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Panama: Visas, Transport, and Safety

Moving to Panama is becoming increasingly popular – not only with well-to-do pensioners. The country on the isthmus between North and South America is a top destination for trade and logistic experts from around the world. InterNations has compiled some useful information for expats.
The colorful “red devils” (diablos rojos) are gradually being replaced by metro busses.

Different Visas and Work Permits

The truth about Panama’s immigration laws is that they are not compiled in one section of the law, but interspersed with others. Some hark back to times when immigration laws were outright racist, seeking to exclude certain groups. Others have been passed to promote various sectors of the economy, such as tourism, scientific research, and ecological projects.

The visa types below are specifically for foreigners who are thought to benefit Panamanian society or the economy:

  • Colon Free Zone Executive, i.e. foreigners exercising an executive position in a company doing business in the Colon Free Zone
  • City of Knowledge Associate, i.e. a student, professor or administrator at an institution affiliated with the City of Knowledge

There are various types of visas for investors, for example:

  • Business Investors must invest at least 160,000 USD in a business considered socially beneficial by the government.
  • Small Investors must invest at least 40,000 USD and employ at least three Panamanians in a small business of which they are a manager.
  • Tax Free Processing Zone Investors must rent land, office or a building in one of the tax free processing zones.
  • Agro-forestry Investors must invest at least 80,000 USD in a reforestation project or 60,000 USD on a producing farm in Panama.

Transportation in Panama

Panama has two big international airports. Tocumen International Airport near Panama City is the largest and busiest airport in Central America, offering flights to major international destinations on a daily basis. A taxi ride into Panama City costs around 30 USD. Enrique Malek International Airport is located near David, in the west of Panama.

There is no Panama-wide rail network, but the Panama Canal Railway Company provides passenger and freight services along the Panama Canal between Panama City and Colón. The Pan-American Highway goes right through Panama, passing through Panama City and David. It ends at Yaviza, on the edge of the Darién Gap, only to continue in South America.

Road travel in general is not particularly recommended. Although Panama’s road system is reasonable, standards of driving are generally poor, and so are road maintenance and traffic management. Panama City has some forms of public transport, including a new metro system (first line completed in 2014, with a second line still under construction) and metro busses, which have come to replace the colorful “red devils” (diablos rojos), which used to haunt the streets of Panama City. When taking a taxi, make sure you only use registered yellow taxi companies. Drivers may try to pick up other travelers on the way, but strictly speaking this is not legal and you can insist on being taken to your destination first.

Safety in Panama

Panama is generally a safe country and there are no travel warnings in place. However, there is some street crime in the cities, especially in Colón. The majority of violent crime victims are members of rival street or drug gangs. If you are travelling through the country, you might want to avoid the border area with Colombia, though. Generally speaking, common sense and a sensible level of precautions should keep you out of any threatening situations.

Getting involved with drugs is one sure way of asking for trouble in Panama. Possessing even very small amounts of illegal substances can get you into prison for up to 15 years, and if you are caught in the company of someone who is using drugs you may be arrested as well. As the judicial process is reportedly very slow, it can take several months or even years before your trial gets underway. 


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

William Shirming

"Thanks to the City Guide, I found the right place to go for a business lunch in Panama City. "

Carla Echevarria

"As a Spanish expat in Latin America, moving to Panama was probably easier for me than for others. But I am still glad that I found this site! "

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