This is an annual report produced in
conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy
in Panama City. OSAC
encourages travelers to use this
report to gain baseline knowledge of
security conditions in Panama. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular
messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to
private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication
assesses Panamá at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise
normal precautions. Do not travel to parts of the
Mosquito Gulf or to parts of the Darién Region due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the
Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed Panama City as being a HIGH-threat
location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Panamá remains relatively safe when compared to other Central
American countries, yet crime rates
are high, including shootings, rapes, armed robberies, muggings,
and thefts. The provinces with the largest cities also had the highest overall
crime rates: Panamá, Colón, Herrera, and
Chiriquí. Updated statistics for 2019 were not available from the
Panamanian National Police (Policía Nacional de Panamá, PNP) as of this report writing. In 2018, overall
homicide numbers were 440, reports of assault 3,670, sexual
assault 4,959; robbery 8,939; and theft 14,233. It is important to note
that crime reporting is typically lower in some rural provinces.
Residential burglary remains a problem for occupied and
unoccupied dwellings. These burglaries tend to happen when it is less likely
for the resident to be home, as thieves generally focus on stealing property
and tend to avoid violent confrontations. Contributing factors to residential
burglaries are inadequate perimeter walls, a lack of alarms or the use of
alarms, minimal lighting, non-existent/weak grilles, and poorly paid/trained
guards. Although the overall crime trend is downward, residential
burglary stands out as an issue that affects even
relatively affluent areas. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and
Outs and Considerations for
While reports of thefts are considerably lower over the last year, theft
from vehicles remains a consistent problem through the country, especially
in metropolitan areas. Most thefts from vehicles are crimes of
opportunity, targeting vehicles with visible high-value items, bags,
and/or purses left in plain view. When driving/parking, either
take valuables with you or ensure they are out of sight. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should
Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s
Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.
Other Areas of Concern
Several high-crime areas have the potential to be relatively more
dangerous. These are lower-income areas and/or areas of increased gang activity
with a lower police presence. High-crime áreas in/around Panama City are: El Chorrillo, San Miguel, Santa
Ana, Cabo Verde, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Santa Librada, Rio Abajo, San
Miguelito, Juan Diaz, Pedregal, and Panamá Viejo.
Colón is a high-crime area with increased gang activity; use
extreme caution when traveling in this area. In January 2018, police
and protesters clashed with gang members taking advantage of the situation to
loot and attack authorities. Criminal elements burned a police mobile command
post, and the Embassy restricted travel for personnel to the area.
The Mosquito Coast (Caribbean side) and the Darién region
(Colombian border) are particularly hazardous due to their remoteness and
the presence of criminal organizations. The “Mosquito Coast” is an extremely remote and inaccessible area along
the north coast, bounded by Boca de Rio Chiriquí to the west and Coclé Del
Norte to the east and stretching inward for five kilometers. Access to the
region is almost exclusively by boat/aircraft. The area may also have a few
unimproved roads/paths that are not marked on maps. This may be particularly
true in the mining area along the Petaquilla River. Transnational criminal organizations use sections of this
coastline for illicit activities. The area of the Darién encompasses the Darién National Park and
some privately-owned nature reserves and tourist resorts. The general
remoteness contributes to potential hazards. Due to scarcity of roads, most
travel is by river/footpath. This, combined with spotty medical infrastructure,
makes travel there potentially hazardous. In addition, transnational
criminal organizations involved in drug and human trafficking operate
in the area.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Traffic moves on the right, as in the U.S. Panamanian law
requires the use of seat belts. Driving can be hazardous and
difficult due to heavy traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained
streets, and a shortage of effective signs/signals. @TraficoCPanama is a reliable source for traffic information on Twitter. Use
caution when driving at night, as it is particularly hazardous on the
old Panama City-Colón highway. Defensive driving is fundamental.
Flooding during the rainy season (April-December) can make city streets
impassible and may wash out roads in the interior. In addition, roads in rural
areas are often in poor condition and lack illumination. These roads generally have
less traffic, and a very limited availability of emergency roadside assistance.
