Whether you’re visiting or have just moved to Panama, you’ll find there’s lots of shopping choices to satisfy most of your whims and fancies, no matter where you are from.
Panama City has no less than seven malls, which I’ll talk more about in a future post. Plenty of other independent shops in stand-alone locations or strip malls are located all over the city.
The malls are the most orderly shopping experience, which is why they’re the most obvious choice for most expats, especially those from North America who are more accustomed to orderliness and homogenization (including your brands like Banana Republic, Gap, Louis Vuitton, Asics, MAC, etc.).
While Panama tauts itself for shopping for many tourists, it is NOT necessarily the least expensive choice for you, if you come from North America. My family and I personally don’t do much shopping in Panama for most of our clothes and shoe purchases. Some of this has to do with taste. The local wares of the better-known U.S. and European brands are targeted to Latin American families, which is the bulk of the local market. I call much of what we see in the local stores and malls ‘tropicalized‘.
Different Market, Different Styles
For women’s shoes, for example, this may mean that the color palettes on offer are louder, brighter and more tropical. While flats have only recently become more mainstream in Panama, the styles and designs you’ll encounter are very different from what you’ll find up North.
Certainly in women’s clothing, the norm in the local market is also much more colorful than you might see in your local shops in Detroit or Denver. This is true for men’s clothing too, in some cases.
Can you save $$ if you shop in Panama?
In my family’s case, we’ve found that the same brands cost 20-30% more here in Panama than in the U.S. for the exact same products. A recent example if that a Black & Decker blender retailed for $130 in Conway. The same model online lists for $89. It’s important to remember that nothing is manufactured in Panama. Thus, anything shipped in has a big shipping price tag attached to it, which accounts for some part of that higher pricing.
There used to be a tax applied, as well, but in the case of goods manufactured in the U.S., we’re now no longer paying the import tax on items priced less than $100 this year, thanks to a benefit from the recent U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement.
Due to the price differences and the differences in our particular tastes, we find ourselves doing the bulk of our personal shopping for clothes and shoes on our trips back to the States.
Do I have to pay import taxes on stuff I bring back with me on my travels?
Panama allows travelers to bring up to $2,000 in purchased goods back with them on return flights without charging local or import taxes on those goods. Realistically, Customs never seems to check, so as long as you remove price tags, who’s to say that you didn’t buy those things on some other trip? (Maybe it would be obvious if they checked that you took two bags when you left, and returned with three, but currently, there’s little coordination or oversight of that type thing between Customs and the airlines.)
If you have not already purchased my first book, you can find more there about how your wardrobe will need to change when you move to Panama.
I’m currently working on The Gringo Guide II, which will publish in the next few months. In the new book, I’ll include details on all the shopping you can find in this fun little country, as well as profiles on the various malls and shopping centers. (NOTE: The Gringo Guide II: More to Know Before You Go is now live on Amazon. Click here to get it.)