Getting our mail
First a couple of interesting (maybe) tidbits - Panama has a postal service, but they don't provide mail delivery to your home (might sound strange - but that's what we had on St. Croix, even with the USPS). You can get a box at the local Post Office, if you have one nearby (we don't) and they have a box available (not likely, because of the demand). We don't really have "normal" street addresses - no 435 Main Street type addresses in Panama (gee, just like St. Croix, again). Panama, like many countries in the world, has never instituted a traditional address system, even in the big cities. It's much more akin to the rural areas of the U.S. where directions are given using landmarks. Lastly the "courier" business in Panama is big, correspondence (and bills) are all delivered "En mano" - by hand.
One of the few pieces of "mail" we get at the apartment is our electric bill. I think we've received two in five months (but that's another story). The address on our electric bill is:
San Felipe, Central P.H. Urrutia #2-17 APTD-1
CL 2A Catedral FTE, AL M.G. Justicia
PLEASE - don't send us anything at this address - IT WON'T GET TO US.
That "address" tells the courier that we live in the district of "San Felipe" (one of several names for Casco Viejo) on Avenida Central in "Property Horizontal" Urrutia (our building) apartment #1. That "#2-17" indicates that when the building was originally given that number in was in the second block from the sea and the door was seventeen paces from the corner - obviously things have changed in the intervening centuries, but the numbers (when you can find them) haven't and are of little value. The last line actually provides the most useful information for the courier, as it tells him that we live close to the cross-street Calle 2A down from the Cathedral near the Minister of Justice building. Got all that? Interesting, wasn't it - just don't use that address!
So, how do we get our mail? We use two U.S. based mail forwarding companies: Earth Class Mail (Oregon) and AirBox Express (Florida). They both supply us with a stateside address. When we are REQUIRED to provide an address (credit cards, bank, taxes, etc) we use the Oregon address. If we are having a package being shipped to us we use the Florida address. Personal "snail mail" (birthday cards, letters, etc.) is basically nonexistent (at our request to family/friends) because of the cost and hassle involved.
Earth Class Mail handles 95% of our mail. When mail arrives at our Oregon address they scan the exterior of the envelope (both sides) and send us an email with those images. We then login to our Earth Class account and instruct them to: Shred - Store - Recycle - Ship - or OPEN and SCAN the contents of the envelope. The majority (75%) of the mail received is shredded without being opened (we can tell what it is from those scans of the envelope). When we can't tell what's in an envelope we tell Earth Class to open the envelope and scan the contents. We view images and then decide to Shred, Store or Ship the contents. Of the mail that is opened and scanned we have had less than 2% physically forwarded to us. The rest is shredded and we store the scanned documents on our computer.
Using Earth Class Mail has provided some interesting information about our mail (a record of every piece we receive in available online): We get very little mail that's REALLY important and EVEN LESS where we need the original contents.
I really like Earth Class Mail, but remember I'm sort of a "tech" guy. Cost, about $10 a month.
AirBox Express we use exclusively for packages and to forward USPS Priority Mail that contains stuff that can't be scanned. They receive the package/envelope in Florida, put it on a plane to Panama and we pick it up at one of their offices in the city. We can also use them to send stuff FROM Panama. Jane's book orders come via AirBox plus infrequent online shopping shipments. Good service and they haven't lost or damaged anything. The downside is cost, EXPENSIVE ($2.25 for every 8 ounces), but when we need something that's not available in Panama it's really the only choice. Note: They do have monthly plans starting at $15 that reduce that per OUNCE cost a little.
That's our "system" and it works well for us. If you're moving overseas you probably will need the services of a mail forwarder - shop around, all kinds of options out there.