YAY! You are moving abroad! Congrats.
Enjoy the feeling of satisfaction, and relief, of having made that big decision.
Fix it in your mind, because soon you are going to have to start on your list of things to do to make the move a reality.
The critical thing is to decide what action you will take on each item – and then do it. It is important to make a list, set deadlines. And don’t forget to delegate!
Moving Overseas Checklist
Below are the main items you will have to accomplish before you move. How you deal with them will depend upon your situation.
1) Your Home
What you will do with your home depends upon how final you want your move overseas to be.
Do you want to be able to move back “home” in case Panama doesn’t work out? Or perhaps you are only anticipating living in Panama for 5 years? Or maybe you simply want to keep your home available for month-long visits and rent it the rest of the year. Your plans will determine the answers to the questions below.
If You Own Your Home:
Will you sell it? If so, when?
Will you rent it? If so, will you manage the rental yourself or hire a property manager?
Yes, you can manage your own properties from abroad. We have done it for years. Of course, it depends upon the location of your home. The greater the demand for the type and location of your rental, the more likely you can successfully manage the rental yourself.
If you do rent your home out, make sure it is in good rental condition. Get all minor repairs done. Make a list of everything you left behind. Ideally, identify a good handyman to take care of any future maintenance issue.
If You Are A Renter:
As a renter, your options are more straight forward.
Give notice, per your lease.
Talk to your landlord about subletting it to someone else, if you want the option to come back
If you are in a lease, talk to your landlord about how break your lease without a penalty. For instance, find someone acceptable to your landlord to take over your lease,
2) Your Stuff
There are many factors to consider when deciding what to do with your possessions. Some items you will bring simply because you love them. Somethings you will not bring because they won’t survive your new tropical climate. You may decide you want to start all over and buy most everything you need in your new home.
These are the questions you will need to ask yourself.
What will you bring with you?
How will you bring it with you? (via container ship, via airplane in bins & suitcases…)
If shipping your belongings, research and secure a shipping service. As you pack, keep in mind that you will need to provide an itemized list of the contents. (I highly recommend making that list as you pack – don’t rely on your memory.)
If you don’t have a place all ready to move into, what will you do with your possessions until you find a new home? (e.g., Are there any storage facilities where you are going?)
What will you do with your belongings you don’t bring with you?
- Store: Where? When? For how long?
- Sell: How? When? (garage sales, ebay, craigslist..)
- Give away: To whom? & When?
Your Stuff & The Tropics
Not all items do well in the tropics. Overstuffed furniture and leather items do not fare well in the tropics. Photographs and important papers must be kept well sealed. Otherwise, moisture will wreak havoc on them.
You might want to think 3 times about bringing important heirlooms. There is a reason that people who live in the tropics do not own multi-generational heirlooms. This is especially true for items are made of fabric, leather, or paper.
FYI, If you plan on living in a fully-sealed air conditioned home, your possessions will not be impacted by the tropical climate nearly as much.
Should you bring your furniture?
Shipping your furniture overseas is an expensive option. It can also be a logistical nightmare. This is something to think about. Is it important to you to have your furniture from “home” in Panama?
Before you ship your furniture, go furniture shopping in Panama. Check out what kind of furniture is available. You may prefer to sell your stuff and buy new stuff in Panama. Your old furniture may not even fit in your new home. Something else is to consider buying used in Panama. You can check out craigslist in Panama as well as Facebook groups like Buy Sell Chiriqui.
Should you bring your car?
Our short answer is “no”. But there are exceptions.
You can learn more by reading my post on whether you should bring your car to Panama.
Also, for another perspective, you might want to check out what my friend Sheryl says about shipping her car (and her stuff) to Panama. Sheryl is thrilled she decided to ship her car to her new home in Puerto Armuelles, Panama.
If you aren’t shipping your car, you may want to read our advice and experience buying used cars in Panama.
Digital /Electronic Gadgets
Electronics don’t last as long in the tropics. As an example, I will describe why a non-electronic controlled fan is a better choice than an electronic controlled fan. There are 2 reasons for this.
- Electronic controls become increasingly temperamental over time. The contact points tend to get dirty. Of course, you can clean those contacts, but do you really want to?
- When the electricity goes out (and it will), both types of fans will stop working, of course. However, the electronically controlled fan will NOT automatically come back on when the electricity returns. The non-electronically controlled fan WILL come back on when the electricity comes back on. This is a particularly useful characteristic in the middle of the night, when you want your fan on, not off.
I am not saying don’t bring electronics. I couldn’t live without them.
I have a whole section below on what electronic devices you should bring. I am only suggesting that you minimize the use of items that have electronic controls, when it is an option.
If you decide to store some of your belongings “back home”, check out a fixed-term storage option. It is cheaper than the more common self-storage solution. You cannot visit your storage unit as freely and easily. But you won’t have to since you’ll be living in Panama.
How to Pack Your Stuff
The Goodwin family have written up some great tips on packing and moving overseas on their site. I have included many of their packing tips and some of my own below.
