• Shipping Your Belongings Versus Buying New In Panama

    The question comes up often, “Should I pay to have everything shipped to Panama? Or should I just ditch it all and start over fresh?”

    In this article, I’ll try to help you answer that question as it was honestly one that drove us nuts when we started planning for our move to Panama. Marlene wanted to take everything with us. We had tons of baby stuff (the boys were just starting to crawl), furniture we loved, and other things we weren’t sure we were ready to part with. I considered just having a few things shipped, like my DVD collection. So we explored all options and several different angles. We considered shipping just a few boxes, we considered renting space in a container, and we checked into the costs of loading a full container. In the end, we decided to ship it all and it was a decision that twisted my stomach into knots throughout the move. Should we have really spent the $7,000 (or around that) to ship a full 30-foot container?

    Trust me, when you have to fork over $7,000, it seems like a bad decision. That’s a lot of cash to hand someone, just to move stuff that already belongs to you. Then, I have to admit, once I was in Panama, and I was waiting for our container to arrive, I was satisfied that we’d made the right decision. I couldn’t wait to relax in my comfy king-size bed, or chill out on the sofa in front of my surround-sound system. These were the little treats I was used to, like comfort food, and living without them made me stir crazy. Now, nearly 5 years later, I’m back to thinking it might’ve made more sense to just scrap it all and start over from scratch. Over the course of this half-decade, we’ve gotten rid of most of what we brought with us. Some of it we gave to family and friends, some we donated, and some of it just broke down so we junked it.  So, with all this in mind, I set out to investigate some of the stores in Panama City, to find out if I’d made a good investment.  Should I have saved my money and bought here in Panama?

    Teaser alert! You’re going to see lots of photos coming up with prices on items, to give you an idea of what it would cost to buy everything here. So if that bores you, and you have no interest in seeing the current prices of furniture and appliances in Panama, skip to the bottom where I get back to the subject of shipping your belongings or buying new.

    First, let’s discuss furniture. Furniture is not low cost in Panama. It just isn’t. Overall, furniture is quite expensive here, and most of the time the quality isn’t going to be what you’re used to buying. Don’t get me wrong, you can find some affordable bachelor pad style shelving in places like the Costo furniture store in Metromall, but to buy anything of decent quality, you’re going to spend a little bit.

    Now, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Can’t you just buy handmade furniture from a local artisan?” Sure, you can, sometimes, if you can find what you’re looking for, but even that isn’t going to be super cheap. For this article, I’m going to stick with the stores.

    I’ve been to many stores that sell furniture, like Conway, which is probably one of the best furniture stores here, but for research purposes for this article, just to give you some photos and ideas of what you’ll be dealing with, I visited the Furniture City in Costa del Este and Econo Precios at Los Pueblos.

    Furniture City has some decent furniture, brands you’ll be familiar with, like Ashley. It’s definitely not bargain shopping though, at least not what I’d consider super affordable. I saw the table in this photo (which was one of the least expensive), with six chairs, going for $999.

    $999 at Furniture City

    This sofa and love seat set was priced at $1,149.

    $1,149 at Furniture City

    This queen-size bedroom set (headboard, footboard, rails, and 2 nightstands) was priced at $1,199.

    $1,199 at Furniture City

    And lastly, this bookshelf was priced at  $849.

    $849 at Furniture City

    At Los Pueblos, the outdoor shopping center I mention often, EP Furniture (Econoprecios Furniture) is one of the best bargain furniture stores you’ll find. There is a store on Via España in Obarrio, for anyone in that area. Ericka Phillips, who assisted me at EP, is someone you should seek out if you happen to stop by the store. She spoke English and was very nice.

    Econoprecios Furniture at Los Pueblos

    Econoprecios has three floors and you’ll find all sorts of goodies in there. Where Furniture City had better quality furniture, EP had more variety and some unique items. Plus, the prices didn’t scare me so much. I found furniture like this shelving unit for only $179.95.

