Safety in Panama


We would like to talk about a sensitive but important topic: do you feel safe in Panama?

How would you define the level of safety in the country?

Can you walk safely during the day and at night without any fear?

Do you think there is a high rate of criminality, social problems or tensions?

Share with us your insight on safety in Panama and in the city you live in.

Thank you in advance,


I live in David and I feel safer here than I did in the US. I am out and about quite a bit and I have never had any problems with anyone. But, no place is totally free of problems. I know people who have had things stolen from their homes. But, crimes against people are unusual. Get to know your neighbors and the locals can tell you what areas to avoid.

I often describe the crime situation in Panama like this:
Natasha: "Boris, why you steal that thing?"
Boris: "Best reason I know, Natasha. Not nailed down."
The Panamanians are not a particularly violent people. I don't fear for the safety of my person generally. That being said, I know that if I so much as turn my back on my purse, it will be gone. For us, ten years = ten thefts. Mostly petty, mostly because we let our guard down. But, yes, I do feel more vulnerable here. I do feel targeted. There's a lot to be said in favor of Panama but you have to know the good and the bad. For me, the trade off of having my hose stolen or my sunglasses 'disappear' moments after I step away from a table, is balanced by the good stuff--wonderful nature, affordable 'luxury' and freedom.

Investigators:  "Why do you rob banks?"
Willie Sutton:  "Because that's where the money is."
Property crime is increasing everywhere and the best you can do is make yourself less of a target  We have bars and cameras and we know our neighbors.  Almost everyone I know has at least one burglary and normally they are crimes of opportunity.    As far as violent crime or robberies - almost unheard of in Chiriqui.  I would walk in town or my neighborhood at night without fear.  One of our frequent Panamanian workers is very upset at the uptick in crime since he feels that people will blame all Panamanians so they are eager for the crime rate to go down too.  Just like in every community around the world, very few people make a lot of problems for the rest of us.

We feel very safe in Panama although that does not say that there isn't crime or you shouldn't be diligent about your security and well-being. My husband and I live in Pedasí. We are comfortable walking down the streets at night, together or alone. For example, while my husband was on a business trip, I walked over to a popular restaurant and bar to meet up with other friends for a party. I left the restaurant, which is about 10-12 blocks away, at 1:00 am and walked home with no worries. Pedasí has had some burglaries in the past, mostly homes while someone is gone, and some businesses. Our home came with bars on the windows and a gated wall around the property, but we do lock the gates and doors when we are gone or at night when we go to bed. We also have a dog that barks at strangers. Others have installed alarms and security lights. But for the most part, I enjoy the security I feel living here. I have been to other areas of Panama and feel safe most everywhere I go.

Hello and good mornng,
more then six years I lived in Panama. And I still love it and want to return. Live is so easy there - as long you got the monthly income to buy the food you like and have some fun in travelling on the beaches. Safety in Panama is not a problem for expats as long as you don't go to San Miguelito where the younger Panamanians are fighting for the girls... or don't visit the Old part of the City during the night. I think in some years you can do that. They already have several policemen expecially for visitors and are renovating almost everything. Its amazing there. And you have to see what they are doing. The Restaurants there are not really chea, but you don't go every day! On the beaches you can walk and walk. No crime so far. In the years I lived there nothing happened and you did not hear anything about crime in radio. Sometimes the younger guys who don't work steel small things if you make it easy for them. Be careful like in every country, you do that in Germany as well!!! I can tell everybody to live there, BUT for my opinion you have to speak SPANISH. A lot of Americans leave the country again because of the language. To get the permanent residence you don' need it so far, but when you start to live in your own or rented place and have to organize normal live (on the phone most of the time) you need somebody to translate. But its really a good place to live and don't worry about more crime then in European countries for example. So far good life!

We live in David and why walk the streets when nearly every house has a dog that will annoy you barking at you. The streets aren't that great for walking and sidewalks are very few.  There are neighborhoods like in the USA and some are OK after dark and others are not even good in daylight.  David has had armed home invasions usually involving beatings or rape, armed robbery attacks of public buses, armed robberies of popular restaurants during evening meal time and yes there have been murders.  Police protection is mostly after the fact since they have little training and generally not paid enough to show up during a conflict, especially if firearms are involved.  I have two licensed guns and near always have one on me concealed, if I'm out of our house.  The legal process is costly and lengthy but we are secure at home, out of house and when traveling.   Most Gringo's seldom go out after dark and except for weekends or special events, there isn't much to do in the evenings.  Because I'm armed and because we do go out in the evenings much more than most including night travel, we feel safe as long as we keep possible danger in the back of our minds.  So come on down and adjust your life as may be needed to enjoy your life as most everyone does in most all cities and countries.

