Panama - Formalities
Formalities with the Panamanian Authorities (clearing in and out, immigration etc.) are completely separate from formalities with the Panama Canal Authority for Canal Transit.
Noonsite always states the official laws and regulations for clearance formalities. However, in practice many port authorities in Panama operate differently from each other and cruisers may well find they obtain different clearance conditions to those stated. See the adjacent reports and news for the latest info. from cruisers.
PANAMA ARRIVAL FORMALITIES
Important: Be sure to check-in with all authorities as soon as you land in Panama. Cruisers have reported fines of US$1000 each for not having an arrival stamp in their passports.
The law concerning the pre-registration of visiting vessels is officially now being enforced for yachts. This requires details about the yacht and its crew to be sent to the Authorities (AMP) at least 48 hours before arrival at any Panamanian port. This information may be sent by email or by filling in the on-line form. AMP understand that this may not be possible, and in such cases, the information will need to be provided on arrival. The on-line form is available at AMP website
In practice many authorities are not aware of the advance notification mandate. Noonsite recommends however that yachts pre-register if possible, especially as it is relatively easy via e-mail.
Yachts arriving from the Caribbean/South America
Can no longer clear Immigration at the Panama Canal Yacht Club as it has now been demolished, but must visit the office in Colon (or at Shelter Bay Marina). Be sure to arrive with the proper port clearance paper (zarpe). If you arrive without the correct papers you will be fined.
Yachts clearing in first at the San Blas Islands
Must first head to Porvenir to complete clearance. Whilst Porvenir is a branch office of the Immigration office in Colon, they now can and are issuing visas (since 2014). The only problem reported is that at times the Immigration Officer is not present and yachts have had to wait to clear in, or even go to Colon to obtain a visa. See further information on branch offices below in the Immigration section.
Yachts arriving from the Pacific
Should be aware that the Immigration offices at the Balboa Yacht Club and Flamenco Island are also classed as "Branch Offices". Officially that means they are not always manned and they can only administer entry to the country stamps, which are valid for 72 hours only.
Yachts going to Panama simply to transit the Panama Canal
Regulations are somewhat "cloudy" with reference to the 72 hour rule mainly being applied to commercial vessels transiting the Panama Canal, which most do within 72 hours, and for which no navigation permit is required and no crew visa. Vessels transiting the Canal also do not need to undertake domestic clearance between the Caribbean/Pacific Terminals. Some yachts using agents have been able to pass the Canal handled the same way as commercial vessels, however this is only possible if the yacht in question has transited previously and registered with the Canal and is ready to transit on arrival in Panama.
The process for clearance is:
(1) Present your passport at the closest Immigration office to obtain a 72 hour visa. You will also need to provide copies of your International Zarpe, crew list and passports.
(2) Go to the Port Captain's Office to obtain your "Declaration General" and Cruising Permit. You will need to surrender the original International Zarpe from your previous port of call and provide copies of crew list, crew passports and vessel documentation.
(3) Go to the central Immigration office to get your Mariners Visa (see Immigration below). This will be dated to last as long as your cruising permit. You will need copies of the cruising permit as well as passports.
After Immigration, yachts must clear with Customs and the Port Authority.
At both Balboa and Cristobal (Colon), arriving yachts may be boarded by Panamanian officials. At Cristobal they may complete all the initial clearance formalities. When the captain goes ashore to complete clearance procedures, all others must remain on board until clearance is complete. Cruisers report that the Colon Authorities are by far the most strict and "by the book" in all of Panama. If possible, it is recommended that clearance and obtaining a cruising permit is carried out elsewhere, before arrival in Colon.
Often in Panama clearance can be a lengthy process due to the amount of paperwork that has to be copied and processed and the number of different offices (and the bank) that have to be visited. Allow 4-5 hours over a 2 day period to be on the safe side.
A Permiso de Navegacion (Cruising Permit) is required by all foreign vessels sailing in Panamanian waters. These can only be issued against a valid ship (yacht) registration. See Documents and Fees for further details.
When sailing from one district to another in Panama (e.g. San Blas to Colon or Colon to Balboa etc.) it is necessary to clear in and out between Panamanian ports where there is a Port Captain's office. You will need to check out with the Port Captain and obtain a US$15 Zarpe for the next port. On arrival, report in to the Port Captain's Office at no cost. Take with you a copy of your Cruising Permit, a printed crew list and a copy of the boat’s registration document - just in case this is asked for.