    $179.95 at Econoprecios Furniture

    I noticed they had some pricier stuff, on par with the costs at Furniture City, but they also had a lot of lower priced items that would be better for those shopping on a tighter budget. Here’s an example of one of the more costly items. This bedroom set, which consists of the headboard and two nightstands costs $1,299.

    $1,299 at Econoprecios Furniture

    This dresser with the mirror costs $695.

    $695 at Econoprecios Furniture

    Back to the tighter budget items, this full-size bed (the one on the left, which is just the headboard and rails) was priced at $295.

    $295 at Econoprecios Furniture

    If you’re moving to Panama with an infant, you’ll be happy to know this crib was only $175.

    $175 at Econoprecios Furniture

    The prices on tables and sofas were similar to those at Furniture City. Maybe a little less. This fancy table with six chairs was on the costly end at $1,895.

    $1,895 at Econoprecios Furniture

    I like this one, with six chairs, for $1,195.

    $1,195 at Econoprecios Furniture

    This cool little dinette set was only $250.

    $250 at Econoprecios Furniture

    If you decided to leave your sofa and pick up a new one in Panama, you could get this sofa set with the end tables and coffee table for $1,395.

    $1,395 at Econoprecios Furniture

    Sometimes you’ll find good deals at the member shopping store, PriceSmart. I found this really cool bunk bed set, with a 3rd bed hidden underneath, for only $479.99.

    $479.99 at PriceSmart

    Moving on to appliances, one thing you need to know about Panama, is that most homes will not come with them. When we bought our house in Ohio, it came with the kitchen completely ready and a brand new washer and dryer on the second floor. For the most part, it’s not like that here. Sure, you’ll find some fully furnished homes for rent/sale, and in some of the newer developments you’ll probably find some units with a fridge, stove, etc., but if you move into any home that’s not brand spanking new, chances are, you’re going to have to bring in your own appliances.

    When we moved to Panama, and I had our container packed up, I didn’t bring the appliances. I just figured it would be easier to sell the house without gaping holes in the kitchen. So, when we rented our first house here, we had not a single appliance. I had to go out and buy a washer, a dryer, a refrigerator, a stove, and a microwave. Dishwashers aren’t common here, so that’s something else you’ll need to get used to or have someone set up the connections for you.

    So, considering you’ll probably need to buy appliances, let’s talk about the costs associated with that. Most people use gas stoves and dryers here. You can find electric, but your options will be much more limited and your electric bill will be quite a bit higher, so I definitely recommend you go with gas. Plus, when the power goes out, which it sometimes does here, you’ll be glad you went with gas.

    Rodelag at Los Pueblos

    To start my appliance prices search, I stopped by Rodelag at Los Pueblos. Rodelag isn’t the cheapest place in Panama, but it’s probably a good place to get a fair estimate. Security was on to me quickly, so I was only able to snap a few photos there. Here’s what I found. This Mabe brand, six-burner gas stove was going for $384.99.

    $384.99 at Rodelag

    If you’re wondering how much an air conditioner will run you in Panama, remember that most homes won’t have central air. So, if you’re looking to pick up a split unit, which will only cool one room in your house, here’s a photo showing you the costs of the Panasonic units at Rodelag.

    You’ll probably need a split unit AC, like these on display

    You’ll notice the prices rise with the sizes, and the larger the room you’re trying to cool, the larger the unit you’ll need. Here are some Sankey ones on sale.

    Sankey unites on sale

    One place I definitely recommend checking out is called Centro de Agencias. You’ve probably never heard of it and it can be easy to miss. It’s located on Ave. Domingo Diaz (Via Tocumen), near the entrance to San Antonio (on the right hand side just past Los Pueblos if you’re coming from Panama City and headed toward Tocumen).

    For anyone who has lived in Panama for awhile, but doesn’t know where it is, it’s right where all of the smoothie (batido) shacks used to be. They’re not there anymore, but right in front of this store was the long line of fruit and veggie shacks. Right now there’s a lot of construction going on in front of the store.

