How much does it cost to live in Panama?
We take up this cost-of-living question regularly. This time, my point has to do with how much your cost of living can vary within a particular country.
Is Panama still a bargain destination?
Not really…and you betcha!
Our Panama editorial team considers this question regularly and in a real-world way. We live here. We know what it costs.
So when we set out to create a detailed budget for Panama, we agreed straightaway that that would be an impossible thing to do.
We can’t tell you how much it costs to live in Panama …but we can give you a guideline to living costs in Panama City …and a separate budget for living in the interior of the country.
The bulk of any budget is given over to housing–rent or a mortgage, if you have one.
If you come down here, pay cash for a house in the country or a Panama City condo, you’re golden. You could live in the capital for about US$1,000 a month or in the interior on as little as US$800 to US$900 a month.
In fact, that’s a good way to approach a budget no matter where you’re thinking about relocating. Itemize all other expenses you’ll incur …then address housing.
Applying this strategy to Panama, you arrive at the following monthly budget for living in Panama City:
Could you spend less? Maybe. Don’t have a maid. Never go to the movies or out to dinner.
Could you spend more? No question.
You can hire a maid for US$150 a month, but we pay ours US$300. Because we’re a family of five, including a 9-year-old boy. Because Olga cooks and irons for us (you’re expected to pay a little more for these things). And because she’s very good.
Shop at the Riba Smith super-store every week and load your cart with imported cheeses, specialty hams, wine, and prepared foods, and you’ll spend more than US$300 a month on groceries.
Go out to dinner at Market (the city’s best steakhouse) three nights a week, and you’ll spend more than US$100 a month on entertainment.
You get the idea.
Our budget is meant to give you an idea of your basic costs.
On top of this Panama City living budget, you’ll need to add your cost of housing. This question (how much does it cost to rent an apartment in Panama City?) is debated endlessly.
You can no longer rent a decent apartment, not even a studio, for less than US$800 a month. If someone tells you you can, ask to see the place yourself. Either it doesn’t really exist at all …or it’s in a part of the city where no expat wants to live. You could rent a little house in Arraijan, for example, just outside Panama City, for less than US$500 a month. But you don’t want to live there.
For a two-bedroom apartment in a decent building with a doorman and a pool, you’re going to have to spend US$1,400 a month or more. For your best current options, look in El Cangrejo.
Outside Panama City, it’s a different story altogether. Elsewhere, this country still qualifies as dirt-cheap.
Take Las Tablas, for example.
This is a part of the country we like and know well. Our Editorial Assistant Rebecca Tyre lives here and reports the following monthly budget:
Again, you could spend more, certainly, and even a little less, depending how you want to live.
But what makes life in Las Tablas (and elsewhere in the interior of Panama) so appealing is the cost of housing. Unlike in Panama City, where a decent place to live will cost you, say, US$1,400 a month or more…in Las Tablas you can rent a little house near the beach for US$200.
Yes, yes, you could spend more. And, no, you aren’t going to find these rentals on the Internet or through a broker. You’ll have to be connected on the ground, and you’ll need to be able to communicate directly with the property’s owner in Spanish.
But Rebecca did it …and you could, too. Meaning you could live a simple, sweet life at the beach in this safe and friendly little town for US$1,000 to US$1,100, including your cost of housing.
Now …take a step back and put this into context.
Las Tablas is in Panama. Panama offers many advantages. It’s a convenient place to get to and from and but a few hours away from key points in the States.
It’s a travel hub for the Americas in general.
It’s a tax haven.
It uses the U.S. dollar for its currency, so Americans have no exchange-rate concern.
It boasts the most developed infrastructure in the region.
And world-class health care in Panama City.
P.S. A couple of other notes about our budgets:
We assume that, even if you own your home, you’re paying no property taxes, because most properties come with a property-tax exemption (up to 20 years)…
The miscellaneous category is meant to cover things like dry cleaning (super cheap in Panama), hair cuts (Lief and Jack have theirs cut once a month for US$3 apiece), pharmacy purchases, and household bits and pieces. All these things are a bargain in this country, so US$50 a month will cover you.
Living in Las Tablas, you might want to own a car. Here’s a budget for this:
US$50 (per year)
US$50 (per month)
US$40 (per month, including regular
US$100 (per month, depending how much you travel)