With more baby boomers heading to this bustling little Central American country for a new life or even just for a few months out of the cold weather up north, questions arise as to how these expats accomplish simple tasks like getting mail and packages delivered to them from the US. While Panama has far more choices and shopping conveniences than most countries in the region, there are products that are simply not imported due to cost or limited demand. That leaves importation from the US as the only alternative for getting these products.
Most expats are used to shopping online and look for books and products on amazon.com™ and other retailers. However, now that their address is no longer in the US, a problem arose. Getting their mail and packages to Panama in a timely and secure manner was the hurdle until a private P.O. Box/Courier was brought to the region and started 15 years ago. These services do what postal services cannot.
With the private shipping service, expats shop online and have their packages shipped to a private address in South Florida, usually Miami, and then brought down by air or sea depending on urgency and cost factors. Jorge Zelaya, General Manager of Airbox Express Aerocasillas, explained the concept as, “Once a package has arrived at our facilities in Doral, Florida and placed into our care, clients can track their shipments online just like they are used to doing in North America.”
This higher level of care comes at a price for expats though; compared to shipping by regular mail, the costs are higher. Zelaya, commenting on the higher fees, said, “There is a level of uncertainty and low comfort levels when using local postal systems in Central America. While the costs might be higher with a private shipping service, the ability to track packages and their timely delivery in a safe manner often outweighs the higher costs.” Zelaya continued, “Using a shipping service like Airbox Express Aerocasillas means expats can focus on enjoying life in Panama with less stress not having to wonder where their mail and packages are.”
Once packages arrive in Panama, they are inspected by customs and then released for delivery. For some clients living in far western areas of Panama such as Boquete and David, the company has satellite offices to send and receive packages and mail. In Panama City, the company offers home delivery if the client wishes.
The customs process has its own headaches for firms like Airbox Express. “There are specific laws about what you can and cannot bring into Panama,” said Zelaya. “Certain items like seeds and pet foods require permits for each shipment while live plants are not allowed at all.” Zelaya gets concerned when customers ship things like medicines as these require permits and can take extra time to process through customs. “With increasing numbers of older expats we recognized that some extra handholding and reassurance was needed. Because of this, we now have an English speaking expat account executive monitoring these shipments. She calls our clients to let them know the status and prevent problems,” said Zelaya.
The expansion of the Panama Canal is adding even more fuel to the fever pitch among people looking at Panama for a retirement home or to simply enjoy life. Private mail and package services are among the top priorities for most expats moving to Latin America.
Airbox Express Aerocasillas (airbox.com.pa) is the oldest and largest P.O. Box/Courier firm in Panama. Based in the El Cangrejo district of Panama City, the company has additional locations in Albrook, Boquete, Coronado, and David.