    Centro de Agencias near the entrance to San Antonio (opposite side of the street)

    This is the best place I know of (other than buying from someone selling their stuff in a Facebook group or other online garage sale) to pick up lower cost appliances. Centro de Agencias sells new and refurbished appliances. Oftentimes, you’ll notice the cost of an appliance is lower just because it has a scratch or dent it it, like the dent you see at the top corner and lower side of this $235 deep freeze.

    A refurbished freezer for $235 at Centro de Agencias

    What’s great is that the refurbished appliances are marked on the price sticker and inside the appliance you’ll find a form listing exactly what parts were replaced. An assistant at the store showed me that the thermostat on one freezer had been replaced.

    This four-burner, Mabe brand, gas stove was priced at only $189. It’s a smaller stove though, great for a small apartment.

    $189 at Centro de Agencias

    This six-burner, Nisato brand, gas stove was $175. I don’t know anything about Nisato, but you could buy four of these things for the price of one, six-burner, stove at PriceSmart. Seriously, I saw one (I think it was Whirlpool brand) for $799.

    $175 at Centro de Agencias

    This tiny stove was only $79. Stoves like this are perfect for some of the really small apartments in and around Panama City. Probably not the best stove for making your Thanksgiving Day turkey, but good enough for the daily grind. 

    $79 at Centro de Agencias

    If you need something a little more modern and sleek, this one’s going for $480.

    $480 at Centro de Agencias

    These brand new, Frigidaire brand, 30lb. washer and dryers were priced at $499.95 each.

    $499.95 at Centro de Agencias

    So you have something to compare this with, at PriceSmart, a similar new washer, Whirlpool brand, was going for $429, so it seems that the real deals at Centro de Agencias are on the refurbished appliances. The combo unit you see below costs $879 at Centro de Agencias.

    $879 at Centro de Agencias

    The Whirlpool combo unit you see below was at PriceSmart, priced at $1099.99, so about a $200 difference between it and the one from Centro de Agencias. I don’t know all the specs on the Whirlpool unit. Maybe it was larger or had more bells and whistles.

    $1,099.99 at PriceSmart

    This regular, Mabe brand, refrigerator was $349 at Centro de Agencias. Similar ones at PriceSmart, Frigidaire brand, were going for a little over $500. I’d never heard of Mabe brand until I moved to Panama, but I’ve had a Mabe gas stove for over four years now and it still works great.

    $349 at Centro de Agencias

    This bigger one with an ice maker was priced at $899.95.

    $899.95 at Centro de Agencias

    And they even had mini-supermarket style refrigerators, great for businesses, repaired (or refurbished), going for $660.

    $660 at Centro de Agencias

    I bought a deep freeze from this place when I first moved to Panama and it worked great. The only drawback was the store’s lack of deliverymen. Instead of having an actual delivery service, you either have to haul the appliance off yourself, or sometimes there will conveniently be a guy right outside who will take cash payments to load your appliance in the back of his pickup and take it to your house. That’s what we did.

    What’s the verdict? Is it better to ship your belongings or buy everything new in Panama? 

    Looking at the prices I’ve listed, I honestly don’t know what’s the best decision. I think it depends on the person. It depends on you and what your personal needs are. You could buy the sofa and love seat set at Furniture City for just over $1,000, then go get the full-size headboard and rail set at EP for just under $300, find a cheap mattress, then head over to PriceSmart and get the $500 bunk bed set for the kids. You’re probably just over $2,000 with the mattresses. You get the point. You’d have to shop very wisely though, to replace everything in your home, for under the $7,000(ish) shipping costs.

    Plus, one other thing you have to keep in mind, if you’re planning to buy a bunch of expensive items in Panama, is the international transaction fee your credit/debit card might carry with it. There are banks out there with no, or very low international fees. When I moved here, I was paying 5% for every transaction. That adds up. So make sure you know what you’ll be charged before you start racking up the fees. 

    I think the real question is, do you have things in your home now that you absolutely cannot live without in Panama? If you bought an amazing credenza at an auction, chances are, that won’t be replaceable here.  If you’re someone who furnished your home with Ikea stuff (like we did in our tiny apartment in Chicago), you could probably just ditch it and buy everything again when you get here.

