This page includes answers to all of the questions that students have asked the directors since 2009. It begins with a description of the City of Knowledge (our housing provider); the services that the City of Knowledge can provide; dining and food; health and safety; and life in Panama in general. For specific questions about housing, visa/immigration matters, or health/safety issues, please consult with the Project Center Director, or your health care professional. 

The City of Knowledge

What is the City of Knowledge? The City of Knowledge is a community in which entrepreneurs, scientists, thinkers, artists, and community leaders, as well as experts from the government, NGOs, and international organizations work together to develop initiatives that trigger social change. IQP and MQP students are housed in the dormitories of the City of Knowledge.

Where is the City of Knowledge located? The City of Knowledge is located on nearly 300 acres of the former Fort Clayton U.S. army base to the northeast of Panama City. The main entrance to the City of Knowledge is on the highway along the Panama Canal, with the only other entrance to the rear from Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas, the road on which the U.S. Embassy and the upscale neighborhood of Clayton are located.

How far is the City of Knowledge from the airport? Tocumen International Airport is roughly an hour away from the City of Knowledge. Please note that Tocumen International Airport (PTY) is not the same as Marcos A. Gelabert Airport (PAC), which is a small municipal airport near the City of Knowledge. It is possible to reach the City of Knowledge from the airport by public transportation, however, luggage larger than a carry-on bag cannot be taken on the Metro. Taxis are available at the airport for $35 in cash per taxi.

Can the City of Knowledge arrange transportation for us? Yes. The City of Knowledge can arrange transportation to all destinations, including the airport and daily site visits, for groups of any size. Transportation is arranged with trusted, fully insured providers with whom we have longstanding relationships, whose vehicles are well maintained and whose drivers are routinely vetted.

Is the City of Knowledge connected to the rest of Panama City? Yes. Depending on traffic, it is a roughly 10–15-minute ride from the City of Knowledge to downtown Panama City. There is also a bus terminal at the City of Knowledge that connects to the transportation hub at Albrook Mall, which can be used to connect to the rest of Panama City.

Is the City of Knowledge connected to the rest of the Republic of Panama? Yes. The City of Knowledge can arrange transportation to destinations outside of Panama City, either by bus or by air. Travel to certain areas, such as Darién Province, is not recommended.

Are there transportation options for individuals? Yes. From the bus terminal at the City of Knowledge one can travel to Albrook Mall, where one can transfer to buses travelling to other areas of Panama or the Metro system. One-way fares are 35 cents per trip. Metro cards can be purchased at kiosks in bus/metro stations. Uber is also widely available and much cheaper than in the U.S. while being significantly more reliable than taking taxis. We do not recommend taking taxis – in Panama, Uber is the best option for individual travel.

Services at the City of Knowledge

Does the City of Knowledge offer any orientation activities for guests? Yes. On the first day of the program, a one-hour orientation is mandatory for guests of the City of Knowledge. This orientation covers health and safety in Panama, information regarding the services available at the City of Knowledge, and a question-and-answer session.

What are the dormitory rooms like? Single, double, and triple rooms are offered with twin beds in doubles/triples and queen-sized beds in singles. Linens are provided. Each room has a private bathroom with hot/potable water as well as cable TV, WiFi, air conditioning, an in-room safe, and a mini-fridge. A cleaning service is offered every three days.

What about risk management for the dormitories? Lodging regulations and safety/security information are posted in every room and there is a 24/7 emergency number with an on-site building supervisor. Other points include: All rooms and bathrooms have locks on their doors; the building has modern fire detectors and sprinkler systems; an emergency evacuation plan is posted on each dormitory room door; the building is easily accessible to emergency services from the street and well-lit; and there are security cameras.

Does the City of Knowledge offer accommodations other than the dormitory rooms? Yes. In case the dormitory cannot accommodate your stay, rooms can be booked at the Holiday Inn hotel for the same rate as in the dormitory. This hotel is a five minute walk from the dormitories.

Can the City of Knowledge provide accessible accommodations? Yes. Fully accessible rooms that comply with all Americans with Disability Act (ADA) provisions are available at the Holiday Inn (on the grounds of the City of Knowledge). The dormitories include an elevator serving all floors, however, ground-floor rooms are not available and there are currently no wheelchair-accessible bathrooms in the dormitories.

