Moving to Panama: 15 Things to Make your International Move Successful

So, you’re finally making a move to Panama! Congratulations! Panama is an excellent choice whether you’re moving for work, retirement, or just a change of scenery.

Now that you’ve decided, it’s time to start planning your move. Here are 15 things you should do to ensure your move is as smooth and stress-free as possible.

1. Hire an experienced international moving company.

This is probably the most crucial step in ensuring a successful move. A good international moving company will cover all the details, from packing and shipping your belongings to handling customs clearance and delivering to your new home.

It’s essential to hire an experienced international moving company to help you with the transition. Many complexities are involved in moving to a new country, and an experienced company can help make the process much smoother.

They’ll also be able to provide you with valuable resources and advice, whether you’re moving your entire household or just a few items. In addition, a reputable company will have a network of reliable contacts in Panama, which can be invaluable when trying to settle in a new country.

So if you’re planning a move to Panama, hire an experienced international moving company to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

2. Get your documents in order.

Make sure you have all the necessary documents for your move. This includes an item list for your move for the moving company and all the documentation you require for your immigration process. Remember to bring the documents you need if you have not yet opened a bank account in Panama. You will also need documentation if you plan to bring your pets to Panama.

3. Learn some basic Spanish.

If you are considering moving to Panama, learning some basic Spanish is a good idea. While English is somewhat spoken in Panama, due to many expats living here, knowing at least some Spanish will make it easier to get by, especially in rural areas and smaller towns.

Furthermore, knowing Spanish will allow you to navigate Panama’s bureaucracy better. Government documents, utility bills, and driver’s license applications are only available in Spanish. Fortunately, learning Spanish is not as difficult as it may seem, and many resources are available to help you get started.

Whether you take a class, use an online program, or study independently, you can quickly become more accustomed to the language with little effort. So if you’re planning a move to Panama, don’t forget to add learning Spanish to your to-do list.

4. Pack your essential items.

When packing for your move, be sure to pack essential items like medications, toiletries, and a change of clothes, and do not let these items get in the boxes that the international moving company is shipping. These items will come in handy during the first few days/weeks after your arrival when you’re settling into your new home and awaiting the delivery of your belongings by the international moving company.

Depending on your situation, you may consider paying for extra baggage on your flight to Panama. This way, you can bring things like a coffee maker, other small appliances, several weeks of clothing, a supply of personal care items, and anything you think you will need to be comfortable if there is going to be a wait for your belongings.

5. Purchase travel and medical insurance.

Before you travel to Panama, purchasing travel and medical insurance is essential. Travel insurance will protect you in case of cancellations, delays, lost baggage, and more. And medical insurance will ensure that you’re covered in case of an accident or illness while you’re in Panama. In Panama, you cannot apply for international medical insurance until you are in the process of immigration.

Many travel and medical insurance policies are available, so be sure to compare different options before buying. But don’t wait until the last minute – purchase your travel and medical insurance as soon as you plan your trip to Panama. That way, you’ll be covered in case of any unforeseen problems.

6. Arrange for pet transportation.

There are a few things to remember when relocating your pet internationally. First, you’ll need to check with the Panamanian consulate regarding pet entry requirements. You’ll also need to ensure that your pet is up-to-date on all vaccinations and has a valid health certificate, signed by the proper authorities. With your intention to move to Panama, you’ll also need to make arrangements for your pet’s transportation.

With some planning, you can ensure that your pets arrive safely in Panama and are ready to start exploring their new home. Once you have the necessary paperwork, you can begin researching pet relocation companies that offer services to Panama. Be sure to ask about their experience with international pet relocation and get quotes from several companies before deciding.

7. Make a list of your belongings.

This list can be can for two purposes, one for the international moving company to use with customs and one for you for your insurance company. It is best to list all the large pieces, like furniture, and anything that will not be packed in boxes. Then while packing, make a list of what you are putting into that box, by box number, and number the boxes.

8. Pack your belongings carefully.

This is especially important if you’re hiring an international shipping company to ship your belongings to Panama. Remember, you probably are not a professional packer, like the moving company people are. If you are doing the packing, you are responsible for the breakage of poorly packed items.

If the international moving company you hired to make a move to Panama is doing the packing, relax, you can just watch.

