Tips for Flying In and Out of Tocumen International Airport (PTY)

Tocumen International Airport (PTY)

Tocumen International Airport
By Joao Carlos Medau from Campinas, Brazil – Final Approach Runway 03R Uploaded by tm, CC BY 2.0, Tocumen Intl Airport (Panama City)

After my six hour flight from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), I arrived at Tocumen International Airport (PTY), which is located in the capital city of Panama City, Panama.  I went from 20° weather and snow in Boston to a wonderful 90° in hot, sunny, and beautiful Panama City.

Tocumen International Airport
Entrance to Tocumen International Airport

Tocumen International Airport is a hub for Copa Airlines and several other international airlines also fly in and out of this airport.  The largest airport in Panama, it’s one of the few airports in the region to have two landing runways that serve some of the largest commercial aircraft in operation today.  Nearly 9 million passengers traveled through Tocumen International Airport in 2014, up 6+ million since 2003.

Tocumen International Airport
The new Terminal T2 – expected to open in 2017 (photo courtesy of Tocumen International Airport website)

Tocumen International Airport was first inaugurated on June 1, 1947.  The airport terminal was deemed too small and expansion plans were put into place in 1971.  For the expansion to take place, one of the many things that needed to be done included diverting the bed of the Tocumen River from its original site.  The first two phases of expansion are complete with the third expansion expected to be complete in 2017 with an additional 20 gates, more parking, and a brand new terminal, T2.

One of the longest non-stop flights in the world will arrive at Tocumen.  In August of 2015, Emirates announced that they would have a flight from Dubai to Panama City with a 266-seat Boeing 777-200LR. The flight was originally scheduled for February 1, 2016, but has been rescheduled until March 31, 2016.  The total flight distance of this non-stop flight will be 7,463 miles.

Once off the plane, you’ll need to pass through Immigration first before exiting the airport.  Having only one terminal in the airport makes finding your way around easy.

Tocumen International Airport
Gate area inside Tocumen International Airport
Tocumen International Airport
Exiting the plane and into the airport

Once you exit your plane, simply look for the overhead signs to find your way around the airport.  All of the signs are in both English and Spanish

Tocumen International Airport
Walking through Tocumen International Airport
Tocumen International Airport
Walking down toward Immigration

Within a few minutes I spotted the sign for Immigration, where you can either take the stairs or elevator down to the lower level.

Tocumen International Airport
Entering Immigration line. Hey – who’s that sexy redhead?

Immigration has three lines:

  • Residents get in the lane farthest to the left where they can quickly pass through Immigration.
  • Non-residents take the middle and longest lane, which is where all the people in the picture above ended up.
  • Flight crew members go to the outside lane, where they have dedicated Immigration assistance to help them pass quickly through Immigration.

Have your passport and customs declarations form ready to turn over to the Immigration agent.  After they inspect your passport, they’ll take your picture and have you place your fingers on the electronic pad so they can process your fingerprints before you exit Immigration.

Tocumen International Airport
After Immigration you can collect your bags in Baggage Claim

Once you’re finished with Immigration, you only need to take a few steps to be in Baggage Claim.  Since we didn’t have checked luggage, we could walk right by those waiting for their bags.  See ya’ suckers!

Tocumen International Airport
Baggage Claim

As you can see the airport is undergoing renovation so some areas look immaculate, like here, while others have tarps hanging and walls semi-painted.

Tocumen International Airport
After Immigration, we then had to have our luggage scanned

Once we passed through Immigration and baggage claim, we could now leave the airport, But not so fast especially as I was behind those two women with several bags each.  Ugh. My tiny little bag put their huge suitcases to shame, but then again — they might’ve been traveling for months.

Tocumen International Airport
Luggage scanning line after baggage claim

Choose the entrance you first come upon or walk to the other side and enter through there.  Check first to see which line is shorter and then pick that one.  Then you have to wait until you’re called up and before putting your bags through the scanner.

Tocumen International Airport
Waiting to get outside

Now we were ready to leave the airport, but we needed to organize our transportation to the hotel first.

Tocumen International Airport
Facing out toward the front of the airport

I snuggled up to the windows at the front of the airport to get away from the crowds in search of some privacy while attempting to connect the internet through the airport WiFi. Be warned as it was definitely a spotty connection.

