Our frequently asked questions guide is a helpful resource to answer the most common concerns our guests have about their trip to Panama. If you have any other questions though please email us or give us a call at 1-800-606-1860 and we’ll be happy to help you.
• General Information
• Getting ready for your trip
— ID/Entry Requirements
— Domestic Airlines
— Ground Transfers
— Renting A Vehicle
• Health & Safety
— Is Panama safe?
— Food & Water
— What to do in an emergency
— Sunburn / Dehydration
— Money Exchange
• What to Pack
• Things to Remember
Panama is the southernmost of the Central American countries bordered on the West by Costa Rica on the East by Colombia, on the north by the Caribbean coastline and on the south by the Pacific coastline.
The Panama Canal, which is about 80km long, divides the country into eastern and western regions. There are about 480 rivers in Panama that drain into the Pacific Ocean or Caribbean Sea, and 1518 islands off the coasts.
The two main island groups, both in the Caribbean, are the San Blas and Bocas del Toro Archipelago. Barro Colorado Island in Gatun Lake is home to a world renowned rain forest research station operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Gatun is a large man-made lake in the middle of the Panama Canal.
Panama uses the Metric system, unlike the United States, so distances and speed are measured by kilometers, not miles. Keep in mind that 1 kilometer equals about 2/3 (0.62) miles. Also, it is quite common to receive directions in meters when in a large town. When someone says 100 meters, they mean one block.
Wattage: The electricity in Panama is 110/220 volts AC, 60Hz10/ 120 watts, the same as in the United States. Generally most outlets will be designed for 2-prong, flat blade plugs. If your electronics require a different plug shape or wattage, please make sure to get a voltage converter.
Spanish is the native language of Panama.
The international calling code to reach Panama is 507. When calling direct from the United States, you must dial 011-507, then the number.
To call the United States from Panama you must dial 001+ Area Code + number.
Getting Ready for Your Trip
Identification / Entry Requirements:
For U.S citizens, including minors under the age of 18, a valid passport and pre-purchased airline ticket exiting Panama is all that is required for entry. For non-U.S. citizens, a passport, a pre-purchased airline ticket exiting Panama, and sometimes a Visa are required. We strongly recommend that for U.S. and non-U.S. citizens alike you check with the Panama Consulate in your area for the most up-to-date Passport and Visa requirements.
Upon entry, each tourist is issued a tourist visa (stamp) with the restricted amount of time they can stay in the country. Most tourists are issued a 90-day tourist visa depending on what country you have citizenship in. If you are issued the 90-day visa and plan on staying longer than that time, make sure you leave the country for 72 hours and then re-enter for a new 90-day visa or receive special permission or a work visa before you arrive. It’s also a good idea to have several copies of the picture page of your passport as well as the entry stamp page with you when you travel.
Your valid passport must have at least one blank visa page to enter Panama. The expiration date of your passport must be at least 6 months from your date of entry to Panama. For example, if you are going to fly to Panama on January 1st, your passport should not expire before July 1st of the same year.
Although no shots are required for entry into Panama, some precautions are recommended when traveling to remote areas as well as always being up to date with your normal shots. If you decide to get any vaccinations, it’s best to do so 4-6 weeks before your departure. Many passengers ask about Malaria…although we are not doctors, we do not recommend taking Malaria precautions unless you are planning on being in a remote or high risk area. We highly suggest using a bug repellent while traveling that contains a high percentage of DEET, the active ingredient found in most repellents. Please consult your physician as well as the CDC’s website for the latest updates when planning your trip to Panama.
While in country, we need to notify you that there is a low weight limit allotted per person for luggage. You may opt to store some luggage in your hotel, if this option is available. Any additional fees related to overweight or sized luggage must be paid in the airport at time of check-in. The Baggage Policies for the two Domestic Airlines are as follows:
Baggage to register – Each passenger is entitled to carry 30.8 pounds (14 kilos) on flights
Hand Baggage – The hand baggage on all flights should no exceed 11 pounds (5 kilos)
Charge for excess baggage – A 2% of the published fare will be charged for every kilo of excess baggage. Any excess baggage is acceptable as conditional baggage and subject to available space inside the aircraft, If there is available space would be sent on the same flight, otherwise ir will be sent on the flight.
As these are low weight limits, we suggest that you pack light. Finally, please remember that you need to be at the domestic airstrip at least 60 minutes before your domestic flight departure.