If employing an Agent, it is helpful for them to be present during any inspection or official visit.
(1) Take your original Cruising Permit, with a Crew List and crew passport copies to the Port Captain office. Here you will pay for your international Zarpe.
(2) Have your passports stamped for exit by the local immigration office. No fee. Immigration will require a copy of all passports, the crew list and Zarpe.
Officially, the day you check out of Panama for another country is the day you should depart. It is however common practice for boats on the Pacific side of Panama for example, to stop in Las Perlas for a day or two on their way westward with no problems reported to date. Whilst boardings by officials are rare you may incur a fine of up to $500 if you linger and are boarded
Last updated November 2015.
In March 2012, Panamanian Immigration Authorities introduced a new, highly inflated immigration fee. The official statement reads:-
"The Servicio Nacional de Migracion is currently enforcing an entry permit of US$ 105,00 for sea travellers piloting their own boat or yacht and arriving as a tourist. This fee permits entry into Panama for a period of three months, which can be extended for up to two years subject to an application to the Immigration authorities".
The Mariners Visa can only be issued to persons arriving with the vessel and tends to be issued for one year (the same amount of time as the cruising permit).
This visa is cancelled when you leave Panama, so another will have to be purchased if you return by yacht. If however you are arriving/returning by other means of transport, a regular 6 Months entry VISA will be issued at the border/airport.
Therefore if arriving by boat and departing by plane, you will have to surrender your Mariners Visa. On return to Panama to re-join the boat, a regular entry visa will be issued and with this you can obtain an exit zarpe.
This new Mariners Visa appears to be applied more consistently now throughout the various Panamanian ports.
It is important to remember that each Immigration office in Panama interprets the rules and regulations their own way. It's therefore advisable to read latest reports from cruisers and check out the various Panama nets before arrival to find the best port for entry. See the report here for the latest updates from cruisers as to how and where different fees are being charged.
Apart from some eastern European, Asian and African countries who require a visa in advance, most other nationalities can enter Panama and buy a visa on arrival.
If checking in or out during the weekend or outside business hours, immigration charge an overtime fee of US$30.00 per yacht.
Immigration at Branch Offices
It is important to note that the Immigration Offices at Porvenir and Portobelo (on the Caribbean side of Panama) and Balboa Yacht Club and Flamenco Island (on the Pacific side), are only Branch Offices. This means that officially, they are unable to issue visas and can only issue "entry to the country" stamps. Legally, the "entry to the country" stamp permits crew 72 hrs to obtain a visa (as per the government regulations), either in Colon or Balboa or at your next Panama port of call.
That said, it appers that Porvenir Immigration are issuing Mariner Visas. Cruisers MUST be sure however to get a receipt, as some authorities on the mainland do not recognise this stamp as an official visa so proof of payment will be required.
The "72 hour rule"
This "72 hour rule" was apparently established primarily for commercial shipping passing the Panama Canal so that the crew do not have to appear at Immigration. Immigration officials are now applying this rule to yacht crew, however as always, its application is inconsistent throughout Panama. In actual fact, many yachts cruise the San Blas and even leave their boats in the San Blas and fly home, and do not experience any problems re. lack of Mariners visa at the airport (See report here). Some officials at the Immigration office in Porvenir apparently do not tell cruisers about the 72 hour rule.
Be warned though, yachts are subject to being stopped and immigration papers checked. Therefore if you have been in the country for more than 72 hours and don't have a Mariners visa, you risk being penalized.
Remember also that the 72 hour rule means that if you have a flight booked within 3 days of your arrival in Panama, you will not have to buy a Mariners Visa. Be sure to show your airline ticket at check-in. When you return to Panama you will be given 30 days on arrival in Panama, enough time to gain an exit Zarpe and depart Panama, saving you the cost of the Mariners Visa.
Length of Stay in Panama for yacht crew
Three days (72 hours) is permitted, after which time a Mariners Visa must be purchased which permits entry into Panama for a period of three months, which can be extended for up to two years subject to an application to the Immigration authorities. However, as noted above, most offices tend to issue this visa for the same amount of time as your cruising permit (i.e. 1 year).
Be sure to apply for an extension well in advance of your visa expiry date.
Last updated March 2015.
Firearms must be declared on arrival and will be held in bond until departure.