    It’s the stuff that hits close to the heart you won’t be able to replace, like heirlooms passed down through the generations, boxes of family photos, and old high school trophies. So maybe the decision can be a happy medium. Maybe you ship some of your stuff, packed in with other shipments (share a container), and sell or donate the rest.

    Some people have nothing they care to keep. The kids are grown and out of the house, or they’ve just lost most of the important stuff over the years…whatever the reason, they have no desire to bring a bunch of clutter. Getting on a plane with nothing but your suitcase can be an invigorating experience. With no weight on your shoulders, nothing tying you down, you can truly start anew. Some people desire exactly this.

    Whatever you do, make sure you shop around, get several estimates from moving companies, and research your insurance options before moving anything. The moving company I went with tried to convince me to go with the 40-foot container, and I was convinced everything would fit in the 30-foot. I can’t remember what the difference was in cost, but I know it was pretty substantial. In the end, I stuck with my gut and went with the 30-foot and it all fit, saving me a couple grand at least.

    I hope that seeing and reading about the costs associated with buying everything new, and comparing it with what the shipping companies give you as an estimate, will help you make an informed decision about which route is best for you. Good luck. And thanks for reading.

    P.S. Don’t forget to enter your email address into the field below the red suitcase (in the top right corner of the page) to start receiving our bi-weekly newsletter. 

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43 Responsesso far.

  1. Lissy Chi-Real says:

    Thanks for the info very helpful to make a decision. We have been back to Panamá for 18 months, but now we are shipping few personal items. I will add if you like american furniture, there is a thrift store in Santiago de Veraguas called el Pulguero, they are bringing us made furniture, it is not cheap, but good quality.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Lissy!

      Thank you so much for the info. Next time I’m in Santiago, I’ll check out that store. Thanks again!

  2. John Jones says:

    Sorry to comment on an old post, but we’re about to make the move. Our problem is that we cannot get a clear answer about the process once it gets to Panama. All of our quotes so far talk about getting it to Panama, but nothing about the fees to get it into our truck. Any insight? Thanks, -John

  3. Angela says:

    Hello
    there is anything like Ikea in panama? thanks

    • Chris says:

      Hi Angela,

      No, unfortunately there’s nothing like IKEA in Panama and because of the humidity here, I don’t think Ikea furniture would do so well in Panama. Thanks so much for checking out the site and for commenting.

      Chris

  4. Christine says:

    will u send me a telephone book from Panama? I will pay you. Please

    • Chris says:

      I would send you one. That’s not a problem, but I imagine it would be very expensive. I paid about $55 to send a couple of documents to Texas, through Fedex. I can’t imagine how much a phone book would cost. Your best bet is to find someone traveling from Panama to the U.S. (or wherever you’re located) and ask them to bring one along. Even mailing it from somewhere in the U.S. to your location would be a heck of a lot cheaper than sending one from here.

      Chris

  5. Evelyn Bagnasco says:

    looking forward to read more ! Thank you.

  6. mel says:

    I really liked what I have read so far and am bookmarking your site. I am spending several months in Volcan, down the road a piece from Cerro Punta and glad to see a thumbs up from you. A great part of Panama.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Mel,

      Thanks for checking out the site and for commenting. Yes, I love this area. It’s far removed from a lot of other stuff, but if you like a tranquil lifestyle, only a short drive to the city (David, the 2nd largest city in Panama) than Volcan is a great place. Thanks again for checking out our reports and videos 🙂

      Chris

  7. Darrel G. Mohney says:

    I lived 6 years in Belize, and I will never return, I have a small ranch in Honduras, but Honduras is 100% danger now, Panama sounds great compared to what I have been in.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Darrel,

      Sounds like you’ve been all over the place. You should definitely check out Panama. Thanks for checking out the site and for commenting.

      Chris

  8. Jennifer Moe says:

    I’m assuming that most of the larger furniture/appliance stores mentioned in your blog are located in PC, though I have visited a Pricesmart in David. What about David for similar type stores needed for refurbishing a home.

