Panama is one of the leading expat and retiree destinations in the world. Have you ever wondered why? Known as the Bridge between the Americas, Panama offers some of the most competitive pricing for any expat or person looking for a place to live and retire after many years in the workforce. Essentially, one of the common questions that tends to surface when we mention Panama revolves around the cost. As such, time and again you will find people wondering, “Is it expensive to live in Panama?” To address this concern, let us have a look at some of the important reasons that make this country attract an endless number of tourists, expats, and retirees.
One thing you do have to take into consideration, is where you are coming from. There are places through out the world, that are inexpensive to live, so for some people, Panama will be more desirable than for others.
Rental costs and Real Estate
The first question that comes to mind when thinking about relocating to Panama is housing. Besides the cost of food , utilities, entertainment and healthcare, housing will be your biggest expense. Well, housing in Panama can be quite inexpensive. This is as long as you avoid city and tourists destinations. If you are moving to Panama with an intention of a long-term stay, as time goes by, you will realize that most of the smaller towns tend to have lower rental costs compared to other places across the world. It also depends on your style, and level of luxury needed. Many north Americans are so accustomed to large houses, granite counter-tops, stainless steel appliances, they expect those luxuries in a country they are moving to to level cheaper.
There are two styles of housing in Panama, which I call “Panama Style” and “North American Style” I like to give examples of myself, as to be real. I live in a Panama style house, 1200 sq ft, 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, on ¼ acre gated property in a nice safe neighborhood, and I pay $500 a month. The same size house in the same area, even the same street, but North American style, would rent about $800. I live just outside of Boquete, and the same house in other areas of the country would rent between $400 – $600 and a condo the same size would rent in Panama City for about $800 – $900. So there is a budget for everyone in Panama, starting at $400 and going up to $2500 to live in luxury.
The Real Estate market price value in Panama is very subjective to where you currently live. As you know in the USA and other places around the world, the exact same home can be 2 – 4 times different in price in different areas. So the price of Real Estate in Panama, can be cheap, about the same or even more than some counties.
Real Estate prices vary a lot in Panama, from the City, beaches to the smaller towns, and we highly recommend that if you decide to move here, to rent for the first 6 – 12 months. You want to make sure that the area you are thinking of living in is right for you, and that the country as a whole is right for you. We can connect you with the best real estate company in Panama, when you are ready.
Food can my much cheaper in Panama, than in other countries, but that will depend on your buying habits. There is no need to buy fruits and vegetables in a grocery store, as you will find much better selection and prices from local vendors selling their product along the streets, and in the local mercados. The same can go for meat and fish. I prefer to buy that directly from the rancher, and fishermen. In fact, my grocery store visits, are few, and I am picking up staples like rice, can goods, wine etc. My monthly grocery bill for a single person is $200, and I do not eat out a lot.
Restaurants are also less expensive, especially the local Panama restaurants, where lunch will cost under $4, for your choice of meat, rice, beans, salad and side of plantains. There are many high end restaurants with food from around the world in Panama, and some offering better prices than most countries, you just have to find the best ones.
There is a lot of savings here, compared especially to North America. Below is a list of my actual monthly utility costs:
$30 – Cell Phone with unlimited data
$5 – Gas – for cooking and hot water
To many of you reading this, from Canada, Europe, Australia and other countries, you will see this as an added expense as you do not directly pay for health care in your country. For those from the USA, you may get a smile out of this.
The government funds the public hospitals in Panama to ensure that they can provide medical coverage even to those who may not be in a position to afford it. The public hospitals are really low cost access to health care, used by most of the Panama population. It also funds the Social Security system, that pays for the healthcare of employees who pay into that system, and Panama retired people who have paid into it.
For the people who can afford it, there is a private health care system and private insurance to cover it. Personally, at age 55, I pay $108 per month for 100% medical coverage, with a maximum $1000 annual deductible. This is a crazy low number compared to what people from the USA tell me they pay for medical coverage, and for many their coverage is not 100%, it’s a co-pay which can still leave them financially destroyed in a major event.
Other important costs
One of the things to remember in Panama, if you buy “brand specific”, meaning you need to have the same brand product that you used at home, chances are, it is imported, and it will cost you more than local products. A great example, is cereal. A big box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in Panama will set you back $5, where a local Latin American brand (copos de maíz) will cost you $2 for the same size box.
Transportation is also very cheap. In Panama City, where they have a world class newly built metro system, will cost you 35 cents to get on. Where I live, a taxi ride to town, about 5 kilometers ( 3 miles) is 65 cents, where a bus to the city of David, 40 kilometers (25 miles) is $1.80. Movie theater tickets, new releases, in English are $5. A six pack of local beer, $3, and a one litre box of wine, $3.
Other benefits for the resident foreigners
All the prices I have quoted here are full price before the Pensionado Visa discount. I came to Panama on the Friendly Nations Visa, so I do not get those discounts until I am 60 years old. With the Panama Pensionado Visa, where you can see all details and discount here, you will save an additional 25% off restaurants, utility bills, 50% off entertainment, 15% off medical, and much more.