Bringing in Spare Parts to Panama by Air
All arriving passengers by air to Panama, residents or visitors, have to complete a Custom Declaration upon arrival. This declaration clearly states that you do not have to declare items you are bringing in as long as the total value does not exceed US$2000.
If you are bringing spares or equipment with a value below US$2000, generally there is no problem and it is recommended that you have invoices covering the items you are bringing in.
If you are bringing in items with a value exceeding US$2000, duty is payable, or for a boat in transit a transit clearance must be arranged (to avoid paying duty). Part of the transit clearance is that an inspector must accompany the items on board the boat. Normally the cost of the transit clearance is based on the value of the items and in addition you have to pay for the inspector and his transportation to and from the boat. It is difficult to advise the total cost involved as it also depends on where the boat is moored.
Cruisers recommend that by far the easiest way to source spare parts and even large items is to use the services of Marine Warehouse in the USA who can deliver directly to Panama with no extra taxes and reasonable freight costs (if not express). Contact tom@)marinewarehouse.net.
Last updated February 2015.
An international yellow fever vaccination certificate may be required if you have been to a yellow fever endemic country. This includes much of South America.
If such a vaccination is needed, then a public health clinic in Panama City or Colon can do so fo $5. Some other countries will require such a certificate if your passport shows that you have been to Panama.
Current advice fro the U.K. Foreign Office - March 2012
"There is a risk of yellow fever transmission in the provinces of Darien, San Blas, or east Panama. This does not include Panama City and the Canal Zone. Visitors should seek specialist advice about the need to receive Yellow Fever vaccine if travelling to these areas. Travellers planning to visit these provinces should obtain a yellow fever vaccine ten days prior to travel."
If just transiting the Canal, it is not necessary to take anti-malarial precautions, but is recommended outside the Canal Area.
In the past, noonsite has received a report from a cruising sailor who was bitten by a bat while sleeping. They were anchored in Bahia Benao near Punta Mala. It may not be a bad idea to get prophylactic rabies inoculation prior to going into areas where one might be attacked by a rabid animal.
Clinic near Quatro Altos (Tel: 433-7532)
Clinica Hospital San Fernando (Tel: 278-6364) – This hospital has an international department to assist you. (Tel: 305-6300, Ex 4283).
Centro Medico Paitilla (Tel: 265-8800) Calle 53 and Ave. Balboa.
Located near the World Trade Center in the Marbella area.
Punta Pacifica Hospital (Tel: 204-8000). This is the newest and most advanced facility in the country and is affiliated with the John’s Hopkins Hospital of Baltimore, Maryland. Several cruisers have been helped with direct billing to insurance companies outside of Panama.
Hospital National (Tel: 207-8100) is located at Avenida Cuba between Calle 38 & Calle 39.
Cruising Permits, "Permiso de Navegacion"
These are required by all foreign vessels sailing in Panamanian waters. As from 1st July 2010, cruising permits are now issued for one year, renewable for 1 additional year and then 1 further additional year, so 3 years in total are permitted.
The cruising permit is cancelled when the yacht leaves the country and a new one will have to be purchased on re-entry.
Note: Cruising Permits can only be issued against a valid ship (yacht) registration and should this registration expire within the 1 year normally covered by the Cruising Permit, the permit will only be valid to the date the registration is valid (however the full amount must be paid). This really only applies to US boats (and other nationalities), whose vessel documentation shows an annual expiration date. Upon presentation of a renewed registration a NEW permit will be issued valid for 1 year. There is some confusion amongst Panama Port Captain's about the application of this law (see news item for further details).
The law states that Cruising Permits must be issued by calendar year (meaning if you arrive January or June, you still only get a permit valid to December 31st the same year). However, more and more ports are issuing the permits for one year (365 days from date of issue).
It is therefore important to note that the local authorities in each port in Panama may interpret the law in their own way.
See Fees for permits below.
Yachts clearing in Cristobal, who do not intend to stop in Balboa at all, can clear out of Panama in Cristobal, but they must do this one working day before transiting the Canal. Apparently the clearance is free in Cristobal, but costs $25 in Balboa. If intending to stop at Las Perlas or the San Blas Islands, this should be mentioned on the clearance paper by the relevant officer.
If a Fumigation certificate is required (i.e. if visiting the Galapagos islands) ensure that it is one issued by the Ministerio de Sanidad.
