caution. Buses and taxis are not always maintained in safe
operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. 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. 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
TRAVELING ON THE PAN AMERICAN HIGHWAY: The Pan American
Highway ends at Yaviza in the Darien Province of Panama, and the
final portion from Chepo to Yaviza is reasonably passable only
during the dry season (January-April). If destined for South America,
automobile travelers may wish to ship their cars on a freighter.
(The auto/ passenger ferry service "Crucero Express"
ceased operations in early 1997.)
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 oversight of Panama's air carrier operations. For
further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation
within the United States at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the
FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The
U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign
air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services.
For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers,
travelers may contact the DOD at (618) 229-4801.
DOMESTIC AIR TRAVEL: Recent incidents have called into
serious question the safety standards of small air carriers flying
domestic routes. Maintenance and pilot standards of these domestic
carriers may not meet U.S. standards. Many of the airfields to
which they fly are small, with rough, narrow runways that lack
even rudimentary safety equipment or standards. From March through
September 2000, there were two fatal crashes involving small domestic
carriers, while other flights have experienced mechanical problems
resulting in cancellations, emergency landings, and non-fatal
crashes. In light of these recent incidents, U.S. citizens should
give serious consideration to alternative modes of travel before
booking flights on domestic Panamanian airlines.
Only Tocumen International Airport, serving Panama City, maintains
airport security measures known to meet international standards.
Security measures at domestic commuter fields serving popular
travel destinations such as Colon, Contadora Island, Bocas Del
Toro and the San Blas Islands are lax.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information
on international adoption of children and international parental
child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html,
or telephone (202) 736-7000.
EMBASSY LOCATION/REGISTRATION: U.S. citizens living in
or visiting Panama are encouraged to register at the Consular
Section of the
U.S. Embassy in Panama and obtain updated information on travel
and security within Panama. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy
is located on Panama Bay, Panama City, at Balboa Avenue and 39th
Street. The international mailing address is Apartado 6959, Panama
5, Republic of Panama. The U.S. mailing address is U.S. Embassy
Panama, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20521-9100. The
telephone number of the Consular Section is 011-507-225-1495/6988
(after hours, 011-507-227-1377); fax 011-507-225-1495; web site
http://www.orbi.net/usispan/ and e-mail is email@example.com.