9. Arrange for housing in Panama.

You may have already purchased your house or signed a rental lease, but you need to coordinate what will happen when you get off the plane in Panama. Coordinating all your belongings and arriving on the same day will probably not happen, so you may need temporary housing and maybe some temporary furniture as you wait for yours.

If you have not arranged housing, it’s time to get on that. Get with a reputable rental agent to start showing you online places available. You could plan on arriving in Panama, staying at a hotel for a week, as your agent shows you places. Remember to schedule the shipping of your belongings correctly to avoid excessive storage fees

10. Get your finances in order.

Before you move, be sure to get your finances in order. Everyone’s situation is different, but if you do not have a Panama bank account yet, figure out how much cash you will need to live for the first few months and how you will access that money in Panama. In Panama, you can only withdraw $250 at a time up to your daily limit from an ATM. The ATMs charge you a fee per transaction.

At your bank at home, you will need to visit them to ensure that you can wire money internationally, so when you do open that Panama bank, you can fund it. You need to ask your home bank what their international fees are on transactions and see if any account plans could help you lower them.

11. Getting your phones in order.

Every expat’s needs for communication are different. But, your US phone, with your US carrier, is not a good solution in Panama. First, the roaming charges can be excessive, and second, the international data they give you is slow.

There is a way to keep your US phone number by porting that number over to a product like Google Voice. Google Voice is a VOIP (Voice Over IP ) service that gives telephone access through the internet, not a cell phone carrier. Google Voice is free to use for US citizens and as little as $10 a month for many other countries.

So once you have your number ported over to it, you could cancel your US cell phone plans, and when arriving in Panama, get a Panama sim card and cell phone plan. On your phone, you will have both your old US number and your new Panama Number. Remember, you must set up Google Voice before you leave your country.

12. Set up utilities in Panama.

If you have purchased a home or secured a rental before moving, see what utilities can be set for you before arriving here. Maybe your real estate agent can help transfer water and electricity. You can go directly to the fiber internet company’s website, set up a new account, and make an appointment for an installation a day or two after your arrival date.

13. Planning for your mail delivery in Panama.

Panama does not have a door-to-door mail delivery system like you are probably used to back home. Panama does not have street signs with house addresses. 

All it has is an international Post office with a general delivery address, which can take weeks or months to receive or send.

You will need to set up a mail forwarding service. There are many in Panama, the most popular and known being Mail Boxes Etc. 

In the city or town you are moving to, contact the Mail Boxes Etc. Office or another mail service, and get your Miami address. All these companies use Miami as a forwarding place. You will use this Miami address for letters and packages coming to Panama. Once it arrives in Miami, it will be in Panama in 3 – 5 days, where you pick it up from your local Mail Boxes Etc.

I recommend not setting up a blanket forwarding to your new Miami address with your home country Post Office. You will end up forwarding all your junk mail to Panama and paying for it.

14. Planning for your Panama driver’s license

You’ll need to get a driver’s license if you plan on driving in Panama. The easiest way to get your driver’s license in Panama is through your country’s embassy in Panama, taking it there and getting it authenticated. Once you start the residency visa and receive your temporary residency card, your foreign license is no longer valid here.

Contact them to find out the procedure. I suggest getting on this early, as some embassies, like the USA, are backed up for appointments for 3 – 4 months. After it is authenticated, you take it to Panama’s Foreign Affairs and they will stamp it, Get a blood type test (if not indicated on your current license), take everything to Sertracen, and give you your Panama License. Those over 70 will need a Panama doctor’s good health report.

If you cannot get an appointment at your embassy, or your home country does not have an embassy in Panama, you will have to do it the Panama Way. Join a driving school, get a driving certificate, and take the written and driving test (available in English).

15. Enjoy your new home.

Making a move to Panama can be an exciting adventure. Still, it’s important to plan so that your move is successful. We’ve outlined 15 things you’ll need to do to make your move as smooth as possible, from finding the perfect international moving company to Panama, setting up utilities, and getting a driver’s license to finding a place to live and connecting to the internet.

With some planning, your move to Panama will be successful! Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy all that this beautiful country has to offer.

Rod Larrivee
Retire in Panama Tours

Rod, co-owner of Retire in Panama Tours, and his business partner, Oscar Peña, have been assisting people relocating to Panama for over a decade.  They offer all-inclusive group relocation tours, private relocation tours, and various expat services to those that have arrived in Panama.  Contact them by phone or email directly from their website: