Panama travel guide

About Panama

Think Panama and what springs to mind? The canal? Cigars? Straw hats? Probably all three. However, for those in the know, this slender Central American nation is much more than that; it is a land of wildlife-rich rainforests and remote indigenous communities; Miami-esque promenades and paradisiacal beaches; verdant volcanoes and the impenetrable wilderness of the Darien Gap.

Firstly, the canal. Though considered to be the star attraction (thousands flock here to watch container ships passing through the locks) the wild landscapes it scythes through are an altogether more exciting prospect. Here you can hike volcanoes, zip-wire over forest canopies, raft down rapids and meet one of the country’s largest indigenous groups, the Kunas, who eke out simple, traditional lives on the sumptuous San Blas Islands.

The Caribbean coastline features another facet of Panamanian culture. Jamaicans and Barbadians, drafted in to build the canal, ended up settling here and an Afro-Caribbean vibe endures to this day. The nearby Bocas del Toro islands, meanwhile, are the definition of Caribbean island ideal with their palm-fringed beaches, limpid lagoons and sleepy eco-lodges.

The wildlife is also spectacular. Whale watching in the Golfo de Chiriquí is a must and you never forget scuba diving or snorkeling alongside turtles in the Coiba National Marine Park. Its birdlife surpasses neighbouring Costa Rica and the most treasured sightings are the iconic harpy eagle, Panama’s national bird, and the endangered great green macaw.

With so much natural beauty to imbibe, it is easy to overlook the bustling capital, Panama City. But don’t. A metropolis divided starkly between the past and present, it is a city where crumbling colonial buildings stand in the shadows of high-rise steel and glass towers. It feels a little bit like Miami and the locals certainly give their US counterparts a run for their money in the hedonism stakes. Come join the party.

Key facts


75,517 sq km (29,157 sq miles).


3,990,406 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

48.4 per sq km.


Panama City.



Head of state:

President Laurentino Cortizo since 2019.

Head of government:

President Laurentino Cortizo since 2019.

Travel Advice

Before you travel, check the ‘Entry requirements’ section for Panama’s current entry restrictions and requirements. These may change with little warning. Monitor this advice for the latest updates and stay in contact with your travel provider.

If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting.

It is more important than ever to get travel insurance and check it provides sufficient cover. See the FCDO’s guidance on foreign travel insurance.

Political demonstrations may occur at short notice. Please check the ‘Safety and Security’ page for further information.

If you travel to Darien province you should do so only with an organised group to destinations under the surveillance of the Panamanian police. See Local travel.

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Panama, attacks can’t be ruled out. See Terrorism.

You can contact the emergency services on 911. Alternatively, call 104 for police or 103 for ambulance and fire.

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

Coronavirus travel health

All restrictions or requirements around COVID-19 have been lifted in Panama.

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Panama on the TravelHealthPro website.

See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Entry and borders

See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Panama.

Be prepared for your plans to change

No travel is risk-free during COVID-19. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.

Plan ahead and make sure you:

  • can access money
  • understand what your insurance will cover
  • can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned

Travel in Panama

Make sure you check the local guidance from Panamanian authorities in your area. See the Ministry of Tourism website (in Spanish), Ministry of Health Twitter page (in Spanish) and Visit Panama website (in English).

Healthcare in Panama

If you are concerned that you may be unwell as a result of coronavirus, you should call the national hotline on 169, or use the Panamanian Government’s “R.O.S.A” (virtual clinic) to send a WhatsApp message, and follow their advice.

You can access the Panamanian public healthcare system on the same terms as Panamanians. Coronavirus tests for those who meet the clinical requirement to be tested will be free of charge.

Most public and private medical centres do not accept walk-ins and require you to book an appointment prior to arrival.

For contact details for English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.

Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

View Health for further details on healthcare in Panama.

See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.


For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance

Further information

The Panamanian Tourism Authority (ATP) has created the following helpline to provide assistance: +507 6330 2520 or via email to

If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.


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, including the capital. You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK.

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, Río Abajo, 24 de Diciembre, Santa Ana and Juan Diaz are known to have greater levels of crime compared to other areas. Take sensible precautions and remain vigilant to protect yourself and your belongings against the risk of street crime.

Violent crime, including gun crime, occurs but rarely involves foreign tourists. There have been reports of targeted gang assassinations throughout the city, including in areas frequented by travellers. Most of these crimes are between members of rival drug gangs.

