The True Cost of Living in Panama in 2020: A Cross Country Analysis

This article will discuss the cost of living in Panama. The article was originally written in February 2019, and it is now March 2020, but the inflation rate in Panama for 2019 came in at -0.5%, so the number are very relative.  A comfortable retirement lifestyle is provided for many people because of the cost of living in Panama. People who come here are often surprised by the modern aspects of Panama, with it’s towering skyscrapers, metro trains, and high-speed internet access across the country. Many think Panama is cheap because it’s a 3-world country and has no modern amenities, that could be no further from the truth. Panama is NOT a 3-world country.  It has a rapidly developing economy, and the infrastructure is been developed a lot in the last 20 years.

I will be dividing this topic of the cost of living in Panama into 3 sections, city life, expat community life and country life and look at the cost of living in those three different categories.

First, we will discuss City Life.

The True Cost of Living in Panama in 2020: A Cross Country Analysis

Panama City is a vibrant bustling city, of just over two million people. This is a very modern city, not unlike many North American and European cities. If you are looking for a city with the amenities of New York, Barcelona or London, that has inexpensive city living, you can find it here.

You will find a stunning skyline, a Metro Train running across the city, many parks and green spaces, 500-store shopping malls, fine dining, theaters and art galleries. Of course, because of this, it is the most expensive place in Panama to live, but still cheaper than other worldly cosmopolitan cities.

High speed internet is everywhere, phone service excellent, power and water systems are good, and every amenity available to you that you would expect in a big city.

Areas of Panama City that are popular for expats to live in are El Cangrejo, Costa de Este and Caso Viejo.

El Cangrejo and its surrounding neighborhoods of Obarrio, Area Bancaria and Calle 50 are right in the heart of Panama City’s downtown area. No need for a car here, you actually probably do not want one, the traffic will take you longer to get to where you are going, than a short walk.

This area is surprisingly very safe for a big city center. I personally had an apartment here for three years and loved it. I was a two block walk away from more than twenty restaurants. Metro station two blocks away if I wanted to go to the mall. When friends would visit in the evening, many bars and clubs to visit, and we would just walk. The water front, and Panama City’s well known Cinta Costera (a several kilometer long sea front walking/biking path/park) was only a short distance away.

Panama City is becoming a world leader as a culinary destination, and you can discover a great new eating place every day. The food is fresh, high quality and typically less expensive than other major cities.

While it is true that Panama City is the most expensive place to live in the country, you can rent a 2-bedroom in these areas form $900 – $1500 a month, which is really, very reasonable.
If you are planning to move to Panama City, you do have to like the heat. Every day of the year it will be 30 ° C (86° F) or more, and from April to November, you will have high humidity and afternoon showers.

Panama City does cater to different life styles, so it does give you the option to live cheaper, for example, you can eat with the locals, ad get a lunch for $5 and a beer for $2, or if that is not your style, eating a lunch at an upscale restaurant will cost you $20, and that same beer $5.

In the chart at the bottom of this article are basic expenses for you to compare if you choose to live the City Life.

Second, let’s look at the expat communities.

For this article I have chosen the two communities that have the most expats living in them. Coronado, on the beach, one hour from Panama City, and Boquete up in the mountains in the western province of Chiriquí .

The True Cost of Living in Panama in 2020: A Cross Country Analysis

Coronado, is one of the most well known expat communities in Panama, especially for beach lovers. It is actually a gated community, Playa Coronado, that has been around Panama for many years, and the most popular beach for affluent Panamanians to visit on weekends, in the last 15 years, expats have been settling down in Coronado and neighboring areas like Nueva Gorgona.

Coronado in on Pacific Ocean with beautiful white sandy beaches, with close by malls, 24-hour supermarkets, movie theaters and of course a championship golf course. The climate is perfect, with the ocean breezes keeping the heat to an average daily high of 28 degrees C , and less rain than most parts of Panama.

One other popular aspect of Coronado is it proximity to Panama City, only an hour drive to attend one of many of Panama City’s popular cultural events. So, you get fairly small-town quiet life, with the city close by.