Note: A dinghy Licence is not required by visiting yachtsmen.
Last updated March 2015.
Panama is not a cheap country to visit. There are substantial fees for clearing in and cruising. If you are only intending to visit for a short time (the San Blas Islands for example), bear in mind it will cost in the region of US$500 to clear in and cruise here even for a short time.
Fees continue to be charged inconsistently throughout Panama's ports of entry. It is is strongly recommended to find out in advance of your visit from cruisers that are there (via forums, Nets, reports on noonsite etc.) the best port for clearing-into the country where you can incur minimum fees.
The Servicio Nacional de Migracion is currently enforcing an entry permit (Mariner's Visa) of US$ 105,00 per person for sea travellers piloting their own boat or yacht (and crew) and arriving as a tourist. This is NOT the same as a Tourist Visa. It is required for any stay longer than 72 hours and permits entry into Panama for a period of three months, which can be extended for up to two years subject to a application to the Immigration authorities.
Article 71 of Panama’s fiscal code now defines a one-year sailing and navigation license (cruising permit) that costs $5 and is renewable for another year.
Article 72 defines a temporary registration fee for private yachts: $45 for boats up to 6 meters (19.7 feet) in length, $90 for boats up to 10 meters (32.8 feet) and $180 for larger boats. The new registration is annual, but it is renewable for the same period.
Therefore approximate overall cost for 1 year cruising permit (depending on size of yacht) plus admin fees, is about US$205.
Other Fees on Checking-in
Port Captain Declaration General: US$20
There may be a charge if officials have to visit your yacht to "inspect" it (approx. $60). Overtime fees are charged as well.
The Quarantine fee is US$35.
The Health Ministry fee is US$122.
Mandatory boat fumigation: US$53 (be sure to get a quote as charges for this can be as high as US$300).
It costs approximately $20 to take a taxi to the bank to pay all the fees.
Fees on Checking-out
The check-out fees are less than the entry fees. The consent to clear is $12.00 and the zarpe $1.50. Normally $16.50 is charged in total, however zarpe fees can vary widely and as much as US$53 charge has been reported. It seems to be wholly dependent on which office you use and who sees you.
San Blas - Kuna Yala Fees
If checking in at the San Blas Islands, there is a US$20 fee per month for a Kuna Congress cruising permit for the islands for the boat, plus a further US$20 charge per person on board.
Note: Currently there is an on-going dispute between the Panamanian Central Govt. and the Kuna Yala "Authorities" (KYA) regarding the Kuna Yala fee charged to visiting yachts. The KYA are trying to drastically increase this fee which they can not do according to their agreement with the Central Govt. Proposed fees as of 1 January 2016 for 30 days are $5.00 per square foot (length x width) plus $20.00 per person on board. It is still uncertain if these fees will actually be charged.
Follow a cruisers' discussion thread on this topic at https://www.facebook.com/groups/kunayala/permalink/518134811671621/
Yachts over 65ft must have an AIS transponder. One can be hired from the canal authorities.
For information on the latest Panama Canal transit fees (including deposits etc.), see the Panama Canal Authority Customer Form "Procedures for securing a handline transit of the Panama Canal" from their website www.pancanal.com (go to Maritime Operations and then to Customer Forms).
Fees for the National Park Area (around Isla Coiba, Isla Canal de Afuera, Isla Brincanco, Granito de Oro and Isla Rancheria) in northern Panama, have substantially increased. In 2012 they were $20 per day, per person, and a daily anchoring fee. For a 10m boat this was $30.
Panama has a sales tax of 7% which also includes the Banks, meaning that you pay a 7% tax on what the Bank charges for the transaction not on the whole amount of the transaction. This Tax also applies to Service Fees such as Agency fees etc.
Last updated November 2015.
Panamanians tend to be conservative dressers; men always wear long trousers, never trainers, and most people wear business clothes in town, which should be taken into consideration even if it is hot if you wish to avoid being too conspicuous.
For details of the restrictions on sailing in Panama Canal Waters see here
Especially in Panama City and any government office, please respect the local custom of wearing long pants, shirts with sleeves, and shoes (not sandals).
For agent recommendations from cruisers, see this noonsite report.
Dogs need health and anti-rabies certificates and are not allowed to land. All other animals need health certificates. In practice, the procedure is quite relaxed.