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.

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.

Use registered taxi companies or ride-share platforms. Picking up multiple travellers in Panama is common practice, but you should insist that taxi drivers do not do this.   If you are involved in a traffic accident, ensure that the vehicle is moved out of the way of ongoing traffic. Avoid any type of confrontations with other drivers or passers-by. See Road travel.

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.

Political situation

Small protests and demonstrations are fairly common. Most are peaceful but they can occur at short notice and cause disruption e.g. blocking road travel around the country, into Panama City, and in some parts of the capital. Monitor local media and follow advice from local authorities and check your route and alternatives before travelling. You should avoid protests and demonstrations as, in the past, some have turned violent and led to property damage and injuries.

Local travel

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. Pickpockets have targeted bus stations, despite there being security guards, be aware of your surroundings and keep a close eye on your belongings.

Use registered taxi companies or ridesharing apps whenever possible. Unregistered taxis can be in poor condition and are responsible for a significant proportion of accidents due to poor maintenance and driving standards. Picking up multiple travellers in Panama is common practice, but you should insist that taxi drivers do not do this.

Only travel to Darien province in an organised group, and make sure that local police and security authorities are aware of your visit. Follow local security advice and do not stray from your group.

Due to the environmental risks and danger of getting lost, you should only hike in the hills around Boquete in the Province of Chiriquí with an experienced guide. Trails may not be well marked and mobile phone coverage is unreliable. Don’t go hiking without taking the necessary precautions.

Driving and Road travel

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, make an appointment at the Consular section at the British Embassy for a Certificate of entitlement for a Panamanian driving licence, then you should go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then to the issuing agency SERTRACEN for further information on the requirements needed.

Panama has a reasonably good road system, however, roads are poorly lit and road traffic accidents are common. Watch out for potholes and unfinished repairs. Driving standards can be poor. Recent data shows that most collisions happen on weekends, with an increasing number occurring at night. Darien Province and other remote rural areas may have very few surfaced roads, so prepare accordingly for travel. Traffic is very heavy in Panama City and other populated areas such as Pacora, Chorrera, Capira and Arraijan. Take precautions while travelling, especially around peak hours, given that repair work and construction sites are common in these areas. Drink 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 a traffic accident with another driver, move the vehicle out of the way of ongoing traffic. Wait inside your vehicle for your insurance representative and the transit police to arrive, and follow their instructions. Avoid any type of confrontation with other drivers or passers-by.

The standard of roads in Panama varies. Some roads may suddenly deteriorate, with huge potholes and uneven road surfaces requiring extra care.

Travellers with limited mobility

Many places in Panama are not wheelchair accessible, 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.

Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind. Possession of even small quantities of illegal drugs can lead to imprisonment.

The judicial process is slow and sentencing may take up to two years. If you are found guilty of possession of controlled or illegal substances, you could receive a long prison sentence or heavy fine.

Conditions in prisons and other detention facilities in Panama are harsh. Most facilities are overpopulated with limited access to healthcare. There have been recent cases of riots ending in prisoner deaths.


Smoking in public places is prohibited. In January 2008, Panama introduced legislation to reduce the use of tobacco and tobacco-derived products. Those caught smoking in non-designated areas face a fine of $25.00-$100.00US.


Same-sex civil unions are illegal; however, same-sex relationships are legal in Panama. Most Panamanians are generally tolerant to LGBT+ travellers. However, Panamanian law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There have been incidents of police officers detaining LGBT+ couples on the grounds of public indecency. Displays of affection can lead to unwanted attention. Casco Viejo is considered a safe place for LGBT+ travellers. See our information and advice page for the LGBT+ community before you travel.

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Panama, attacks can’t be ruled out.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.

This page has information on travelling to Panama.

This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Panama set and enforce entry rules. If you’re unsure how Panama’s entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy, high commission or consulate.

All travellers

You will not need a visa to enter or travel through Panama as a visitor.

Panama encourages the use of the IATA Travel Pass app. This app will have up-to-date information on travel restrictions, authorised labs for COVID-19 tests and vaccine information. It will have the option to enter personal data, such as vaccination information and tests undertaken. The government will accept the “OK to Travel” certification from this app as a validation for COVID-19 tests for travellers.

All restrictions or requirements around COVID-19 have been lifted. No need to present negative test results, vaccination scheme or declaration form.

Data collection

You will be required to give the address of your accommodation and a contact telephone number.

