To Ship Or Not To Ship Panama

By Larke Newell

The decision has been made to relocate to Panama.  So now for the big question:  Do you have a giant yard sale, take your antiques to an auction, give away or sell your household furnishings, your tools, and yard equipment?  Or do you commence contacting a few overseas moving companies and ship it all to your new home?  And, oh yes, what about your vehicle?

In most cases it is more efficient, not to mention practical and less expensive, to keep only your most precious possessions and sell the rest.  It is possible to purchase most everything you will need in Panama, whether it be furniture, vehicles, lawn mowers, or household goods.

The only exceptions I have discovered (keep in mind, this is merely my personal opinion), are few but important.  If you prefer high thread count, soft sheets, add them to your suitcases.  To me the ones in Panama resemble sleeping on fine sandpaper.  As well, my husband found that hand tools and some yard equipment purchased in Panama are knockoffs of the quality brands and not well made.

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Although many people wish to ship their furniture down, I do not recommend this.  Most of North American woods will not last long in Panama, as they become termite fodder almost immediately.  Furniture made in Central America is made from the hard woods indigenous to the area such as teak and cedar, thwarting the termite feeding frenzy.  Beautiful furniture can either be purchased in any of the many available stores or there is another option.  There are numerous old school wood craftsmen in Panama who custom build unbelievably beautiful and unique pieces.

In addition, many of the houses for sale or rent in Panama are completely furnished, thereby eliminating the need to either ship your furniture and appliances or buy new after your arrival.

In summary, shipping containers full of your possessions is costly, hectic, and sometimes unreliable.  However if you are adamant that your familiar belongings must travel with you I strongly recommend that you practice your due diligence and research very carefully.  Get numerous references, if possible.  There are many shipping companies available, some more reliable than others.  Most of them will pack up everything in your home, ship it down, go through all the intricate customs procedures, and deliver to your new home.  However it is costly.

If you opt for doing your own packing, protect your items well.  Wrap fragile items tightly and individually, use cushioning such as blankets and towels, utilize sturdy shipping cartons, and put heavy items in smaller boxes.

Obtaining shipping insurance from whichever freight company you choose is imperative.

In my experience there is virtually no reason to ship a vehicle to Panama.  There are plenty of car dealerships, both new and used. That being said, if you are sorely attached to your personal chariot, by all means ships it.  There are very strict guidelines for this procedure and they must be followed to the letter.  You must be the free and clear owner of said vehicle in order to import it into Panama.  Paperwork such as a Vehicle Export Declaration, registration of the vehicle, your picture ID, and a copy of your passport are imperative. It also provides an international shipping rate calculation table.  A great site for Canadians exporting a vehicle is: www.a1freightforwarding.com.

Shipping a car that is rare or expensive is not recommended as Panamanian mechanics will rarely be able to work on it and specialty parts would also need to be imported.

In order to register your vehicle in Panama it is necessary to contact the Registro Unico Vehicular in Panama City.  An excellent website for this information and more: www.expatfocus.com/expatriate-panama-vehicle-import.

To ship or not to ship is of course a matter of personal preference and must be considered carefully.  The consensus appears to be that, unless you feel very strongly about your belongings accompanying you to your new destination, sell or store them and start fresh.  Pack personal items, photo albums, and any additional treasures that you cannot bear to part with in your suitcases and look forward with anticipation to surrounding yourself with unique, new items with which to make your exciting relocation experience complete.

Panama Canal. Panama

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