Panama flag Panama: Buying and Selling

International convention and customs procedures of Panama

International Conventions
Party to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer
International Economic Cooperation
Panama joined the WTO in 1997. It made a free-exchange agreement with Taiwan (2004), Salvador (2003) and Canada (2009) on the elimination of tariffs in sectors of industry, agriculture, forestry and fishing. The country is currently negotiating with the United States. Panama has also shown interest in negotiating with MERCOSUR and has been invited to join the G3 (which unites Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico). Finally, Panama signed a Free Trade Agreement with Canada.
Non Tariff Barriers
There are few restrictions regarding import. The most important restrictions are set for products considered as dangerous for Health or which are against law and order. Certain goods require a license from the Ministry of Agriculture, or from the Department of Trade and Industry (weapons, plants, seeds and live animals). The non-tariff barriers considerably restrict the freedom of import (very strict quotas, reference prices and excessive sanitary standards).

Colon Free Trade Zone (FTZ) or Zona Libre de Colon (ZLC) on the Atlantic coast, created in 1948, ranks second in the world after Hong Kong. In the FTZ, some particular products can be imported, stored, modified and re-exported, without any need to go through customs whether on entrance or on exit, nor to pay for any special taxes. The strategic location, in the centre of America and near the Panama Canal, offers an important potential for the development of international trade. The most important products of the FTZ are: clothes, broadcasting devices, synthetic clothes, shoes, watches, perfume and fragrance, spirits, cigarettes and pharmaceutical products. The main suppliers of the FTZ are Hong-Kong, South Korea, Singapore, some European countries and the USA. The main customers are the Caribbean islands and the countries of Central America.

Customs Duties and Taxes on Imports
Duties are calculated "ad valorem" according to the CIF value ( Cost, Insurance and Freight), between 3% and 40%.
Customs Classification
About 50% of imports are exempt from duty.  There are 48 types of products which are subject to customs tariff equal or higher than 90%, such as agricultural and agro-industrial products (strawberries, potatoes, tomatoes and tropical fruits, amongst others ).

Imports on products that do not exist in the country are subject to duty of less than 27%. Imports are also subject to the equivalent of VAT, transfer of movable property tax and also a tax that is paid on the documents which  varies between 2 to 5% of the FOB (merchandise subject to custom duty) and from 5 to 8% (free merchandise).

Import Procedures
It is not necessary to obtain a license to import in Panama. All companies with a trading license can freely import into Panama any product whatsoever that is unregulated. A trading or industrial license is required for individuals or companies wishing to undertake commercial or industrial activities. A phytosanitary permit is required to import certain non-food agricultural products. Special import permits are required for all types of firearms, ammunition and fertilisers. In general, food products and beverages should be registered with the Panamanian Food Safety Authority and should respect the requirements regarding hygiene and quality control. Food products that are not freely on sale in their country of origin cannot be imported into Panama. It is the duty of the Executive, at the request of the Ministry of Health to establish the sanitary rules relating to the fabrication, storage, importation and sale of medicines and subsidiary products. It is forbidden to manufacture or to import into Panama these products without them being analysed or registered beforehand.

Main documents required by the Panamanian Customs authorities for import purposes:

  • Import declaration (prepared by the Customs agent)
  • Commercial invoice (in English or Spanish, quadruplicate)
  • Airline transport letter
  • Bill of lading (triplicate)
  • Business permit number
  • Health or phytosanitary permit (in the case of animal or vegetable agricultural products)
  • Certificate showing that products are sold freely (in the case of products meant for human consumption including for example body lotion).

For more information, please visit the website of PwC.

Importing Samples
Samples are not subject to customs duty as long as they are perforated or are marked not for sale.  Temporary importation is authorized for a 3 month period renewable 3 times for the same length.  A guarantee for the amount of the duty which would have been payable had it been a normal import has to be deposited in form of a certified cheque made out to the Public Treasury.  It is also possible to provide as deposit in the form of insurance.  Exemption can be partial or total.

To go further, check out our service Import controls and Export controls.

For Further Information
Panama Customs General Management

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Latest Update: May 2024