Ground Transfers in Panama:
For all ground transfers in Panama, it is better to rely on duration times rather than mileage as road conditions can change often and roads may be found in a state of ill repair. Remember that traveling from one destination to another is all part of the adventure of visiting an exotic location!
Also, please be advised of the risk of leaving unattended luggage or valuables in your transfer vehicle as theft is the most common crime here in Panama, and value-packed rental cars are a common target.
Finally, driving practices and road conditions in Panama may be very different then where you are from so keep that in mind as you are transferred to your destinations.
Renting A Vehicle:
Please note that included in the price of your vacation was basic insurance for your rental. This covers minor damages, scratches, small dents, tires, for ONE designated driver and is non refundable. Please note that you will need to pay a refundable deposit directly to the car rental agency (via major credit card) at the time of pickup. This refundable deposit varies from $1,000-$2,500 US depending on the rental car agency and covers collision, major damage, and car theft. This deposit will then be returned to you by the car rental agency upon return of the car. If you need an extra driver or full coverage insurance, please let the rental company know when you pick up your vehicle and then pay the price difference directly to them.
Remember that if you are involved in an accident here in Panama DO NOT MOVE YOUR VEHICLE. By moving your vehicle, even if it is blocking a travel lane, it is accepting responsibility for the accident, whether it was your fault or not. Your rental car agency will leave instructions for you to follow if you are involved in an accident. Make sure to keep those accessible during your trip.
When driving in Panama, make sure you have allowed yourself plenty of travel time between destinations as the mileage can be misleading when planning short trips and road signs are few and far between. We strongly advise against driving at night as roads may be unlit and in some cases are quite curvy which can be dangerous when unfamiliar with the roads.
Currently Panama does not use street names and numbers for addresses but instead the distance and direction from certain landmarks. Keep this in mind when traveling to destinations. Landmarks such as buildings, trees, and waterways are used quite often.
Please be advised of the risk of leaving unattended luggage or valuables in your rental car. Do NOT do this!
Health & Safety
Is Panama Safe?:
Though you have already discussed this with your Travel Coordinator, Panama is an extremely safe country to travel in. Remember when you are traveling within Panama to use the same common sense you would use at home. The largest crime in Panama is petty theft so if you would lock it at home, lock it here too.
Food & Water:
The food (including fruits and vegetables) in Panama is safe to eat. However, if you are susceptible to upset stomachs when traveling abroad, make sure that you only eat peeled fruit and well-cooked foods. It may also be a good idea to bring an over-the-counter medication with you like Imodium AD just in case. The water in cities is safe to drink but quite often has a fairly strong chemical taste. We suggest drinking bottled water simply for taste reasons; however, if you are in remote areas, drink bottled water for safety reasons as well.
In an Emergency:
In Panama, the 911 Emergency System phone number is ALSO 911. Make sure to leave a copy of your itinerary with a family member or a neighbor at home with contact numbers for where you’ll be each day. You can also call our company cell phone in case you need immediate in-country assistance: 833-6763 and 836-6179.
Sunburn / Dehydration:
Being in a tropical climate, it’s not difficult to get sunburned or dehydrated. A bad sunburn or dehydration are two ways to put a major kink in any vacation. Make sure you use plenty of sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 and drink plenty of liquids to avoid such problems.
Mosquitoes are common year-round in Panama, and are most common at dusk and dawn–especially in the rainforest, coastal and rural areas–however, rare in Panama City. It’s a good idea to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants if you are going to be hiking or walking in the forest. A good insect repellent sprayed onto your clothing or skin will be effective to keep mosquitoes from bothering you (if you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first and then the repellent). A DEET based product is not necessary but is generally the strongest option you can buy.
Malaria does exist in Panama (as in every other country in Central America), although it is very rare and any outbreak makes the news. It’s up to you whether you want to bring malaria medication, but be aware that plenty of locals and expats get by without it, and thousands of tourists visit each year without using this medication. More common mosquito derived ailments are Dengue fever and the Chikungunya and Zika virus, which are easily combatted by taking the precautions mentioned above as protection against mosquito-borne diseases. If you develop one or more of the following symptoms seek medical evaluation for treatment: fever, rash, joint and/or muscle pain, severe eye pain (behind eyes), mild bleeding (nose or gum bleed or easy bruising).
US Dollars are the Panamanian currency. The most widely accepted US bills are $10s and $20s. It can sometimes be difficult to find vendors willing to accept $100s, so carry smaller bills whenever possible.
