“Rent before you buy.”
I’ve been interviewing expats in Panama since I began writing for International Living in 2006, and this may well be the phrase I hear (and repeat) the most. It’s good advice when moving to a new community…whether it’s across the country or across the world.
Renting for a few months gives you a chance to transition from tourist-mode to resident-mode. To stop seeing your new community as a vacation spot and to dig down into the pros and cons of long-term living.
If you’re looking to save some money on your “experimental rental,” one city in Panama offers comfort and convenience on the cheap. That would be the city of David, a busy little hub with modern amenities in a semi-rural setting. Properties for rent here are listed regularly from as low as $400 a month. Here you can live like a local—among local neighbors, and on a local, middle-class budget—and save money while you study Spanish, experience the local culture, meet other expats, and more.
Why Expats are Renting in David
Few 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 nation’s capital offers modern conveniences, from excellent hospitals to reliable high-speed internet to banks and government offices. But budget-conscious expats—many of whom find the capital’s busy streets overwhelming—are opting for David. As the capital of Panama’s “breadbasket” Chiriqui province, it offers many city amenities on a smaller scale.
David is known for hot, sunny weather, friendly locals, and a convenient, central location. After all, it’s just a 35-minute drive from the popular highland town of Boquete and, in the opposite direction, La Barqueta beach. Drive another hour-and-a-half and you’ll hit one of Panama’s pristine marine parks. Head to the isolated beach of Boca Chica and a five-minute boat ride will get you to the white sands of Boca Brava Island.
With a growing expat community (and growing opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs), David has plenty of appeal for lovers of sultry tropical weather. Like most of Panama, David has a dry or summer season, from December through April. The wet or winter season is from May through November, though rains tend to get heavy only from August on. It’s not a place that’s prone to flooding or other natural disasters (the entire country of Panama is outside of the hurricane belt). And it’s just an hour’s flight from the capital city, home to Tocumen International Airport, aka the Hub of the Americas.
Cheap Rentals in David
Your typical house for rent in David is unfurnished, with a small kitchen, a couple bedrooms, and one or two bathrooms…in total, you’re usually looking at 900 to 1,000 square feet. A lot of time is spent outdoors, so covered terraces or large lots with fruit trees are common. Homes in desirable areas tend to start at around $400 a month.
Condos are less common, though there are a couple of gated condo communities that cater to expats wanting furnished rentals. Unfurnished or semi-outfitted (major appliances and air-conditioning) condos can be found in the $600 range, while furnished condos tend to be in the $700 range. Rental homes and apartments in Panama tend to include water and trash pickup in the rental price.
At the cheaper end of the spectrum, one house was just listed for $375 a month. It’s an 860-square-foot duplex in a housing development that allows pets. There’s just one bathroom but the house features a small covered terrace and covered carport.
Expats renting in David will find there is much more to choose from in the $500 to $750 range. If you’re looking for something furnished, then you’ll likely land in this range. For example, a furnished three-bedroom, two-bathroom house listed for $600 a month comes with a large covered terrace and gated carport…and air conditioning units. Though there are plenty of expats who prefer not to use air-conditioning in David, you may want to rent in a place that has a/c at first, while you acclimate.
Spend a bit more and you can get a bit of luxury for very little. In the suburbs on the way to Boquete, a $950 a month rental offers expansive views of the mountains, as well as a nearby lake. The new, two-level home is about 2,150 square feet and features four bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, a laundry room, a balcony, and a terrace. Located in a gated community near the Santa Maria La Antigua University, the property is on a lot of nearly 7,000 square feet. The community has a social area and small park.
My Number One Tip for 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 (ones to avoid, such as those near the airport), and talk to local realtors…not Panama City outfits or web advertisers that are unfamiliar with the Chiriquí region. In my experience the best realtors—anywhere in the world—are ones with strong ties to the local community.
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