Carry appropriate identification
Anyone not bearing identification at all times, including visitors, can be penalized by the Panamanian authorities. While in Panama, carry either your original passport or a copy of your passport, including the page with the Panama Immigration entry stamp and/or the valid stamped visa, your STRI ID, and a valid photo I.D. such as a driver’s license.
Carrying a cell phone is an excellent way to have access to assistance in case of an emergency (except in Fortuna and other remote areas). Inexpensive cell phones are readily available in Panama. A number of companies provide pre-paid packages. Check which companies provide service in the areas you are likely to visit, before making a purchase.
Embassies and Consulates
Check if your country has a registration process for visitors to Panama. Often embassies or consulates have programs to help keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. US Citizens may enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
Field Trips away from STRI facilities
Security conditions for prospective field trips should be verified through the Security Office at STRI-SECURITY@si.edu. The Security Office can help you develop options and strategies for the trip.
Travel to Darien
To travel to Darién, a special permit from SENAFRONT (Border Police) must be processed through the STRI Visitors Service and Security Offices with at least three-weeks notice. The general remoteness of the region contributes to the potential hazards. Due to scarcity of roads, most travel is by river or on foot. This, combined with lack of medical infrastructure outside of major towns, makes travel there potentially dangerous. Moreover, all around the Panama-Colombia border area the presence of drug traffickers and other criminals is common, increasing the danger to travelers. People are potentially at risk of violent crime, kidnapping, and murder in this general area. Extreme caution should be used. Contact the Security Office STRI-SECURITY@si.edu to discuss options and strategies, if you plan to visit this area. (NOTE: It is at the discretion of STRI’s security department to allow access into this area, regardless of the SENAFRONT’s decision to grant a permit).
You are required to use the Field Trip Registration App when traveling to these areas.
Darien Area. Shaded portion indicates significant safety and security risk areas.
Travel to Mosquito Coast
Another area of concern, referred to as the “Mosquito Coast”, is an extremely remote area along the Panamanian north coast bounded by Boca de Rio Chiriquí on the West and Coclé Del Norte on the East, and stretching inward from the coast for five kilometers. Access to the region is almost exclusively by boat and/or aircraft, but it may also have a few unimproved roads and/or paths, which are not marked on maps, especially in the mining area along the Petaquilla River. Sections of this coastline are frequently used for narco-trafficking and other illegal activities. Contact the Security Office STRI-SECURITY@si.edu to discuss options and strategies, if you plan to visit this area.
Mosquito Coast of Panama. Shaded portion indicates significant safety and security risk areas.
Driving in Panama
Driving in Panama is often dangerous and difficult due to heavy traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained roads and a shortage of effective signs and traffic signals. On roads where poor lighting and driving conditions prevail, night driving is difficult and should be approached with caution.
Travelers should carry identification with them at all times and be prepared to stop for unannounced checkpoints throughout the country, especially at night. Current Panamanian law allows foreigners to drive in Panama using their foreign driver’s license for a period of only 90 days. Visitors staying for longer periods should contact the Office of External Affairs at the Tupper 6th floor. Using a cell phone or drinking an alcoholic beverage while driving, and driving while intoxicated are illegal and carry hefty penalties. Panamanian law also requires that drivers and passengers wear seat belts.
Riding your bicycle in the streets in Panama City is not recommended.
In Panama City, the modern Metrobus system began operation in 2011. Nonetheless, some of the older school-bus type buses called Diablos Rojos or “Red Devils” are still in operation. These are privately owned and may not comply with modern safety standards. Traveling by bus to areas outside of Panama City is efficient and affordable, making accessibel many locations around the country. All buses in Panama City depart from the Albrook Bus Terminal.
Whenever possible, you should call a taxi in advance and arrange a pick-up rather that hailing one on the street. There have been incidents of serious assault, some involving taxi drivers. It is advisable to travel accompanied by someone you know and not to sit on the front seat. It is common for taxis to pick up multiple unrelated passengers. However, you can negotiate to have a private ride, at an increased price. The city is divided into zones to determine taxi fares, and drivers are required to have such a map (though many do not).
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Panama’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Panama’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/iasa/