It may strike you as odd that I felt it necessary to specify “modern day cost” in the title of this article.
Truthfully, most of the “cost of living” articles I see these days are painfully outdated. It drives me up the wall! “Live in Panama for $1000 a month.” What a bunch of crock!
Okay, they’re not exactly lying. Technically it’s possible, and there are many who live on less.
But as far as you and I are concerned, that’s not realistic.
You’re not going to live on rice and beans, and you’re not going to move into the middle of Nowhere, Panama. Well, you might want to do that, and if you do, more power to you.
The rest of us, however, prefer a lifestyle of variation, luxury, community, and recreation.
You’ll notice that each category is broken down into two budgets: The middle-end and the high-end. Either of these will afford you a luxury lifestyle in Panama.
Panama real estate has been flying off the shelves over the last decade- and for good reason. The prices are manageable, the tax incentives are phenomenal, and the properties themselves are gorgeous.
Notice that I said manageable- not cheap. The areas in which you’re going to want to buy are not going for “chump change.” These are areas that offer a modern lifestyle, complete with amenities and an established (even English-speaking) community. Panama City, Playa Coronado, and- more recently- Playa Gorgona are the main players in this sense.
Though prices aren’t cheap, you’ll get a lot more for your real estate dollar than you would in many other modernized places.
Mid-Priced Luxury Condo*:
$110,000 – $275,000
$1,000-$1500 rent a month
High-End Luxury Condo:
$1,500-$3,000 rent a month
*Note: The middle and high-end condos I’m referring to differ mainly in square footage, not in level of luxury. For example, the beachfront condos at Royal Palm are all considered high-end luxury, with variability in sizes accounting for the different price points.
Depending on what you’re purchasing, groceries in Panama are either cheaper, the same, or just-a-little-bit-more.
For the most part, whole foods (non-processed, local crops) are very affordable. This includes staples such as rice, beans, grains, and most fruits and vegetables. Meats vary depending on the cut, but price-wise it seems to be less expensive. Locally caught fish are inexpensive (you can get a sea bass, known as Corvina here, for $1 a pound!), whereas you’ll pay more for something like salmon.
Food costs more when it’s imported and/or processed. You pay a premium for frozen meals, imported delicacies, or your favorite U.S-brand of potato chips. I’ve personally noticed a 10-15% markup on such products.
Maintaining a healthy diet is less expensive in Panama, once you learn what to buy and where to buy it from. It’s when you start throwing in the Doritos and mystery-meat TV dinners that it gets expensive –and who wants to eat that junk anyway!
Stick to a whole foods diet, and you’ll notice the difference in your wallet as well as your health.
Mid-Priced Grocery Budget:
$450 / month (2 people)
High-End Grocery Budget:
$600 / month (2 people)
Those budgets include ample provision for wine, which costs around $7-15 for a more than drinkable bottle.
Coming from Australia, I’ve seen no major change in what I pay for things like electricity, water, cable, and Internet- and I hear the same from my North American friends.
Of course, this too has many variables such as the size of your home, how often you run your AC, and which WIFI and/or cable plan you have.
One utility which is drastically different in Panama is cell service. An unlimited data plan costs $15 a month here. As for “talking minutes”, most people I know spend around $10 a month. And most of us do the pay-as-you-go plan. There isn’t a great deal of benefit to doing a monthly plan. To get setup, you take your phone to a local store here and they will switch the chip. It’s that simple!
Mid-Priced Monthly Budget:
$75-125 Electricity & Water,
$30 Internet-Only Plan
High-End Monthly Budget:
$125-200 Electricity & Water
$50 Internet/Cable/Home Phone Plan
Panama is a thrilling country with many places to explore and things to do. Chances are, you’re not going to want to stay in your own backyard all day- no matter how beautiful that backyard is. Whether you’re traveling or just catching a flick at the theater- here are some common activities and prices.
VIP ticket at movie theater: $10 / person (regular tickets cost $3 to $4). A VIP-theatre gets you leather reclining chairs, and a full dinner and bar menu to order from. You even get in-seat wait service- no more missing the movie to load up on popcorn!
Ticket to concert, theater, or sporting event: $25-75
Drinks at a modern bar: $3-8
Dinner in the city and/or Coronado: $10-20 per entrée.
Weekend at high-end hotel: $400
Weekend at middle-end hotel: $250
Plane ticket to tropical islands: $75-100
Ferry ticket to tropical islands: $25-50
Remember- if you’re retired in Panama you’ll receive up to 30-50% off on all entertainment (and much more!)
Routine doctor or dental visit: $25-40
(Most) medication: The same prices as elsewhere, or about a 10% difference (in either direction.)
Surgeries: Most surgeries are estimated to be between 20-40% less than in North America, and many surgeons were trained in the US or Canada and speak some English.
Gas: Similar prices as the U.S. Most compact cars cost between 30-$40 to fill up, most SUVs between $40-60.
Transportation: In Panama City, you’ll want to take a cab most places. Your average taxi ride is between $1.50 – $4.00, though you may get “gringo priced” for an extra dollar or two.
Spa services: Here’s one area where Panama is still exceedingly less! I pay $20 for a quality manicure and pedicure (that is, in a clean, sanitary salon. Beware of $5 manicures!) Massages, facials, and other hair and spa services are generally 20-40% less.
Domestic services: The average maid in Panama costs about $20-$25 for the day (typically 4-6 hour shift). Nannies start around the same price point but can cost more according to their credentials (bilingual, education, etc.)
Clothes: Like anywhere else, it depends what you’re buying. Panama carries high-end brand names as well as mid-priced clothing. Some specialty brand items may cost more, but usually no more than 10%
Electronics: Certain electronic brands, such as Apple and Samsung, are a bit more expensive here. I paid $50 more for my computer than I would have in the U.S However, when considering the vast difference in monthly payment plans (such as home Internet and data service for phones) I think the difference equals out over time.
For those items that are more expensive or that can’t be found, it’s easy to purchase them online and have them shipped to mailbox in Panama. I use a service called MailBoxesETC in Coronado. I pay $30 per month and get 3lbs of mail forwarded for free. It works out at about $5 per pound after that.
For heavier items, you’ll quickly learn that the expat community is supportive here. My friend needed some high-end video equipment that you can’t purchase in Panama, he mentioned in passing at a local bar and my other friend said “My husband is coming back in two weeks, he can bring a couple of suitcases for you. Just ship the stuff to his house.” That’s one of the many things I love about this place!
When all is said and done, you may spend less in Panama that you did at home. You may spend the exact same. But if you manage to spend more- I’d sure be curious as to how!