I’ve been interviewing expats in Panama since 2006, when I started writing for International Living. I often ask them for tips, and many of them say the same thing: “Rent in Panama before you buy.” Sage advice…renting in Panama for a few months gives you a chance to begin to see a new location as home, rather than a vacation spot. It’s the best way to determine whether to put down permanent (or even semi-permanent) roots.
If you’re looking to save some money on your “experimental rental,” one city in Panama offers comfort and convenience on the cheap. Nowhere is Panama’s low cost of living more apparent than in the rental market in the town of David. Properties for rent in David are listed regularly from as low as $250 a month. Anyone determined to live like a local (among local neighbors, on a local budget), can save thousands a year.
Why So Many Expats are Renting in David
It is said that less than 10% of the foreigners visiting Panama ever venture beyond Panama City. Go to the malls and supermarkets and it will be immediately apparent that many expats live here. After all, the city offers modern conveniences—from excellent hospitals to reliable high-speed Internet to banks and government offices. But many expats—who prefer smaller towns—are discovering the same amenities are available in David. This is largely because it is the capital of the Chiriqui province.
David is a place where the warm temperature and local flavor will draw you in. This is a great place to live among locals, learning the language and spending much less than you would in other popular towns (like Boquete, just 45 minutes away in the Chiriqui Highlands). And to top it all off, there’s a growing expat community, so you can enjoy having expat friends in addition to your new local amigos—the townspeople are known for their friendliness.
Cheap Rentals in David: A Dime A Dozen
One home advertised for rent online is a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in a local area called Bella Vista. You’re unlikely to have expat neighbors here, but this rental is just $250 a month…hard to argue with the price tag.
Expats renting in David will find there is much more to choose from in the $350 to $500 range. These homes tend to be more than 700 square feet in size and have more than one bathroom. And they are often furnished. I like a three-bedroom home on offer for $450 a month (buy for $69,500). It’s a three-bedroom, two-bath home in a community called Altos de Morazan. The home sits on a spacious lot of over 5,000 square feet and comes with furniture, including major appliances and air conditioning units.
Spend a bit more and you can get a bit of luxury for very little. In the suburbs on the way to the popular highland town of Boquete, a $600 a month rental includes a separate “casita” or little house containing two offices. The main house is over 2,000 square feet and has three bedrooms and four bathrooms…all on a lot well over 5,000 square feet. Get a house that’s about 30% bigger—with spiffy-sounding amenities like a Jacuzzi, walk-in closets, maids’ quarters, and over half an acre of land—for $850 a month.
My Number One Tip for Anyone Planning on Renting in David
Though there are more than enough rentals in and around David, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much advertised in English-language magazines or websites geared toward foreigners. The best way to find good land at good prices is to visit, take stock of the different neighborhoods (though David has few bad areas to speak of), and talk to local realtors…not Panama City outfits that are unfamiliar with Chiriqui.
The last time I visited David, I was shown around by the most helpful and enthusiastic realtor I’ve met in a long time, Esther Maria Alvarez of Alvarez Realty. She is a true local and seems well connected and up-to-date in her listings. She also speaks good English. Contact her by telephone at: +507-774-1327 or e-mail: email@example.com.
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.