Passengers entering Panama by air are less scrutinized than those crossing by land. Upon arrival, most travelers will have to fill out a tourist card.
The most popular overland crossing is from Costa Rica at Paso Canoas. You may be asked to show an onward ticket – a return bus ticket to Costa Rica will suffice. Other land crossings include the low-key border at Sixaola/Guabito and the seldom-used Río Sereno. To/from Colombia by boat, the crossing is at Capurganá.
You may bring up to 10 cartons of cigarettes and five bottles of liquor into Panama tax free. If you try to leave Panama with products made from endangered species – such as jaguar teeth, ocelot skin and turtle shell – you’ll face a steep fine and possible jail time.
Every visitor needs a valid passport and an onward ticket to enter Panama, but further requirements vary by nationality and change occasionally. Anyone planning a trip to Panama is well advised to check online to obtain the latest information on entry requirements. Ticketing agents of airlines that fly to Panama and tour operators can often provide this information.
In the event that you lose your passport while in Panama, you’ll need proof of when you entered the country to be able to leave. That proof, strangely enough, does not come from an immigration office but from the airline you flew in on. You need to go to the airline’s main office in Panama City and request a certification of your entry date (certificación de vuelo). There’s no charge, but you’ll likely be asked to come back the next day to pick it up. When you leave the country, along with your new passport (obtained from your embassy in Panama City), you’ll present your certificación de vuelo to an immigration agent.
Visas are generally not required for stays of up to 90 days.
Visitors from most European countries as well as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa get a 90-day stamp in their passport upon entering Panama.
After 90 days, visas can be extended at migración (immigration) offices. Travelers entering Panama overland will probably be asked to show an onward ticket and potentially proof of sufficient funds (US$500) or a credit card.
Citizens from certain other countries will need to obtain a visa, available at Panamanian embassies or consulates. Contact the one nearest you or call Migración y Naturalización in Panama City.
Travelers officially need onward tickets before they are allowed to enter Panama. This requirement is not often checked at Tocumen International Airport, but travelers arriving by land should anticipate a need to show an onward ticket.
If you’re heading to Colombia, Venezuela or another South American country from Panama, you may need an onward or round-trip ticket before you will be allowed entry into that country or even allowed to board the plane if you’re flying. A quick check with the appropriate embassy – easy to do online – will tell you whether the country that you’re heading to has an onward-ticket requirement.
Visas are good for 90 days. To extend your stay, you’ll have to go to a Migración y Naturalización office in Panama City, David or Chitré. You must bring your passport and photocopies of the page with your personal information and of the stamp of your most recent entry to Panama. You must also bring two passport-size photos, an onward air or bus ticket and a letter to the director stating your reasons for wishing to extend your visit. You must have proof of funds (US$500) for the remainder of your stay (a credit card will suffice). You will have to fill out a prórroga de turista (tourist extension) and pay a fee. You will then be issued a plastic photo-ID card. Go early in the day as the whole process takes about two hours.
If you have extended your time, you will also need to obtain a permiso de salida (exit permit) to leave the country. For this, bring your passport and a paz y salvo (a certificate stating you don’t owe any back taxes) to the immigration office. Paz y salvos are issued at Ministerios de Economia y Finanzas, found in towns with immigration offices; obtaining one simply requires that you bring in your passport, fill out a form and pay about US$1.
These documents can be obtained in Panama City at the Migración y Naturalización and the Ministerio de Economia y Finanzas, Dirección de Ingresos.