    Enjoying your REAL blog! Thanks!

    • Chris says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for reading and for commenting. Yes, the ones I wrote about are located in Panama City, but I was in David last week and noticed an EP Econoprecios. I think it was on a side street, the one you turn onto from the highway to enter the Super Baru supermarket. I think that was the street. There’s definitely one in David, but I’m not that familiar with the David streets yet. That’s the only one I know is definitely in David. Hope that helps.

      Chris

  9. florin says:

    Nice postings

  10. Carl & Gail says:

    Very good article! I was raised in Panama and married a Panamanian, I am already retired and waiting for him to do so. I would love to retire in panama but but because of the murders of gringos/gringas down there hubby said no. I am 100% gringa . I know my way around panama and miss it dearly. Your article was very very informative, but I think at this point in our lives when we have worked hard and everything is paid for, I would rather ship. We too are in Chicago but I remember the warm nights on the causeway. Sometimes I go home in my dreams.
    Bribes are and have ALWAYS been a way of life in Panama. While I LOVE the country, I loath the government ! Especially the Guardia !!!!!! I have a feeling we will be staying in the good ole USA!!!
    You did a really good job on writing this so,
    Thank you for writing this!

    • Chris says:

      Hi Gail,

      Thanks for commenting and for your kind words. I hope you make it back down to Panama soon. It’s not THAT bad. Chicago might even be more dangerous 🙂

      • Jennifer Moe says:

        I’m just guessing, but don’t violent crimes decrease the further you are from the big city, Panama City. There will always be crimes of opportunity, but violent crime rates must be taken seriously.

        • Chris says:

          Yes, the violent crimes do decrease, but they still exist, especially in some places like in Colon. Even in the city, you learn which areas to stay away from, and you don’t walk through dark alleys while playing Candy Crush on your iPhone. Stuff happens anywhere you go, but yes, it does definitely decrease as you get out of the city. There are still some areas outside of the city (like areas of Colon) that you’d want to stay away from. Thanks again for reading and for commenting, Jennifer. 🙂

  11. Alyce Rodriguez says:

    Also, something to consider when shipping to Panama is going through customs. We were warned ahead of time that if the customs agent started saying that certain arbitrary items are not allowed to be brought in to the country (in our case, my husband’s tools that he uses for work), then that meant that the customs agent was looking for a coima (bribe). If you don’t pay it, you have to leave your stuff there and they will just take it and sell it. I’m not sure if this happened to us because my husband is Panamanian and they figured they could swindle a paisano or what. Funny thing is, the corrupt agent had the audacity to ask my husband for a ride on the way out. Que vaina!

    • Chris says:

      That is horrible! The nerve of that guy. I’ve never had this happen to me. I have had someone question a bunch of the clothes in our suitcase. We brought some clothes as gifts to people here and they questioned us because of the tags on the clothes, trying to make sure we weren’t going to sell the clothes. A friend of mine had the same thing happen when he brought back a bunch of lotions from Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. They thought he was going to sell them.

  12. sarge says:

    Furniture – I’m Not a furniture hound or connoisseur But the wife is another story. I’d try to find furnished or try my luck with the used circuit. Maybe, an ExPat who’s giving up on the dream. Appliances, stay away from digital controls and circuit boards if you can, the simpler the better. Electrolux/Frigidaire, parts are hard to get now in the states (Panama may be different) The repairman said in the states Whirlpool parts are easy to obtain but again, maybe different in Panama. We’ve been sleeping on a water bed for the last 40 years so that would soften the blow for bedding. If we lived in the country side or even David, I’d find a car to be a necessity. Great write up

    • Chris says:

      Wow, a waterbed for 40 years? I have a really messed up back, so that would kill me. But I do love waterbeds.

      • Rob says:

        I have a really messed up neck and the only kind of bed I can sleep on IS a waterbed! (Since 1978!)

        This posting has been a real decision maker for me. I have lot of stuff and the hardest part of my decision to try a move to Panama has been whether to part with my stuff or take it with me. I will take it with me.