Pack your gear in plastic bins. Not only do plastic bins serve as sturdy shipping boxes, but once unpacked these can be used in your new home in various ways. They can be used as storage bins, end tables, foot stools, and more. Going to your local store and picking up bins in Panama, may not be as easy as it is “back home.
The Goodwins highly recommend using Sterilite Footlocker bins because they are both light-weight and sturdy. They zip-tied them closed for the journey. We also used bins as packing containers when we moved to Panama. I am still using them as storage bins for extra clothes, art supplies, and holiday decorations. We used Rubbermaid bins, but I think the Sterlite footlockers would have served us better.
Vacuum bags. Yes, use vacuum bags to make your stuff smaller. But remember, it won’t make your things lighter. Something to keep in mind if you are trying to keep below that critical 50lb max for each suitcase or bin that you check in on the airplane.
Luggage scale. Speaking of that sweet 50lb mark, you may want to buy a luggage scale. If I knew they were so reasonably priced, I would have bought one years ago. I have been relying on my husband’s great sense of weight. He can usually guess a suitcase’s weight within half a pound. As he is not always available, I would prefer to use a scale. Check out this well-reviewed and inexpensive luggage scale.
Organizing baskets, bins & containers. Think about how you organize your possessions now. You probably use a variety of bins, baskets, containers for your clothing, jewelry, spices, and more. It is so much easier to set up your new home if you have those organizing items immediately available. If you have room to pack containers that will lay flat in your packing bins, you will be very happy. I wish that I had included alot more organizing bins. Ikea has a number of collapsible bins. You can also find bins on Amazon.
Collapsible wagon. The Goodwins have a fantastic tip for people with kids under 11 years old. They used a collapsible wagons as one of their free carry on “strollers”. Great to haul kids and carryon through the airport, as well as on the streets of your new town. It works best if you put a piece of plywood on the bottom. They used an Ozark folding wagon, but I think this wagon may be a better choice.
2) Your Pet
Relocating your pet involves a lot of paperwork and hoops to jump through. Given your moving to do list, I’d highly recommend using a service to guide you through this process. In Panama, PanamaPetRelocation.com is excellent.
You might want to check them out. I have also written about diy pet relocation.
Consider finding a new home for your pet. Not all animals will thrive in the tropics. You might want to start this process early so you can be sure to find a loving home for your pet.
3) Your Mail
Register a forwarding address with the post office (friend or family member, or mailing service)
Research and decide on a mailing service to use (Choose one that will scan your mail so you can read it online.)
4) Your Taxes
Find an accountant who specializes in doing overseas taxes.
Of course, you can usually find an accountant in your new country that specializes in doing taxes for expats. There are a few good tax services in Panama. Make sure that they are comfortable doing your return without requiring that you visit their office. Be sure they can file all signatures and paperwork electronically.
You may want to ask your accountant these questions.
- What can I do to reduce my tax burden?
- Can I file an early tax return?
- Am I eligible for income averaging?
- Best way to keep records when living overseas
- Tell me how I can make use of the foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE)
You can also do your taxes using online programs such as Turbotax. These days you can usually call all the institutions that send you tax statements and get necessary tax information by phone, or have it emailed to you. If you use a mailing service, you can request that they open and scan all your tax-related correspondence.
As always, keep all receipts. If your moving expenses are being paid for, this is especially important.
5) Banking & Finances
Make sure all outstanding bills are paid. Leave money and/or checks with a friend or relative to settle any bills that you may have missed.
Be sure that you will be able to do all your banking online. You are going to be managing your money online, so do a test before you leave.
Set up automatic bill payments with your banks and other entities (such as utility companies) for payments you will be making while you are away.
Get a direct phone number of your personal banker, at the branch where they know you. I have found having easy access to a bank manager who knows me well to be invaluable.
Ask how you can lower or eliminate bank ATM withdrawal fees while overseas
Inform financial institutions of your move (bank, credit cards, insurance, etc)
You going to need a lot of documents. Getting a visa, entering your child in school, getting married, and getting a driver’s license will all require you to have various documents. These documents will often need to be stamped, translated and notarized.
Review the documents that are required for anything you can imagine needing to get done. Bring these with you.
Ideally, you should have all relevant documents translated and stamped by a notary. However, there are certified translators in Panama who can do legal translations. There are also online resources for translations; for instance, Languages International.
Documents You May Need
- Passports. Make sure your passports are up-to-date with at least 2 years remaining before it expiration and that it has plenty of blank pages.
- Documents for residency visa
- Documents needed to open bank account.
- Hard copies of your child’s school records – you need these notarized in Panama
- Birth certificates
- Naturalization or adoption certificate of your child, if applicable
- Marriage licenses
- All insurance polices
- Medical records
Get a Binder For Your Documents
But all these documents together in a binder with plastic sleeves. The plastic sleeves will protect your documents from humidity and coffee spills. It is a huge plus to have all your documents in one easy to locate blinder. However, it is wise to leave copies of everything with a trusted friend “back home” too.
