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 José Raúl Mulino since 2024.

Head of government:

President José Raúl Mulino since 2024.

Travel Advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and see support for British nationals abroad for information about specific travel topics.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

This advice 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 not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Embassy and Consulate of Panama in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Panama.

Passport validity requirements

If you’re visiting Panama, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the day you plan to leave Panama.

If you live in Panama, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the day you arrive.

Your passport must have at least one blank page.

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

 Checks at border control

Make sure you get your passport stamped.

Make sure immigration officials properly stamp your passport with the date you arrived the country.

At Panamanian border control, you may need to:

  • give the address of your accommodation and a contact telephone number
  • show a return or onward ticket – particularly if you arrive by land from Costa Rica and are not a legal resident of Costa Rica
  • prove you have at least 1000 US dollars (or the same amount in other currencies) or a credit card

Visa requirements

You can visit Panama for up to 3 months without a visa if you arrive by land or air. There are different visa requirements for sea arrivals.

You cannot normally extend your stay, unless you apply to change your immigration status (for example, for business purposes or marriage) within the 3 months.

If you try to extend your stay by visiting a neighbouring country and returning to Panama, immigration officials may detain you. The British Embassy cannot intervene in decisions made by Panama’s immigration officials.

If you arrive by sea

If you arrive on a vessel that is not a cruise ship, you must have a visa to enter Panama. You must pay a fee of 100 US dollars, plus 5 US dollars registration, for each passenger or crew member. There may be other fees, for example for cruising permits.

If you arrive on a cruise ship or are travelling through the Panama Canal, you do not need a visa unless you are staying in Panama for more than 3 months. Immigration authorities will stamp your passport if you leave the ship. They do not board cruise ships travelling through the Canal to check passports.

Applying for a visa

If you need a visa, apply through the Embassy and Consulate of Panama in the UK. They can give you more information on entry requirements.

For information on extending your stay, check with the Panama National Migration Service (in Spanish).

Airport tax

There is a charge of 40 US dollars on departure. This is usually included in your airline ticket fare. Check with your airline.

Vaccination requirements

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Panama guide.

Depending on your circumstances, this may include a yellow fever vaccination certificate.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Panama. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.


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. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.

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.

Terrorism in Panama

Although there is no recent history of terrorism in Panama, attacks cannot be ruled out.

Political situation

Protests can be unpredictable, occur at short notice and escalate quickly. You should avoid protests and demonstrations, monitor local media and follow advice from local authorities. You should avoid travelling around protest-affected areas at night. Protests may be particularly large in Colón City. Protests often involve informal road blocks and can affect access to the border crossing into Costa Rica at Paso Canoas and international airports. Check your route and alternatives before travelling. If you are unable to reach an airport for a planned flight, please contact your airline to make alternative arrangements.


If you’re the victim of a crime in Panama and want to report the incident, do so before you leave the country, otherwise the police may not investigate.

Street crime can happen anywhere, but these areas of Panama City have higher levels of crime:

  • San Miguelito
  • El Chorrillo
  • Río Abajo
  • 24 de Diciembre
  • Santa Ana
  • Juan Diaz

Protecting yourself and your belongings 

There is a risk of pickpocketing in busy areas, on buses and at bus stations. You can take steps to protect yourself and your belongings, including:

  • not carrying large amounts of money or valuables around with you
  • leaving valuables in a safe place such as a hotel safe

People have been attacked after withdrawing cash from ATMs.

Take sensible precautions to avoid mugging, particularly in main shopping areas and tourist sites, including:

  • Albrook Mall in Panama City
  • Via España and Avenida Central in Panama City
  • the area of Calidonia in Panama City
  • the old town (Casco Viejo) in Panama City
  • the old Panama ruins (Panama Viejo) in Panama City
  • the Madden Dam area – off the main Panama to Colon road
  • the city of Colon

Be wary if visitors approach you to get access to your accomodation. Criminal gangs have used this method to commit burglaries. If you’re in any doubt, call the police.

Sexual assault

There have been violent attacks, including sexual assault, in tourist destinations in Panama City and across the country. Use the same level of caution you would in the UK when travelling at night. Avoid poorly lit areas and do not walk on your own.

See advice for women travelling abroad.

There have been incidents of targeted gang assassinations, some in tourist areas. Most of these crimes are between members of rival drug gangs.

