Anyone who reads our insights is likely to already know how much there is to love about Panama. Most of us have already fallen in love with this vibrant country, its friendly people, beautiful culture, delicious food, and a laid-back way of life. That isn’t to say, though, that Panama is perfect. There are plenty of days that expats will find themselves longing for the convenience, reliability, or timeliness of how things are done back home.
One point of frustration that many expats often don’t expect is the difficulty with which one sends and receives mail in Panama. The postal service is an institution many expats never even thought much about before moving abroad, simply because it works. In Panama, though, such a seemingly mundane service is much more complicated.
Whether you’re sending mail locally or internationally, things are liable to get lost or show up months later than you expected. Addresses are not readily visible in Panama and overall, the service is very unreliable.
While many expats opt to get by with (and even enjoy) a mail-free existence in Panama, made even easier by the number of things you can now take care of online, there are instances when one needs to send or receive mail. When the time comes, there are a number of options that you can turn to that will ensure your mail gets where it needs to be — on time. Which of these you choose depends mostly on the type of mail, the urgency with which it needs to arrive, and the price you’re willing to pay.
One way to send and receive mail in Panama is using international courier services such as UPS, FedEx, or DHL. Given that these are established international brands with a reputation to protect, their services are much more reliable than the national postal service. Each company has a handful of stores and drop-off points across the city for outgoing mail. For incoming mail and packages, they call you before they arrive at your building so you can meet them and ensure your mail gets safely into your hands.
What’s the catch, you ask? Using these international couriers to send mail to and from Panama is insanely expensive. It could cost around US $50 just to send or receive a simple envelope, and much more for heavy or large packages. At the end of the day, using international courier services is a good option if you urgently need to send a document to someone or receive something from home that can’t wait, but this isn’t really a feasible option if you need mail often.
The Paperless Office
Here’s another option for expats who still hold a residency in the US where they receive mail. Instead of arranging to have your mail forwarded to Panama (an unreliable or insanely expensive affair), you could subscribe to a paperless office service such as Earth Class Mail.
In order to use Earth Class Mail, you must have an address in the US where you receive mail. Once you sign up for a subscription, Earth Class Mail will reroute all mail from the selected address to a secure facility. When you receive mail, they will scan the front and back of each letter or parcel. Then, when you sign in to your Earth Class Mail account (that feels much like an email account), you can see high-resolution images of the exterior of each piece of mail.
From there, you choose what action you would like to take. You can request that mail is stored, shredded, recycled, forwarded to you, or opened and scanned. For any mail that you choose to open and scan, you can then select whether you’d like those items to be stored, shredded, or forwarded.
This is a great option for people who still receive things like bills, familial correspondence, and banking information to their home address in the US, and want to keep up with what’s in their mailbox. Most people store their scanned mail in their computers to save the expense of forwarded mail. You can use the stored scanned copies to pay bills online or over the phone. The service starts at US $69 per month with customizable plans to best fit your needs.
A final option that is popular amongst expats in Panama is to get a PO Box somewhere that offers to ship between the US and Panama. There are a handful of different companies that offer this service.
Mail Boxes, Etc.
Mail Boxes, Etc. is the largest and most well-known franchise that allows you so ship between the US and Panama. Users can sign up for a PO Box in Miami and then use this as their primary address. Any mail you expect to receive should be sent to this address, and you can also use it to order products from the internet that normally wouldn’t accommodate shipping to Panama. All of your mail will arrive at the PO Box, and then you can schedule to have it forwarded to a Mail Boxes, Etc. office in Panama. With dozens of offices across the country, chances are there’s one not too far from you.
Here’s another company that offers a similar service to that described above. Like with Mail Boxes, Etc., you can receive all kinds of mail, including letters, cards, magazines, newspapers, small boxes, parcels, Amazon purchases, etc. With Miami Express, you can either opt to pay per item on a one-off basis or sign up for a monthly membership for more regular use.
Priority Express is a third provider of this service. Any and all packages weighing between one and 10 pounds will cost US $3.50 to ship from your Miami PO Box to a nearby office in Panama. Priority Express can ship all kinds of mail, but is most popular for online shopping, allowing you to access products from your favorite stores in the US without making a trip home.
So while the way you send and receive mail in Panama will likely never be as streamlined as it is back home, there are options to get the job done. At the end of the day, most would agree that this is a small price to pay for all there is to love about life in Panama.