Panama City, Panama

If you’re looking for inexpensive cosmopolitan living—but with many of the conveniences you’d expect in San Francisco, Miami, or any other major First-World city—you owe it to yourself to take a serious look at Panama City.

Panama City boasts a skyline of skyscrapers, modern office buildings, condo complexes and hotels of shining glass and steel, with world-class views of the Bay of Panama. Its a major international commerce and banking hub, home to nearly 80 of the world’s largest banks, scores of international non-profits, and giant multi-nationals such as Federal Express, Dell, 3M, and many more.

Retire in Panama

Expats are attracted here thanks to its first-class health care and thriving property market that lends to a viable yet luxurious way of life in Panama City. Here, your international phone calls go through the first time, every time. High-speed Internet is the norm, rather than the exception. Power and water service are reliable and every amenity you could possibly want is within easy grasp.

Panama City has also become one of the region’s leading culinary destinations, with eateries of every variety offering high-quality, fresh fare, often for much less than it would cost stateside.

If you’re looking for inexpensive cosmopolitan living—but with many of the conveniences you’d expect in San Francisco, Miami, or any other major First-World city—you owe it to yourself to take a serious look at Panama City.

Lifestyle in Panama City

panana city lifestyle
The ultimate in city living: so close to the action but so far from the noise and hassle…

Panama City caters to a variety of lifestyles. While its ultra-modern skyline lends to its reputation as a booming business town, with vibrant nightlife, it also offers low-key, laidback living in neighborhoods that wouldn’t be out of place in small towns in the U.S. or Canada.

There is a huge selection of restaurants to choose from. You could eat out here several times a week—there are still plenty of places where you can grab lunch for $7 to $10 and sip a beer for $1.

And think of the little luxuries you’ve denied yourself over the years. Maybe you’re hoping in Panama, you’ll be able to play golf more often…afford weekly massages…enjoy a night at the theater…even see the dentist or dermatologist more regularly than you did back home. Here, you can stop hoping, and make all those luxury lifestyle dreams come true.

As Panama City is on the coast, it is breezy and warm. Sundown temperatures are usually 76 to 78 F, with average daytime temperatures around 88 F. Many expats here use air conditioning on hot days, but using it 24-hours a day will lead to higher electricity bills.

Like many expats, you may find it difficult to resist having a maid. It’s easy to find help in Panama City, and a good employee can greatly improve your quality of life. A full-time, live-in maid can cost you as little as $250 a month. Many capitalinos (residents of the capital) have part-time maids who they’ll pay $15 per visit. This usually includes cleaning, laundry (no ironing), and can include cooking and babysitting, too.

Movie tickets in Panama City are about $6 and pensionados pay 50% less. On Wednesdays, many theaters are half price for all moviegoers. A popcorn, nachos, and soda combo will cost you about $6. And in case you’re wondering, Panama gets a wide-array of first-run and blockbuster movies. Most films are played in the original language with Spanish subtitles.

Cost Of Living In Panama City

Cost Of Living In Panama City

While it is the most expensive part of Panama, the cost of living here is low when you consider the facts: Panama City is a world capital, on the water, home to the Latin America’s premier airport hub and just a three-hour flight from Miami. It has a mild climate and is located completely outside the hurricane belt. Indeed, there are few cities in the world that offer all these things…and none so affordable.

As the cost of living in Panama City offers plenty of high-quality options, some of the below costs come in ranges. Plus, it’s important to note that you may not want a car if you decide to live in Panama City (or even outside the city). The metro costs just $0.35 to ride, most bus rides cost $0.25, and ride-sharing apps like Uber are popular and inexpensive, with rides often costing $4 to $5. Taxis are also inexpensive and ubiquitous, often no more than $5, even during rush hour. In rural areas and small towns and cities, $2 fares are common.

Here is a sample budget detailing what you might expect to spend each month to live comfortably in Panama City (two-person household):

Expenses U.S. $
Rent (two-bedroom apartment in a central area) $1,000 to $1,500
Transportation (taxi or fuel/maintenance on a compact car) $75 to $200
Electricity (depending on air conditioning use) $60 to $150
Water (bundled with trash pickup) $0 to $25
Gas for cooking, water heaters, dryer, etc. $0 to $10
Supermarket (food/household, mix of local and imported items) $400 to $500
Entertainment for two (movies twice a month, including snacks/drinks, and dinner four times a month) $150 to $400
Phone (land line, mostly local use) $13 to $20
High speed internet $20 to $45
Cable or satellite television $35 to $50
Monthly total for a First-World lifestyle in the big city: Approx. $1,753 to $2,900

Video Tour of Panama City

Panama City: A Luxury Lifestyle in the “Hub of the Americas”

Panama City—Central America’s true First-World capital—offers the perfect mix of old and new, modern and traditional. Here you can eat in a gourmet restaurant, attend a jazz festival, watch a movie (in English)…do just about anything you would be able to do in many of the First-World cities that we all love. But in Panama City, you can do it all for less. A luxury lifestyle in the “Hub of the Americas” is easy. And it is also one of the safest capitals in the Latin American region.

In Panama City you’ll find a rich cultural tapestry—the result of a fascinating history. From the colonial buildings in Casco Viejo to the many festivals that take place in the city throughout the year, there are myriad opportunities to immerse yourself in traditional Panamanian life.

