A lot of my Seamonkeys are moving to Panama for the work on the canal improvements. They all love it there. I haven't been since the Noriega disaster but am giving it some serious thought. I came across this article and thought I'd throw it out for some discussion. While in a foreign country, you are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in your home country and may not afford the protections available to the individual under your home jurisdiction. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe for similar offenses. Persons violating Panamanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Panama are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. If you are not a money launderer, drug seller or terrorist you will find Panama to have a relatively laid back attitude towards crime compared to North America, Australia and the EU. In general while in Panama the average Expat is unlikely to run afoul of the law. In Panama business has not been criminalized as it has in the USA, UK, Australia and many other countries. The vast majority of the law enforcement people in Panama devote their time and energies to real crime, drug traffic enforcement and crime prevention. There is not a whole lot of victimless crime prosecution in Panama. Prostitution is legal and the prostitutes are medically inspected weekly for STD. I have yet to see street walking prostitutes (except in really poor neighborhoods) so I assume most if not all of them are working in the many gentlemans clubs or are working as paid escorts or as outcall massage girls. So it is there but not all that obvious, unlike numerous American cities where it is in your face with drug addicted street walkers male and female. Many people say be careful while wearing jewelry since a child can get a running start and grab a bracelet or necklace and keep running. Did we ever see it happen, No. Did we ever meet anyone it happened to, No. Lot's of people say they know it happens but seems you never meet any of these victims. Could it happen? I guess it could. Do we think it is likely to happen? No. I suppose if one was out late and had been drinking and was walking around looking like he was partying someone may interpret this as a crime of opportunity and take a shot at it. I would suggest when going shopping on foot to not wear a lot of flashy jewelry. Remember Panama as a nation has much less violent crime in a year (a mere fraction) than what New York City has in one day. Panama is far safer than North America. Violent crime in Panama is relatively unheard of. The assaults that happen here are overwhelmingly going to be amongst people well known to each other like husband and wife, criminal gang members, etc. Armed robberies are vely unheard of. Rapes are again not a likely occurrence but I would not advise any young woman to go running around without other people at night. This advice would apply in USA except having a friend or two along in the USA might just mean you all become victims. Panama is way way more safe than even the safe cities in the USA. Bars on windows are common in Panama. Again children can become thieves of opportunity. There are a lot of really poor people in this country and an open window could tempt a child to become a thief and enter to take a tv, cash, radio etc. Some dwellings also have an extra door, like a storm door; made of ornate iron. When the USA was here anyone who was in military or was an American working for them was required to put these iron doors on in front of the regular door so this is why you see a lot of these doors. Most apartment buildings have security guards 24/7 who are sharp and vigilant. Some are armed, some are not. They usually station one guard in the lobby to buzz up visitors after you clear them, to sign for packages and deliveries and there is usually at least one other guard watching the garage area. Some have guards roving the grounds. Rest assured the apartment buildings most Expats are likely to gravitate towards are going to have security far beyond what you would need to feel really safe and the type of security you'd get if you lived in a high rise building in say Central park South in Manhattan paying upwards of $10,000 a month rent (minus the elevator operators). Rest assured no one is going to be lurking for you in the lobby or the garage, you are not going to enter the elevator on the lobby floor and wind up going down to the basement for a nightmare, no one is going to come to your apartment door unannounced, no strangers are roaming around the halls, etc. Just accept the private security as a way of life down here and not as an indicator or high crime. For the more security conscious monitored alarm systems are available and yes the police will come when the alarm company calls them but I think this is overkill. You can get a safe for valuables and bolt it into floor/walls inside of a closet with a solid core wood door with a dead bolt installed. A safe may be a nice touch if a lot of strangers are in your house and you have a lot of valuables you do not want to keep in a bank safe deposit box. Multilink (trade name) doors are very interesting, first saw something like them in Israel over 10 years ago. You have a steel door maybe with decorative wood over it. In the door is a high security lock nicely mounted so it can't be easily pulled out. The door frame is reinforced with an all steel liner. When you a turn a key deadbolts come out and into the frame on all four sides of the door making a real secure closure. It would take a lot of battering with a battering ram and to get in, probably easier to go through the wall. You can put up a fence with razor ribbon. You could get some big dogs. Best of all hire your own live in bodyguard/driver/errand guy. Cost would be at about $5.00 per day if you let him live in, feed him etc. He'll have a gun license and carry a pistol. You can use him as a driver too. Let him live in the maids room and hire a day maid instead. Remember this paragraph is for the ultra security minded folks (not paranoids), not for most people. In law enforcement they say if you ever used it you needed it, so if you carried a gun 24/7 for 45 years and one day actually used it well then you needed it all that time. A decent line of logic considering the stakes involved. What won't you see in Panama. Well if you go to the malls at night you won't see out of order teenagers cutting up - no running around cursing, no boom boxes, no gang colors, no purple hair, no mohican haircuts. Go to the mall arcade and observe nicely behaved kids having fun. No stoned out kids here. Marked absence of body piercings and tattoos. You will not see kids coming