Tocumen International Airport
Exiting airport. Guys in green are for taxi.

While waiting to connect to the internet, I had to maneuver around the guys in green huddled near the exit. See them?  They repeatedly ask, “Taxi?” in hopes that you’ll take them up on an offer to get you a taxi.  Here’s the problem with that.

Tocumen International Airport
Exiting airport

If you take 20 steps outside, there’s a taxi queue right there where you can get your own taxi and skip having to tip these guys for walking you outside.  No need to tip someone who really isn’t doing anything for you.  If you’re renting a car, you can see that right in this area is the rental car counters, which wasn’t doing a lot of business while I was there.  Most people were either getting picked up, drove their own cars to the airport, or were taking a taxi.

Tocumen International Airport
Taxi line is right outside the door

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at this picture and yes — those are taxis just waiting for you to get inside.

Within a few minutes, I was able to get our ride coordinated through Uber and we were soon on our way into Panama City.  I’ll cover my Uber experience in an upcoming post along with how to use Uber when travelling.

Going Through Tocumen International Airport on My Way Back to Boston

Tocumen International Airport
Headed into security to get on flight to Boston

Although I had already checked in online with Copa Airlines for my return flight, we needed to get our boarding passes at the airport.  From there we headed into the short line to go through security.  To enter the line you needed to show your passport to the two young men who looked like they were 16 at the most.  These guys were the ones who were checking passports to allow people into the line.  From there you move onto the security person in uniform behind a podium who checks passports again before allowing you to proceed through security.  The process is the same as what you might experience in the U.S..  Don’t forget to take your laptop out as well as liquids and shoes.

Tocumen International Airport
Tocumen International Airport

We had time to kill before our flight, which meant we weren’t in the slightest rush to sit down anywhere.  We ended up walking around the airport after going through security and checking out the many stores inside the airport.  You can find almost anything from souvenirs, travel needs, liquor, gifts, chocolates to name brand cosmetics, clothing, shoes and sneakers, duty free, and so much more.  Definitely a great place to spend money, especially if you’re bored.

On my way to the Copa Lounge I stumbled upon a church in the middle of the airport.  It was so incredibly cute, too.  Should I call a church cute? Well, I just did. With its stained glass windows and pews, this is absolutely 100% a real church and a great place for anyone needing to get away to a quiet spot in the middle of an extremely busy airport.

Instead of the church, we opted for the Copa Lounge, the business lounge run by Copa Airlines.  The lounge is located near gate 21, but more toward the inside corridor instead of near the windows by the gate.  This is a large business lounge with essentials like showers and restrooms, but also a family area, a movie screening room with cushy theater chairs, a bar (free drinks — just leave a tip), and a small food area.  There are a multitude of seating areas in the lounge, most of which were used by sleeping passengers.  The lounge staff wasn’t coming around as much as I would’ve liked because the place was really kind of dirty with plates, cups, and food left out almost the entire time we were there.  The food for our morning arrival included bananas, apples, bagels, “cup cakes,” which were more like muffins, cereal, and yogurt.  The coffee urn was never refilled so no coffee for people that day.

The Copa Lounge wasn’t a complete miss as I was able to charge my phone and use the WiFi and Mr. TSG enjoyed a beer and a bagel with cream cheese before the flight.  But compared to other lounges I’ve visited, it could use some improvement in the areas of food, service, and cleanliness.

Tocumen International Airport
Heading to gate 4 for our flight

About 30 minutes before boarding time for our flight, we departed the Copa Lounge and made our way to gate 4.  By the time we arrived, the gate agent had already started the boarding process so we basically boarded the plane.  To get on the plane you do need to pass through to the gate through a second security screening where you have to put your bags, shoes, etc. through the x-ray machine.  I scrambled to get my sandals on and before I knew it, I was on the plane headed back to Boston.

Have you ever flown in or out of Tocumen International Airport in Panama City?  What did you think?

47 thoughts on “Tips for Flying In and Out of Tocumen International Airport (PTY)

  1. thank you for this article and also for your advice are very useful

  2. Hi there!
    Thank you for the tips.
    I have read several times that Uber is not allowed to do airport pickup at Tocumen. It is hard to find confirmation of this.
    Is there any conflict between taxis and Uber if they do try to pick you up?
    Thaks for any info.

