Doing Business In Panama

  1. Panama is ranked 61st out of 185 economies in Doing Business 2013, recording an increase of 1 point compared to last year.
  2. According to the latest Enterprise Surveys (2010), the top 3 obstacles to running a business in Panama include Corruption, Practices of the Informal Sector, and an Inadequately Educated Workforce. With regard to Corruption, 30.5% of Panamanian firms report having to give gifts to "get things done", more than the regional average of 10.9%.
  3. In the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators (2010), Panama is between the 40th and 60th percentiles for nearly all of the indicators.
  4. Panama’s economic freedom score is 65.2, making its economy the 55th freest in the 2012 Index. Its score is 0.3 point better than last year due to improvements in freedom from corruption, monetary freedom, and fiscal freedom. Panama is ranked 11th out of 29 countries in the South and Central America/Caribbean region, and its overall score is above the world and regional averages.*

Source: World Bank


Visa Information

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 roundtrip 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 via the internet – will tell you whether the country that you’re heading to has an onward-ticket requirement.
Passports, tourist cards & visas
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 would be advised to check the internet to obtain the latest information on entry requirements. Ticketing agents of airlines that fly to Panama and tour operators that send groups there often can provide this information.
A valid passport is required to enter Panama, though additional requirements vary by country. Note that as of January 2007, US citizens can no longer enter Panama with just a driver’s license and a birth certificate.
A tourist card costs US$5, and it’s available at the airport or at border posts upon arrival. Most airlines serving Panama issue the tourist cards before you arrive, as do most buses arriving from Costa Rica.
No matter where you are coming from, you will generally be given a 90-day stamp in your passport when you enter Panama. This means you are allowed to remain in Panama for 90 days without having to obtain further permission from the authorities. After 90 days, visas and tourist cards can be extended at migración (immigration) offices.
Travelers entering Panama overland will probably be asked to show an onward ticket and a show of sufficient cash (US$500) or a credit card.
At the time of research, people holding passports from the following countries needed to show only their passports to enter Panama: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Holland, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, Uruguay and Wales.
People from the following countries need a passport and a tourist card: Antigua, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Granada, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, San Marino, South Korea, Suriname, Sweden, Taiwan, Tobago, Trinidad, the USA and Venezuela.
Citizens from countries that do not appear on this list will need to obtain a visa, available at Panamanian embassies or consulates. Contact the one nearest you or call the immigration office (227 1448, 225 8925; fax 227 1227, 225 1641) in Panama City.
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 it. 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.
Visa extensions
Visas and tourist cards are both good for 90 days. To extend your stay, you’ll have to go to an office of Migración y Naturalización 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 will have to fill out a prórroga de turista (tourist extension) and pay US$10. 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 (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, which simply require that you bring in your passport, fill out a form and pay US$1.
These documents can be obtained in Panama City or in David at the following ­locations:
Migración y Naturalización office (Immigration Office; Map pp76-7; 225 1373; Av Cuba & Calle 29 Este, La Exposición, Panama City; 8am-3pm Mon-Fri)

Business Etiquette

General Business Hours

Opening hours for travel agents, tour operators and other businesses are normally 8am to noon and 1:30pm to 5pm weekdays, and from 8am to noon Saturday. Government offices, including post offices, are open 8am to 4pm weekdays and don’t close for lunch. Most banks are open 8:30am to 1pm or 3pm weekdays; some have Saturday hours as well. Shops and pharmacies are generally open from around 9am or 10am until 6pm or 7pm Monday to Saturday.
Grocery stores keep longer hours, opening around 8am and closing around 8pm or 9pm. A handful of grocery stores in Panama City stay open 24 hours.
Restaurants usually open for lunch from noon to 3pm and dinner from 6pm to 10pm. Those that offer breakfast open from 7am to 10am. On Sundays, many restaurants close. In Panama City and David, restaurants open later on Friday and Saturday nights, until about 11pm or midnight. Most bars are open from around noon to 10pm, later on Friday and Saturday nights (typically 2am). Nightclubs in Panama City open around 10pm or 11pm and close at 3am or 4am.