Credit Cards – Most vendors give discounts for using cash, as credit card merchant companies charge high percentages on transactions here. Some vendors do not accept credit cards, while many only take VISA or MasterCard. American Express is extremely difficult to use here so please opt for one of the aforementioned credit cards when traveling. When traveling to Panama, be sure to call your credit card provider ahead of time to let them know and also to verify if you have any international charge fees.
Travelers Checks – We do NOT recommend using Travelers Checks when in Panama. Since most vendors will not accept this form of payment because of the time it takes for the check to cash, it will be difficult for you to use them. If you are able to use them, be prepared to get tagged some type of money exchange commission fee.
ATM Machines – You will find that ATM machines are common in most towns as well as some of the larger hotels.
Tipping for services is a common practice in Panama as tips are not automatically included in your bill. Some guidelines for tipping include: Airport Porters and Hotel Bellman – $1 per bag, Hotel Maids – $2 per day, Taxi Drivers – $1 to $2 over the fare, Transfer Drivers – $5 to $20 (depending on the length of the transfer and the quality of the service), Tour Guides – $5 to $10 per person in your group (depending on the length of the tour and quality of the service), Fishing Charters – 10% of the charter fee. Restaurants – 10% is standard, BUT be sure to carefully review your bill beforehand as many restaurants include the 10% tip automatically. The word for ‘tip’ in Spanish is ‘Propina’ or you may see ‘Servicio’ as well. Tipping is always a personal choice, and you should feel free to give gratuities as you prefer. You will find that if you do choose to tip, the gesture will be very well-received.
Please note that some tours have weight- age & size restrictions. Be sure to check descriptions on your itinerary and advise us immediately if you have a concern.
Please remember that Panama has a wide variety of climates. If you are going to spend any time in Boquete or the Chiriqui Highlands, you will need to be sure to have clothing for cooler weather. Temperatures can vary from 65 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 to 32 degrees Celsius. This is a simple sheet that lists reminders of things you should bring so that your trip will be most enjoyable. Also included are a few precautionary guidelines to ensure your personal safety and satisfaction:
• Valid Passport and 3 Xerox Copies
• Airline Tickets
• PV Airport Meeting Instructions
• Day Pack or Fanny Pack
• Soft sided luggage to avoid going over domestic flight weight limits
• Waterproof bag for wet/dirty clothing
• Hiking Shorts, quick drying
• Lightweight sweater or Long Sleeve Shirt for higher altitudes as well as a light rain jacket
• T- Shirts/Golf Shirts, quick drying whenever possible
• Bathing Suit
• Socks and Comfortable Shoes
• Long Pants
Panamanians are sharp dressers. We recommend that if you are going to spend time in Panama City, you bring a pair of longer pants, good walking shoes and a bit more formal clothing then you would wear in the laid back beach towns. This helps you to stand out less as a tourist.
• Light Rain Jacket or Poncho (waterproof breathable)
• Hat with Brim
• Lightweight hiking shoes or boots depending on activities
• Waterproof Sandals with heel strap
• Camera, film, batteries
• Toiletry Kit
• Small First Aid Kit
• Bug Repellent
• Watch or alarm clock
• Drivers License
• Sun block SPF 15 or more
• Beach Towel
• Credit Card/ Debit Card
• Reading/ Writing Material
• Imodium AD
• English/ Spanish Dictionary
• Bug bite relief stick
• Local driving practices are somewhat chaotic and roads may be in a state of ill repair. Drive with great care while you are here.
• Always pack your essential items such as documentation, medication, and eye-wear in your carry-on in case your luggage is delayed.
• Pack Light – Especially if you are using domestic flights, as they have weight limits on luggage.
• You may find Customer Service practices more relaxed here than what you may be used to back home. Please keep in mind this cultural difference and try to be patient.
• Theft is the most common crime among tourists. Use your best common sense to avoid being a target.
• Keep valuable items in your front pocket or money belt.
• Do not leave valuable items or luggage unattended in public places or your rental car.
• Be wary of individuals hanging around the ATM machine.
• Panama is a male-dominated society where “machismo” still rules. Do your best to not be offended by the forwardness of some of the men.
• Panama is a wonderful country inhabited by kind and generous people. As should be the case if you were a tourist anywhere, use your best common sense and keep open and friendly attitude to assure you’ll have the best possible vacation.