at you in groups and making you give ground to them. You will not see streetwalkers, crack houses, street corner crack dealers, no gang hangouts of any sort, no OTB betting houses. There is a marked absence of homeless people living in the streets, never saw any in Panama City. You will see neighborhoods with incredibly poor people not that much unlike what you see all over the USA but they are poorer here in these neighborhoods. You will see street beggars, street vendors selling things while you stop for a red light (sometimes they have good fruit cheap) and you will see some fairly wild traffic violations. They drive wild here. No one stops for stop signs, they do stop for red lights. They will turn left from the right lane of a three lane each direction street. Right of way is defined by who has the most guts and aggression. Many people will wind up paying their traffic fines on the spot so to speak if they get pulled over. For an Expat figure $10, while a local may pay way less. The driver asks the police if he can just simply pay the fine now and sort of discreetly palms the bill over. If you decide to take a ticket be prepared to wait a while since the policeman may need help filling out the ticket since he rarely ever does this or you could be his first. Tickets do not count against your insurance (imagine a country where the insurance industry hasn't corrupted the legislature). I could see the insurance industry raising rates due to accidents but what the heck do tickets have to do with accidents. Did you know that insurance companies have programs to buy traffic radar and laser guns for local law enforcement. Just another reason why America is about to collapse in on itself as the large corporations continue to operate a corrupted Congress. You could use a radar detector here but I never saw any police using radar but they do have it. You might spend more on the detector than on tickets, LOL. Panama has private firearm ownership. As a resident or citizen you can get one too. If you can purchase the gun you can carry it concealed on your person in your car etc. This is a typical scenario in several countries. In the USA a handgun to me was like Karl Malden and the American Express Card - never leave home without it, and while home rest assured one was always very close by. In Panama it is nice to not have to carry a gun - not needed. If you want a gun you can readily have one in Panama. Remember Panama is under Roman Law. If you shoot or kill a person even a home intruder or a person in a traffic accident you can be incarcerated by the police during which they investigate the death. I am told there is a usual 7 day limit on this. There is also the crime of passion exception to murder. If you came to find your spouse engaging in sex with another and you killed them both it would be a walk under crime of passion but you may have to go to jail for a few days while the investigation took place. Remember you are not in Kansas anymore. Having an unregistered gun will result in a trip to the jail. Panama is not a full auto jurisdiction (machine guns)- no private ownership of full autos. I believe things like semi-auto AR-15's are available. I understand that there are lots of full auto AK's floating around due to Colombians smuggling them in but that too can mean big trouble with the police - ill advised and unnecessary. Silencers, and things like any other weapon, are not available for private ownership. Drugs - They are here but not obvious. If you are a recreational drug user I would strongly suggest you look for another country to live in, they do not take this lightly especially if you are an Expat. Depending on quantities and circumstances you may get booted out of country and fined, you may get a warning or you may do some time in jail. They would probably not put you away for 20 years or execute you like some countries but if you had enough and were dealing you would probably be miserable for a few years. Find a country more tolerant of drug users, this is not your place. Hotels that Expats use are going to have security and be relatively safe but do make sure the hotel is recommended (see our Hotel section). Most of these hotels will have in room safes. Only the expensive larger hotels will have hotel safe deposits boxes. Once we saw a guy at one of the best hotels put a load of cash in the hotel safe and the staff deposited it in the bank with their deposit and the guy had to wait until the bank reopened after a holiday to get his money back. From the tone of the argument it was a lot of money and the hotel manager seemed to know the customer was not in any position to complain to anyone and he would of course get his money back and basically told the customer to shut up and wait. I do believe he got all his money back and learned a lesson. Arrange to be met at the airport by a driver. Safer and same price as a cab. He'll meet you with a sign with your name (use an alias if security conscious) and take you right to your hotel. See our services section for a reliable driver. Taxis are safe as a rule. Cab fares go from $1.00 to $3.00 around Panama City. If you are coming for a few weeks bring a stack of one dollar bills and quarters. Taxis have no meters and never have change. Even if they do have change they will wait to see if you want your change. Try to act like you know what is going on, ask at the hotel desk what your fare should be to your intended destination. Hail a taxi away from the front of your hotel so you won’t give the impression of being a tourist. Give your destination in your best Spanish with best accent or have your front desk write it out in Spanish for you just in case the driver can’t understand your accent. You can also hire a driver with a car for somewhat less than $100 a day which is best done when going out of Panama City. Rental cars are readily available. Check our recommendations for a smooth experience. If you have a problem you can always complain to us and we can exert pressure that is well respected to say the least. Always travel with a powerful flashlight with fresh batteries - generic advice applicable anywhere not just for Panama. What if there is a power failure, fire, etc and you need to get out? Cash. You don't need a lot there are numerous ATM machines around. Ones in malls often have a security guard lurking around them. Remember Panama money is US dollars. If your currency is otherwise you will need to convert and not all that many banks do that and there are no street street money changers here. Make sure you can use the ATM machines here and maybe carry some cash if the ATM's will not work for you. You can use Visa/MC all over the country.