Ordinarily, a how-to guide like this would lay out methodology for the application of the Hague Service Convention. But Panama isn’t party to the Hague Service Convention, so that idea goes out the window. This is at once a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing

… because you aren’t tied to a method that is wholly reliant on the performance of foreign bureaucrats who aren’t exactly motivated to take care of you in a speedy manner– if they even like us at all. In Russia, U.S. and Canadian Hague Requests are rejected as a matter of course. Venezuela hasn’t had a functional government for years, so it’s tough to even get a Request on file. In Mexico, China, and India, internal procedures are so cumbersome that plaintiffs wait literally years for proof to come back.

It’s a curse

… because there’s no truly streamlined method that relies on those foreign bureaucrats to ensure compliance with local law and practice. The only government channel available is a Letter Rogatory, transmitted pursuant to an OAS treaty that does little but cut diplomatic legations out of the equation. If you must go that way, contact the contractor who handles the U.S. government’s Central Authority function for the InterAmerican Convention on Letters Rogatory and Additional Protocol. [Canada is not a Convention member, so you’re back to the traditional means of conveyance… diplomatic channels.]

Other options?

So what is a practitioner to do when faced with serving a defendant in Panama? Two ideas, described here in the context of U.S. federal rules (noting that state and Canadian provincial rules may have analogous provisions):


Ordinarily, I contend that service by mail is a terrible idea. Ordinarily, there are better options, though. In the case of Panama, mail is my first recommendation most of the time. Just be sure to comply strictly with Rule 4(f)(2)(C)(ii) or you’re out of luck.

The rule requires that the documents be (1) dispatched from the clerk’s office and (2) sent using a form of mail* requiring a signed receipt. That’s where the wheels fall off much of the time. (But keep reading.)

Electronic service

Rule 4(f)(3) is the mechanism by which a plaintiff can seek an order to serve electronically. It’s constitutionally valid from a due process perspective, and because Panama hasn’t signed on to the Hague Service Convention, there’s no treaty conflict.

Mail, but

While you’re at it, take a belt & suspenders approach and in your 4(f)(3) motion, ask for an order dispensing with the signature requirement of 4(f)(2)(C)(ii). The ordinary rule allows service by mail as a matter of right, but requires that pesky signed delivery receipt– a rather arcane idea in a post-Covid world. Remember that the Mullane doctrine requires a means reasonably calculated to give the defendant notice and an opportunity to be heard. But mail and e-mail together in the third decade of the 21st century, and you’ve got pretty reasonable calculation.

Wrapping it up

Not a whole lot of fanfare involved– there’s no truly great method of serving in Panama like there are in other places. Letter Rogatory service– even within the treaty mechanism– is costly and time-consuming. Mail and electronic service might get speedier notice and bring your defendant to the table more quickly, but those methods offer a very convenient pretext to a foreign court that wishes to deny recognition and enforcement of your U.S. or Canadian judgment.

In any event, we’re always happy to provide a little direction (even though, for Panama, there’s nothing to engage us for!).

* FedEx and UPS qualify, and given DHL’s penetration of the Latin American market, it might be the best of the bunch. I contend that the actual Post Office, a shell of its former self, is the last thing you should think of if you truly want to get the job done.