Panama country information and facts for travelers.

PANAMA

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Country Description: Panama has a developing economy. The capital is Panama City. Outside the Panama City area, tourist facilities vary in quality.

Passport and/or Visa Requirements: U.S. citizens are encouraged to obtain a U.S. passport before traveling to Panama. Although entry into Panama is permitted with any type of proof of U.S. citizenship (such as a certified birth certificate or a naturalization certificate) and official photo identification (such as a driver's license), some travelers have experienced difficulties returning to the U.S. when not in possession of a valid U.S. passport. Travelers must either purchase a tourist card from the airline serving Panama or obtain a visa from a Panamanian embassy or consulate before traveling to Panama. Further information may be obtained from the Embassy of Panama, 2862 McGill Terrace, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. (202) 483-1407.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: Travel beyond Yaviza in the Darien Province may be dangerous. There is limited Panamanian police presence in much of the Darien Province, which is known to be frequented by guerrillas, smugglers, and undocumented aliens. Travel beyond Yaviza towards the Colombian border is possible only by foot and is risky for individual travelers or small groups.

Medical Facilities: Although Panama City has some very good medical facilities, such facilities outside of the capital are limited. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation, has proven useful in many emergencies. For additional health information, travelers may contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international travelers hotline, tel. (404) 332-4559, Internet http://www.cdc.gov.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: There is a moderate level of crime in the Panama City and Colon areas. These crimes are typical of those which plague metropolitan areas and range from armed robberies to muggings, purse-snatchings, and petty theft. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy regularly receives reports about incidents of crimes from U.S.-citizen tourists, business persons, and residents. Many incidents are reported to have occurred in the following neighborhoods: Veracruz Beach, Chorrillo, Ancon, Curundu, Panama Viejo, San Miguelito, Rio Abajo and Madden Dam.

From time to time, there may be demonstrations or other manifestations of anti- U.S. sentiment by small, but vociferous segments of Panamanian society. While there is no evidence that U.S. citizens might be targeted (most demonstrations have nothing to do with the U.S., but relate to labor disputes or other local issues), and while such protests are typically non-violent, it nonetheless is good security practice to avoid demonstrations. U.S. citizens should also be aware of and alert to their surroundings--especially at night. Contact the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section at (507) 225-6988 (after hours, dial 507-227-1377) for further information, or assistance.

In October 1996, a curfew for minors under 18 years of age went into effect throughout Panama City. Under the law, students attending night classes must have a carnet (identification card) issued by the school or, if employed, a certificate of employment. The curfew was approved by the Office of the Mayor and the National Police in an effort to minimize violence and delinquency in the city. Minors who are picked up for a curfew violation are subject to detention at a police station until parents can arrange for them to be released into their custody. Parents may be fined up to $50.00 for the violation.

Panamanian curfew law throughout Panama City:

Sunday - Thursday - 9:00 p.m. - 5:00 a.m.
Friday - Saturday - 11:00 p.m. - 5:00 a.m.

San Miguelito area:

Monday - Sunday - 9:00 p.m. - 5:00 a.m.

The loss or theft of a U.S. passport abroad should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Useful information on guarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad." This publication, as well as others, such as "Tips for Travelers to Central and South America," are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. While in Panama, it is also helpful to monitor U.S. Southern Command Network (SCN) television, radio stations, and to contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy in Panama City for current information and advisories.

Drug Penalties: U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of the country in which they are traveling. Penalties in Panama for possession, use and trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: Buses and taxis in Panama are not always maintained in safe operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. Driving in Panama is often hazardous and difficult because of dense traffic, an undisciplined driving population, poorly maintained streets, and a shortage of effective signs and traffic signals. Auto insurance is not mandatory in Panama, and many drivers are uninsured. Roads in the interior are often poorly maintained and lack illumination at night. If an accident occurs, the law requires that the vehicles remain in place until a police officer responds to investigate.

Traveling on the Pan American Highway: The Pan American Highway ends at Yaviza in the Darien Province of Panama, and the final portion from Chepo to Yaviza is reasonably passable only during the dry season (January - April). If destined for South America, automobile travelers may wish to ship their car on a freighter. The auto/passenger ferry service, "Crucero Express," ceased operations in early 1997.

Domestic Air Travel: Only Tocumen International Airport employs normal airport security measures. Security measures at domestic commuter fields which service popular travel destinations such as the Colon free zone, Contadora Island and the San Blas Islands, including Paitilla Airport, are lax.

Civil Aviation Oversight: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has found the government of Panama's civil aviation authority to be in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Panama's carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation at 1-(800) 322-7873.

Registration/Embassy Location: U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Panama, and obtain updated information on travel and security there. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located on Panama Bay, Panama City, at Balboa Avenue and 39th Street. The international mailing address is Apartado 6959, Panama 5, Republic of Panama. The U.S. mailing address is Unit 0945, APO AA 34002. The telephone number of the Consular Section is (507) 225-6988.

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