Safety & Security in Panama
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Panama's Safety and Security for Retirees, Expats and Digital Nomads

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Safety and Security in Panama 

You might be astonished to discover that Panama is an incredibly safe haven for expats, retirees and digital nomads. According to the Global Peace Index, it ranks 61 out of 163 countries around the world! The level of crime in this upper-middle income nation isn’t nearly as high as many other Latin American countries. Even with a large influx of affluent expatriates, racial animosity remains negligible in Panama due its diverse cultures coming together harmoniously.

For expat Americans, Panama often feels a lot safer than their home country. Although there are certain areas of the city that should be avoided for safety reasons – like Calidonia, El Chorillo and San Miguelito – as nightfall brings with it sporadic shootings and violent crimes. Additionally one must stay conscious in bus stations, tourist attractions or along prominent shopping streets to avoid pickpockets.

Adding more detail and facts to the safety climate in Panama, the country’s capital city of Panama City is one of the safest cities in Central America. It is known for its low crime rate and its peaceful atmosphere – despite it being home to over a million people.

Is Panama a Safe Place to Live?

When it comes to safety and security, Panama is quite appealing, and the expats who choose to reside here certainly agree. In contrast to other economically depressed places where “rich” immigrants have moved in, Panama does not experience the widespread jealousy or racial hostility that you may find elsewhere. There have been significant multinational communities prospering here for more than a century. Additionally, Panama is a place of opportunity, and those who work hard to better their lot may achieve much.

Is it now safe to go to Panama?

Panama is one of the safest nations in Latin America, according to crime data, travel warnings, and tourist guides for the various nations in the area.

Coronado Panama

Does this mean that there is no crime in Panama? No… Despite having toured the world, we have never come across a nation that was free from corruption or crime.

Of fact, “safety” is a relative concept. Is the city you live in safe? You won’t often find any U.S. cities on “top 10” lists of the world’s safest cities, particularly when it comes to personal protection.

Furthermore, statistics, particularly those for a whole nation, may be deceptive since there may be both many safe places and some hazardous ones (owing to localized organized crime or gang-related activities). You may learn a lot by observing the many foreigners and natives that call Panama home.

You can find evidence of this nation’s success in every desirable expat location we write about. People have the most up-to-date smart phones, gorgeous automobiles, and even wear jewelry made of gold and diamonds. Families go to concerts and festivals, and kids play freely in parks and on beaches.

panama city panama canal Isthmus, Panama
When in Panama there is no escaping the Panama Canal

Panama’s Expat Safety

Any expat or digital nomad who chooses to reside in Panama will tell you that they feel safer than they did “back home” if you ask them whether they feel secure. Most will also mention how welcome they feel in Panama.

Panamanians are used to visitors, and this country has a diverse ethnic population. People from the Americas, the Caribbean Islands, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, you name it, have traveled through Panama for years.

You may relax knowing that Panama is very diverse and that almost every ethnicity is represented if you are worried that your hair or skin color will make you stand out.

Areas in Panama that visitors should stay away from
Like any other nation, Panama has both safe and hazardous zones. The only city that has a reputation for being hazardous everywhere, not just in some areas, is probably Colón in the province of Colón.

Some areas of Panama City/Panama Province, as well as the adjacent province of Panama Oeste, may be more hazardous than their affluent counterparts. Examples include Tocumen, Rio Abajo, Santa Ana, El Chorrillo, Curundu, and portions of Arraijan, Veracruz, and San Miguelito.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it is often relatively simple to discern in Panama when an area is underdeveloped and hence likely to have higher crime rates. Most are not places you would just happen to wander into, however there is a very little haze between Santa Ana and the neighboring San Felipe neighborhood, better known as Casco Viejo. (Casco Viejo is a well-kept tourist and nightlife hotspot with a variety of eateries, bars, galleries, churches, and other attractions.)

Travel Safety for Women in Panama

With a few exceptions, namely Colón City, and sketchy areas of David, the capital of the Chiriqui province, you feel secure wherever you go.

The fact that many women—both domestic and foreign—travel the nation on their own strikes is a key contributing element. 

exploring the outdoors, biking in bocas del toro, Panama

Going in a group in festivals and party areas is always beneficial.

Although Panama is wonderful, incidents do happen sometimes. Remember that no nation is fully free from crime. 

Panama Nightlife Crime

There are several places in Panama City where you may go dancing, gambling, or seeing a performance. Keep to premium, well-known neighborhoods like Casco Viejo. Although nightlife crime is uncommon in affluent communities, I do take necessary measures.

Criminal Violence in Panama

Your main worry in expat-friendly communities is probably petty theft or break-ins. Random acts of violence are almost unheard of here. Panama has a sizable police force, and offenses against foreigners or tourists are taken severely.

Robberies committed in the manner of a home invasion may be violent, although they are uncommon, particularly in areas that attract expats. In Panama, obtaining a handgun license is neither fast nor simple, and a protracted ban on gun imports has contributed to the country’s comparatively low gun prevalence. Crimes involving firearms have severe penalties in Panama.

Does Panama Allow Drug Use?

