When you move to Panama, one of your many questions will be about mail.
What to do about the mail you get now?
Can you get that mail sent to your home in Panama?
How does the postal service work in Panama & is it reliable?
Can you mail things to people “back home” reliably?
Can you order from Amazon (etc) and have it delivered in Panama?
The short answer is that you are able to send and receive mail in Panama. But you must do it differently than “back home”.
Instead of writing an incredibly long post about mail in Panama, I broke my answers into 4 parts. This post is Part 1, what to do about your current mail, Part 2 – Postal Service in Panama, Part 3 – Domestic Mail in Panama, and Part 4 – Best way to send & receive mail & packages.
Here I answer the first 2 questions
1) What to do with the mail you get now?
2) Can you get that mail sent to your home in Panama?
What To Do About The Mail You Get Now
Right now you get mail delivered 6 days a week to your home. Most of it is junk, but you most likely want to continue to get some of it once you are in Panama.
Of course, you could just take a pass and leave all that mail behind. Let someone else recycle it. What a relief that would be, huh?
The problem is that every once in awhile you get something important in the mail. Something you want to read.
2 Things To Do About Your Current Mail
1) Go paperless as much as possible. This is easy to do for your credit card, bank statements, and even for your magazine subscriptions. Most businesses prefer to email you rather than use snail mail. They make it easy for you to go paperless. It save them money. And it saves trees.
2) Stop all junk and unwanted mail. The post office won’t forward junk mail to your virtual mail box. But they will still forward you non-junk, but unwanted mail. Stopping junk and unwanted mail is not always easy.
I recommend you do 3 things to free up your mail box (virtual or not).
- Write “Return to Sender” on each and every envelope you want to stop coming to you. Make sure you cross out any bar code on the envelope so that human eyes will read your message and the computer will realize it is undeliverable.
- If you are getting mail from someone that does not live in your home, you might want to leave a note on your mail box stating that “so and so does not live here.” You can also go to your post office and have a chat with manager. He or she may also have you fill out a change of address card for so and so. Instead of a forwarding address write: “Moved, Left No Forwarding Address.” When you sign it, make sure to write “form filled in by current resident, [Your Name], agent for the above.”
- Stop all junk mail: Follow the 6 steps to stop junk mail that are explained on this link: http://www.ecocycle.org/junkmail. It is very comprehensive list and seems relatively easy to accomplish.
Actually you probably will want to do those 3 things whether you move to Panama or not.
How To Get Your Mail From “back home” in Panama
Now how do you get your remaining mail sent down to Panama. Actually, it is best not to send it down. Do you really want to pay to ship your mail down without knowing if you want to read it or not? There are other ways to get your mail, without getting it physically delivered to you.
1) Forward Mail To Family or Friends
You can forward your mail to a friend or family member and have them deal with it. This may be the best route for you. But it does have some pitfalls.
We did this at first. We forwarded our mail to a dear friend. The issue was alot of the mail really wasn’t dealt with, at least not the way we would have dealt with it.
If you decide to use a friend or family for your mail manager, you also have to be comfortable with them being privy to your personal and financial information. And maybe hearing their advice on how they think you should handle your affairs.
2) Subscribe to a virtual mail box
A better way, a way that will work, even when your sister is ill with the flu, is a virtual mail box.
This is the easiest & most affordable way to continue to get your mail “delivered” to you in Panama.
The service will give you an address in the USA, usually in Florida, sometimes in Texas. I had one who gave me an address in New York. Of course, there are also virtual mail box services in Canada and throughout Europe too.
Note: If you will be paying taxes in the US, and your only “residence” in the US will be your virtual mailbox you may want to make sure your virtual address is in Florida or Texas or another state that also does not have a state income tax.
How a Virtual Mailbox Works
Your Virtual Mailbox Service takes a photo of the envelope and posts it to your account. You review these on-line. If you want to see what is in the envelope, they will scan it for you. If you get a check, they will deposit it for you. If you get a package (or a letter you want a hard copy of), they will forward it to any service you also subscribe to (eg. Mailbox Express, Airbox Express), which will then deliver it to you in Panama. (See how to get packages delivered in Panama).
