Crime in Panama

With the recent increase in visible burglaries in Boquete Panama and a kick from a friend, I decided to do some research on crime in Panama and comparisons to other countries. Although I will cite statistics and sources, remember the data is only as valid as the reporting sources, so do not accept it as gospel.

There are so many resources discussing low crime in Panama and some citing other nebulous un-footnoted or linked resources that finding real facts has been a challenge.

I am going to compare three countries, Panama it’s neighbor Costa Rica, and the USA. I am displaying by approximate incidents per million population. Using these population numbers, Panama 3,7 Million (data source), Costa Rica 4.1 Million (data source) and the USA 300 million ( data source ).

Assaults :                 USA                                    Costa Rica              Panama
Gross number          2,238,460                        2284                        3184
Per million                  7387                                557                            860

Source: The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2002) (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention)

Murders:                  USA                        Costa Rica                Panama
Gross Number        16,204                        254                        281
Per million                53.5                             62                          76

Source: The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2002) (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention)

Robberies                       USA                        Costa Rica                Panama
Gross number                420,637                19.293                        4366
per million                       1388                        4705                         1180

Source: The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2002) (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention)

Total Crimes                USA                        Costa Rica                Panama
Gross Number        11,877,218                    40,263                    21,058
Per million                    39,199                        9,820                       5,691

Source: The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2002) (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention)

Incarceration Rates per million

USA                 71.5
Costa Rica      22.9
Panama           35.4

If you want more information here is a link to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report on crime and development in Central America, Link It is a pdf file and will download the report. Much of my data came from Nationmaster.com which has much more detail and graphs.

Many of these numbers are several years old and I cannot find newer information that could be correlated.

Even from these few data sets there is an observation to be made. The US has the higher crime rate per million and the highest incarceration rate. Much of the crime here and there is drug related and one of the often repeated mantras is if the prohibition against currently illegal drugs in the US was lifted crime there and in Central America would drop rapidly.

People come to paradise and forget that crime is everyplace including here. If you live in Boquete look at the local people and their homes, dogs and bars on windows are the norm not the exception.

You might consider an alarm system. I have link here to a wireless easy to install system that will both sound and alarm and dial your cell phone if triggered. It is about $100 plus shipping to get it to Panama. Link for alarm. If you do purchase an alarm from the link Boquete Guide will receive a commission, so I will help you set it up if you have a problem with installation.

One more consideration is purchasing a gun. A legal immigrant, not a tourist, can legally purchase a gun in Panama. The procedure is straight forward and like all things here, time consuming. There are two gun stores in David, you can go into either one and purchase a gun. Expect to pay two to three times what you would pay in the US. They will then start you on the path toward a permit.

The gun permit requires, a psychological exam, a urine test, a DNA sample from a blood test, money and of course, patience. It can take several months to get the permit and the gun but once it is done you can legally have a gun in your home or on your person as long as it is not visible.

Then the issue is when can you use it, a question for your lawyer, unless you want to end up in the incarceration statistics next time the UN does a survey.


  1. I don’t understand your point of posting this statistical data. I also can’t agree with your comparison of crime to the United States. There is no accurate comparision. Panama is it’s own country, you either like it or you don’t

  2. Bob, The point is to say Panama is not a crime free environment like some tourist and property vendors wish you to think. It is however also not a dangerous place compared to many others.

    You are correct saying it is difficult to compare the USA and Panama largely because it is more likely the reporting and documenting of crime in the US is probably more accurate.

    However the major points are:
    1. Don’t leave your brains at the airport there is crime here
    2. The crime is overall less than in many other places including the USA
    3. If you live here get smart and stop leaving your prized positions on a table near and open window, effectively a sign that says take these things.

  3. I may have misunderstood your point of view on the previous post. I apologize, and YES you are correct about what you recommend. Do Not Leave Your Brains at the Airport!!

  4. Statistics are valuable but they are just aggregates. For example in Southern California one of the most dangerous places (Watts) is just 40km from the safest place in the US (cities over 100,000 pop) Simi Valley. This is also true in Chiriqui. It depends on how and where you spend your time. Boquete has a problem in that it attracts some bad people, so does Bocas and Volcan for the same reason. The opportunists come in all nationalities too.

  5. Lee, Thanks so much for this information! It can be tough to sort through the web of the web to find hard statistics!

    There is however another suggestion I have to protect oneself in the face of increasing crime statisics: Commando Krav Maga (Israeli self defence tatic). I took the class in Decemeber and found it to be invaluable in terms of skills, confidence and awareness. Dimitri is holding another class March 16 – 20 here in Boquete.

    People can email me at pampan11@gmail.com for more information.

  6. The guns I’ve priced here were more expensive than the US, but not two or three times more. More like 50% more.

  7. Can a legal immigrant import from the U.S., as part of the household goods, guns that he already owns? Or is it required that the guns be purchased locally?

  8. Pete,
    There is a process for firearm license holders to import (certain types and numbers)firearms which requires a permit. I have not undertaken this process but have discussed it with an acquaintance who has. The firearm is taken into custody upon arrival by DIJ (formerly PTY)and undergoes ballistic testing and registration. The process take several months but when completed the imported firearm is added to the list on the back of the individuals existing license.

  9. Charlotte Haluska says:

    Since there is reference to crime in the US I was e mailed a site that is very interesting – Know your neighbors. It is http://www.felonspy.com/search.html
    If you enter your address your map of the area will come up. Every place you see a red balloon or thumb tack is the home of a convicted felon. Hover your mouse over an icon and the name will come up and the crime they are convicted of. I tried it with an old address and it worked. Your US friends may find it of interest.

  10. carl faguzi says:

    I found this on the WWW, attributed to a publication called the “panama star”. It came from a article about hit men in panama.

    Official statistics show that 2008 saw 593 homicides, of which 51 were public executions by hitmen on motorcycles and in cars in Panama, Colon, San Miguelito, Arraijan, and David.

    The numbers also show that in 2008, another 103 men were found dead with gun shots in the neck in remote areas in Panama City and Colon.

    Meanwhile, in 2007 police reported 444 homicides throughout the country, of which 22 were executions by hitmen on motorcycles and cars.

    This year, the violence spiral remains on the streets of Panama. In only a month and a half, 67 homicides have been recorded, of which 11 have been drug trafficking account settings.

  11. Another thing to consider is that most of the crime in Panama is likely in and around Panama City. My guess is that there is very, very little violent crime in and around Boquete, where we live. From what I’ve heard, even with the burglaries that happen here, they rarely if ever break your window. So yes, there is burglary here, but your chance of being mugged or assaulted is probably miniscule compared to living in a big city in the states. Common sense goes a long way towards avoiding being mugged or assaulted. Not flashing cash or fancy jewelry helps and NOT walking down a dark alley at midnight is always a good idea.

  12. Chris Smoot says:

    You mentioned two gun stores but not their names or where they are located. Do you have that info? If so please email me the info. Thanks much, Chris

  13. I was awakened at night a week ago by some drunken Panamanian who had opened my gate let my dog out and staggered around. I called the Boquete police twice and was hung up on each time. I think the police are only interested in giving “multas” for not wearing a seatbelt. Also something has to be done about a noise ordinance. Such a beautiful place as Boquete should not be sold out to noise polution.

  14. He podido leer algunos comentarios sobre el tema de la delincuencia. En pase a experiencia hace unos años en la Policia Tecnica Judicial. puedo aportar lo siguiente.

    La delincuencia es un factor social que tiene como base o raiz algunos elementos:

    1. desintegracion familiar.
    2. Valores morales y eticos (Formación en el seno familiar).
    3. Factores Religiosos.
    4. Politica Social por parte del Estado.
    5. Resocialización a jovenes infactores.

    Estos son algunos punto, pero lo más interesante es que cuando un joven vive sumergido en mundo donde no tiene el AMOR de sus padres, de su familia, de dios, o sea de nada.

    Es dificil entender porque delinque.

    Señores hay joven que a pesar de tener todo roban y asesinan.



  15. I have read some comments on the issue of crime. Based on several years experience in the Judicial Technical Police. I can offer the following.

    Crime is a social factor that has as a base or root elements:

    1. family disintegration.
    2. Moral and ethical values ​ ​(based on the family).
    3. Religious factors.
    4. Social Policy by the State.
    5. Resocialization to young infactores.

    These are some point, but more interesting is that when a young person lives immersed in the world where there is the love of his parents, his family, god, or anything.

    It is difficult to understand because it offends.

    Gentlemen are young despite having everything stolen and killed.

    Give our children LOVE FATHER AND MOTHER.


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