    1. While many cities have bans on airport pick ups or drop offs (Boston has a ban on pick ups, which is crazy), while it may be in place, I do know that it still happens. While I was there, it was no problem at all to get picked up. There is an inside lane and then parking spots in the very small parking lot. Our driver met us at the end of one of the lanes of parking and it was easy for him to find us and vice versa. If you’re going soon, let me know what you find out ok?

  3. for connection flights to Punta Cana, how much layover time do you think is needed?

    1. Hi Roberto – the airport is small so that should make it easy to get from one gate to another for a connection. I always want an hour for flights only because it’s a different country and you don’t know if your incoming flight is delayed. Anything less and you definitely want to be able to run so have your running shoes on when you go. Have fun!

  4. Thank you so much for all of these tips! I am traveling to Panama City by myself in two months and am slightly nervous!

    1. Maddie – don’t panic. Traveling by yourself might seem scary, but if you’re careful in everything that you do, you’ll have a great time. Good luck! Marian

  5. Great information and photos. We’re visiting PC in a few days time and this is really useful for us. Many thanks for posting!

  6. I will be traveling through this airport with about 90 minutes to 100 minutes between flights. Coming from Los Angeles, continuing on to Lima. Is this enough time to catch a connecting flight and will I have to go through immigration and then all of the security checks again for the connecting flight?

    1. Rochelle there is only one terminal and if you’re booked with the same airline like Copa, then you’ll just go to your next gate to board for your next flight. You won’t need to clear customs so you can relax and enjoy your short layover. Enjoy! Marian

  7. arriving from port au prince Haiti ,,,,,in transit to Santiago chili,,, arriving with flicht no 103 copa at 7.48pm,,, what gate???? leaving 8.50 pm from gate 20????with flight no 248,,,to chili do I have to go trough customs at arrival,,, or go straight to departure gate/???

    1. Peter – you can take a deep breath and relax. You’re going to be fine. You have about an hour to get from your incoming flight to your connecting flight and you can go straight to your next flight without clearing customs if you’ve booked with the same airline. Not sure if that changes if it’s a different airline though. The airport is small enough that you will get off your plane and make it to your next flight with plenty of time to spare. Have fun! Marian

  8. Thank you for the info. My husband and I want to use this airport to actually catch a bus north to south Costa Rica rather than fly into San Jose. Any info. on bus transportation from the airport?

    1. Hi Mary,

      While I didn’t take a bus to Costa Rica, there are a few companies that do provide transportation from Panama to Costa Rica. I found Ticabus dot com, ExpresoPanama dot com, and Panaline. TicaBus doesn’t depart from the airport, however, and I can’t seem to get the ExpresoPanama site to come up. There are also buses that leave from the big Albrook Mall, which is about an hour or so from the airport and you can always take the bus there, which would cost about $0.25. Try Google Maps for that info as it will be route specific for you there. Keep in mind that the bus will take nearly 24 hours with border crossing stop and cost about $55 while a flight could take about 1 1/2 hours and cost about $125 (more or less depending on when you fly). I’m a big believer that time is money and while you might think a bus is scenic and cost effective, part of the travel will be in the dark and in a cramped space with lots of people vs. cramped with lots of people for only 1 1/2 hours. Good luck and please write back after your trip and let me know what you ended up doing. Thanks! Marian

  9. I have a very long, 12 hour, overnight layover in PTY and don’t necessarily want to get a hotel. Are there any places in the airport to hang out and be safe? Or if I change my mind, are there hotels close to the airport? Thanks

    1. Hi Joan,

      I can’t imagine such a long layover. You can definitely find a good and inexpensive hotel near the airport and use that time to clean up, nap, and prepare for your next flight. Either that or purchase a day pass to one of the airport lounges at the airport. Otherwise, those 12 hours are going to feel like a lifetime and you’re going to be a miserable human being. Trust me on that. Good luck and let me know how you make out ok? Marian

