receiving mail in Panama

Living in Panama: Receiving Mail in Panama

Last Updated on October 3, 2022 by Retire in Panama

mail delivery in Panama

The first thing you need to know is that Panama does not have a local post office or local post office mail delivery. This would be a bit difficult, as there are few house numbers and street signs. But you still will need to receive some letter mail, and indeed package delivery. Here is what you need to do to ensure that your mail makes it to Panama without any issues.

Panama does, however, have an international post office called Cotel Panamá. To receive a package, you must you a general delivery address to the city you are in that has a post office and the Postal Code. For Example, YOUR NAME, Entrega General, Boquete, Chiriquí, Panamá 0413. Packages shipped from North America can take 2 – 6 weeks, with letters even longer.

There is an option in some Panama post offices to rent a PO Box. Few people do this due to the extended shipping times and uncertainty of international mail. You will have to check with your local post office to see if your package is there, or sometimes they will call you if the package has a phone number.

For sending out packages internationally, you can use the Panama Post office, but use the upgraded courier service called EMS. EMS will provide you with a tracking number for the package that can be tracked online. With this service, packages sent to North America will arrive in 10 – 14 days and to Europe in 10 – 21 days, and this is not a bad service to send things back home.

international mail delivery in panama

Before leaving your home country, you must set up a mail forwarding service to receive mail in Panama. The most popular option is to use a company like Mail Boxes Etc. They will set you up with a Miami forwarding address. They have locations worldwide and can easily forward your mail from your new Miami address to their location in Panama.

There are many mail forwarding companies. Once it arrives, they will hold it for you until you can pick it up, at a cost per pound. I am using MBE as an example here, as I have used them for nine years, and they are well known.

You set up your account with the mail forwarder you choose in the city or town you intend to live in Panama. Typically you can do this by email.

You will want to give your family and friends your new forwarding address before you leave so that they know where to send any cards or letters. You also want to change your address to this new forwarding address with places like your bank so that you could receive a new card or the IRS, so they know how to find you. (If you want them to), Or you may wish to have your US social security check mailed to you in Panama so you can deposit it in your Panama bank account.

DO NOT do a general mail redirection with your local post office. Or you will receive and have to pay for all that junk mail you are currently receiving.

Regarding packages, you will want to change your online shopping sites to the new Miami address. Be careful here, as, for packages, you will be paying per pound, so try to avoid ordering heavy stuff online.

mail forwarding to panama

There are many mail forwarding companies in Panama to choose from, operating in the above method, giving you a Miami address, and forwarding your mail and packages for a per-pound rate from Miami to Panama. Whichever you choose, research the company and ensure they have a good reputation for promptly getting your mail and packages to you.

Here are a few key questions to ask your potentially new mail forwarder:

  • Rates per pound for packages
  • Do they charge a cubed rate for bulky light packages?
  • Rates per letter
  • Discounts for larger packages
  • Service fee per shipment, above weight charge
  • Sea freight options for heavier options that you do not mind waiting for
  • Are your packages insured?
  • Business reputation – how long have they been in business, as these types of business seem to come and go.

Many mail forwarders offer both air freight and sea freight. Airfreight costs more, but you will receive the mail in Panama 3 – 5 days after it arrives in Miami. Sea freight is cheaper. You will receive it 1 – 2 weeks after it arrives in Panama. Sea freight can be much more affordable than air freight, especially for heavier items. sea freight to Panama

Many carriers on their air freight will “cube charge” you on light packages. They will charge a cubic foot charge rather than weight. Amazon is famous for using oversized boxes to ship small things. For example, you could be ordering a new spatula, and they send in a box that could hold a microwave.

So your shipment may only weigh 1 lb, but your freight forwarder may charge you 5 lbs or more because of the large box size. When choosing your freight forwarder for receiving mail in Panama, ask all the questions above to know you are getting the best deal.

Some sea freight carriers will charge by weight and some by volume. So, for example, if you were to ship a generator from the USA to Panama, and it was a 3 cu/ft box that weighed 100 lbs, the carrier that charges by cu/ft, would be much cheaper.

Suppose you were shipping a bicycle from the USA to Panama. In that case, a standard bike box is 9 cu/ft and weighs 50 lbs, then because of its size, the carrier that charges by weight is probably cheaper.

It is always a good idea to have a couple of favorite freight forwarders, so you can take advantage of their pricing policies to get the best rate for yourself.

Picking the right company to handle your mail forwarding can be a bit complicated, and it truly depends on your needs. If you receive one package a month and a couple of letters, it does not matter, as any of the popular companies can work for you. But suppose you are a late-night Amazon shopper like myself. In that case, you will analyze the different companies and see who can offer the best service at the best price.

Companies that offer this service must be approved by Autoridad Nacional de Aduanas (Panama Customs). Your packages may be subject to duties and tax on shipments over $100. There is a list of Panama Customs-approved freight forwarding businesses here. (This list is from December 2021)

packages arriving in panama

I consider myself a heavy user receiving mail in Panama. I will show you in the chart below why I have been using Mail Boxes Etc. in Boquete for most of my mail forwarding services for almost ten years. They have a plan that you pay $28 a month for, which includes unlimited letter mail, and the first 2 kg of packages free, and after that, the rate is $11.00/kg, charged on a per gram basis.

This is an excellent plan if you order many smaller items, as most other places charge you a minimum of one pound, in increments of one pound, or in increments of 1/2 pound. For example, if your package weighs 1.5 lbs, many places will charge you for 2 pounds, but with the MBE plan, you pay the exact weight.

Look at the chart below, where I will take a month from my Mail Boxes Etc. shipments, and compare them to two other Panama mail receiving companies I recently visited and got their rates.

MBE is $28/month, 2kg included, and letter mail, plus $1.10/ gram, and both AirBox and MyBox are per pound rates as provided to me in quotes.

MBE does not cube freight, weight only; AirBox and MyBox have the option to cube in their pricing.

Receiving mail in Panama Chart

In summary, receiving mail in Panama can be challenging, especially if you are unfamiliar with the process. There are many mail-forwarding companies to choose from. Still, it is essential to research and select one with a good reputation that fits your buying habits.

Ask questions about rates, services offered, and insurance before deciding. I hope this article has been helpful and provided some insight into the process of receiving mail in Panama.



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