Panama Health Care and Vaccinations
*A yellow fever certificate is not required from all travellers, but for those coming from infected areas it is highly recommended.
Modern and reliable private medical services are available. According to current legislation covering sanitary matters, Panama offers healthcare facilities to all nationals and foreign travellers who may require them, independent of any reciprocal agreement with a particular country. International travellers are, however, advised to take out medical insurance.
Panama is considered to have a moderate to high risk of Zika virus transmission. The World Health Organisation recommends travellers to Panama protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing light-coloured clothes that cover as much of the body as possible, sleeping under mosquito nets and using repellents that contain DEET (diethyltoluamide), IR 3535 ((3- [N-butyl-N-acetyl], aminopropionic acid ethyl-ester) or KBR3023 (also called Icaridin or Picaridin). Pregnant women are advised to postpone non-essential travel until after pregnancy and pregnant women whose sexual partners live in or travel to areas with Zika virus transmission should follow safe sexual practices or abstain from sex for the duration of their pregnancy. Women who are pregnant, at risk of getting pregnant, or planning pregnancy should seek further advice from their doctor before travelling to Panama.
Food and Drink
Mains water is normally chlorinated and safe, especially in the larger cities. However, if you know you have a sensitive stomach and might react to water which you’re unused to, it is safer to drink bottled water, which is widely available. Drinking water outside main cities and towns may be contaminated and sterilisation is advised. Consider this especially along the Caribbean coast, in such places as Bocas del Toro and Kuna Yala; here, if you have no chance to buy bottled water, you should either boil the water for one minute or use iodine pills to disinfect the water.
Milk is pasteurised and dairy products are safe for consumption. Local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit and vegetables are generally considered safe to eat. In Panama City, many of the restaurants are of an exceptionally high standard and their hygiene standards match; however, if you are eating at one of the seafront restaurants where there are many excellent seafood places, try to pick one which looks busy and popular to ensure that the fish is very fresh.
When buying street food and snacks in more rural areas of Panama, take the usual precautions: don’t buy meat unless you can see it being cooked right in front of you. If you find yourself buying snacks out of a bus window, avoid anything with meat in it and try to go for fruit that you can peel.
While a Yellow Fever vaccination is not required for Panama, there have been instances of the disease in the Darién province, the San Blas islands and the east of Panama, so if you plan on visiting any of these areas it is as well to be up to date with the vaccine. Vaccinations against tuberculosis and hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended.
Malaria and dengue fever are also fairly common to some regions of Panama, so taking precautions against mosquito bites by using DEET and covering arms and legs in the evenings is wise.
An estimated 0.9% of the population of Panama live with HIV; travellers should take the usual precautions against infection.