  10. Hi, I just wanted to say thanks for the article. I’ll be flying into (not through) Panama for the first time, and the only time I’ve flown through it, I got lost and actually exited the airport! (Still made my connection, but I learned my lesson not to just follow crowds of travelers.) So I’m nervous to fly in, but your explanation and photos help immensely.
    One question–my company is supposed to be sending a driver to pick me up. Do drivers like that wait in the same area as the taxi guys in green shirts? I’ve never been picked up by a driver at ANY airport, so I’m not sure how that usually goes anywhere, much less in Panama…
    Thanks again

    1. Anita,
      I feel your pain. Sometimes you think you’re doing the right thing because you follow everyone else. Guess that’s how those hard lessons are learned unfortunately. As for finding the driver, when you exit baggage claim after immigration, there will be people there with signs waiting to pick up passengers. I’m fairly sure that’s where you would find your driver. Remember – they want to find you as much as you want to find them so they’ll probably have your name on a board they’re holding. Good luck and let me know how your trip goes. Enjoy Panama! Marian

  11. Hi There! Helpful article. I’m debating between a 4.5 hr or 7.2 hr layover in Panama on my way to Ecuador. I’d like to do the longer layover and use my time to visit the Panama Canal. Do you think that’s doable? The layover would roughly be from 2:15-9:30 pm. Thanks!

    1. Hi Allison,

      If you can do the longer layover, yes — I’d definitely do it and do a city tour or a Panama Canal tour. It’s definitely worth it! There are several companies that specialize in layover tours, which you should try out. This is true if you think you might not get a chance to visit again. Good luck and let me know how you make out. Marian

    1. Hi Oscar,

      Did you book both tickets through the same carrier like Air Canada or COPA? I ask because if they booked it, you can rest assured you’ll be fine. You should be fine with over an hour of layover time so don’t worry. The airport is small enough that you’ll be able to get to your second flight without issue. Have fun! Marian

  12. Thank you. I head back to Boston tomorrow…. regularly. Everything you have said is spot on.

  13. Hi, very useful discussion, will help in our upcoming trip to Panama. Looking for your opinion. Coming in from Florida no connecting problems as we will spend a couple of days before heading up to Bocas del Torro. The return connection is were I have a question. We can return from Bocas Friday on Air Panama into Albrook airport and then catch our return flight to the states on Copa at 1138am from Tocumen. The first flight from Bocas arrives at 845am, do you think ~3 hours is enough time to get from one airport to the other and make the connection? Hate to loose a half day in Bocas and fly back Thursday afternoon. ;-( Thanks for you response. Richard

    1. Hi Richard –
      I can see your concern since you’re changing airports. It’s a half hour drive between airports not taking into account traffic. That’s also not taking into any consideration delays on your first flight. You’d have to be at PTY for check in at 9:38, giving you 45 min to get your bags and a ride to PTY. For me it sounds a little tight, but you’ll have to decide ultimately. Good luck and let me know how you make out. Marian

  14. Hi there,
    Good detailed article with lots of information. I am flying from Boston and my husband from Brazil meeting same day, but I get to Panama 2 hours ahead. Should I wait at his terminal gate before going through immigration or is there a place for me to wait after immigration’s as we both are heading to a Hotel in panama city. Thanks so much for providing this most helpful site for travelers like us.

    1. Hi Vimi,

      I don’t think you’d be able to sit and wait for him at his gate, but I could be wrong. Anyway, there wouldn’t be a lot of services like restaurants for food or drink until you went through immigration. I say go through and tell him you’ll wait for him when he comes through. This way you can meet him feeling refreshed, you know? Good luck and enjoy your trip! Marian

  15. Thank you so much for all the details and information. Now my mom can come and visit me in panama, even without speaking English or Spanish.

      1. I have a 12 hour layover. I will not be able to leave the airport as my passport expires in 1 month. I will be grateful for advice on day pass for lounge. Thank you in advance

      2. I have a 12 hour layover and I am not allowed to leave the airport as my passport expires in one month. Can you advise on the day pass. Thank you in advance

        1. Adana,

          If you’re able to renew your passport before you leave, that would be my suggestion. I had to just renew mine because I ran out of blank pages and the turnaround time was fast. Better to have that and go out and explore than to sit for 12 hours in this or any airport. Just my suggestion. Let me know what you decide. Marian

  16. thank you for your informative post 🙂
    we are flying from Toronto, Canada to Aruba and have a layover of 19 hours in PC leaving us a whole half day to sight see (from 2pm onwards). We booked a hotel in the financial district and were wondering if there are any recommendations for things to see in the area? perhaps a good eatery? nothing fancy just good food. thank you!

