Mail and Packages in Panamá

by | Feb 18, 2022 | Panama | 1 comment

Check Before You Trek

One of the last things on my mind when I chose Panama as my home of choice as an expat was worrying about mail. After all, I grew up with reliable mail delivery services all my life. Receiving mail was free, sending mail was available at reasonable prices. One thing I learned from my expat ventures is this:

Do not take anything for granted.

Flintstone-Era Bill Delivery

It seems somewhat backward to receive your monthly utility bill tucked underneath your door, but this is how bills are still delivered in Panama, a country where the internet infrastructure is better than in some parts of Western Europe. Why is that? Panama has no practical application of zip codes. They do exist, but they have not been implemented.

Mailbox ETC Mail Service Panama By LP Wirth
Mailbox ETC Mail Service Panama By LP Wirth

This makes operating a reliable delivery service a daunting task for any post office.

Post offices exists here in Panama. It’s called COTEL – National Post and Telegraphs of Panama.

They are sparingly distributed throughout the city and often tucked away in malls and business towers.

But when I checked their website just now (June 23, 2020), it came up empty. That doesn’t instill confidence.

Sending mail from Panama can be adventurous. There are no mailboxes in public where one could drop mail. They do not exist. But you can send mail from their COTEL locations to national and international destinations.

Mailing In Panama Can Be Sticky Business

Last time I sent a letter without tracking, I was given postal stamps. To my surprise, they were made of plain paper without any adhesive properties. To that end, some nearly dried-out glue containers with a sticky white paste were provided to fix the stamps onto the mail. Self-service.

The only problem? The glue was slow to dry, and the stamps moved around on the letters, potentially binding them with other items when thrown in a sack. For this reason, you’d want to choose tracking, because the postal worker will apply self-adhesive, computer-generated stamps to your mail. It only costs a few cents more, and you get the mailing proof. It also saves considerable time. Little things…

That said, I have successfully mailed important documents to Europe for relatively little money. COTEL offers tracking services, but it’s a hit-and-miss and not always accurate. At least, you get a number and proof of sending. Of the mail I have sent internationally, all were delivered to Europe within 10 to 14 days. We can also insure and certify international mail and packages.

I highly recommend certifying all items. Fast-delivery is an option at a hefty price though (around $25), but it is still a third less than using DHL or UPS. Receiving mail via COTEL is also an option. For $25.00 per year plus $15.00 key insurance, you can rent a COTEL mailbox. I registered for one six months ago. I am still on the waiting list.

Alternative Solutions To Sending And Receiving Mail In Panama

Why is renting a COTEL mailbox a good idea?

Mailbox ETC Mail Service Panama By LP Wirth
Mailbox ETC Mail Service Panama By LP Wirth

I would have loved to have known about COTEL when I first came to Panama because the alternatives are costly. Being aware of options would have made my life easier and I could have saved a few bucks. The most common alternative here is Mailbox Etc (MBE).

It is a feasible option for receiving mail and purchases via their warehouse operations in Florida. MBE assigns the customer a US personal postal address. MBE Florida then ships any item delivered there within a day or two to your local MBE office where it can be picked up. It’s about $10 per pound. This can quickly add up, especially when shipping books or other heavy items.

But there are plan options for those who frequently receive and send mail and packages.

Sending letters via MBE is not an option for me. Starting at $75 for a letter to the US or Europe via DHL or UPS is not cost-effective.  Consider using COTEL or an alternative private mailing company, such as Airbox Express. Here you can send a 2-pound package to the U.S. for approximately $10.50. Receiving smaller items via MBE, such as plain letters, is cheaper at MBE than at Airbox Express. But for larger packages is cheaper with Airbox. Shop around and pick the best option for receiving and sending mail to save money.

If you have any questions about mail services in Panama, make sure to comment here, and I will answer as quickly as I can.

By: LP Wirth