Laws and cultural differences

Smoking and e-cigarette bans

It’s illegal to smoke in public places. You could be fined 25 to 100 US dollars if you’re caught smoking where it’s not allowed. The use of e-cigarettes is also banned in public places.

Illegal drugs and prison sentences

Do not become involved with drugs of any kind. You can get a prison sentence for possessing even a small quantity of drugs.

The judicial process is slow and sentencing may take up to 2 years. Conditions in prisons and other detention facilities in Panama are harsh. Most facilities are overcrowded with limited access to healthcare. There have been recent cases of riots ending in prisoner deaths.

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex civil unions are illegal, but same-sex relationships are legal in Panama. Most Panamanians are generally tolerant of LGBT+ travellers. However, Panamanian law does not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There have been incidents of police officers detaining LGBT+ couples on the grounds of public indecency. Showing affection in public can lead to unwanted attention. Casco Viejo is considered a safe place for LGBT+ travellers.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism

Swimming safety

Take care when wading, swimming or taking part in water sports on Pacific and Caribbean beaches. Some beaches have strong currents and undertows and there are rarely warning signs. People drown every year.

Do not swim in the Bay of Panama as it is highly polluted with untreated sewage and industrial waste.

See advice on safe swimming from ABTA and holiday water safety from the Royal Life Saving Society.

Hiking and mountaineering

If hiking in the hills around Boquete and the Province of Chiriqui you should consider going with an experienced guide. Trails may not be well marked, and mobile phone coverage is unreliable. Tourists have gone missing and died hiking without a guide. Seek local advice before setting out.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning on driving, see information on driving abroad.

You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Panama for up to 3 months. The Panamanian authorities will not accept a paper licence – you can update it to a photocard licence. Carry a copy of your passport with the dated entry stamp as proof you’re still within the 3 months permitted.

Drivers and front-seat passengers must wear seatbelts. Children aged 4 and under must travel in the back in fitted child seats.

Drink-driving is a serious offence in Panama. If you are tested and found to have any alcohol in your system, you may get a fine, have your licence revoked and your car impounded.

Driving standards

Driving standards can be poor. Traffic accidents are common. Roads are often poorly lit and can have potholes and unfinished repairs. Darien Province and other remote rural areas may have very few surfaced roads.

Traffic can be heavy in Panama City and other populated areas such as:

  • Pacora
  • Chorrera
  • Capira
  • Arraijan

Repair work and construction sites are common in these areas.

If you’re involved in a traffic accident with another driver, wait inside your vehicle for your insurance representative and the transit police to arrive. Avoid any type of confrontation with other drivers or passers-by.


Unregistered taxis can be in poor condition. Many accidents are due to poor maintenance and driving standards. Picking up many passengers is common in Panama. Make sure your drivers do not do this.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

See extreme weather and natural hazards for information about how to prepare, and how to react if there is a warning.


The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November. Hurricanes do not directly affect Panama but often cause heavy rain. There may be flash floods and landslides. October and November have the heaviest rainfall. Monitor local news, check World Meteorological Association weather reports for Panama and follow local advice.


Earthquakes are a risk in Panama. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake or tsunami.

This section has safety advice for regions of Panama. It only covers regions where FCDO has specific advice.

You should also read FCDO’s overall travel advice and safety and security advice.  

Colombia border

There is a risk of violence near the Colombia border in an area east of a line drawn between:

  • Punta Carreto in the Comarca de Guna Yala on the Atlantic coast
  • Yaviza in the eastern Darien Province
  • Punta Piña on the Pacific coast

Political and criminal violence in Colombia can spill over into Panama. There is a threat from Colombian guerrillas and other armed groups. Foreign nationals and Panamanian citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, kidnapping and murder in this area.

Darien Province

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

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need;
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation.

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Call 103 and ask for an ambulance.

Call 911 for emergencies.

Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccinations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip check:

Health risks include:

  • dengue
  • malaria
  • Zika virus
  • chikungunya
  • HIV
  • contaminated water – tap water is safe to drink in most of the country. Follow local recommendations in rural and island areas.


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in Panama

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

FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Panama.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Panama

Telephone: 911 (ambulance, fire, police)

You can also call specific emergency numbers.

Ambulance: 103

Fire: 103

Police: 104

Panamanian Tourism Authority

Telephone: +507 6330 2520

Email: contact@atp.gob.pal

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you’re in Panama and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Panama.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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