Are there laundry facilities at the City of Knowledge? Yes. The dormitories include coin-operated washers and dryers ($1 per load). Guests are expected to use their own detergents/dryer sheets/etc. The Holiday Inn offers a laundry service which is significantly more expensive and reserved for Holiday Inn guests, however, the staff occasionally make exceptions.

Are there gym facilities at the City of Knowledge? Yes. The City of Knowledge’s campus includes a two-kilometer trail; softball, baseball, soccer, tennis, racquetball, and basketball courts; a golf driving range; a swimming pool; a children’s park; and a gym.  Some facilities charge a nominal fee. The gym is free to those staying in the dormitories. Please note that the pool is being renovated with re-opening scheduled for January 2024.

Are there classrooms/event spaces at the City of Knowledge? Yes. The City of Knowledge hosts a convention center with nine classrooms/event spaces (four of which can host between 100 and 500 people); an innovation center with four classrooms (maximum capacity 100 people total); a building (#105) with 17 classrooms with capacities of up to 80 people each; and an atheneum with a capacity of 700 people.

Does the City of Knowledge host religious services? No. The former non-denominational chapel of Fort Clayton has been converted into the Innovation Center. The population of Panama is 75% Roman Catholic and 20% other Christian denominations, thus, there are numerous churches outside of the City of Knowledge where services can be attended (usually in Spanish). Many historic churches are also open for free tours. There are at least four mosques spread throughout Panama City, and a roughly equivalent number of synagogues (mostly in the Punta Pacifica neighborhood). There is one Bahá’í temple near the San Miguelito metro stop.

Does the City of Knowledge host banking services? Yes. There is a branch of Banco General at the CDS campus as well as several ATMs. Please note that ATMs in Panama typically charge transaction fees of $5-$10 per transaction and have withdraw limits of $250. Some U.S. banks refund these fees. When using credit or debit cards in Panama, some U.S. banks charge a foreign transaction fee, while others do not. Guests are encouraged to check with their bank regarding such policies and may wish to arrive in Panama with sufficient cash to avoid using ATMs.

Dining and Food

Are there dining options at the City of Knowledge? Yes. There is a food court called La Plaza with over a dozen dining options. Spread throughout the campus there are a number of small cafes, at least one brewery, and a restaurant called La Taberna del Canal. The dining options of downtown Panama City are less than a ten-minute ride away.

Are there cooking facilities for guests of the City of Knowledge? Yes. Every floor of the Dormitory includes a kitchenette with a full-sized refrigerator, sink, microwave, and coffee machine. Each room contains a mini fridge. The water at the City of Knowledge is potable and treated to the same standards as in the U.S. For guests staying longer than 30 days, larger kitchen facilities in a nearby building are available. Groceries can be purchased at several medium-sized convenience stores on the campus of the City of Knowledge or at nearby supermarkets.

What are food prices like in Panama? In general, food prices are slightly lower than prices in the U.S. for equivalent products in both restaurants and grocery stores. Imported goods are often significantly more expensive than local products due to import tariffs. Many staple foods have low prices fixed by the government and can be quite affordable if one cooks for oneself.

Can I find vegan/vegetarian/pescetarian food in Panama? Yes. Vegan food is not uncommon in Panama, and most Panamanian cuisine is inherently pescatarian. In restaurants, it can be helpful to speak Spanish since menus are not always entirely clear about what ingredients are in a dish. There are a small, but growing, number of vegan restaurants in Panama. Vegan food is less common outside the large cities.

Can I find kosher or halal food in Panama? Yes, although options are limited. Strictly kosher cooking facilities (with separate kitchens for meat and dairy) are not available. Most kosher markets and restaurants are concentrated in the Punta Pacifica neighborhood while halal restaurants, serving mainly Indian cuisine, are more widely dispersed. There are both kosher and halal catering companies in Panama City. Kosher/halal labelling on manufactured products is often inconsistent and depends on whether or not the food is an imported product. Restaurants will usually display a kosher/halal logo on their door or window as appropriate.

Can I eat out if I have an allergy? Yes, with caution. Allergen warnings are uncommon on restaurant menus, and travelers will be better able to avoid specific ingredients if they speak Spanish. Alternatively, consider printing out a Spanish-language Chef Card and showing it to waitstaff during ordering.

Health and Safety

Guests are encouraged to coordinate with their medical provider well in advance of travel.

