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Panama

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Summary

  • Exercise a high degree of caution in Panama due to high levels of criminal activity and incidents of civil unrest. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times. Monitor the media and other sources about possible new security risks.
  • Do not travel to the Darien Gap, beyond Yaviza, because of the risk of violent criminal activity.
  • Violent crime occurs in Panama. Pay attention to your personal security at all times, particularly after dark. See Safety and security.
  • If you are arriving from a country or area where yellow fever is endemic you'll need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate for entry into Panama. See Entry and exit.

Entry and exit

Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Australian Government cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.

Visas

You won't need a visa to enter Panama unless you are arriving by sea.

To enter Panama, you'll need the equivalent of $US500 or a credit card and a return or onward travel ticket.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of Panama for up-to-date information.

If you're travelling to Panama through the United States of America (US), or if you are transiting Honolulu or another US point of entry, you'll need to meet US entry/transit requirements. Check your visa requirements with an Embassy or Consulate of the United States well in advance of your travel. More information: United States of America.

If you're flying to Panama via Canada, you'll need an eTA (electronic Travel Authorisation) for Canada. More information:

Other formalities

You may need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate for entry to Panama, particularly if you're arriving from a country or area where yellow fever is endemic. Yellow fever is a serious and potentially fatal disease preventable by vaccination. It is endemic in Panama and in regional countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru or Venezuela. Some airlines may require passengers to present a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate before being allowed to board flights out of the country. Read yellow fever for information on Australian re-entry requirements following exposure to yellow fever. More information: Yellow fever risk and certification requirements (by country, WHO)

You'll need to pay a departure tax of $US40 at the Tocumen Airport in Panama City if it's not already included in the cost of your air ticket.

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

Minors with Panamanian dual nationality, or who are resident in Panama, who are exiting the country with one parent or no parents must present an original birth certificate and notarised consent from the non-travelling parent(s). When the notarised consent and birth certificate are issued in Australia or another country, they must be authenticated with an apostille stamp.

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to get access to your passport by deception. If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact an Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

The local currency is the Panama Balboa (PAB), which is available only in coins. US dollar is the local currency in banknotes. Counterfeit currency exists, particular $US50 and $US100 notes. Use only licenced commercial banks and exchange bureaux to exchange money.

ATMs and credit card facilities are widely available in Panama. Contact your bank to make sure that your cards will work.

Safety and security

Crime

There are high levels of criminal activity in Panama.

Petty crime, such as pickpocketing 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 occurs 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 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. Credit card and ATM fraud occurs.

You could also encounter house break-in and robbery scams. Criminals gain the trust of victims then organise house robberies with associates.

Colombian guerrilla groups and drug traffickers are active in Darien Gap in southern Panama, near the border with Colombia. There have been numerous reports of kidnappings and murders (including of foreigners), armed robberies, injuries from recently-planted landmines, disappearances and other violent crimes in this area. The dangerous zone begins at the end of the Pan American highway (at Yaviza, about 230km southeast of Panama City) and extends to the Colombian border. This area includes the Darien National Park and privately owned nature reserves and tourist resorts.

  • Exercise a high degree of caution throughout Panama.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security at all times. Be particularly vigilant after dark.
  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables in a secure location.
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid wearing or displaying expensive watches, jewellery, cameras, phones or tablets/laptops.
  • Take care of your belongings, especially in crowded places.
  • Don't carry bags that are easy to snatch.
  • Avoid walking alone after dark in Panama City.
  • Avoid high-crime areas in Panama City. If you go, travel with others.
  • Be cautious when using ATMs, particularly in public places.
  • Only use ATMs in controlled areas such as banks or shopping centres.
  • Keep an eye on your credit card at all times, including during transactions.
  • Be cautious of approaches by visitors seeking access to your property.
  • Monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • Do not travel to the Darien Gap, beyond Yaviza, including Darien National Park and privately owned nature reserves and tourist resorts in this area.

Civil unrest and political tension

Protests and demonstrations 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.

  • Avoid all demonstrations, protests and large public gatherings as they could turn violent.
  • Monitor the media and other sources for news of planned or possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.
  • If you are in an area where a protest or similar is occurring, leave if it is safe to do so.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Road travel

Road conditions, street lighting and vehicle maintenance are generally poor. Driving at night is hazardous. Night construction on the Pan-American Highway is frequent, often with little or no signage to alert drivers.

By law, if there is a motor vehicle accident, affected vehicles must not be moved and drivers must remain at the scene until traffic police arrive.

If you plan to travel by road:

  • first check you have adequate insurance cover
  • familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving
  • keep vehicle windows up and doors locked at all times, including when moving
  • avoid driving at night, where possible
  • drive defensively and legally
  • don't drink and drive.

More information: Road travel

Driver's licence

You can drive in Panama with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must obtain your IDP before departing Australia.

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Taxis

Use only registered taxis, preferably those arranged through your hotel. Due to the risk of crime, avoid hailing taxis on the street. Do not share taxis with unknown passengers. Always sit in the back seat.

Public transport

Avoid public transport, where possible. Local buses do not follow permanent routes and are often poorly maintained.

Sea travel

A number of international cruise liners visit Panama. More information: Going on a cruise?

