When we made the decision to move to Boquete we had to sell our home of 20 plus years. The sale happened fast, the first day it was on the market while we were in Panama City. The final buyer issues lingered until we had only four days to move out. We moved from 3800 square feet into a transitional house of 1000 square feet; most of our life is in storage or given prematurely to our children. We arrived in Panama City with four suitcases and two carry on bags.
Many people will likely arrive in Panama the same way, hopefully with more time to plan. What you pack into those bags is an important decision. Even if you ship a container of your worldly goods it will take some time before they arrive. If you make a few trips prior to moving I suggest four suitcases and a carry ons full coming into Panama and empty leaving for each trip, start a cache.
You can find almost anything you want in Panama City if you know where to look; initially you won’t. Although the necessities of life for a local are reasonably priced most imported goods are more expensive than in the US and importing them later can be expensive (not everything is less expensive here). So plan your initial packing carefully and if you have time survey Panama City on several trips before the big move.
My suggestion, bring a good fully configured wifi equipped laptop computer, you will need it. A good quality headset with microphone that is Skype approved, wardrobe, good walking shoes, a few good pillows if you like down, a down comforter, a couple of sets of good sheets, minimal jewelry, a digital camera, cables for all your data needs, no more than $10,000 in cash (you need to declare more), a letter of good standing from your bank (more on banks later), credit cards (You can leave Discover Cards at home), debit cards, lightweight rain gear, snorkeling or scuba gear if you do either.
When you arrive in Panama City have a hotel booked for two nights, minimum. You want enough time to shop for transportation if you plan to buy a vehicle; you can visit every new auto reseller in the city in one day; I did. You also want to survey the malls and shops so that you know what you can buy; be sure to take a full day for Albrook Mall.
The area of Panama city we have explored and stayed in is called El Cangrejo. It is an older area with a lot of reinvestment, good restaurants and lots of hotels. We have stayed in the Milan, $25 a night an excellent value and Las Vegas about $60 a night for much larger suites and lots of street and restaurant noise. A little off the path and also not bad is Crystal Suites.
If you are going to buy a car buy it in Panama City, new or used you will find more selection. Used you will find vehicles that have not been ravaged on what we affectionately call roads here in Chiriqui. More when we do transportation.
If you drive from Panama City to Boquete be sure to leave early in the day, you do NOT want to end the ride in darkness. If you fly remember both Aeroperlas and Air Panama will fly to David for about $75 but not from Tucomen, you need to depart from the National Airport near Albrook. I mention this because we didn’t know and had a cab taking us to Tucomen.
I urge you not to drive more than necessary in Panama City. Take cabs, they are cheap, most ride should cost $1.25 – $1.50 for two people; some fares like downtown to Albrook are more $3. The cabs waiting at airports are allowed to charge higher fares, if you are loaded with luggage pay the fare, if not flag down a regular cab. You will pay $25 from Tocumen to most hotels.
And the most important advice I can give you, try to learn some Spanish, at least basic tourist level before you come. Our experience is you can get by in Panama City and in Boquete with almost no Spanish but between the two it is more of a challenge. Spanish is the language of Panama, the fact that many people are bilingual does not discount from the fact we are the guests in a Spanish speaking country. I have seen more than a few “Ugly Americans” shouting in English at Panamaneos who have no clue what they are saying; that is bad for all of us.