Traveling Luck for Panama

Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica.

Panama has borders with Colombia for 225km and Costa Rica for 330km.

Land in Panama is interior mostly steep, rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains; coastal areas largely plains and rolling hills.

Panamanian land covers an area of 78200 square kilometers which is slightly smaller than South Carolina

As for the Panamanian climate; tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May).

Panamanian(s) speak Spanish (official), English 14%; note - many Panamanians bilingual.

Panamanian National Map

Panamanian Map

Regions of Panama

With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (the Panama Canal Zone). The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. On 7 September 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of 1999. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the intervening years. With US help, dictator Manuel NORIEGA was deposed in 1989. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were turned over to Panama by or on 31 December 1999.


Panama Country Profile

Panama's dollarised economy rests primarily on a well-developed services sector that accounts for three-fourths of GDP. Services include operating the Panama Canal, banking, the Colon Free Zone, insurance, container ports, flagship registry, and tourism. A slump in the Colon Free Zone and agricultural exports, the global slowdown, and the withdrawal of US military forces held back economic growth in 2000-03; growth picked up in 2004 and 2005 led by export-oriented services and a construction boom stimulated by tax incentives. The government has implemented tax reforms, as well as social security reforms, and backs regional trade agreements and development of tourism. Unemployment remains high.

Panamanian natural resources include copper, mahogany forests, shrimp, hydropower

strategic location on eastern end of isthmus forming land bridge connecting North and South America; controls Panama Canal that links North Atlantic Ocean via Caribbean Sea with North Pacific Ocean

Panamanian religion is Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant 15%.

Natural hazards in Panama include occasional severe storms and forest fires in the Darien area.

Travel Advice on Panama

Panama

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with amendments to the Natural Disasters section (red alert for Colon region).  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

SUMMARY

  • Travel to the Darien province should be conducted only with an organised group, and to recognised tourist destinations protected by the Panamanian police (see Local Travel section below).

  • There are sporadic demonstrations in Panama City about various social and political issues (see Political Situation below).  You should avoid all demonstrations and monitor local media for up to date information.

  • If you transit the United States on your way to Panama, you must have a machine-readable passport or a valid US non-immigrant visa.

  • You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.

  • Around 7,500 British tourists/nationals visit Panama every year. Most visits are trouble-free.  The main type of incident for which British nationals require consular assistance in Panama is theft of personal belongings, or being arrested for possession of drugs.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You are advised to check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see: Travel Insurance


SAFETY AND SECURITY

Crime
There is a risk of street crime.  You should not carry large sums of cash or valuables in public.  Deposit them in hotel safes wherever possible.  Be vigilant when using ATM cash machines installed in public places, usually outside banks.  There have been cases of people being attacked after drawing cash from these machines.  There have also been instances of devices being inserted in ATMs, which allow cards to be cloned.  Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.
Beware of pickpockets in busy thoroughfares, on buses and at bus stations.  Be alert for muggers particularly in the main shopping areas especially Via Espana and Avenida Central as well as in the old town (Casco Viejo) in Panama City, and in 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.
Occasional armed hold-ups occur in restaurants in Panama City, Colon and elsewhere.  There have also been recent attacks on individuals at gunpoint in broad daylight.  Local police report that other high crime areas around Panama City are San Miguelito, Rio Abajo, El Chorillo, Ancon, Curundu, Vera Cruz Beach, and Parque Soberania.
Since June 2006, there have been incidents of serious assault, some involving taxi drivers.  Some incidents have occurred during broad daylight. You should use registered taxi companies, and whenever possible call a taxi company rather than hail a taxi in the street.   It is advisable to travel accompanied by someone you know and not to sit in the front seat of a taxi. Ensure that you do not get in a taxi with unknown passengers and instruct the driver not to stop and pick up any additional passengers.
Political Situation
Political demonstrations occur occasionally in Panama City, mainly around Panama University, and the main road known as the Transisthmica.  You should avoid being caught up in any demonstration.
You should monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.
Local Travel
You should travel to the Darien province by air, and only with an organised group to recognised tourist destinations protected by the Panamanian Police.  Please contact the British Embassy in Panama City for details.  You should not stray from the immediate vicinity of the protected resort area.  Expedition companies based in Panama also sometimes organise expeditions to Darien.  Check carefully that police protection is included.  The border area with Colombia is particularly dangerous (beyond a line drawn from Punta Carreto in the Comarca de San Blas on the Atlantic coast, through Yaviza in the eastern Darien province, to Punta Pina 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.  Two Spanish nationals were kidnapped near the boarder with Colombia on 20 January 2006.  Foreign nationals and Panamanian citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, kidnapping and murder in this area.
Road Safety
Standards of driving and traffic management are both poor.  Panama has a reasonably good road system, except in Darien Province where there is hardly any paved road at all.  Most of the central Inter-American Highway is still only one lane each way and it is not well lit at night.  There is often night construction on this road with few signs alerting drivers to such construction.
By law seat belts must be worn by drivers and front seat passengers, and children under five must travel in the back in fitted child seats.  You are warned that motor insurance is not compulsory in Panama, even for third party damage and injury, and many Panamanians drive without it.  If you are involved in a car accident, Panamanian law requires that you should wait with the vehicle until the traffic police (Transito) arrive.
Sea Safety
You should be extremely careful when wading or swimming on Pacific and Caribbean beaches as in some locations there are strong currents and undertows.  These beaches seldom have signs warning of the dangers.  Drownings occur every year.  Do not bathe in the Bay of Panama.  It is polluted with untreated sewage and industrial waste.


LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS

Do not become involved with drugs of any kind orin any way.  Possession of even very small quantities can lead to heavy terms of imprisonment (up to 15 years).  The judicial process is slow and conditions in Panamanian prisons are harsh and not comparable to those in the UK.  You must be aware that simply being in the company of someone who is using drugs is sufficient grounds for arrest.  From the time of arrest, it can take upwards of 12-24 months before you even appear before a judge.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

As a British nationals you do not require a visa to visit Panama but you are required on arrival to have a return or onward ticket and have the equivalent of US$500 or a credit card.  An initial stay of 30 days is granted upon entry.  Extensions of stay can be obtained from the Panamanian immigration authorities.  For further information on entry requirements, you are advised to check with Panamanian Representation in the UK.
Passports must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected departure from the country and that it has a plentiful supply of unused pages.
Proof of yellow fever immunization may be required if you are arriving from an infected area.
Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries required documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.  For further information on exactly what will be required at immigration please contact: Panamanian Representation in the UK


HEALTH

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see: Travel Insurance
In October 2006, the Panamanian Health Ministry reported cases of acute renal failure with neurological involvement resulting in a number of deaths. Evidence suggests that the cases were due to contamination of liquid medications with traces of diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent not intended for human consumption.
The implicated medications are only prescribed by the Department of Social Security, are not readily available in pharmacies and have the Department of Social Security label (Caja de Suguro Social) on the bottle. The Panamanian Health Ministry has ordered that these medications be recalled and provides a list of them on their website (in Spanish):  http://www.minsa.gob.pa/minsa2006/noticias.php?key=460
You are strongly advised not to take any of these products and consult a medical professional if you are in any doubt about the safety of any pharmaceutical products available in Panama.
Panama City has some good private hospital and clinics but medical facilities outside the capital are limited.
Malaria exists in some parts of Panama, including in some outlying areas of Panama City.  Cases of dengue fever are increasing particularly, but not only, in rural areas.  Malaria and dengue fever are both carried by mosquitoes.  You are advised to cover up and use insect repellent.  More than three-quarters of British travellers who contracted malaria in 2005 did not take preventive measures, such as malaria prevention tablets.  However, malaria can occur despite appropriate prevention, and therefore you should promptly seek medical care in the event of a fever or flu-like illness in the first year following your return from travelling to a malaria risk country.  Before travelling you should seek medical advice about the malaria risk in Panama.
You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date.  For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at www.dh.gov.uk.
NATURAL DISASTERS
There is a possibility of earthquakes in Panama.  The last major one struck the border between Panama and Costa Rica in December 2003.
During the rainy season (April to December) occasional flooding and landslides occur in rural areas and some city streets become temporarily impassable due to flooding.  October and November normally have the heaviest months of rainfall.  You should monitor regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.  In November 2006, the Panamanian authorities declared a state of red alert for the Colon region on the Caribbean coast of Panama, after torrential rains caused a number of deaths.


GENERAL

If things go wrong when overseas, please see: What We Can Do To Help
Ensure you have enough money for your stay and return.  Bank transfers can take several days although Western Union offers a quicker service.
If you are staying longer than a month, you should register with the British Embassy in Panama City.
The British Embassy in Panama can assist with Temporary or Emergency Passports but only in emergencies.   However, the British Embassy in Panama does not issue standard passports.  These applications are sent to the British Embassy in Costa Rica for processing.  Processing can take up to 15 working days.  If a courier is used, you will have to bear the cost. The service will normally take 6 working days.  Further guidance can be obtained from the British Embassy in Panama.
Since many trips to Panama are made via the United States, it is important to note that all passport holders who wish to enter the US or transit the US to onward destinations under the Visa Waiver Programme (See Entry Requirements in the travel advice for the United States) must present an individual machine-readable passport.  If you do not have a machine-readable passport you must obtain a non-immigrant visa from the nearest US Embassy prior to travel (see also above for British passports).  For further details, in particular concerning children travelling on a parent's passport, please contact the US Embassy.
A US$20 airport tax (payable only in cash) is charged upon departure but this is sometimes included in the airline ticket fare.
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.


OTHER

Panama Country Profile