Panama

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 02 April 2014.   It contains updates in Additional information: Natural disasters, severe weather and climate. We continue to advise Australians in Panama to exercise a high degree of caution because of the high levels of criminal activity and incidents of civil unrest.

Panama overall

Darien Gap beyond Yaviza

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Panama because of the high levels of criminal activity and incidents of civil unrest.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • If you are arriving from a yellow fever endemic country, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru or Venezuela, you will be required to present a valid yellow fever certificate to be allowed entry into Panama.
  • We strongly advise you not to travel to the Darien Gap, beyond Yaviza, because of the risk of violent criminal activity.
  • Australia has a Consulate in Panama, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance (not including the issue of passports). The Australian Embassy in Mexico provides full consular assistance to Australians in Panama.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
    • organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
    • register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency
    • subscribe to this travel advice to receive free email updates each time it's reissued.
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Panama for the most up to date information.

Panama requires visitors to have the equivalent of USD$500 or a credit card, as well as a return or onward travel ticket, to enter the country. A departure tax is payable if the cost is not included in your air ticket.

If you are travelling to Panama through the United States of America , or if you are transiting Honolulu or another US point of entry, you are required to meet US entry/transit requirements. Make sure you check visa requirements with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate well in advance of your travel. You should also read our travel advice for the United States of America.

Panama is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a serious and potentially fatal disease preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that all travellers be vaccinated for yellow fever before travelling to Panama (see Health section).

As the quarantine requirements for yellow fever vaccination differ between countries, we recommend that you check the yellow fever entry requirements for Panama, and all countries you intend to enter or transit by contacting their foreign missions in Australia.

Some airlines may require passengers to present a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate before being allowed to board flights out of the country. For more information about yellow fever, including Australian re-entry requirements, see the Department of Health website.

Airlines will not accept passengers bound for destinations within the US without evidence of an onward or return ticket, even if the traveller may be eligible to enter the US under the visa waiver program.

Minors with Panamanian dual nationality or resident in Panama who are exiting the country with one parent must present an original birth certificate and notarised consent from the other parent (from both parents if travelling alone). When the notarial consent and birth certificate are issued in Australia or another country, they must be authenticated with an apostille stamp.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Civil unrest/political tension

Protests and demonstrations, primarily concerning local social and political issues, occur from time to time and are often centred on the campus of the University of Panama, the National Assembly, the Presidential Palace in Panama City and on main streets and highways. You should avoid all demonstrations and protests as they may turn violent. You should monitor local media, particularly in periods of demonstrations.

Crime

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Panama because of the high levels of criminal activity. Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Petty crime, such as pick-pocketing and bag-snatching is common, especially in Panama City and Colon, at airports, bus terminals and on public transport. Violent crime, including armed robbery and muggings, is less common, but does occur throughout Panama.

High-crime areas in Panama City include Calidonia, San Miguelito, Rio Bajo, El Chorillo, Ancon, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Parque Soberania, Tocumen, Panama Viejo, Casco Viejo and shopping areas on Avenida Central. Travellers should avoid walking alone after dark in Panama City. Travellers have been targeted by armed criminals, especially at Madden Dam, a tourist site north east of Panama City in the Chagre National Park.

Incidents of 'express kidnappings', where victims are forced to withdraw funds from an automatic teller machine (ATM) to secure their release, have occurred. Be cautious when using ATMs, particularly in public places. There have also been incidences of credit card and ATM fraud.

You are advised to be cautious of approaches by visitors seeking access to your property. Criminals may use a number of scams to gain the trust of victims and identify potential routines, then organise robberies with other gang members.

Darien Gap beyond Yaviza: We strongly advise you not to travel to the Darien Gap, beyond Yaviza, in southern Panama near the border with Colombia, because of the presence of violent criminal activity, including Colombian guerrilla groups and drug traffickers. There have been numerous reports of kidnappings and murders (including of foreigners), armed robberies, injuries from recently-planted landmines, deaths and disappearances in this area. The dangerous zone begins at the end of the Pan American highway (at Yaviza, about 230km southeast of Panama City) and ends at the Colombian border. This area includes the Darien National Park and privately owned nature reserves and tourist resorts.

Money and valuables

Before you go, you should organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. ATMs are widely available in Panama, but you should check with your bank about whether your ATM card will work overseas, and advise them of your intended travel plans. Travellers’ cheques are difficult to exchange.

