Once upon a time, I was right where you are today, reading books about investing in Panama, attending meetings about moving to Panama, searching the internet reading articles about how cheap the cost of living in Panama can be. In comparison to the rat race life that I was living and my desire to get off the one-way street named Ever Increasing Debt, the high altitude snapshot of Panama that I came across sure sounded like paradise.
I’m sure you’ve heard much of the same things that I did… the friendliest people in the world are in Panama… there’s cheap rent in Panama… there’s cheap houses in Panama… cheap utilities can be found in Panama… the cost of living in Panama is cheap… cheap public transportation abounds in Panama… stable government… I’m sure that you know the drill by now as well as I do.
My intent is to help you differentiate between the reality regarding the cost of living in Panama and the mythology. For example, a great many people here in Panama are indeed happy, and will treat you well, and I am proud to count several Panamanians among my closest friends here.
It is also a common practice for some people in Panama to engage in what some of the locals call Juego de Vida, or what we expats call Getting Gringoed, whereas foreigners get charged more for services provided by Panamanians simply because we’re foreigners. I find it’s most typical when things aren’t specifically priced out, such as taxi rides, haircuts, fruit stands, and labor charges for things not worked out in advance. You can find a useful comparison table here.
Buses & Taxis
The public transportation system in Panama is great. People can get back and forth from where they need to go without much effort, as buses seem to reach most every paved and unpaved road I can think of. Fare for the bus is stable, being posted on the websites and bus terminals. You can generally get around town for under a dollar, you can get across town for a little over a dollar, and you can ride across the country for $30 or so.
Taxis are everywhere too. In populated areas the taxi drivers will stop regularly to pick up more than one fare in the same ride. The fares seem to be more expensive in Panama City and David than everywhere else. Here in the province of Chiriqui you can go from one end of the Interamericana to the other for under $2, or find a fare around inside the belt for around a dollar.
In Volcan you can go almost anywhere in town for under a dollar, and a ride up the mountain to Bambito some five miles away will cost you $2. Be careful with taxis around airports and don’t be afraid to say no. They can seem helpful with your bags but they’ve been known to gouge you on price. I’m often quoted $30 to get from the airport to the hotel, or from the airport in David to my house. I can usually reduce the fair down to $10 or $15 just by smiling and shaking my head no. They’ll usually smile back and say, “okay, okay, $10 dollars.”
Time and again I’ve been pleased with the health care system available in Panama and the impact on the cost of living in Panama is favorable to that of the United States. For example, our little girl was born here at Hospital Chiriqui in David. For regular OB/GYN visits during the preganancy, attentive hospital care during labor and delivery, anesthesiology and drugs for an epidural, pediatric care for our newborn baby, nurses, meals, and lodging during the hospital stay, our all-inclusive cash price was $2,100. We’ve paid much more than that in out-of-pocket co-pays in the United States!
Doctor’s visits to specialists such as cardiologists or ophthamalogists will typically run you $50. You can expect to pay $15 for 24 hour clinics or as little as $0.50 for emergency room care. Dentists will charge you $30 for cleanings.
If you’re interested in health care plans you can buy purchase either international plans or local plans. International plans that I’ve priced typically have 20% co-pays and pre-Obamacare deductibles. You can get family coverage plans that cover you for as little as $5,000 a year in premiums to as much as $15,000 a year depending on your elective choices regarding coverage in the areas of Major Medical, Outpatient Coverage, Comprehensive Coverage, Dental Coverage, and other choices regarding inpatient and outpatient care. International plans give you the freedom to choose among the many hospitals and care faclities in Panama and are transferrable to any other country in the world excluding the United States.
Local plans are available typically through the hospital of your choice for as little as $100 a month. I’ve heard varied opinions about the local insurance coverages so I would advise selecting a hospital that you’re comfortable with and sitting down with a representative from there and discussing the options that they offer.
I have found drug costs to be mostly reasonable. You don’t need a prescription for many of the things that you do in the United States. Name brand and generic drugs are readily available in the more populous areas usually with multiple pharmacies covering each area. There’s a good mix of pharmacies inside of supermarkets as well as stand-alone pharmacies.
Ah, my favorite subject… FOOD! If you’ve never been to Panama, let me just first of all say that you’ll be amazed at the variety of fruits and vegetables grown right here in Panama. There are many different types of both fruits and vegetables that I had never heard of.
The great news is that fruits and vegetables remain dirt cheap! I routinely purchase whole pineapples for under a buck, watermelons for anywhere between $2 and $5, oranges for $5 a 20 pound bag, bananas for $0.50 a pound, a dozen jalapenos for $0.75, and it goes on and on.
You can notice the cheaper Cost of Living in Panama in fresh produce like Oranges, Strawberries, or Yuca. If fruits and vegetables are important to you, then you will be pleased at how favorable they impact the cost of living in Panama when compared to the cost of fruits and vegetables in the United States or Canada.
Where you run into more trouble price-wise is dairy products and imported products from the United States. Dairy products here are really expensive in comparison to the US. For example, whereas you’re probably enjoying a gallon of milk being priced for somewhere around $1.50, we’re paying $1.45 a liter. Cheese is ridiculously expensive in my opinion, with a large bag of shredded cheddar cheese costing over $13.00, and that’s taking advantage of discounted pricing when buying in bulk.
Final Thoughts on the cost of living in Panama
My family has found that Panama is generally more affordable than the United States if you stick to Panamanian staples regarding chicken, fruits and vegetables, and take advantage of subsidized energy costs in the form of the small propane gas tanks. You can find great deals on rentals, especially when shopping for places to live during the low season.
While it’s true that property can be more expensive than some places in the United States, it is also true that there are steal great deals to discover in Panama. You’ve just got to know how and where to look, and that’s how PanamaKeys can add value as you begin your new adventure in Panama.
If you just can’t seem to shake the feeling that you need to check out Panama and see what all of the fuss is about, contact us or give us a call. We’re ready, willing, and able to help!
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