Everyday Cost of Living: Panama vs Canada

For the last seven years, my husband Gary and I have been enjoying a snowbird lifestyle. For six months each year, we wave goodbye to family and friends in cold, snowy Canada and set out for our home in Panama’s Chiriquí province.

In our home near the city of David, the weather is fantastic, the people are friendly and genuine, and our life is slower paced and stress free. As an added bonus, the cost of living in Panama is much more conducive to our income.

We love Canada but living on small pensions as we do, life is a constant financial struggle. In Panama, we find that we can live a fuller, more comfortable life. We can afford to travel, eat out, and enjoy cultural nights out when in Panama, while in Canada our money is spent on everyday essentials.

Comparisons between prices in Panama and those in our province of British Columbia are very revealing. Let me give you some everyday examples.

There is a huge difference in food prices. We have found fresh produce and meat to be far less costly than similar products in Canada. Arguably the reasoning is that all Panamanian fruits and vegetables are grown locally, but B.C. has market gardens, commercial greenhouses, and orchards as well. Prices in B.C. grocery stores fluctuate somewhat but generally lemons and limes are $1 each, a box of mandarin oranges cost $6 a box, pineapples, $5.99 each, bananas are 33 cents each…you get the idea.

In Panama, I frequent the local markets and also shop in the grocery stores. If I make a stop at a local market, I typically leave with four or five bulging grocery bags containing two pineapples, four mangoes, a huge papaya, 12 bananas, a bag of mandarin oranges, and enough tomatoes, lettuce, onions, carrots, peppers, and other vegetables to last my husband and I for at least a week. The cost? Between $11 and $17.

Alcoholic beverages are undoubtedly one of the very best examples of the divergent prices between the two countries, the cause being the exorbitant liquor taxes applied in Canada. Living in a warm, tropical country, I’ve become partial to the taste of a tart, refreshing, ice-cold margarita. In Canada, a 26-ounce bottle of average-quality tequila costs $40. In Panama, I can buy a large bottle of tequila, accompanied by a large bottle of delicious margarita mix, for $12.

And excellent red or white wine in Panama costs between $4 and $12, depending on the quality. This is much less than even the cheapest wine in Canada.

Vehicle insurance in B.C. ranges from $600 to $1,200 per year, as opposed to approximately $200 per year in Panama. Oil changes are $45 and up in B.C., but just $20 to $25 in Panama, especially if you use the small neighborhood repair shops. There is a huge discrepancy in gasoline prices. In Panama, we are paying 61 cents per liter of gasoline, while in B.C. right now, the cost is $1.16 a liter.

The lower cost of all of these items allows us to have more disposable income in Panama, which enables us to enjoy a better quality of life. Just one more reason to love this marvelous country.

After all that, I believe I feel the urge for a smooth, icy margarita.

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