The US dollar is the paper currency of Panama, however, Panama mints its own coins. Travellers should be aware that counterfeit currency, particular US$50 and US$100 notes, exist in Panama.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering and theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Use only registered taxis and, wherever possible, call a taxi rather than hail one off the street. Do not share taxis with unknown passengers and always sit in the back seat. Travel on local buses is not recommended as they do not follow permanent routes and, in terms of security and maintenance, are often unsafe.

Road conditions, street lighting and vehicle maintenance are generally poor and driving at night is hazardous. Night construction on the Pan-American Highway is frequent, often with little or no signage to alert drivers. Travellers should keep windows closed and their doors locked at all times. For further advice, see our Road travel page.

In the event of a motor vehicle accident you should remain at the scene and not move the vehicle until the traffic police arrive.

The number of lifeguards and the availability of rescue equipment at public beaches in Panama are limited. Due to strong currents and undertows, it is advisable to check conditions with your hotel or authorities located near or at the beach before entering the water. The Bay of Panama is polluted with untreated sewage and industrial waste.

Tourists wishing to visit the National Park on Coiba Island need to obtain special permission from the Panamanian Ministry of Government and Justice and the National Environment Authority.

You should pay particular attention when travelling by sea along both the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines of Panama as these areas are known transport routes for the narcotics trade.

Airline safety

Please refer to our Air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Panama, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Panama law requires that you carry identification documentation at all times. Failure to produce identification on request could result in travellers being fined or jailed.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy prison sentences served in local jails. Possessing even a very small quantity of illegal drugs or being in the company of someone using illegal drugs are grounds for arrest.

Although motor vehicle insurance is compulsory in Panama many locals drive without it. If you are involved in a car accident Panama law requires you to wait with the vehicle until the traffic police arrive.

Although homosexual acts are not illegal, discretion is highly recommended since homosexuality is not socially acceptable in all areas. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Under the Panamanian Legal Code, knowingly transmitting sexually transmitted diseases is a crime.

It is illegal to photograph official buildings in Panama.

There are curfews for minors (under 18 years of age) in Panama City. Persons under 18 years of age require a special carnet (permit) if they are out during restricted hours. Minors violating curfews may be detained at a police station until their legal guardian can arrange for their release.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

Taking photographs, particularly of children and women, may be met with suspicion and violence. Permission from an adult should be obtained before taking photographs of or talking to children.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Panama has some good private hospitals and clinics, however, medical facilities outside the capital are limited. Many doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing services, including emergency care. Medical emergencies may require evacuation to a third country, most likely the US, where the cost of medical treatment can be extremely high. Medical evacuation costs would be considerable (in the tens of thousands of dollars).

Malaria is a risk throughout the year in Boca del Toro, Darien and San Blas but is not a risk in Panama City. Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illness dengue fever also occur from time to time. We encourage you to consider taking prophylaxis against malaria where necessary and to take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent at all times.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, yellow fever, tuberculosis, rabies and brucellosis) are a risk with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Panama is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that you are vaccinated against yellow fever before travelling to Panama. See the Entry and Exit section for important information about vaccination certificate requirements. For more information about yellow fever, see the Department of Health website.

Where to get help

Australia has a Consulate in Panama, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance (not including the issue of passports). The address is:

Australian Consulate, Panama City

San Francisco, Punta Pacifica, PH
Oceania Business Plaza, Torre 2000, Piso 42
Street Isaac Hanono Misrri and Boulevard Punta Pacifica
Panama City, PANAMA
Telephone: (507) 397 6400
Facsimile: (507) 397 6409
Email: aushonconsul.panama@gmail.com

You can also obtain full consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Mexico. Contact details are:

Australian Embassy, Mexico City

Ruben Dario 55
Col. Bosques de Chapultepec, C.P. 11580
Mexico D.F. MEXICO
Telephone: 52 55 1101 2200
Facsimile: 52 55 1101 2201
E-mail: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au

In a consular emergency, if you are unable to contact the above mission you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

If you are travelling to Panama, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency – whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The hurricane season is June to November when landslides, mudslides and flooding may occur. In the case of a hurricane or other natural disasters, you should monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.

The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning. You can check the latest hurricane information at the National Hurricane Centre website.

In the event of an approaching hurricane, you should follow the instructions of local authorities. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. You should contact your airline for the latest flight information. The hurricane could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available to all who may choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo ID, etc.) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe weather page.

Panama is subject to earthquakes. Visitors should familiarise themselves with their hotel’s evacuation plans on arrival and follow the advice of local authorities in the event of an earthquake. Information on natural disasters, including earthquakes and volcanic activity, can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.

On 1 April 2014, a major earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of northern Chile which resulted in a tsunami warning for the Pacific coast of Panama immediately after the quake.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.

See also information under Entry and exit.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.