Panama remains relatively safe when compared to other Central American countries, yet crime rates are still higher than one would encounter in most of the United States. Violent crime in Panama started to rise in 2007. However, new efforts by Panama’s National Police (PNP) to combat this trend appear to have made an impact. Starting in June 2010, the number of homicides in the country declined and continued a downward trend through 2012. Unfortunately, the rate of simple theft was up, with "Blackberry"-type smart phones being a particular target. The three provinces with the largest cities also had the highest overall crime rates: Panama, Colon, and Chiriqui. The entire city of Colon is a high crime area; travelers should use extreme caution anywhere in Colon.
Police continue to conduct vehicle check points at key intersections in the city in an effort to raise their visibility and hamper criminals’ movements. The high crime areas in and around Panama City are El Chorrillo, San Miguel, Santa Ana, Cabo Verde, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Santa Librada, Rio Abajo, San Miguelito, Panama Viejo, and the Madden Dam Overlook.
Crimes are typical of those that plague metropolitan areas and include shootings, rapes, armed robberies, muggings, purse-snatchings, thefts from locked autos by breaking windows for entry, thefts of unsecured items, petty theft, and occasionally "express kidnappings" from ATM banking facilities, in which the victim is briefly kidnapped and robbed after withdrawing cash from an ATM. There has also been a recent spike in the number of credit card and ATM card fraud reports. Criminals are capturing credit and ATM card information to clone and create fraudulent cards. Kidnappings have been on the rise of late, including in Panama City. Many of the kidnappings appear related to drug or criminal activity.
There has also been a recent increase of thefts from cars. We encourage travelers and residents to take all valuables out of their cars and place them in their trunks before they get to their destinations. Drivers should keep their windows up while the car is in motion or stopped in traffic, at traffic lights, or at their destinations to prevent items being stolen while driving.
Taxis are a very helpful way to maneuver around Panama; however use caution when getting into a taxi. Check to see that the number on the side of the taxi matches the number of the license plate. Ensuring the car is a registered taxi with a number on the side is a quick way to help prevent any incidences. Regular taxis are yellow in color. Also, never get into a taxi which already has a passenger and instruct the driver not to pick up any additional fares while en route to your destination. Many hotels also have “tourist taxis” that are not yellow but only pick up passengers in front of well-known hotels.
U.S. citizens are advised to never let a “helpful” stranger direct you to a particular taxi or taxi stand, and always negotiate the fare before getting in to ensure a fixed price.
In regards to non-drug related crime, the use of weapons (handguns and knives) in the commission of street robberies is common; however, gratuitous violence is uncommon as long as the victim complies and hands over the property. In 2013, there was an increase in violence during theft. Home burglaries and, more worrying, home-invasion robberies do appear to be on the rise, especially in the more affluent neighborhoods. Panama City has a curfew for those younger than 18 years of age that is generally from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The times are subject to change depending on your location within Panama. If you are concerned about the exact time you may contact local police. This curfew applies to both Panamanian and foreign citizens. Under the law, students attending night classes must have a “carnet” or permit, issued by the school or, if employed, a Certificate of Employment. Minors who are picked up for a curfew violation are subject to detention at a police station until parents or legal guardians can arrange for them to be released into their custody. Parents or legal guardians may be fined up to U.S. $50 for the first violation.
Panamanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Panama of items such as firearms and ammunition, cultural property, endangered wildlife species, narcotics, biological material, and food products. Contact the Embassy of Panama in Washington or one of Panama's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
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