Children and young people

There are no specific requirements for children and young people.

If you’re transiting through Panama

Transiting is when you pass through one country on the way to your final destination.

Unless you meet entry requirements for Panama, you will not be allowed to leave the airport during your transit.

Check with your airline before departing.

Check your passport and travel documents before you travel

You should check with your travel provider to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Passport validity

If you are visiting Panama, your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of exit from Panama. Your passport must also have an unused page.

If you are a resident in Panama, your passport must be valid for 6 months from the date you arrive.


British nationals don’t need a visa to visit Panama except if arriving by sea. You must have a return or onward ticket and the equivalent of USD 500 or a credit card.

If you enter Panama by land from Costa Rica, and are not a legal resident of Costa Rica, the immigration authorities may ask you to show proof of onward or return travel to your country of legal residence.

You may be detained by immigration officials if you attempt to renew your tourist visa by visiting a neighbouring country, including Costa Rica. You must follow the relevant rules and procedures when seeking to extend a visa. The British Embassy can’t intervene in decisions made by the immigration authorities. For more information visit the Panama National Migration Service website.

From 1 October 2021, British nationals entering Panama now have a 90 day (3 month) tourist visa stamped in their passport to mark entry to Panama. Extensions are not normally allowed unless you apply to change your immigration status within the 90 days (for business purposes, marriage, etc). For further information on entry requirements, check with the Embassy of the Republic of Panama in London.

When transiting the Panama Canal, if you disembark the ship, your passport will be stamped by the immigration authorities. You do not need a visa unless you are staying in Panama for more than 90 days. Immigration officials do not board transiting cruise ships to check passports.

If you arrive in Panama by sea, except via a cruise line, you will need a visa. There is a fee of USD 100 plus USD 5 registration per person for passengers and crew members of vessels. Other fees may be charged, for example for cruising permits. Make sure immigration officials properly stamp your passport with the date of entry into the country. Check with the Embassy of Panama in London for further details.

Airport tax

A USD 40 airport tax is charged on departure. This is usually included in the airline ticket fare. Check with your carrier.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

Permanent Residency Law

The Government of Panama has created a sub-category of permanent residency for foreign nationals of 22 countries with which Panama has especially friendly relations, including the UK. The decree allows British nationals to apply for a permanent residency permit to undertake commercial or professional activities (subject to certain limitations). For more information contact the Panama National Migration Service on (507) 507-1800 or contact a local solicitor prior to your arrival in Panama, as a number of the documents required must be legalised (issued with an apostille), which can only be done by the Legalisation Office in the UK.

If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.

See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.

Check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.

General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).

Medical treatment

Panama City has some good private hospitals and clinics, but medical facilities outside the capital are limited. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

Health risks

Dengue Fever is a risk in Panama and the region. For more information and advice visit the website of the from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC)

Malaria is common throughout the year in parts of Panama, including some outlying areas of Panama City.

UK health authorities have classified Panama as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.

Cases of Chikungunya virus have been confirmed in Panama and the number of reported cases in the region is increasing. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

UNAIDS figures estimate that around 21,000 adults aged 15 or over in Panama were living with HIV in 2016. The prevalence percentage was estimated at around 0.8% of the adult population. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.


There is a possibility of earthquakes in Panama. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake or tsunami.

Hurricane/Rainy Season

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November; although Panama is not directly impacted by hurricanes, this season frequently coincides with heavy rains, which may cause flash floods and landslides. October and November normally have the heaviest months of rainfall. Monitor local and international weather forecasts and follow local advice.

The currency of Panama is the balboa; however, the American dollar is equivalent in value and of common distribution.

Make sure you have enough money for your stay and return journey. Opening a bank account and requesting international transfers is difficult and may take several days. Make arrangements with your financial institution before you travel. Bank transfers are difficult, expensive and can take several days. Money transfer services like Western Union or Money Gram may offer a quicker service. Foreign cheques can’t be cashed in Panama. Travellers’ cheques are difficult to exchange and rates of commission are very high.

Some major banks offer currency exchange services and there are a number of exchange bureaus in the main shopping area around Via España and Via Argentina. Currency exchange services are also offered within Tocumen International Airport.

ATMs are widely available in the main districts and commercial areas across the country; these machines issue US dollars. Credit and debit cards are also widely used for payment. Most major credit cards are accepted throughout the country.

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCDO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.

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