Everyone in Panama is required to carry ID.
At all times.
And I mean everyone.
Type of ID Required
You must carry 1 of these 2 types of identification:
- Your Panama Cedula
- Your Passport
And only those documents are acceptable.
Proof in Panama Legally
The government wants to make sure you are in Panama legally.
Either of those 2 documents above will allow them to discover that.
Your Costco card or your US Drivers license won’t cut it.
Copy of Your Passport
If you don’t want to carry your passport around, you can carry a copy of your passport.
You only need to copy 2 pages:
- Page with all your data (name, etc)
- Page with your most recent entry stamp
The copies can be black and white or color. We think the color copies look better, more official, but we have successfully used black and white copies as well.
Occasionally, a checkpoint official may balk at accepting a copy of your passport. You can be confident that it is legal. If you respond with confidence and possibly talking with a supervisor, you will be fine.
Before we had our residency visas, we carried copies of our passports for years. We only had to resort to talking with a supervisor about the legitimacy of our copies once. The issue was quickly resolved, and we were able to proceed.
Driving in Panama? Carry Your License. While driving a vehicle in Panama, you are required to carry your driver’s license. If you are a tourist, you need to have your driver’s license from home. If you are a Panama resident, you need to carry your Panamanian driver’s license. (Note: the law requires that you obtain your Panamanian driver’s license within 90 days from the date your permanent residency visa is approved.) Find out about driving in Panama.
No Probable Cause Requirement
In Panama, the police can stop you at any time, for any reason, and ask you to show your ID. They do not need to prove probable cause or have any cause whatsoever.
The By-The-Book Consequence of No ID
If you don’t have proper ID on you, you could end up in jail. And a Panamanian jail is really not a place you want to be.
Okay, going to jail is an extreme response. But it could happen. And I know of one case in which it did happen.
Actual Consequence of No ID
Twice an official has asked for my ID, and I had no ID on me.
I did NOT go to jail. Not even close.
Once they simply chided me and allowed me to proceed on my way. The other time I had to turn around and go home. So no big deal.
However, someone I know was sent to jail.
It happened late at night, outside a bar. He had been drinking and, according to others who were there, “acting out”. I was also told that he was somewhat obnoxious about being asked for ID.
However, he was allowed to call a friend, who brought his ID to the station. He was promptly released.
(I strongly recommend you resist any temptation you may have to bribe your way out of a situation. That method doesn’t lead to anything good in the long-term.)
There has been a growing anti-immigration sentiment in Panama, accompanied by occasionally stricter enforcement at checkpoints.
Keep in mind, the anti-immigration feelings are mostly focussed on Vensulians and other central and South Americans who are here working illegally. Regardless, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Legal and Spontaneous Fun
Carrying your ID is a pretty easy rule to follow. Plus it makes taking spontaneous road trips possible! ( I love spontaneous trips.)
For instance, a few times we suddenly decided to go to Boquete, unfortunately, we had to turn back because we realized that one or more of us didn’t have our ID on us.
We live near Costa Rica, so to go most places we have to pass by a major border crossing – coming and going.
Our nearby Pasa Canoas border area is also a great shopping destination, so the hassle is generally worth it. (FYI – We live in the charming beach town of Puerto Armuelles, Panama.)
Make your time in Panama both legal and filled with potential spontaneous fun. Always carry your ID.
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