Carry identification with you, and be prepared for unannounced
checkpoints, especially at night. Police periodically conduct vehicle
checkpoints at key intersections in cities in an effort to raise
their visibility and hamper criminal movements through high-crime
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best
Practices, and Evasive Driving
Techniques; and read the State Department’s
webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
Public Transportation Conditions
Use public transportation with caution. While there are reports of
thefts and pickpocketing, new metro buses with bigger windows and better
lighting have reduced instances of violent crime.
Use caution when taking taxis. Use only licensed registered taxis.
Check that the number on the side of the taxi matches the number of the license
plate. Ensuring the car is a registered taxi is a quick way to help prevent
incidents. In addition, use established taxi stands when possible.
Never get into a taxi that already has
a passenger and instruct the driver not to pick up any
additional fares. Many hotels have tourist taxis that are not
yellow, and only pick up passengers in front of well-known hotels and
airports. Never let a helpful stranger direct you to a particular taxi or
taxi stand, and always negotiate the fare before getting in to ensure a fixed
Ride-sharing services are well developed and seemingly
ubiquitous in Panama City. As a transportation option, these new
smartphone-based services may offer many advantages over traditional taxis. For
example, they use a linked credit card as the primary form of payment, the fare
calculation is transparent, and the receipt
is electronic. Despite these advantages, practice common-sense safety
precautions whenever using any hired transport.
Panamá has an established metro rail system, but not all of the
stations are operational; trains will not stop at a station until
construction is complete. The metro, though equipped with state-of-the-art
security features, traverses and stops in some of the highest-crime
areas of the city. Confined spaces provide excellent environments for
pickpockets and other criminal activities. The PNP has established a Metro
Police Unit responsible for the security of the trains and platforms.
Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit:
Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed POST
as being a LOW-threat location for
terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. In 2017, authorities arrested operatives of the terrorist
group Hizb’allah in the United States. The investigation discovered that Hizb’allah had
previously conducted pre-operational surveillance of the U.S. Embassy in Panama
City and the Panama Canal. Panamá’s strategic location as a gateway between
Central and South America make it an ideal transshipment area.
Panamá was the first Latin American country to join the
U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, and the terrorist
group has mentioned Panamá in ISIS propaganda and
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed POST
as being a MEDIUM-threat location
for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government
interests. Protests are relatively common.
Demonstrations often focus on domestic issues (e.g. students’
rights, labor disputes) or, on rare occasions, manifestations of
anti-U.S. sentiment by small but vociferous groups. While most
demonstrations are non-violent, it is a good security practice to
avoid them. The PNP have used tear gas and/or other riot control
measures in response to demonstrations, particularly when they
block roadways. Demonstrations and marches can and do occur
around the country, to include in Colón and Chiriquí, and along
the Pan-American Highway.
Protests outside of the city have caused road closures on major
thoroughfares that can last for several hours. During these extended
road closures, the security situation can be tense, and the
potential exists for violence between authorities and
protestors. Consult local news and police for the most recent information
on possible road closures. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Indigenous communities protest against mining and dam
construction projects in the interior. The Ngobe-Bugle people have
mobilized several times to close the Pan-American Highway in protest of a dam
project at Cerro Blanco. These protests have caused major travel disruptions and violent
confrontations with the police.
Earthquakes occur infrequently in Panamá. The central corridor
of Panamá is at a lower seismic risk than Colombia and Costa Rica;
however, there are several fault lines running through the country, and
there have been three recent earthquakes, as recently as
During the rainy season, torrential rains, particularly in
October-December, cause mudslides, road closures, and flooding. Strong winds
and rains caused by tropical depressions have also felled
trees, caused landslides, power outages, and several
Industrial and transportation accidents are a concern, particularly for
truck traffic on the highways. Panamá does not have a large
manufacturing center, but occasional accidents have led to temporary
evacuations due to spills of industrial strength chemicals.
The Panama Canal Authority has requirements in place to
mitigate potential accidents and practices emergency response
Because of the insular nature of the business community, it is not
uncommon for proprietary information to become public. Panamá has an
adequate, effective domestic legal framework to protect and enforce
intellectual property rights, though there are occasional complaints of
violations, especially in the Colón Free Zone.
