Options for sending and receiving mail in Panama
Government Postal Services
Sending and receiving mail in Panama can take a little work, but the routines aren’t difficult once you fall into them. Setting up a local post office box, called an apartado, is usually step one.
The Correos y Telegrafos, Panama’s national mail service, has numerous offices around the country in most cities, towns and larger villages. A map of post office locations is available at this link: http://www.correospanama.gob.pa/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73&Itemid=37
When a post office box is requested, simple forms must be completed, proof of identity is required, and a small fee is assessed. Applicants are generally placed on a waiting list, but unfortunately it could be months or even years before your name is reached! When box availability is a problem, a common practice is for family members, friends or neighbors to share one. This is technically against regulations but there is little enforcement.
Mail can be sent from and received at any Correos y Telegrafos location in Panama. The post office does not provide home delivery, and there are no street boxes for dropping off outgoing letters. Typical post office hours are 6:30 am to 5:45 pm from Monday to Friday and from 7 am to 5 pm on Saturday, but hours will vary by location.
Domestic mail delivery within Panama averages two to three days depending on the destination, and as of this writing costs about 35 cents for a standard letter. Airmail letters sent from Panama to the US and Europe are generally delivered within about ten days but can take much longer, up to four weeks. Incoming mail is more of an issue and can be delayed for up to several weeks, although generally it takes about ten days to receive mail from the US. Since mail can be lost, using the postal service to send items of value is never recommended.
Mail Forwarding Services
The Postal Service in Panama definitely has its limitations, but alternatives do exist to fill the gaps. Mail forwarding services are a simple and popular solution, especially with expats.
A mail forwarding service creates and manages a street address and postal box for you in another country. Incoming letters, packages and correspondence are scanned upon receipt, and you log into a personal database to review the items received. You then give instructions via your database about how each item should be handled – shredded, stored, recycled, shipped, or opened and scanned.
Users of these services report that up to 75% of the mail they receive can be shredded once they simply review the envelopes. When it’s not apparent what’s inside an envelope, the open and scan option provides an online view of its contents without additional mailing expense. Once you review the contents, you can then direct your service to shred, store, or ship the mail to you.
Only a small percentage of the mail reviewed ever requires additional forwarding. Another (great!) benefit – you can store all of your scanned mail either virtually or on your own computer, creating a permanent online record for your files.
Most mail forwarding companies charge a monthly or annual account fee along with various service fees. Forwarded mail usually incurs shipping costs plus a handling fee. Some companies offer a “First month free!” for expats. Most users are highly satisfied with these services – shop around to see which company will best meet your needs.
Here are links to a few of the companies offering mail forwarding and shipping services in Panama:
Earth Class Mail
Highly recommended for both personal and business correspondence, including parcels. Forwarding is handled through Fedex (at a discounted rate) or the USPS. An “essential” account handling fewer than 100 pieces of mail a month costs USD $19.95 as of this writing. The company offers both a user-friendly website and easy-to-access, knowledgeable customer service by phone. https://www.earthclassmail.com/, also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/earthclassmail
Similar to Earth Class Mail, this company offers both scanning and forwarding. As of this writing a basic account costs USD $14.95 a month and includes the handling of up to 40 pieces of mail and 10 content scans. Uses the USPS or Fedex for forwarding with a “per piece” service charge added. http://www.mailboxforwarding.com/index.php
Primarily used for incoming and outgoing parcels. No scanning; all correspondence is forwarded. Shipments are received at one of their eight offices in Panama for customer pickup, although some home delivery is offered. Geared more toward fulfillment for online shoppers. I found their website to be confusing and difficult to negotiate. http://www.airbox.com.pa/ptye/default.htm
With what may be the largest network of service points in Panama, DHL provides shipping, mailbox and courier services. Locations and details on available services can be found here: http://www.dhl.com.pa/en/express/shipping/find_dhl_locations.html
Mail Box Etc / UPS
Mail Box Etc / UPS international stores have been divested and are now privately owned, so services vary by location. A list of the approximately two-dozen Mail Box Etc. stores in Panama is available at http://www.mbecentralamerica.com/panama/
Fedex has eight locations in Panama, two in Colon and eight around Panama City. http://www.fedex.com/locate/index.html?locale=es_MX
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