What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Name three things that you wish you had brought and three you wish you had left at home.
Full size vacuum cleaner. I brought all of my slacks. In Panama we are going through a phase of slacks and jeans with 3" zippers. If your are not wearing a thong, you better have a very long shirt. I don't have any idea when this style will change. There are no Talbot's type shops here. Shoes are reasonably priced.
We wish we had brought power tools. They are more expensive here than at Home Depot. If you have a computer, bring a modem. Bring your car. Roads vary from super highways to dirt roads. New cars are expensive in Panama.
Moving to Panama
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What advice would you give someone preparing to move to your area about the actual move, choosing a neighborhood and finding a home?
Come and visit several areas before making the move. We have snakes, though I haven't seen one yet. We do not have mosquitos. If you select an International Mover, avoid Move Management. They are very efficient on the US side, but they use PIR on the Panama side. PIR can't create a ACH to withdraw funds from your checking account, nor can they swipe a debit or credit card. As Manny Rojas in Miami,says, you can always pay in cash. (his relatives in Panama City run PIR) If you do not have two thousand in cash it may take you nine days to get the cash from an ATM, meanwhile, port charges, at $50 per day, keep mounting. I was withdrawing from 2 different banks in the US banks on a daily basis. BTW, every ATM here spits out $20.00 bills.
You may have to fight with your US bank to make them understand that there is no Foreign Exchange issue in Panama. Mastercard charged as much as $12 foreign transaction. They have since reduced those fees to $5 or $6. Visa charges $4.
If you don't have a place for your goods to be delivered, PIR charges $500 per month or any portion thereof, even one extra day will cost you $500.00. One more thing, if you send them a wire transfer, their bank charges PIR $90, which they will gleefully pass on to you. Bring buckets of cash or avoid Move Management. Your local US contact will drop you like a hot potato as soon as your goods are on the water.
There is a storage place on the way to Boquete called Chiriqui Storage run by Hellmut and Linda Pederson. One good sized locker is $100/mo. A 20 ft. container would take two lockers.
What type of housing do you live in? Is this typical for most expats in your area?
We are renting a home. It is typical housing; concrete outside. This home has a lot of wood including ceilings. We just paid for an exterminator to gas the house. It is large. It has 4 bedrooms, one barely larger than a closet. The kitchens in older homes have no drawers. Think table service settings. Small countertop, limited storage in overhead cabinets. My eating area has steel shelving that I brought from the US. It provides storage for the mixer, baking equipment extra dishes and bowls. It's has a very Restoration Hardware look about it. I think that new construction has limited storage space as well. If you have books or dvds, buy shelving. Linen closets often don't exist. I store my linens and fabric in antique suitcases.
Even if you buy kitchenware in Panama, you have to store it somewhere.
How did you choose your neighborhood and find your home or apartment?
We lived in Panama City for a short time while we were waiting for our goods to arrive. The heat is almost unbearable. We had visited Boquete on previous visits and decided that its mild weather is a good choice. Never too hot or too cold. We purchase a dehumidifier for the rainy season, but you don't need an air conditioner or space heater. A lighted ceiling fan is all you need.
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Are your housing costs higher or lower than they were in your home country? What is the average cost of housing there?
Monthly rental is $905.00 per month cheaper. Housing here is between $600 $700 for two bedrooms.
There are real estate people here who will find a house or apartment for you. Be prepared, every local has his hand out. Everyone from the cab drivers to our exterminator will offer to find a house for you. They have contacts and get commissions.
But make no mistake, the Panamanians are all good-hearted and mean well. Sometimes strike gold.