Cost of Living

Panama City (PTY) provides cosmopolitan living at about half of the price of Miami or the San Francisco Bay Area. Many visitors are surprised to find such modern skyscrapers and towers in Panama City. It rivals the skyline of Manhattan.

You can enjoy fine dining, salsa or jazz clubs, art galleries, museums, and theater performances (in English). A taxi across town only costs a few dollars. Dinner for two with a bottle of wine will cost around $40.00. A haircut is only $5.00. A maid costs $15.00 for the day.

There are plenty of parks, malls, tree lined areas to jog, bicycle, walk your dog, and people watch, with the Amador causeway being a popular venue.

Depending upon one’s perspective, it can seem relatively cheap or relatively expensive. This point of view usually depends upon what city and state one is from and how the housing market affected home values and equity.

For example, one professional couple, Olivia and Jeffrey, from Seattle WA retired to Panama City about five years ago, earlier than they thought they could. They found a high rise condo with a bay view that cost them only 50% of the equity in their US residence. Jeffrey also had a pension from a large environmental consulting firm. Olivia had savings from the sale of her vintage clothing shop. They sold their residence prior to the 2008 financial meltdown, so half of the equity went into their condominium and the other half of their equity went into savings.

There are beach towns only 1 to 1. 5 hour drive from Panama City.  Panamanians like to leave work on Friday afternoon and reach their places near the ocean by dinnertime. Coronado is a beach, golf and equestrian town, with a large group of North American expats. There are several other beach towns along the coast. As you move away from the City, and these weekend beach communities, there are less expensive housing options as well as upscale homes on the golf course or luxury oceanfront housing.

Another individual, Barbara, from Austin, TX thought that he capital city was too expensive and looked to a smaller town in the Azuero peninsula called Chitre.  It is a 4 hour drive west, yet much more affordable,and more to her taste and liking.

Chitre like Pedasi has a charming town plaza, a welcoming population and a community of Panamanians and a sprinkling of expats who savor their serene  lifestyle. For those who like to fish, swim or surf, and enjoy a more tranquil lifestyle, Chitre or Pedasi could be for you.

One couple’s priority may be to have an ocean view in a spacious highrise city apartment tower with pool, gym, garage and a doorman. Another couple wants to live in a single family home, close to the beach, but is willing to downsize perhaps to have more freedom to travel.

While Pedasí used to be a sleepy fishing village, it is now home to oceanfront luxury real estate developments, five star hotels, celebrity mansions as well as moderate homes. The people of Pedasi are warm, gracious and content.

Sample Monthly Budget to Live in Panama

This Monthly Budget is for two persons living comfortably, but by no means luxuriously, in a modest 2 bedroom 2 bath unit in a middle-income neighborhood in Panama City (such as an apartment in the El Concrejo neighborhood) or in the mountain town of Boquete in a single family home with local standards of housing i.e. outside of the upscale gated communities:

Category/Item US Dollars
Rent $800
Utilities 100
Cell phones/Internet/Cable TV 150
Transportation/Taxis 75
Food/Groceries 400
Household Help 100
Entertainment/Recreation 350
Health Insurance* 175
Own your own vehicle (add) 150
TOTAL $2,300/month

If you want to live in a nicer residence with modern applicances and upgraded finishes in either Panama City or Boquete, then add another $700 to the Rent figure which brings the monthly budget to $3,000.  For a couple it equates to $1500/mo. per person.

*Insurance costs will vary depending upon age &  health issues.  This average quote is for International Insurance only and does not cover medical expenses in the United States.  Health Insurance is cheaper outside of the US because medical costs are less expensive.  It does not cover pre-existing conditions.

One expat couple in Boquete, Matt and Gloria, purchased their own home outright (free & clear of a mortgage) in an upscale gated community for $360,000 (From equity in the sale of their former residence). They are living The Good Life, on $400 per week or about $1600 monthly.   That includes dining out together and with friends,  being involved in community events, playing golf & enjoying the outdoors and taking short excursions.

Caveat–Practically Speaking:   Owning international real estate requires maintenance and upkeep expenses just like owning a residence in the States or Canada.   The property doesn’t just sit there pristinely while you’re away not costing you anything.  On the contrary, the meter is always running.  There will be labor and supplies for maintenance, landscaping, housekeeping, and basic utilities.

You may decide to rent it out while you’re not there to help with the maintenance expenses.  This takes time, headaches and money to mange if you decide to do it yourself or  even if you decide to hire a trustworthy property manager.  A condominium unit will have the maintenance work done for you for which you pay a monthly HOA  (Home Owners Association) fee.  You’ll want to check out their budget and bank account and people on the board to determine if it is being operated with sufficient capital for taxes, insurance, maintenance, repairs, and upgrades.Whether you are there full time or part time, please be prepared for  ongoing maintenance, unexpected repairs and capital improvements.

A “Peso Pit”:  Take it from someone who built, owned and enjoyed a hacienda-style Casa or  dream home for 17 years on the beach in Baja, Mexico.  There are foreign labor laws to deal with.  The salt air and spray from the ocean means constant maintenance on any wooden windows or doors.  The Casa had a photovoltaic or  a solar system for its energy as well as  a back up generator which required regular maintenance.   A neighbor down the beach nicknamed “Sleepy” jokingly called his place: The Black Hole for Pesos.  (Pesos is the monetary unit in Mexico).  It’s not a joke.  Have a reserve fund.

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