Neil and I came to Panama in May 2011 with 15 suitcases and rubbermaid bins. What do we take? How do we consolidate 2 households of "stuff" into 15 pieces of luggage? Calculating what to bring was turning out to be a tough decision for us.
We had purchased a house in Coronado Panama in January. Like most houses and condos that are sold in this area, the furniture and appliances were included as were some dishes, sheets, towels and a few pots and pans. We didn't have an inventory of what came with the house so we were unsure as to what we needed.
Neil and I had come down late 2010 to do look at houses; we did spend one day at Albrook mall so I could learn about what was and was not available here in Panama. We could buy everything we needed here but not necessarily everything we wanted. For the house I ended up packing and bringing to Panama:
Stainless Steel Cutlery - it was heavy but didn't take much room.
Sheets and Towels - I like big fluffy towels and good cotton sheets. I personally preferred the quality sheets available in Canada over what was available in the stores in Panama.
Pots - again, I like a good heavy set to cook with as well as nice non stick. They are available here but I was not able to find really good quality ones.
Knives - I like the Henkels professional knives and I didn't find any here until after a couple of years. I purchased some when I saw them and am now unable to find them again.
We did bring our collection of DVD movies and two DVD's. Luckily Neil realized on that shopping day that Panama was in a different zone and the DVD's available here would not fit in our players. We have a collection of movies so we figured the best thing was to bring the DVD players as well.
Neil brought a lot of his tools down so he could work on cars here. They have come in handy for our Panama Roadrunner business on many occasions! He is also a locksmith and while he's found some supplies here, the key cutter was a wise choice to bring.
We both brought jeans (not needed) a few sweaters (never worn) a jacket each (for trips back to Canada) and long sleeved shirts that sit in drawers. In hindsight, I'd have brought far less clothing. I live in tanks, flip flops and skorts. I've not had a need for any other day to day clothing. I would have brought more bathing suits!
I am a quilter and had to bring down my Bernina sewing machine. I used my quilting fabric as padding for anything breakable that I brought down. There is no quilting fabric in Panama! I brought enough bits of fabric to keep me busy for a while. Every time I go back to Canada or take a trip to the US a quilt store is on my "to do" list and I now have quite a stash of fabric again.
What did I leave behind? We made the decision not to bring any of my antiques down. There are termites here and high humidity - not a great combination for 100 year old pieces of furniture. I had to give my book collection away but I've had the joy of starting a new collection here and Neil had teak bookshelves custom built for me for my last birthday. We made the choice not to bring down a container. We felt that there was not anything that justified the expense of a container and we had heard horror stories of other Canadians and Americans who had things taken or had the entire container go missing.
Cars. We have a friend who brought a car in to Panama and he paid exhorbitant fees and taxes to bring it in. Everyone we have spoken to has a story but in general, expats here say it is better to purchase a car here than deal with the hassles of customs. Cars here can be pricier than in the US and Canada, but it still makes more sense than trying to bring one down in a sea container.
Overall, I think we could have come with less than the 15 pieces of luggage we brought down. Our adventure thus far has been a fantastic, fun learning curve. We still, after 3 1/2 years are grateful to live in Panama and wake up to blue skies almost every morning.
We are happy to answer any questions you may have about moving to Panama.