Panama Country Report
President Juan Carlos Varela is unlikely to significantly alter Panama's business-friendly operational environment during the remainder of his mandate. His Panameñista Party (Partido Panameñista: PP) is politically central and Varela himself is a businessperson (from the alcohol sector). His party does not hold a majority in the national assembly so policy compromises are likely. There is a moderate risk of contract revision to businesses connected to corruption investigations or projects under scrutiny by environmental groups. Panama has a robust investment protection legal framework. IHS Markit expects GDP to grow 4.3% in 2018.
New businesses can be created through a streamlined online system, and multinational legislation facilitates the establishment of headquarters or regional affiliates. Panama receives high levels of foreign investment in infrastructure to improve transport and communications systems, which are already of a high standard. However, corruption is common, and some labour regulations are inflexible. Multi-sector unions are well organised and have the capability to delay projects for several days, and in rare cases weeks.
Terrorism risks are low in Panama. There are no domestic groups with the intention or capability to target Panamanian and important Western assets, including the Panama Canal. However, members of Colombian guerrilla group FARC who are refusing to disarm are increasing drug trafficking activity in Darién province. The Chiriquí province has a strong presence of criminal groups and drug-trafficking organisations, but these are unlikely to target foreign assets or foreign individuals. Criminal gangs operate in Colón and Panama City, raising the risk of violent robbery of individuals and local businesses, and express kidnapping. Vessels entering the Panama Canal face a low risk of sea robbery.
The risk of interstate war remains low. There are no pending boundary disputes, but Panama's Darién province along the Colombian border has been affected by a spillover of operations by Colombian insurgent group FARC – now mainly involving those refusing to disarm – and illegal migration. There is no risk of war with Colombia, and the two countries cooperate on anti-trafficking initiatives. Panama has been involved in only one interstate war since independence in 1903, in the 1989 US invasion to depose the military government of Manuel Noriega.
Hydroelectric and mining projects are likely to face protests from indigenous communities, unions, and social activists. Mandatory consultation processes for future hydroelectric projects in the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous region is likely to increase the assertiveness of indigenous communities in presenting demands also via protests. Protests often take the form of roadblocks on access roads, including the Pan-American Highway and light vandalism against company property and vehicles. Major construction union SUNTRACS is likely to continue strikes over demands for concessions and in opposition to economic policies not favouring union members.
Vaccines required to enter the country
Yellow fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission. A single dose of YF vaccine is sufficient to confer sustained life-long immunity against the disease; it should be taken ten days in advance to be fully effective.
Vaccines recommended for all travelers
Routine vaccinations: Consult your doctor to ensure all routine vaccinations - such as for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, varicella, etc. - are up to date (include booster shots if necessary).
Vaccines recommended for most travelers
Hepatitis A: The vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart, and is nearly 100 percent effective. The WHO recommends the vaccine be integrated into national routine immunization schedules for children aged one year or older.
Typhoid fever: The typhoid fever vaccine can be administered via injection (administered in one dose) or orally (four doses). The vaccine is only 50-80 percent effective, so travelers to areas with a risk of exposure to typhoid fever, a bacterial disease, should also take hygienic precautions (e.g. drink only bottled water, avoid undercooked foods, wash hands regularly, etc.). Children can be given the shot beginning at two years of age (six for the oral vaccine).
Vaccines recommended for some travelers
Hepatitis B: The WHO recommends that all infants receive their first dose of vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by two or three doses to complete the primary series. Routine booster doses are not routinely recommended for any age group.
Rabies: The rabies vaccination is typically only recommended for travel to remote areas and if the traveler will be at high risk of exposure (e.g. undertaking activities that will bring them into contact with dogs, cats, bats, or other mammals). The vaccination is administered in three doses over a three-to-four week period. Post exposure prophylaxis is also available and should be administered as soon as possible following contact with an animal suspected of being infected (e.g. bites and scratches).
Yellow fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is generally recommended for travelers to areas located east of the Panama Canal.
The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 until November 30. While hurricanes and tropical storms rarely hit Panama directly, storm systems can bring torrential rains, leading to flooding and landslides. Hurricane Otto lingered off the northern coast for several days in November 2016, resulting in at least ten deaths and an estimated USD 10 million in damages, prompting the government to decree a six-month state of emergency.
Mountainous areas of the country can prove dangerous, particularly during the long rainy season - which extends from March until December - due to flooding, mudslides, and subsequent road closures. Flooding also occurs within Panama City and can result in transportation chaos.
Panama is located in a seismically active zone and earthquakes occasionally occur. A 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck neighboring Costa Rica in 1991, leaving dozens dead and resulting in major infrastructural damage in the Panamanian province of Bocas del Toro.
Cases of taxi drivers robbing kidnapping and/or robbing their clients have been reported, and offending drivers may be armed. To minimize this risk, only use official taxis (yellow in color), never take a taxi with tinted windows, ensure that the car's license plate as well as the drivers credentials are visible, and never take a taxi that already has an occupant (potential accomplice) or allow drivers to pick up more clients (a common practice).
Larger highways are generally well maintained but secondary roads are often less so. Traffic accidents are common along the Pan-American Highway, which should be avoided when possible after nightfall. According to one study, Panama is one of the worst countries in the world for drivers, due to poorly maintained roads and heavy traffic.
In the Panama City region, the metro bus system is safe.
Flooding, particularly common from April to December, can leave roads impassable (see NATURAL RISKS section).
For intercity travel, long distance buses and domestic airlines are safe.
Panama's climate is tropical; the dry season extends from January until April and the rainy season from May until December. The coast receives more rainfall than the interior of the country. Along the plains, temperatures fluctuate between 20°C and 30°C and tend to be lower in mountainous areas (10°C to 18°C).
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