Panama divides tourists into two groups – those that need a tourist visa, and those that only need a passport.
Citizens of the following countries only need a passport to enter Panama: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States. It is important to note, however, that this list can change. Check with your home embassy for the current requirements before traveling.
There are two types of visas for Panama, “stamped visas” and “authorized visas.”
The so-called “stamped visas” let some travelers enter Panama several times throughout the year. This type of visa is only available through a Panamanian embassy or consulate, and the Panamanian authorities decide the length of the stay, which is usually 30 days per visit. Anyone who is eligible to visit Panama on a tourist card can apply for a stamped visa instead, although citizens of some countries are required to have a stamped visa. These countries include the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Georgia, Peru, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. As with other things in Panamanian officialdom, this list is subject to change.
Citizens of some countries are required to have an “authorized visa,” the most restrictive type of tourist visa. Like the stamped visa, this kind is only available through a Panamanian consulate or embassy. The officials will choose to either approve to decline the visa application, and will determine the length of stay. The majority of countries on this list are in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, or eastern Europe. These include Bangladesh, Cuba, Haiti, India, Pakistan, China, and South Africa, although the list is subject to change. The requirements can vary by consulate, so it’s a good idea to check with one before beginning the application process. It’s recommended to begin the application process at least a month before the start of travel.
Applicants for “authorized visas” will need to present the following documents:
A completed application form
A valid passport
A copy of the passport (including the pages that show entry and exit stamps)
A letter from a local Panamanian sponsor. The sponsor must also present a recent bank statement and utility bill. This letter can come from a Panamanian guide company or tour operator.
A copy of your ID or residence card from your home country
A copy of your most recent Panama visa, if applicable
Two passport-size photographs
Some consulates will require you to have proof of a round-trip as well. Considering this, it’s recommended to have a refundable ticket in case the application is declined.
Most visitors get to Panama by air. Panama’s main international airport is the Tocumen International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional de Tocumen), which is 25 kilometers (15 mi) east of Panama City. The airport recently underwent a multimillion-dollar expansion that has made it pleasant, modern and easy to navigate. It has good restaurants and a nice scattering of stores for shopping. Its airport code is PTY.
There is a domestic terminal that may be increasingly used by international travelers to make direct connections to destinations in western Panama. Some flights, however, do require travelers to make a land transfer from the Tocumen International Airport to the country’s main domestic airport at Albrook, some 31 kilometers (19 mi) away.
The Tocumen International Airport has a branch of Panama’s national bank (Banco Nacional de Panamá) as well as several ATMS. There is also a Cable and Wireless office that sells phone cards and has internet, fax, and long-distance calling services.
The airport of David in western Panama is in the process of expanding its runway and may soon have international flights. However, as of 2013, few international flights were stopping here. This airport’s official name is Aeropuerto Internacional de David “Enrique Malek,” and its code is DAV.
Finally, a few flights run between Costa Rica and Isla Colón in Bocas del Toro. Its airport code is BOC.
There are three border crossings between Panama and Costa Rica via road: at Paso Canoa along the Pacific side, Sixaola-Guabito on the Caribbean side, and at Río Sereno in the highlands. Paso Canoas is along the Interamericana and is the most common crossing. The Sixaola-Guabito crossing is generally used by travelers coming to and from Bocas del Toro. The Río Sereno crossing is used infrequently and sometimes does not allow foreigners to cross.
There are no roads linking Panama and Colombia. The Interamericana ends at the town of Yaviza in eastern Panama, some 80 km (50 mi) from the border—it is here that the infamous Darién Gap begins. Flying is undoubtedly the safest and easiest way to travel between Panama and Colombia.
When crossing a border, be prepared to show immigration officials both an onward ticket out of Panama and proof of having at least US$500. Oftentimes these are not asked for, but it’s good to have them handy anyway.
The borders are open every day and are generally easier to get through during regular business hours. Travelers will have to walk across the border, and those that are traveling on bus are often expected to hand-carry their luggage to the other side. It usually takes about an hour to cross.
The length of time that one can stay in Panama is not straightforward. Tourists can generally always stay for at least 30 days; 90 days tends to be the limit, although this can be flexible depending on the immigration official you talk when you enter the country. If you think you will want to stay longer than 30 days, let the official know and hope that he or she agrees. If they do approve, they will write the length of your stay on the entry stamp.
Tourists that end up wanting to stay longer than they initially planned will need to apply for a tourist extension called a prórroga de turista. This can be done at an immigration office. Who is eligible for an extension, however, is also debatable. It’s also a hassle to get an extension.