Here are my suggestions, based on my own experience and on the comments made by other expatriates on the Americans in Panama and Panama Forum Yahoo discussion groups. If you live in Central America and you have any suggestions of your own, please add them by commenting to this post:
- Tools of any kind, whether hand tools or electrical tools. The ones here are imported from China and are poor quality.
- Quality kitchenware, including pots and pans, silverware, can openers, etc. Again, not the best quality here.
- English language books, CDs, DVDs. Even if they're books you've already read, you can trade them at the various book exchanges, like the one at the expat center in Panama City.
- Light clothing made of natural materials such as cotton or linen. I recently ordered a bamboo fiber shirt online and found it to be extremely light and soft. Also, you may not find your size here. Panamanians tend to be shorter and more slender than North Americans.
- A pair of waterproof boots or shoes for the rainy season.
- If you'll be in the highlands, a waterproof or water-resistant jacket might come in handy during rainy season. In Panama City, however, it would be too hot for this.
- Comfortable house shoes or house slippers. I have removed three giant spiders from our house, and I always wear slippers now. In addition, floors here are tiled, not carpeted, and so may not be as soft as you are used to.
- A computer. The computers sold here have Spanish-language operating systems, so if you prefer an English-language model you should bring it with you. Also, computers and electronics in general are more expensive here than in the USA. Other electronic items I have brought from the states include a digital camera, aSkype-enabled cordless phone and a PDA.
- If you have particular cosmetics or skin care products that you like, I suggest you bring a supply with you, since there's no guarantee that you will find the same brand here. I mean, the Farmacia Arrocha is full of imported skin care products, but you may not find that particular type that you're used to.
- High thread count sheets and pillowcases. Hard to find here, I've heard.
- The power goes out here occasionally. On her last trip to the U.S., Laura brought back a hand-cranked lantern and flashlight made by Freeplay. I love these. You just wind them up and you have light. No batteries needed. I take the flashlight with me when I go on my evening walks.
- Are you an ice cream fan? It's hard to get good ice cream here. They do sell Haagen Dazs pints at the Supermercado El Rey, but they are expensive and often have that icy texture characteristic of ice cream that has melted and re-frozen.
So Laura brought back a "Lello Gelato" ice cream making machine, pictured here, from her last trip. We have been enjoying fantastic home made ice cream. So far, Laura has made coffee, honey and chocolate flavors.
- When you're ready to build a house, you want to make sure that any wood used in the construction is thoroughly dried, otherwise it may warp later. This is a problem here in Panama, as wood kilns are extremely rare and air-drying is not effective in this humid climate. If you can afford it, I suggest buying a meter that will measure the moisture level in wood (costs about $350).
Things to Leave Behind or Take Extra Care With
If you maintain a home in the USA, or you can leave a few things with a relative, you should consider leaving the following items at home, or if you really must bring them, take extra care with them:
- Anything that would be adversely affected by constant humidity. For example, a baseball card collection, personal artwork, or family photographs. Of course you want to have some family photos with you, but is it necessary to bring them all?
- Anything fragile, such as glass-framed posters, glass collectibles, or ceramics. These kinds of things are easily damaged in shipping. If you must bring them, pack them very carefully.
- Heavy clothing, woollen clothing, jackets, sweaters, etc. Unless you are going to be in a highland town like El Valle, Cerro Azul, Boquete or Volcan, you will not need these things at all. Even in the highlands, a few windbreakers and sweatshirts generally suffices.