How's the avail. of long term rentals in and around David ? I have been thinking of Boquet.  But now I'm reading that housing is getting harder to find....and I'd hate to see some sort of cheapo apartment dwellings there anyway...

     I lived in Boquete` for 4 years. It was paradise! So beautiful, perfect climate,  lots of expats and more. There were also numerous home invasions no one told me about. I installed an 8' high iron security fence in addition to the security bars that were on the house's windows because of the crime. Expats were targets for local thieves and most especially dangerous were the gang members who would drive up the mountain from David`, Pedregal and other places to perform those home invasions. Now, don't think "This is just some lady who's scared, may imagine things to be more worrisome than they really are." I retired young from law enforcement, am not afraid to stay alone nor life and travel. I moved back to the US a little over a year ago after someone I knew had broken into my home (crow bar on the back door) and tried to kill me. I didn't move because that happened to me... I moved back because the police refused to arrest that person. I entered my home with a friend... who witnessed the whole thing and helped fight off my attacker. My witness related this information to the police... they said they could not arrest someone performing a crime like this unless they saw it happening themselves. The young, handsome officer then looked me up and down and said "You give me your phone number baby and I'll come back after work and check on you." Yes, this really happened. 19 factions of police in this country, no communication from one to the next. Often times (and in Boquete` it's completely accurate) the police have no internet, printer to print a police report, one car for the entire police department. It's ridiculous! I loved Panama... it was my dream to remain there. I recently bumped into an old friend who lived there too but now lives here in the US again for reasons similar to mine. He explained that his best friends who still  live there had a home invasion a month ago. Both are senior citizens. He was pistol whipped, they broke his wife's leg. 14 hours terror all in all. No one arrested.
     I have never posted anything negative in my life... I try to stay out of the fray, let people make their own choices. What made me write this time? I believe someone has to be honest with you even though it may not be what you want to hear... to help you, keep you safe, save you untold amounts of $$$$. I have copied and pasted the notification from Alto Al Crimen or Crime Stoppers in Boquete` I received yesterday. I know everyone involved. All were my friends. Besty, Lorraine and Joe went on Garden Club Field trips with me... I love them. Read and draw your own conclusions.... best wishes for a beautiful future.
          From: News Boquete
    Date: 19 de julio de 2015 18:26:08 GMT-5
    To: inbox[at]
    Subject: [News Boquete] A Tragedy at River Ranch
    Reply-To: Mark Heyer

    Saturday afternoon, July 18 - In casual conversation with Susan Peterson at the Handicapped Foundation, we were discussing the sudden and unexpected losses of Irene Haines and Lee Zeltzer. She observed, “Trouble always comes in threes - I wonder what’s next?” At 8:30 that very night, we had the horrifying answer.

    At the request of Betsy, I am writing up this narrative so that we can all understand.

    On Saturday night, Betsy Waddington, her 92 year old mother and husband Joe were watching TV in the small downstairs apartment of their modest home in River Ranch, some 2km of dirt off the main Gualaca road.

    Three intruders entered through a screen on an open window in the pantry, not 30 feet from where the family was sitting. They burst into the kitchen/living room area, the leader brandishing a silver revolver. Joe Joe Potrebenko, sitting next to the TV, stood up and raised his arms and was instantly shot once in the chest from a distance of about 5 feet. Total elapsed time, less than 5 seconds. Of the seven guard dogs, not one of them detected the intruders.

    Joe fell to the floor. The intruders grabbed Betsy and her mother, and threw them face down on floor next to Joe. They were tied with computer cords and Betsy was gagged. Within 5 minutes, Betsy felt her husband take his last breath.

    Meanwhile, the criminals were screaming questions at them in a gutter Spanish - demanding to know where the guns were and where was the money. During the entire event, the leader, the murderer, was on the cell phone getting instructions from someone unseen.

    For the next two hours they ransacked the house, upstairs and down, opening every drawer and container, throwing the contents around. Even though the killers were not masked, Betsy and here mother, terrified for their own lives, are unable to identify any of them.

    They seemed to be very frustrated, because these gentle Canadians had no guns and lived a very modest lifestyle. In the end, they escaped with 5 laptops, three of them old derelicts, a collection of “antique” cell phones and about $50. They stole the family car and returned to the house to demand the gate keys whey they discovered they could not get out.

