If you’re thinking of moving here, one of your main considerations will probably be the cost of living in Panama. Perhaps you’re wondering what expat destinations in Panama are high on romance (but not too hard on the pocket). Or maybe you’re most concerned with finding a place where you can live like a local and stretch your dollar to the max.
The cost of living in Panama City, where I live, offers high value for such a modern city…and special money-saving benefits for retirees add to the allure.
Panama City: Cost of living in a cosmopolitan city
If you’re looking for inexpensive, cosmopolitan living—but with the conveniences you’d expect in New York, Chicago, Miami, or any other major First-World city—you may want to take a serious look at Panama City.
Panama City boasts a skyline of skyscrapers…modern office buildings and hotels of shining glass and steel with world-class views of the Bay of Panama. The city is a major international hub, home to one of the world’s largest financial districts (which boasts more than 80 of the world’s largest banks). In recent years this business hub has lured even more international corporations than ever with special incentive zones and tax breaks. Giants such as 3M, Federal Express, and Dell eagerly took the bait. If you like to travel, Panama City’s international airport—known as the Hub of the Americas—is a boon. The modern facilities offer daily flights to the U.S., Europe, and the rest of the Americas.
Here, in the region’s only true First-World city, convenience is the word. You can dine in ultra trendy restaurants…attend amateur and professional productions…shop at the malls and unique local stores. And because this is also the Americas’ major telecommunications hub, your international phone calls go through the first time, every time, and high-speed Internet is available virtually everywhere you go. (In fact, Panama currently boasts the best Internet penetration in the region).
Cost of living breakdown for Panama City
Considering the many upsides to life here, you might expect the cost of living in Panama City to be prohibitively high. Not so…
For a two-person household in Panama City, a water bill will rarely exceed $14 a month. In the past five years, my monthly phone bill has rarely exceeded $10 a month. I pay about $25 a month for wireless high-speed Internet that powers my laptop and my dad’s computer. Monthly mortgage payments can be as little as $400 a month, while rentals can be found from $550 to $1,200 a month.
Our cleaning lady stops by once a week for $15 a day. She stays here from about 7.30 a.m. until 2.30 p.m., and cleans the house from top to bottom.
At local supermarkets, I spend $200 to $300 a month on food and household goods. This includes some imported items—residents have grown accustomed to having their pick of U.S. and European goods, and some would say we are spoiled. You can save hundreds a year by avoiding these items, but it’s comforting to know that they are here. If you want to celebrate Thanksgiving the way you did back home, you can get cranberries and turkey and all the other “fixins.”
You can also get almost all the brands you love back home, from regular supermarket fare like Jiffy’s peanut butter to upscale items like Sahale Snacks (my guilty pleasure). Remember, the Panama Canal is located here, and this makes Panama an import/export paradise. So the sky’s the limit on what you can buy (and sell) from here.
My grocery list also includes the occasional “luxury” item (from champagne to caviar), a good many organic items (like endives and impossibly red tomatoes from Cerro Punta), and lots of fresh local fruit, cheese and yogurt.
Entertainment in Panama is great and affordable. Visit any other regional capital and you’ll soon find that few can offer half as much as Panama City. There are regular exhibits, concerts, plays, film festivals, jazz events and virtually anything else you may enjoy back home. (Plus there are hundreds of opportunities to experience local folklore and indigenous culture.) Specialized activities run the gamut, from skydiving to spelunking. A first-run movie (in English) will run you $2 to $4, a taxi ride is usually $2, breakfast can be yours for less than $2, and event tickets often start as low as $5 (except for when they are free…which is often).
Some of my favorite restaurants include Sabor de la India, where you can get authentic Indian food from $3 a plate. At La Casa Vegetariana, I get vegetarian Chinese food and lunch rarely costs me over $1.75. Sure, I splurge on trendy restaurants now and then, spending upwards of $15, but even at ultra-upscale Oliva y Sal, I rarely spend over $30 for wine or drinks and main course.
Retirees save a lot more due to the cost of living in Panama
Though most expats live on approximately $2,500 a month, we have heard from many who live here well on as little as $1,500 a month…including mortgage payments! And remember, if you move to Panama via the special Pensioner Residency Program, you will be entitled to a host of money-saving benefits.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Panama and other countries in our daily postcard e-letter. Simply sign up for IL’s free postcards and we’ll send you a FREE REPORT — Panama: First World Convenience at Third World Prices. This special guide covers insider advice on real estate, retirement and more in Panama. It’s yours free when you sign up for our IL postcards.