One of the main reasons to retire here, is the cost of living in Coronado. You can rent a two-bedroom apartment, with ocean views, for example in the area of Nueva Gorgona, for as little as $900 a month. Healthcare is available and very affordable, restaurants are many, from Panamanian style to North American and European style, and very affordable.
So, if you look at the chart at the bottom of this article, as single could live a great life in Coronado for under $2000, a month, and a couple near $2600 a month. You like the beach and warm temperatures, Coronado may be for you.

The True Cost of Living in Panama in 2020: A Cross Country Analysis

Now, we will travel 6 hours west, and 1150 meters (3800 feet) up the mountain to the established expat community of Boquete, in the Chiriquí Province. Boquete has been one of the fastest growing expat community in Panama for almost 20 years. There are many expats here that have been here for 20 years or more.

The area of Boquete has about 25,000 residents with close to 20% of those being expats. So, if the learning the language is a barrier to you, this may be the place for you. Being a smaller town, all the amenities are not all here, but the City of David is a 30-minute drive away with movie theaters, shopping malls, PriceMart (Costco) and Do-It-Center. Also, the beach is only an hour drive from Boquete.

Its main attraction would be its weather. Spring like temperatures all year around with lows of 15° C (60° F) and highs of 25° C (78° F), every day of the year. Boquete, (Spanish for gap or valley) is nestled in a valley, between Volcán Barú and the Jaramillo mountains, surrounded by a rain forest and coffee farms.

The cost of living in Boquete, can vary greatly, depending on how you live to live, and the luxuries you enjoy. There are many Panamanian homes for rent in here the $500 – $600 a month range, and many North American style homes that will run you $900 – $2000 a month. You can buy a Panamanian style home starting at $1000,000, but the North American style homes will start at $200,000 or up.

The price of eating out also varies, just the same, from lunch for $3.50 in a Panama typica restaurant to $20 in some of our great gourmet style restaurants. Your cost of electricity will be very low here, as low as $20 a month, there is no heating or cooling required in Boquete, the breezes keep you comfortable all day and night.

The infrastructure in Boquete is not as good as Panama City or Coronado, but over the last few years, 95% of the streets have be rebuilt with new water and sewer, and new pavement, so things are starting to look better.

For the total picture of the cost per month in Boquete, I have used my personal example in the past, that I can live here for $1500 a month, quite comfortable. For myself, the cooler temperatures, slower pace, lots of other expats, are the reasons that I have settled here.

Third, Let’s move on to Country Life.

There are some great up and coming towns in Panama that expats are starting to settle in and the cost of living in these places are the cheapest in Panama. Here are a few examples:
Santa Fe and El Valle de Anton – Small Mountain towns

The True Cost of Living in Panama in 2020: A Cross Country Analysis

Puerto Armuelles, Las Tablas, Pedisi and Chitré – Beach Towns (or close to the beach)
The first two, Santa Fe and El Valle de Anton, are mountain towns, not as high up as Boquete, but still the cooler weather, and rain forest. Great for the outdoor type people, lots of hiking activities. The next four locations are near or on the beach. Warm weather, beach access, affordable communities, and the driest (in case you don’t like the rain) would be Pedasi. It is best to know some Spanish in all these areas as you may be the only expat on your street.

The cost of living in these towns is quite low, with rents starting at $350 a month, houses can be purchased for under $100,000, local food and restaurants very affordable, and a great laid-back lifestyle. The locals are very friendly and accepting of their new expat neighbors in these communities, even more than in the rest of Panama.

Typically, the one thing you will find if you decide to move to Panama, are the Panamanians are great at accepting new people. And you will even be accepted more, if you learn some Spanish, start taking lessons now. I have noticed in Panama, you cannot pass a Panamanian on the street without hearing “buenos días”, please reply back. You are not very close to a big city, or top hospitals, movie theaters but an hour drive for most of these locations will get you there.

The chart shown below, are just examples of expenses and are based a basic expenses of one person, no car, if a couple, you would have to double the last 5 entries, and depending on your age, the healthcare will be different. For A more luxury life, Rent and Restaurant and Entertainment would be more.

The True Cost of Living in Panama in 2020: A Cross Country Analysis
This information about the cost of living in Panama has been compiled over the last 7 years by myself, with my own experience and talking with dozens of expats living in these areas. I hope this helps. On the Retire in Panama Tours, Oscar and myself will be discussing costs of living across the country as we visit the majority of the places I have referenced here. Check out our Tour Itinerary HERE.

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