The fact that cocaine and heroin are prohibited in Panama should not come as a surprise since they are prohibited across the majority of the globe. In Panama, marijuana is likewise prohibited. (This might change; Panamanian politicians are examining a medicinal marijuana bill.)

My recommendation is to obey the law in Panama. Being a citizen of the United States or Canada won’t help you escape prison time since your embassy or consulate often has little power to obtain your release if you are found. In contrast to American prisons, those in Panama provide far less luxury, and detention without trial may last months.

Safeguarding Your Valuables in Panama

beach in Boca del Toro Panamá

Panama’s festivals are the best example of how people from all backgrounds coexist in this melting pot. Pickpocketing is a risk among any group of revelers, however, pretty much wherever in the globe. While you can, carry limited amounts of cash, and use caution when shopping and on public transit.

Both foreigners and Panamanians choose gated neighborhoods and structures with security guards. For anybody concerned about artwork and other valuables, they are excellent solutions. Although it is not required, don’t be concerned that living in a gated community will keep you apart from the neighborhood residents. No matter where you reside, Panamanians are most likely to be your neighbors.

Most homes and structures in Latin America that are not in gated communities often have metal grills covering the windows and doors. Although they may seem ornamental, they are intended to deter break-ins. Additionally, the typical Panamanian household has at least one dog that barks at onlookers or prospective invaders. Follow your neighbors’ lead to avoid being seen as the neighborhood’s easiest target.

Driving in Panama: Safety
Drive carefully and use caution while crossing roadways in Panama City.

Before attempting to navigate the city at rush hour, if you want to drive there, get to know the area at night or on the weekends. Never get into a fight with another driver. Just fall back or wait calmly even if someone cuts in front of you or doesn’t yield when they need to.

No matter where you drive, pay attention to the posted speed limit and keep an eye out for obstacles like open manholes and potholes. In Panama, drunk driving has come under severe scrutiny. Not at all.

Tips for General Safety

Sun: It’s crucial to keep in mind that Panama is quite near to the equator, even on gloomy days. According to the website of the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

“Traveling close to the equator, in the summer, at altitude, or between 10 am and 4 pm puts you at the greatest risk for UV exposure. On gloomy days and in the winter, you may also be exposed to UV radiation. The sun’s rays bounce off of the lake, sand, and snow. When engaging in any outside activity, protect yourself from the sun. (Also, keep in mind to drink enough of water.)

Water: You may drink water directly from the tap in the majority of mainland Panama. In comarcas and on-island locations, such as Contadora, Taboga, Isla Colón, Bastimentos, and others in the Pearl Islands, Bocas del Toro archipelago, etc., I often stick to bottled water. Ask before drinking if you’re unsure.

COVID-19: The Ministry of Tourism has the most recent information on the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination and/or testing regulations here.

Other illnesses and immunizations: Since the city and other developed regions of Panama have historically been rated as low-risk for tropical diseases like malaria, many expats go there without obtaining any special vaccinations (though there are some malaria cases here, particularly in remote areas).

To protect yourself from diseases like dengue, the majority of medical specialists would advise you to apply insect repellent where mosquitoes are common. Check reputable sites at least a month before your trip for advice tailored to the various regions of Panama. The World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the Canadian Foreign Affairs Office are online resources.


Most frequent questions and answers

The road from the cocaine-producing regions of South America to the greatest consumer nation, the USA, passes via Panama. Unwitting passengers are at risk since trafficking is a major industry.

Being in possession of any amount of narcotics, including marijuana, is a severe offense. Being around someone who is taking drugs alone is enough to warrant an arrest. The maximum sentence for drug offenses is 15 years in prison, and simply appearing before a court for punishment might take up to two years.

Police checkpoints are often set up on highways connecting cities on the weekends due to the high presence of narcotics in the isthmus. Make good decisions, and stop when asked to. Don’t try to bribe police officers, despite the fact that you may see or hear about locals doing so.

Anyone above the age of 18 may purchase alcoholic beverages in Panama. Public alcohol drinking is prevalent in certain locations, such beaches, while it is forbidden in other areas of Panama City, like the family-friendly Parque Omar. Do not disregard this; if you are seen, you risk being detained and sent in prison.

There are many of wolf whistles and catcalls in Panama. Even cab drivers will honk at ladies they pass on the street to show that they are available and that they admire them.

It’s suggested for women who are out alone to wear earbuds, even if you aren’t truly listening to music, to mask their focus and deflect unwanted attention. Always share your current location with a buddy while using a ridesharing app at night instead of a yellow taxi.

Seat belts in the rear seats of Panama City taxis are often removed or covered with fabric by the drivers, who operate them at Formula One speeds. Yellow taxis often pick up a number of people traveling in the same direction.

Avoid boarding a taxi that is already full and ask the driver to stop picking up any more passengers if you want to reduce the chance of being driven someplace you are unfamiliar with.

Since there are no metered taxis in Panama City, make sure to negotiate the amount before you get in.

Yes it is generally safe to rent and drive a car in Panama. Common sense should be used.

There has been a rise in scams in which consumers selling low-cost automobiles online are robbed or murdered, their vehicles or money are stolen, or they are marched to a cash machine to withdraw monies. When meeting someone from Facebook groups or social media sites to purchase or sell something, use extreme care.