The service will give you instructions on how to set up your virtual mailbox. Basically, you will have to fill out a form authorizing them to collect your mail etc. You will also need to submit a forwarding address request to your home country’s postal service. Also, don’t forget to update your address with anyone who sends you wanted mail that you don’t want to get electronically.
How To Pick A Virtual Mailbox Service
First, you need to determine what mail services you need.
Some items to consider whether you need, or not.
- Number of Recipients/Additional Names
If you are a couple or family, check to make sure they allow (or don’t charge extra) for multiple recipients.
- A real address in addition to a PO Box. If you want the address to accept mail via UPS and FedEx, you will need a “real” address. They will not mail to PO Boxes. Also, if you are using the address to fulfill a residency requirement, a PO Box address is unlikely to fly.
- Envelope Scanning/Online View. For me this a a critical service. The better services have an easy to use online site that allows you to review the scans and note what you need done to each piece of mail.
- Open and Scan Contents. Another critical service.
- Package Receipt/Storage/Forwarding. Some services have limited space, and charge for package storage. If you need packages held for some time, check what the service’s maximum hold time is. Some may also be geared solely for scanning mail and don’t accept packages at all.
- Package Consolidation. If you are receiving packages, some of these providers will repackage multiple packages into one for forwarding, saving you in shipping costs.
- Check Deposit. Ideally you have people sending you checks electronically. But if that cannot happen, you should make sure they offer this service
- Junk Mail Handling. I’d recommend this one. Many of these services will automatically go through your mail and discard obvious junk mail. If they don’t, and scan everything, you can very easily hit your limit of maximum scans per month included in the base cost. Of course, there’s always a risk that something that is not junk will be discarded.
- Email Notification. Do they offer email notification for new arrivals, or do you have to check the website yourself?
- Signature Upon Delivery
Some packages and mail will require a signature upon delivery. Is there a physical person at the address that can sign?
- Personal Shopper/Personal Assistant Services
Some of these services even offer shopping and personal assistant services. They basically provide you with a person on the ground.
Pick the service that provides you the services you need at an affordable price. I would recommend doing a Google search for reviews of your top 3 picks. Maybe ask on various Panama forums. You want to use one that other people have been happy with.
We use one a very simple one, USA Mail1 They scan the envelopes and open them when we request them to. Simple. And only $10/mo.
How Much Does A Virtual Mailbox Cost?
Services usually charge a flat monthly fee. Typically they charge extras based on volume of mail, storage requirements, whether you need mail forwarding, etc.
In the list virtual mailbox companies below, I included the range of costs. As you will see, you can pay anywhere from $0 or $8 to $179/mo depending on the company and the services you want to have.
Be careful. The monthly fee usually covers a set number of letters/scans, and perhaps some basic mail forwarding service. Over this set amount you typically get charged a per letter fee. Some services charge a postage deposit, shipping fees, enrollment and cancellation fees as well.
Virtual Mailbox Companies
There are a number of virtual mail box companies. A Google search will give you a list.
Make sure the one you chose provides all the services you desire at the price you want.
I have heard good things about Mail Box Forwarding. We use USA Mail1. I have no complaints about them, but we only use their most basic package.
There are many others, here is just a sampling.
- The Network Hub (various cities) – $25-63/mo.
- eSnail.ca (Vancouver, Toronto) – $17-55/mo.
- Canada Address (various cities) – $20 1-time fee + cost per service
- Mailbox Forwarding (CA, FL, MI) – $15-50/mo.
- Virtual Post Mail (CA) – $10-60/mo.
- USA Box (FL) – $0-10/mo.
- Earth Class Mail (various States) – $99-179/mo.
- Post Scan Mail (various States) – $15-50/mo.
- Traveling Mailbox (various States) – $15-55/mo.
- USA Mail 1 (NY) – $10/mo.
- ScanMailboxes (TX) – $15-100/mo.
I am not recommending any service in particular. You should do your own research on them.
Moving to Panama? You may want to use our Moving To Panama Checklist.