    Another hour passed before Betsy and her mother were able to free themselves and drive to the nearest neighbor to call the police. Both on the night of the 18th and today, the 19th, large contingents of police were investigating, taking finger prints and such. Betsy describes them as very supportive and sympathetic. The stolen car is still missing at this time.

    Today the Boquete community fell in to support Betsy and her mother, who are being well and lovingly cared of in this time of trauma. Alto al Crimen is also taking a role in the investigation, even as it reels from the loss of key board member Lee Zeltzer only days before.

    Please be on the lookout for a red Nissan Frontier pickup with plate # 782 874

    The question of why remains unanswered at this time. This was clearly an organized hit, with the leader frustrated and taking directions during the event. Were Joe and Betsy really the intended victims? No guns, no money, no valuables. It seems likely that the shooting was in fact an accident, a reflex by a novice shooter high on adrenaline and what else?

    Make no mistake, Betsy has seen her idyllic life in Panama destroyed and will never recover from the PTSD that will haunt her forever.

    What can we all learn from this tragic event? First and foremost, not taking care of your personal security is not an option. In no country in the world can the police protect you from this kind of attack. It is up to YOU to provide for the safety of your home and your life.

    Our prayers are with Betsy and her mother Lorraine. Please give them all of your love.

    Mark Heyer

        The above message was distributed by News Boquete, a free subscription-based community service.

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I want to thank you G for a very informative bit of info. ...especially as regards Boquet. That's exactly the kind of info. I was looking for.....and it sounds like you need to be armed yourself to feel even a little more safe. I think I'll keep looking...I live where the ferry takes off for the San Juan Islands about an hour or so from the Canadian border. Some would say this is paradise right here...and it is beautiful..But once I'm on a fixed income it will no doubt be more of an economic struggle...but I'm not willing to live in a place where I'm paranoid about something like what you described happening. And I can just imagine how things might go should an ex-pat shoot and kill a Panamanian intruder...

thanks again

Dear Knute,
     Thank you for responding... I just wanted to help at least one person... thank you! I am on a fixed income as you describe, you are so right and although it may make you sad right now you've made the right choice. At least I think so. I lost thousands of $$ by moving back, I look forward and not backwards... usually. Well, until today :) I love those people, it hurts and made me do something unusual... speak even when it might not be what people want to hear.

Best wishes for a happy life!

G from Alaska,

I would also like to thank you for telling your story and posting the full details on the home invasion and murder near Boquete.  I gave you a thumbs up for helping to alert future expats.  You are correct that people do not want to hear the full story on Panama.  Future expats want to believe that Boquete is Shangri-La and refuse to believe anything else.  If you helped just one person, then speaking up was worth it.  Telling the full story is not being negative.  Panama is wonderful in many ways but it is still a "developing country".

Thank you Mary Ann. When I lived there I bumped into many couples that were visiting and researching to determine if they wanted to retire there. I helped at least 10 couple from start to finish... before my home was broken into and I was attacked. I was "high" on the beauty of Boquete`. I won't allow myself to look back and regret that... I was sharing what I knew at the time. I am still a legal resident there, I have close friends still living there so will one day return but as a vacation and with my eyes open. I really appreciate your kind words... it's been a tough day, a tough week. The love never dies.

One last thing... I now live in Merritt Island! I see you live in Orlando :) Wish I knew how to connect with you privately. Best wishes to you Mary Ann!

:(  Well my wife and I were planning on coming to Boquete again. Unfortunately family problems came into play and we aren't going to be able to make it. However after reading about the Canadian and his wife that were robbed (he murdered) and some other things I've read- never mind! I'll take my chances living in US and being able to carry and protect myself and family.. Also the fact that it is very expensive for food and many other things that must be imported and placed an IMPORT TAX on that make Panama and many other countries out of our living range. Sorry Panama but not in my future..

I lived in Panama City for about a year and a half. You would think being in the city would be a safer situation but it wasn't. Let me start by saying the first 3-4 months were great lived it and thought it was paradise. After being there for a few months everything turned sour. Death threats on myself ands children, held up at gun point and people continuously trying to break into the upscale building we lived in. There is so much corruption and wrong doing in that country. We constantly heard about murders, rapes and robberies. I finally had enough and we sold everything and got out as quickly as possible. What you see and hear from the travel agents and pamphlets are not true to life. I honestly wouldn't recommend living there to any foreigners and I am only being honest. Very unsafe!

I'm licensed by Policia National for two semi-auto pistols which allows them to be carried concealed also.  Nearly always carry the .380 semi-auto when not at home because it's so easy to conceal.  The .45 is a little big and heavy but great if needed, should someone breach our locks and bars at home.  I'm comfortable when traveling even late after dark when the Polisia are normally asleep.  Licensing is a lengthy process and costly but worth our lives and confidence.  I always carried in the USA also.

We were in Bouquet about 10 km closer to David. We walked out to the highway waiting for the bus to Boquete.
No bus came.  We saw about 8 or 9 my going single file up the other side.
Each had a machete.  They went on by up the other side.
Or so it seemed.  Because they went past the bus stop and then there they were
in front of us.

In our limited Spanish, we greeted them.  It felt as if they were swarming us, circling
We have been Christians for a long time, felt no fear but there was lots.
8 poor young Panamanian dressed in black?

They hung their backpacks right beside us, disappeared.
The bus was about 1 hour late, and they are every 15 minutes.
We read a gang like them killed 2 gringos in broad daylight.
No one does anything, often related, Panamanians.

I would say we had love for them and they showed us respect.
I would always carry gifts and money in future.  They were poor, no future,
no life.
We preferred Coronado in every way.

My prayers go out to these women in their grief.

So far, I feel safe.  We live in the country and know most of our neighbours.  We try to exercise common sense, and when we need to pay workers, we always have to go to the bank first to withdraw the funds, as we do not keep funds at the house, even to pay a $48.00 annual water bill.  No, we need notice, much to the annoyance sometimes to the locals as they expect payment that 2nd.  Even waiting 1 day  seems a stretch.

What is the procedure to become licensed to carry?  We are both licensed to conceal carry in the US. Is it possible for us to receive our license?

Crazy ideas coming into Panama. Guns make you safe? Look at what that philosophy has done to America. Please keep it there, thank you.

Sunsetsteve I was thinking the same thoughts while reading "carrying guns". Wow I'm also glad to be Canadian! !

OMG! This "sensationalism" is everywhere  - no wonder! We know the the circumstances well - our friends and neighbors.

Almost at the point of stop counting the weeks - but 13 tomorrow night. It has been hard but this is just not an accurate account of the facts.

I just saw this for the first time since this very tragic event occurred.  I was fired up again..

Pero no vale la pena - vivo en Chiriqui!


Best you contact Elvis for CURRENT requirements.  Things are frequently changed and he will know.
GUNS-Elvis Omar Quintero    6555-9394   also Octavio-ex cop=6798-1964


Panama Offshore Services explains the steps for "how to import guns into Panama and "how to buy a gun in Panama", which includes the license information.
http://www. … ol-agenda#

It'll be the 2nd Amendment taken away then the 1st Amendment (if you know what either of those are). After that it's all down hill for America. Better stay in Panama..

Where you are safer.

Probably in a crypt..

Chicago?  :o

From Chicago. Haven't lived there in years..I'm learning spanish from our "new americans" in palm springs, ca.... hahaha!!

The answer in one word - Yes. I live in Chiriqui Province. I have never felt unsafe in my day-to-day encounters but I am not naive either.

This is pure sensationalistic garbage from someone who not only knows the circumstances, and not by  choice,, was there the night of the crime.

This is just one person trying to capitalize on our neighbor who would never allow what he wrote but was in shock. Mark Heyer, who I don't think I have met and hope I never do, is out to self promote -period.

I feel totally safe here in my neck of the woods.  There seems to be no problems with the ex-pats property or their well-being.  I can walk the roads at the evening time, completely serene that nothing is going to happen.  I watch out for snakes, not people.
I have never lived in such a crime-free zone, where even the petty theft only occurs occasionally.  I am thankful that I live in such a beautiful place as panama.  That is the beauty of the country and also the beauty of all the local people.
Since my husband died, folks have asked me questions regarding my safety and my feeling of security.  I am just as safe now as before he passed.
Good luck folks

Having read a new article about Boquete it seems you folks living there are having a bit more of a problem than a year ago with increased crime because of the new 4 lane highway between David and Boquete. Also the helicopter noise in the whole valley. Any truth to this?

I heard from a reliable Boquete friend that the increased police presence and the checkpoint on the road up have really helped. It has been successful enough that they plan to make the checkpoint permanent. We are in David and a helicopter flies over occasionally. I heard our president has a home in Boquete and travels to it by helicopter. I haven't heard anyone complain about helicopter noise up there though. But, I definitely don't know everything that goes on so you may get other points of view.

My wife found this on FB "Expats in Panama" page. I'm not on FB.. … ete-panama

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