Are additional immunizations necessary stay healthy in Panama? No. Travelers do not need any additional immunizations to enter Panama. Some additional immunizations may be recommended for those visiting rural areas or farms/agricultural facilities. In the past, travelers from other Latin American countries needed to show proof of vaccination against yellow fever, but these requirements have been dropped. There are currently no Covid-19 restrictions or entry requirements in Panama. Please consult your personal physician and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Are health facilities available at the City of Knowledge? Yes. The Clayton Clinic is located on the campus of the City of Knowledge (open 8 AM to 9PM during the week, and 8AM to 2PM on Saturdays). Staff speak English and provide emergency services as well as routine or preventative general or specialized care. Laboratory services and dental care are also available. More serious care can be provided at larger hospital facilities in downtown Panama City.

Is the city of Knowledge insured? Yes. The City of Knowledge provides a copy of our Certificate of Commercial General Liability Insurance as part of the paperwork when organizing services for guests. They also require guests to travel with their own insurance policies.

Can I get my medication in Panama? Yes. Most medicines that are legal in the U.S. are legal in Panama. Travelers should bring any medications in their original packages and keep copies of their prescriptions on hand just in case. Pharmacies in Panama are generally well stocked and the cost of medicine in Panama is significantly lower than in the U.S.  Nonetheless, travelers are encouraged to bring enough medicine for their entire stay in Panama.

Can I get a prescription in Panama if I need one? Yes. Many medications that require a prescription in the U.S. are available over the counter in Panama, and, if necessary, prescriptions can be easily obtained at medical clinics. Antibiotics, sleeping pills, and strong pain medications almost always require a prescription in Panama. The cost of prescription medicine is quite low compared to prices in the U.S.

Are there any medicines I can’t bring into Panama? Yes. Medicines containing pseudoephedrine are banned in Panama, as are recreational cannabis products. The penalties for drug use in Panama are severe. Individuals may be arrested for being with someone who is using drugs, even if they themselves are not consuming drugs.

Are sanitary products available in Panama? Yes. Any sanitary/hygiene/dental care/etc. product that is available in the U.S. is also available in Panama. Specific brands may or may not be available and variety may be somewhat limited in some stores (particularly for tampons). Imported products are generally significantly more expensive than locally produced products.

Can I buy bug spray and/or sunscreen in Panama? Yes. Bug spray and sunscreen are widely available in supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies. The same brands available in the U.S. are generally available in Panama.

Can I smoke or vape in Panama? Consuming tobacco products by either smoking or vaping is extensively restricted in Panama and is not allowed in public spaces. The sale, advertising, distribution, and/or importation of vaping products (tobacco or otherwise) is illegal in Panama. The City of Knowledge itself is a tobacco-free campus, while cannabis use (vaping or otherwise) is illegal throughout Panama and carries significant penalties.

Are there emergency facilities available at the City of Knowledge? Yes. There is a fire station at the City of Knowledge and the campus is regularly patrolled by police and security guards. The phone number for fire and ambulance services in Panama is 103. The number for the police is 104. 911 is used for all emergencies and can connect to fire, ambulance, or police services.

What is crime like at the City of Knowledge? While no place is 100% safe, the City of Knowledge benefits from its location on the outskirts of the city and the limited number of entrances to the campus. On average, Panama City itself is roughly equivalent to any big city in the United States in terms of crime rates, with the difference that gratuitous violence is much less common.

What is crime like in the rest of Panama? Guests are advised to avoid the Panama City neighborhoods of El Chorillo, Curundú, Santa Ana, and San Miguelito as well as some of the outer provinces (particularly Darién). As in any large city, certain locations such as mass transit stations, ATMs, and bars/restaurants are more likely to attract crime. In Casco Viejo, pickpocketing and tourist-focused scams are more common than in other parts of the city. Prudent travel and maintaining situational awareness will greatly reduce risk, as it would anywhere else in the world.

Is there an app that provides safety updates about Panama? Yes. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) registers a user’s trip with the U.S. Embassy in Panama. STEP alerts users to safety/health information regarding Panama during the duration of their trip. It is available through a desktop website or as part of the Smart Traveller mobile phone app.


Guests are strongly encouraged to check with their home government regarding visa requirements.

Who can enter Panama without a visa? Travelers with passports from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and most European countries can enter on a tourist visa valid for 90 days. The visa is granted at the airport; it is free and does not need to be applied for.

