“I didn’t move here for the cost of living,” says my friend Drew, “but I’m not complaining!” He is one of just a few expats who’ve discovered what I describe as the cheapest place to live in Panama. (See below for a sample monthly budget for two people living here.)
Cheap Places in Panama Aplenty
There is low-cost property in Panama in abundance. When the Panama real estate boom peaked in 2007, people began to think otherwise. There was no shortage of shrewd sellers willing to show off shiny new property. The likes of Trump and Bern touted bay view condos and beach bungalows in the $300,000-plus range. Some thought: “Panama’s not as cheap as they say,” but paid up anyway. They may have gotten their money’s worth, but intrepid travelers in search of true bargains made out like bandits…
Though fancy names like Nikki Beach command high prices for prestige (as anywhere in the world), Panama still offers the same great value it did before the boom. Property in middle- to upper-class Panamanian neighborhoods is built to international standards, but designed to suit local needs and tastes. There are a number of neighborhoods to choose from—whether you’re looking for a condo or a house, a beach getaway or a mountain retreat, or even a convenient place to stay when you’re in the city.
Everything they Wanted in the Cheapest Place in Panama
But back to Drew. He had been living in southern Costa Rica, and had decided he wanted to move elsewhere. He had heard good things about Panama and, with his partner Rick, decided to check it out. They were looking for a small town vibe, a place with a few good business and real estate opportunities, and a great ocean view. In touring the Azuero peninsula region, they realized they could have all that and a low cost of living, too.
They settled on Las Tablas, a colonial town with a rich history and culture, friendly straightforward people, and a virtually undiscovered coastline. In a “suburban” area of Las Tablas called Uverito, they found a home on the water and set about knocking it down and building it almost completely anew. Today, they have their dream home (complete with back patio overlooking the sand and craggy coastline), a slew of local friends, and a monthly budget so low, it’s laughable.
Las Tablas: So Much More than Panama’s “Cheapest Place”
Las Tablas is the perfect small town—it sits less than an hour from the growing city of Chitre, where you’ll find everything from large supermarkets to new restaurants to full-fledged hospitals. Panama’s cheapest place to live is some 30 minutes away from the fishing village of Pedasi, a quaint town known for its rustic restaurants, sparkling shores, and proximity to everything from the nation’s best surfing and diving to eco-tourism like you’ve never seen.
On the shores of beaches like Uverito, 10 minutes from the town square, vast stretches of sand are yours for the taking. A handful of people and children play, while the waves fill the air with their soothing song.
And though nearby Chitre and Pedasi offer all kinds of excitement, you don’t necessarily have to leave Las Tablas to get your “fix.” Every year, in the four days preceding the Catholic Lent, swarms of locals (and foreigners, too) flood Las Tablas. The main square becomes debauchery central, massive cistern trucks shower dancing crowds in swimsuits and shorts with cool water. At night, fairy-tale “queens” and “princesses” float down the main street, giving the dancing and drinking a dreamlike quality.
The rest of the year is quiet, but only in comparison. The Azuero peninsula is considered the cradle of Panamanian folklore, and holds some 700 festivals a year. If you want to be immersed in Panamanian culture, this is the place to do it. And all in a town where simple homes start around $35,000 and a filling breakfast will rarely cost you more than $1.75. Here’s a quick sample monthly budget for a two-person household in Las Tablas:
- Rent or mortgage on two-bedroom house or apartment—$300 to $600
- Electricity (moderate air-conditioning)—$70
- Gas (for cooking)—$2
- Water (includes garbage pickup)—$8
- Supermarket items (food and household)—$175
- Communication (phone, Internet, Cable TV)—$100
Total: $655 to $955.
You’ll need to take into account, in addition, transportation, entertainment and any special hobbies or needs you may have (especially medical or insurance needs, which vary greatly from person to person).
But in these parts, you could dine out every day on simple local fare (served in generous quantities), and not spend more than $150 per person per month. At the Cine Moderno theater in Chitre, you’re likely to spend less than $10 on your movie tickets and snacks, and at the nearby nine-hole course, green fees start at about $5. Car maintenance is up to 50% cheaper than the U.S., while taxis rarely charge more than $1.50. So go ahead, live it up! You’re unlikely to spend more than $1,500 a month, no matter how hard you try.
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