        Just discovered your blog yesterday, and can’t leave it alone! I feel you are a straight-shooter and just want to let other prospective expats in on what life is really like in Panama. (Not like certain other sites that are more interested in hyping the destination and selling you everything they can…books, reports, conferences, etc… before you ever make a decision to make the move!)

        Thanks

  13. April Lewis says:

    Thanks so much for the great article! Just bought a hotel and am in the market for a few things. Your article really helped me to know where to go to shop. I am very excited for the next time I arrive in Panama City.

  14. Chris D. says:

    Thanks so much Chris. Your article is very timely. We’re going to rent furnished at first, but what to do with the things we really love that bring back so many memories? Kids are gone. I’m in the process of trying to figure out what to do with my clothes i.e. winter clothes and formal wear. We cruise a lot. I need to figure out where to store that so it doesn’t get mildew on it. Anyway, thanks for your article, and all the previous ones.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Chris. Bring some of your winter clothes with you. Well…just a jacket or two at least. In some of these towns, the nights can be pretty crisp. A friend of mine from Finland climbed to the top of Volcan Baru with a buddy and they were going to camp overnight. They wore shorts and T-shirts thinking, “We’re from Finland, how cold can it possibly be?” They froze their butts off. Having lived in Alaska and Chicago (which I think is colder than Alaska), it takes a lot for me to be cold, but Marlene was shivering in El Valle when we were there at night.

  15. Mia H says:

    A great article, and thank you so much for your earlier advice on furniture too. We’re looking for the cheap-end stuff for our 1st rental here. Surprisingly, we found that our local supermarket El Fuerte has some decently priced furniture too. Of course it’s not of a high quality.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Mia! I’m glad to hear you found something out there in your area. Getting to the places I mentioned in the article wouldn’t take you too long (as long as you don’t try it during rush hour traffic), but it’s good you found something close.

  16. Amy Tuso says:

    Great article and your thoughts on shipping vs re-purchasing to re-place is in alignment with what was covered at the Live & invest conference I attended last week in Panama City.

    We have some expensive furnishings in our home in the states and have decided when we move, we will ship as we would not be able to replace with the same quality as they are.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Amy! Yes, the quality you find here is definitely an issue. What I saw at Furniture City and EP was kind of like what I remember seeing at City Furniture and Rooms 2 Go back in South Florida. Some of it looks decent, but definitely not all.

  17. Simone Maduro says:

    Great Article Chris.. I agree it is a huge decision. I just moved to Panama about a year ago and I am glad to have my things.. Mostly a comfort thing.. Such a huge change it is nice to have somethings that are familiar to me. In appliances I found it was important to check up on the repair services of that particular brand. I found that with LG the repair service is pretty great. It was a huge selling point for me when I bought appliances.. Do you know what the repair service is like for the brands you posted above? Thank you so much.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks, Simone. So appliances are kind of like cars here? I know you have to be careful when buying a car, to make sure that you’ll be able to get the parts later if you need them and that you’ll be able to find someone to fix your ride if it breaks down. Same with electronics now that I think about it. I brought a big plasma Vizio brand TV with me and couldn’t find anyone to fix it. The first two technicians wouldn’t do anything with it, the 3rd said I needed a new piece that was going to cost over $300. I think I only paid $600 for the TV. I ended up giving the TV to my wife’s uncle and buying a new one. It was just too much of a pain in the ass. I didn’t really think about it when checking out appliances though. Mabe is one of the most popular brands in Panama, so I’m sure that one is ok. The other two brands I noticed at Centro de Agencias were Nisato and Frigidaire. I’m not sure how easy either of those would be to get repaired. Great input, Simone, and thanks again for reading.

  18. Annette Rush says:

    Thanks so much for your articles, you spend a lot of time & effort to put them out there for people like me. I want you to know that it is much appreciated. Thanks again, Annette

  19. Gordon says:

    Great work! Thanks very much for sharing!

  20. RachelB. says:

    Very nice article. Great job!

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