Looking for an escape from the city’s hustle and bustle? Beaches and mountains are both within easy striking distance when you live in Panama City. The beach town of Coronado is just an hour’s drive away, as are the lush mountainscapes of Cerro Azul.

When it comes to overall value, Panama City shines. It’s Central America’s only true metropolis, with a thriving art scene, a large roster of sporting and fitness-related activities, a scintillating nightlife, and just about anything else you’d expect from a world-class capital. Cosmopolitan lifestyles, top-notch healthcare, and close proximity to the U.S. have all helped transform this hub for business and trade into one of the world’s most desirable expat destinations.

Panamá La Vieja: 500 Years of History in Panama City

Panama City is the most modern-looking capital in Central America. Planes land over a sea of twinkling lights. Ubers zip tourists into town on the Corredor Sur, an automated toll road that spans over the mighty Pacific. As you approach from the east, you’ll see it…the gleaming skyline of posh condos and offices overlooking the deep blue waters of the bay.

Carry on from the Corredor Sur to the road and recreation area known as the Cinta Costera, and you’ll see a city that’s shiny and new. You’d never guess that this cosmopolitan capital just turned 500 years old. Still, the proof is there for everyone who cares to seek it.

Exit the Corredor Sur to the avenue known as El Cincuentenario and you’ll come upon Panamá La Vieja. This is where, in 1519, the ruthless conquistador known as Pedrarias founded Panama City. The first conquistador city on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, its full name was Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Panamá, and it got its start with a population of 100.

The port city was considered the jewel of the overseas Spanish Empire—a rich settlement and a strategic location from which to explore the Americas. It was from here that explorers set out to find the Mississippi River and the bountiful territories of Peru and Chile.

With the discovery of gold and silver in Peru, Panama City became a major hub on a crucial trade route. Goods were transported from South America to Panama City, then across the isthmus.

Las Cruces and The Canal Concept  

As early as 1533, advisors to the Spanish king suggested a route connecting Panama City to the town of Cruces, on the banks of the Chagres River. Dubbed the Camino de Cruces, or the Las Cruces Trail, this would become the first intercontinental road. From the Chagres, vessels could sail right into the Caribbean. And from the Caribbean port town of Nombre de Dios (and later, Portobelo), ships laden with wealth were able to set out for Spain.

Though travel was still fraught with danger, the Las Cruces Trail made it much easier for the Spanish to transfer pilfered wealth from the Americas to Europe. It wasn’t long before shrewd conquistadors suggested that a canal could save them even more time and money. They even began surveying land for the project, but the idea was later quashed by King Philip II, who declared that “if God had wanted a canal there, He would have made one.”

By 1610, the city’s initial population of 100 had grown to 5,000, and it doubled to 10,000 before the site was abandoned. The crown and its conquistadors faced many problems in Panama City, including slave rebellion, fire, and an earthquake. Worst of all, it was constantly being targeted by pirates.

The final and fiercest attack came in 1671, when the infamous Henry Morgan sacked and burned it to the ground. The incident prompted colonizers to move the city to a site about six miles southwest of the original location. Today, that “second city” is known as el Casco Antiguo. Much of modern, metropolitan Panama City is sandwiched between these two historic quarters.

Since the ruins at Panamá La Vieja were abandoned—that is, left undisturbed—for over 200 years, the original layout has been exceedingly well-preserved. It wasn’t until 1912 that the ruins were declared a public monument. In 1995 a non-profit was set up to manage the site and its funds and to continue excavations and research. Two years later, citing its importance as the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas, UNESCO named Panama La Vieja a World Heritage site.

This “exceptional testimony of colonial town planning” includes the ruins of a cathedral, convents and public buildings that “showcase unique technological and stylistic characteristics” of the time. And The site of Panama La Vieja is more than the ruin of a colonial outpost. Before the Spanish landed here, this area was home to Cueva-speaking peoples—stratified societies with dynastic rulers who left behind vestiges of their habitation and cemetery sites. (“Panama” is thought to be a Cueva word meaning abundance of fish.)

To modern-day eyes, the site of Panama La Vieja is tiny. It encompassed around 500 homes, several convents and chapels, a hospital, and a cathedral. A portion of it is buried under a residential neighborhood, but visitors can still explore the major landmarks.

Since the ruins are picturesque and centrally located, it’s well worth taking a few hours to visit them, as well as the onsite museum and handicraft shops. Ask a guide to point out the Puente del Rey—built in 1617, it may well be the oldest standing bridge in the Americas. The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción is the best-preserved building. Though its façade is gone, the nearly 100-foot bell tower is a favorite with visitors who climb to the top for camera-worthy views.

The grounds are extensive and uneven so be prepared to walk a lot—nearly a mile if you do the full circuit—and watch your step. You can ask for a guided tour, a headset to listen to recordings about the various buildings, or simply explore on your own. I recommend comfy shoes, a good camera, water and snacks, cash for handicrafts, and sun protection (consider using sunblock and wearing a hat and sunglasses), even if it’s cloudy or rainy. If you go anytime between April and December, you may want to bring an umbrella, as well.

I particularly like going to the ruins when there’s a public activity I can attend. The site is popular for everything from art and literature events to concerts and other performances—there are even weddings here from time to time.

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Panama City is full of many different nationalities and religions so you’ll never feel like an outsider. Its diversity means that you may see a cathedral, like the Catedral Metropolitana pictured here in the same area as a synagogue or a mosque.