Personal Identity Concerns
LGBTI individuals enjoy full legal rights in Panama. However, Panamanian
law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and there is
societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Same sex marriages
are neither conducted nor recognized in Panama. Review the State Department’s webpage on
security for LGBTI+
Individuals with disabilities may find
accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United
States. Panamanian law only mandates access to new or remodeled public
buildings for persons with disabilities, which is enforced for new
construction. Handicapped parking is often available at many larger parking
lots. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers
Privacy concerns include the vulnerability of cyber infrastructure that
contains personally identifiable information.
Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in
Panama are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and
heavy fines. Panamá reported seizing approximately 75 metric
tons of drugs in 2018, along with $11 million in drug related monies. By
far, the drug seized most by quantity was cocaine.
should be wary of vessels that may be transporting narcotics and illicit
materials, or being used in human smuggling operations. Packages containing
narcotics have been found floating in the ocean or lying on remote beaches. Do
not pick up or move these packages, and immediately report their location to
the Panamanian authorities.
There were only nine registered kidnapping cases in Panamá for
2018. Most of these were drug-related, according to police sources. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
Incidents of police harassing foreigners for bribes are uncommon.
If one does occur, the best course of action is to refuse to pay any
bribe (unless threatened with the use of force), and if the request persists,
ask to speak with a supervisor. Report such extortion attempts
The PNP have a special Tourism Police Unit to deal with crimes
against tourists and foreigners, as well as sub-stations in all major
regions in Panamá, and numerous offices
in Panama City. PNP performance and responsiveness to
incidents involving U.S. citizens has been good, if not always
timely. The main police number is 104, but telephone operators may not speak
English, and most police officers speak very little English. In most cases, one
may get a better response by calling the local police substation directly. Download the State Department’s Crime
Victims Assistance brochure.
Victims of crime should report to the local Judicial Investigative
Directorate (DIJ) office to lodge an official complaint (denuncia), even if time has passed, as criminals often repeat the same crime
within the same general location; reporting allows better crime tracking
and response. Be sure to file a denuncia in
the case of a lost/stolen U.S. passport.
In addition to the PNP, other law
enforcement/security entities include the National Institutional Protection
Service (SPI), the National Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the National
Air/Naval Service (SENAN). The U.S. Embassy maintains strong relationships
with Panamanian security services and provides an extensive amount of
capacity building and operational training.
Panama City has some good hospitals and clinics, but medical facilities
outside of the capital are limited.. For medical assistance, refer to the
Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Hospitals in Panama are either private hospitals or government-run
public hospitals. Private hospitals typically require payment of the
anticipated costs of hospitalization prior to providing services and require
payment of any additional costs upon release from the hospital. These costs can
be in excess of USD$10,000-$20,000, depending on the nature of the treatment.
In Panama, most hospitals accept credit cards for hospital charges, but not for
doctors' fees and do not accept international wire transfers or credit card
payments over the phone. The U.S.
Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health
insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s
webpage on insurance
Except for antibiotics and narcotics, most medications are available
without a prescription.
In a life-threatening emergency, go directly to the nearest
hospital emergency room or call an ambulance. The 911-call center provides ambulance
service in Panama City, Colón, and the Pan-American Highway between Panama City
and Chiriqui. However, an ambulance may not always be available, and given
difficulties with traffic and poor road conditions, there may be a significant
delay in response. There are private ambulance services available on a
Most other communities have lesser services, facilities, and/or clinics.
Ambulance service outside the urban centers is non-existent.
For fire emergencies call 103.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The following diseases are prevalent in Panamá: Zika virus; Dengue; Chikungunya;
Malaria; Travelers’ Diarrhea; and Tuberculosis. The CDC offers additional
information on vaccines and health guidance for Panamá.
OSAC Country Council Information
Panama City has an active Country Council,
meeting quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact
OSAC’s Latin America team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
Embassy is located on Ave. Demetrio Lakas, in the
Clayton neighborhood of Panama City.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 0830-1700, and Friday, 0830-1200
Marine Guard Post One: 317-5200 (for non-Consular after-hours emergencies)
Before you travel, consider the following