Who needs a “Stamped Visa”? Travelers with passports from Cameroon, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, India, Malawi, and Zimbabwe need a “stamped visa” that must be applied for in advance and is valid for only 30 days.

Who needs an “Authorized Visa”? Those traveling on passports from some middle eastern and African countries will need a more onerous “authorized visa” that requires a local Panamanian sponsor, proof of income, etc.

What are the passport requirements to enter Panama? Regardless of visa, guests must be travelling on a passport that is valid for at least six more months and has several blank pages. It is strongly recommended that travelers bring proof of a return flight with them, as it is sometimes (but not always) requested when passing through immigration control at the airport. There are occasional reports of travelers being unable to board planes in the U.S. (or denied entry to Panama) without proof of a return flight.

What are the customs requirements in Panama? Travelers may bring almost all personal items and professional equipment into Panama without paying a duty. Since the end of the Pandemic, the border police have been placing a higher level of scrutiny on people travelling with large quantities of manufactured goods, such as medicines and hygiene products. In general, the lighter one’s suitcase, the less likely they are to experience hassles at the customs check.

Is it possible to enter Panama with a service/support/etc. animal? No. To bring an animal into Panama, travelers need a Certificate of Good Health of Exportation and a vaccination record issued by the Department of Agriculture (or equivalent). This document must be signed by an official USDA veterinarian and endorsed by the Panamanian consulate no more than 10 days before travel. The animal must then be inspected at the airport by an official of the Agriculture Ministry. Finally, animals must remain in quarantine at the airport for 40 days. This quarantine can be passed in the U.S. only with significant additional paperwork and fees.

Is it possible to send mail to Panama? No. Panama does not have a national postal system. Mail from the U.S. is generally sent by DHL or FedEx at extremely high prices (~$150 per FedEx envelope).

How should I dress in Panama? Panama is a tropical country with a generally conservative population. Men normally wear long trousers and women normally wear tops that cover the shoulders with dresses/skirts/trousers that cover the knees. Guyabaras, a traditional long shirt that is not tucked in, are popular and can be worn even in (some) formal settings. Closed-toe shoes are generally recommended in the city, as the sidewalks are of varying quality, and many people bring at least one sweatshirt to wear indoors, where air conditioning can be quite powerful. A rain jacket and umbrella may be useful to anyone spending time outdoors. For travel in rural areas, long trousers and closed-toe shoes are recommended to protect against bug bites.

What is the currency in Panama? The currency in Panama is technically the Panamanian Balboa, each of which are worth exactly one U.S. Dollar. In practice, American dollar bills are used, and coins are a mix of American coins and Panamanian coins. There is a one-Balboa coin that is silver on the outside and brass in the center.

Do I need an electrical adapter in Panama? Not if your devices work in North America. Panama uses the same plugs and outlets as the U.S., as well as 110V electricity services. Adapters or converters are therefore not needed. In some older establishments outside the City of Knowledge, outlets for 2-prong grounded plugs (where one prong is wider than the other) are uncommon and an adapter may be needed.

Will my phone work in Panama? This depends on your provider. Some U.S. providers (e.g. T-Mobile) offer coverage in Panama at no extra cost; some (e.g. Verizon) only offer coverage for an additional fee; and some (e.g. AT&T) do not offer coverage at all.

Can I buy a local phone? Yes. Simple local phones and SIM cards for use in unlocked cellphones are widely available at modest prices (<$20). The most popular local phone companies are TiGo, Claro, Digicel, and Más Móvil. Local phones can be topped up at electronics stores or with prepaid cards. Some prepaid cards are provider-specific.

Can I bring my drone? No. Drone pilots require a license and drone insurance, both of which must be issued in Panama. There are restrictions on the altitudes/speeds that drones are allowed to fly at depending on drone weight and location. Filming or photographing government buildings is illegal and filming the Panama Canal requires a permit issued by the Panama Canal Authority. For more information contact the Directorate of Civil Aviation.

What are the Holidays in Panama? Panama has a relatively large number of public holidays during which the City of Knowledge is closed, including:

January 9: Martyr´s Day
February 15 – 18: Carnival
April 2 – 4: Easter
May 1: May Day/ Labor Day
November 3 – 5: Independence Day/ Flag Day / Colón Day
November 10: The First Call for Independence in Villa de los Santos
November 28: Independence from Spain Day
December 8: Mother’s Day
December 18 – January 2: Christmas Break