When going to a government office to submit documents, bring the whole binder with you. An agency will often tell you all the items you need to submit to get whatever authorization you need. But once you arrive at their office, it is very common for them to suddenly remember about yet another required document. If you bring the binder, you will have whatever they need, saving you from making another trip.
As I’ve mentioned, be sure to make copies of all your documents. Give the copies away. Always keep the originals.
7) Health Insurance
Research and purchase your health insurance. I discuss health insurance options for expats elsewhere on my site.
Find out what the local names or their equivalents, for any prescription medication you or your family are taking. Discover if they are available in Panama. If not, arrange to take a supply with you. Sometimes customs or security will ask to see proof that you need that medicine. Bring a document to show them.
As you consider your health insurance options, it is helpful to learn about the health care system in Panama. In this post I also discuss the system, types of health care insurance in Panama and how to decide which, if any, to use.
8) Trusted person
Leave someone you trust with copies of your important documents and access to your money to pay any forgotten about bills. Make a master list of passwords, bank information, online accounts, etc. Of course, you can also keep that information in the cloud somewhere, but sometimes you won’t be able to get access to Internet.
Although, most things can be taken care of from overseas, sometimes having someone on the ground with all the needed information is a much better option. It is best to keep both options open.
You also may want to give someone you trust a power of attorney in your home country. You can make it both limited in scope and within a specific timeframe.
This is important. Electronics and Internet communication will be a much bigger part of your life in Panama. It is for me.
I count on MagicJack, Skype or Whatsapp to communicate with people back home. I can also use my Panama cell phone or land line, but it is much cheaper with MagicJack, Skype and Whatsapp.
Keep in mind, you can get power cords, chargers, and more that are higher quality much more readily and cheaper in the States.
Electronics To Bring
- Kindle or other tablet. I am constantly using my library card in Seattle to borrow digital books in Panama. And they are automatically returned, so there are no late fees.
- Chargers and power cords for all your electronic devices. Bring extras!
- Unlocked smart phone (or use T-Mobile, which works pretty well in Panama.)
- Portable speakers for ipod, iphone & laptop
- Cables needed to play streaming movies on your TV
- DVDs (did I mention, you won’t always have Internet?)
- DVD player for your computer (TV DVD players are easy to get in Panama)
- Again, if you use a TV, bring a TV system like Amazon fire stick, Roku, or something like that.
- External hard drives to back up your computer. You should also subscribe to a cloud back up service. I like Crashplan.
About Unlocked Cell Phones
Owning an unlocked cell phone will make your life much easier. I have 2 SIM cards. One for the States and one for Panama. I simply switch the card for the country I am in, but I keep all my contact and other information on my phone.
You can continue to use a long-term cell phone service in both countries. For along time we did not. In the US, we used SimpleMobile and MetroPC. You can also use a service that allows you to buy a specific amount of minutes for calls and texting, say $10. That is the way we have mostly done it while in Panama. We use Movistar cell service. You can buy service via card in $1 to $25 increments. We usually buy service $5 at a time. You can also subscribe to a monthly service. I currently subscribe to Movistar’s monthly service for $17 a month, which includes Internet.
Elections in your country of origin can still impact your life overseas. You probably want to vote in those elections. You should find out what you need to do to vote from overseas before you move. For Americans, I wrote about how to vote from overseas in this post.
11) Earning Money Overseas
You will need to do some planning if you want to work in Panama. I wrote suggesting some ideas about working and earning money in Panama.
If you want to keep your job, find out if getting a transfer or working remotely is an option. If it is possible, talk with your boss as soon as you can. Be ready to explain exactly how and why working from Panama would be mutually beneficial.
If you plan to get an online job, it is best to get the training, and the job before you move. There are various customer service, medical transcription, and other legitimate jobs you can do via your computer from Panama. Jordan talks about how to teach English online while living in Panama.
- If you don’t have a library card in your home country, get one. The public library is a wonderful source for digital books as well as movies.
- Give adequate notice to your employer. If you think you might want to work there again, even from Panama, make sure you mention that option to your employer.
- Cancel your magazine and newspaper subscriptions and other regular deliveries. Consider getting an online subscription or forwarding your favorite periodicals via a mail service
Transitioning from the typical lifestyle in a first world country to Panama is simple, but there are many details that need your attention.
Think about all the various aspects of your life. Does anything need to be resolved or attended to before you move overseas? Add those items to your to do list.
My biggest advice is to relax.
Don’t take your to-do list too seriously.
Although it is best if you think of everything and check it all off your to do list, the world won’t end if you don’t.
We were nowhere near as organized as we “should” have been when moving to Panama.
You can take care of alot of things once you are in Panama. Also, this is where a trusted friend or family can help. They can assist in doing all the things you forgot to do, or didn’t have time to accomplish.
Prioritize & Slow Down
Focus on accomplishing the things that must be done by you, and only you, before you move.
It is time to get into the pace of life you will be living in Panama.
As someone who goes back and forth from the States to Panama, I much prefer the slower lifestyle of Panama. It is much more relaxing and humanizing. You might as well start enjoying that lower stress lifestyle now.