    1. Hi Tania,

      It’s hard to say only because I’m a vegan and not everyone eats like I do. You could always book tickets for the hop on hop off bus to get take a tour of the city ( and researching some restaurants along the route. I’d definitely eat local vs. chain restaurants for the best experience. Ask the concierge at the hotel you booked where he/she eats lunch vs. where they send tourists for the best suggestions. Good luck! Marian

  17. Love this post, super helpful! My sister and I will be meeting at this airport in January 2019. I am trying to figure out where to meet, I see that there is wifi but that it is spotty. Pretending we have no wifi luck, I’m trying to make a back up plan of where to meet. She will be there 3 hours before me. Neither of us will check bags.

    If we go go through immigration together, what place is best for her to wait where there might be wifi access/ bathrooms / food nearby?

    If we go through immigration separately, same question as above?

    Just trying to get a feel for the layout of the airport. Not really sure if once she leaves immigration if it is not as comfortable of an area to hang out for 3 hours with taxi people everywhere and possibly less good wifi connection.

    Thank you!

    My understanding so far is the there are 3 floors (not totally sure this is accurate though?):
    0 Customs / immigration / baggage / where we will find our shuttle to hotel
    1 Check in area (we will check in here on our trip home together)
    2 Food court / shopping? / a place only people can go who have passed security and have boarding pass?

    …not really sure what floor is available to the general public versus what floor(s) are for people with boarding passes and have passed security points.

    1. Tabitha,

      If she arrives three hours before you, she won’t be able to wait for you in the pre-immigration area. She has to pass through so you both will need to meet up on the post-immigration side. As is the case with most airports, once you pass through immigration and baggage claim, the only way to get to post-security areas is to pass through security so you’d have to arrange to meet say at baggage claim or at your airlines check in area. As airports change constantly, I can’t tell you specifically today what is in what spot, but if it were me I’d tell her to keep an eye on your flight for when it lands and then have her meet at the doors where people exit baggage claim. She can wander that area and grab a drink and hang out or she can ask at an information desk what’s around. Another option is to see if there are any business lounges on the pre-security side and find out how much it costs for the few hours she has to wait. $25 or whatever is worth it vs. sitting around on the floor or in a Starbucks. Good luck and let me know how you make out. Marian

  18. Thanks for this post! My family (husband, me, and 15 month old by then) will be flying Copa and have a 4 hour layover in April on our way to Trinidad from San Diego and back. We figured we’d take our time getting off the plane since we had time to not have to rush from gate to gate, but it seems like we’d have a lot more time to kill and less running to do since the airport is small. Four hours is probably too short to leave the airport and go somewhere nearby, right? Besides the Copa lounge, are there any other food offerings in the airport? We were hoping to try some close to authentic Panamanian food in the airport if we couldn’t leave. Thanks again, appreciate the insight from your post and replies to other comments!

    1. Hi Ayesha,

      Sorry for the late reply but I have been traveling quite a lot this past year and away from my computer. I don’t know if I would risk it with a baby, but there are things to do in the airport for sure. Please let me know what you ended up doing. Marian

  19. Hello! I see this article is from a little while ago and for the most part other readers posted similar questions to what I wanted to ask however, what I’m not clear about is how can one leave an airport to explore without doing the whole process of “checking out” and grabbing bags, etc. especially since I would have to jump back on the plane to head back home? I’ve never flown before and I’m going to Jamaica but my layover from Jamaica back to USA is in Panama City for about 5 hours and I would love some clarity on how I can make the best use of my layover by squeezing in a little sightseeing! If possible!? Thanks!

    1. Hi Kris,

      A lot depends on the country where your layover is. Some places, like China, might require that you have a visa, which you can purchase in the airport. But if your bags are checked through and you have several hours, you can leave and return to the airport without issue. Just budget extra time for travel and delays to and from the airport.

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