The Pacific and Caribbean coastlines of Panama are transport routes for the narcotics trade. Consider security risks and precautions before deciding to travel by sea.

Air travel

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Panama.

More information: Air travel

Beaches

The number of lifeguards and the availability of rescue equipment at public beaches in Panama is limited. Strong currents and undertows can make swimming dangerous. The Bay of Panama is polluted with untreated sewage and industrial waste.

  • Check conditions with your hotel or authorities located near or at the beach before entering the water.
  • Never swim alone.

Coiba Island

If you plan to visit the National Park on Coiba Island, you'll first need to get special permission from the Panamanian Ministry of Government and Justice and the National Environment Authority.

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

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. More information: Drugs

Other laws

Panama law requires that you carry identification documentation at all times.

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.

Activities that are illegal in Panama include:

  • knowingly transmitting a sexually transmitted disease
  • photographing an official building
  • failing to wait with your vehicle until the traffic police arrive, if you're involved in a traffic accident.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

Read Dual nationals.

Local customs

Taking photographs, particularly of children and women, may be met with suspicion and violence. Always seek the permission of a responsible adult before taking photographs of children or talking to them.

Homosexual acts aren't illegal in Panama but homosexuality isn't socially acceptable in all areas. Exercise discretion. More information: LGBTI travellers

 

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

Regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government won't pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor. Example: medicines containing pseudoephedrine are banned in Panama.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take enough legal prescription medicine with you to last for the duration of your stay so you remain in good health. Medicines must be in their original packaging and have a clear label. Carry copies of your prescription and a dated letter from your doctor explaining the reason why the medication is being taken and stating what the medicine is, its generic name, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information:

Health risks

Insect-borne diseases

Yellow fever is endemic and there is widespread transmission of Zika virus in Panama. The Australian Department of Health advises pregnant women to discuss any travel plans with their doctor and defer non-essential travel to Zika virus-affected areas.

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 dengue fever and Chikungunya virus also occur from time to time.

Protect yourself against insect-borne diseases:

  • ensure your accommodation is insect proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • get vaccinated against yellow fever before you travel
  • consider taking malaria prevention medication
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash, bleeding of the nose or gums, or severe headache.

More information:

HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection.

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including hepatitis, tuberculosis, rabies and brucellosis) are a risk. More serious outbreaks occur from time-to-time.

  • Use good hygiene practices including frequent handwashing.
  • Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water with intact seals.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

Panama has some good private hospitals and clinics but medical facilities outside the capital are limited.

Many doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing services, including for emergency care.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you may need to be evacuated to the United States or another destination with appropriate facilities. Medical evacuation can be very expensive. The cost of medical treatment in the United States can be extremely high.

Natural disasters

You could encounter hurricanes, severe weather, earthquakes, volcanic activity and/or tsunamis in Panama.

If a natural disaster occurs:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag).
  • closely monitor local media and other sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System and Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency.
  • follow the advice of local emergency officials
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts
  • seek local advice before entering affected areas.

Hurricanes and severe weather

The hurricane season is June to November, when landslides, mudslides and flooding may occur. Storms and hurricanes can also occur in other months. The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning.

If there is a hurricane or severe storm, you may not be able to leave the area: flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended, and available flights may fill quickly. Access to sea ports could also be affected. Roads and bridges may collapse or be blocked. Power, communication systems and other essential services could be affected. In some areas, adequate shelter from a hurricane may not be available for all those who stay.

If a hurricane is approaching, follow the advice for all natural disasters above and:

  • make sure you know your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans
  • identify your local shelter
  • closely monitor alerts and advice from the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

More information: Severe weather

Earthquakes

Panama experiences earthquakes. Familiarise yourself with earthquake safety measures for each place you stay and visit, including hotels, public and private buildings. More information: Earthquakes

Tsunamis

Panama is susceptible to tsunamis.

To receive tsunami alerts, register with the Global Disaster Alert and Co-ordination System.

Move immediately to high ground if advised by local or regional authorities or if you experience any of the following:

  • feel a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand up, or a weak rolling earthquake that lasts a minute or more
  • see a sudden rise or fall in sea level
  • hear loud and unusual noises from the sea

Do not wait for official warnings. Once on high ground, monitor local media.

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire: phone 911
  • Medical emergency: phone 911 or go to the nearest hospital
  • Police: phone 104 or visit the nearest police station.

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism products and services

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

Australia has a Consulate in Panama headed by an Honorary-Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular services. It doesn't issue passports. Full consular services are available from the Australian Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico.

Australian Consulate, Panama

Casa Testa
Avenida A Casco Viejo
Siguiente puerta al Super Gourmet Deli
Panama, Panama
Telephone: +507 667 73833
Email: aushonconpanama@gmail.com

Australian Embassy, Mexico City

Ruben Dario 55
Corner of Campos Eliseos, Polanco
Colonia Bosque de Chapultepec
11580 Mexico DF MEXICO
Telephone: (52 55) 1101 2200
Facsimile: (52 55) 1101 2201
E-mail: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au
Website: mexico.embassy.gov.au

Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you are unable to contact the Embassy in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources