Panama— Panama City (El Cangrejo),
Las Tablas, and Boquete

Here's the truest thing I can tell you about the cost of living in Panama City: It can be as little or as much as you want it to be, within broad ranges. The biggest part of any budget is given over to housing (that is, rent), which is also typically the most variable budgeting factor. Nowhere is this more true than in Panama City.

Which is why we focus not on Panama City, but on El Cangrejo. This is my first point: It'd be impossible to produce a useful report on the cost of living in Panama City. Compact as this city is, it's home to many diverse neighborhoods, from Costa del Este to Casco Viejo and from Marbella to San Miguelito. The cost of living one to another is dramatically changeable, primarily because the cost of renting one to the other can vary so much.

Taking all this into account, we've chosen El Cangrejo. Not only because this is an appealing place to call home, but also because it's middle of the road. It's not this city's most costly place to live (that'd be Costa del Este or certain areas of Marbella, for example), and it's not the most affordable either.

Certainly, you could rent in Panama City for less, and we know many people who do. But you'd be living in a more out-of- the-way neighborhood—Arraijan, for example, or La Chorrera. I've read reports from other sources suggesting that expats and foreign retirees looking for more affordable Panama City options consider neighborhoods like these, but I don't recommend it. The average retiree isn't going to feel comfortable in these working-class barrios. I don't speak with prejudice but as a realist.

For the purposes of our reporting, we assume that you want to stretch your retirement dollars as far as possible, sure, but also that you want to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. In Panama City, El Cangrejo is one of the top choices right now for enjoying a comfortable expat lifestyle. And the realistic cost for that lifestyle is going to be just about US$2,000 per month.

El Cangrejo Monthly Budget

Apartment or House Rental

Item US dollars Remarks
   

Based on renting an older apartment (figure US$1,000 for new)

Rent $800  
HOA Fees $0  
Property Taxes -  
Transportation $60 Occasional taxi fares
    Figure more if using
Electricity $80 A/C
Gas $5 Used for cooking
Telephone $20 Land line
Internet $35  
Cable TV $35  
Household Help, fulltime $300 For a part-time maid (two full days per week), reduce to US$160
Food $300 Groceries
Entertainment $400 Eating out, movies, bars, etc.
Homeowner's Insurance $0  
     
TOTAL $2,035  

Apartment or House Ownership

Item US dollars Remarks
Rent $0  
HOA Fees $150  
Property Taxes -  
Transportation $60 Occasional taxi fares
Gas $5 Used for cooking
Electricity $80 Figure more if using A/C
Telephone $20 Land line
Internet $35  
Cable TV $35  
Household Help, fulltime $300 For a part-time maid (two full days per week), reduce to US$160
Food $300 Groceries
Entertainment $400 Eating out, movies, bars, etc.
     
TOTAL $1,385  

Owning a Car

Item US dollars Remarks
Car registration US$50/year  
Insurance US$150/year  
Maintenance US$1,000/year  
Fuel US$1,050/year  
     
CAR TOTAL $2,250  

By Kathleen Peddicord and Rebecca Tyre

Our top pick for beach living in this country is Las Tablas, on the Azuero Peninsula, the first town of note along what is becoming this country's Gold Coast.

Other beaches, certainly, are easier to access from Panama City. But these "city beaches," as they're called, have gotten expensive. Panamanians like to be able to leave work on Friday afternoons and reach their places on the water by dinnertime, and they are willing to pay a premium for that privilege. Properties at these Panama City beach areas, therefore, have appreciated in value over the past several years, but the experience doesn't support the inflation. The beaches aren't great (they're typically muddy and flat), and there's no town, no community anywhere along this coast, just collections here and there of (often) down-at-the-heels weekend party houses.

It'll take you four hours to reach Las Tablas from downtown Panama City. That's the bad news. The good news is that you travel well-maintained highway door- to-door. The really good news is that, having made the drive, you are greeted by a charming and lively town center, a welcoming local population, and a long- established community of Panamanians and expats who savor their seaside lifestyle.

Here's the best news: You could join them on a budget of as little as US$820 per month. You could spend more, of course, living in Las Tablas, especially if you travel often to Panama City to enjoy the distractions of the big city. But if you'd be happy with a modest life, sticking close to home, passing your days fishing and swimming, Las Tablas could have your name written all over it.

Las Tablas Monthly Budget

Apartment or House Rental

Item US dollars Remarks
Rent US$300  
HOA Fees US$0  
Property Taxes -  
Transportation US$50 Occasional taxi fares
Electricity US$100 Figure more if using A/C
Gas US$5 Used for cooking
Telephone US$30 Land line
Internet US$25  
Cable TV US$30  
Household Help, fulltime US$150  
Food US$300 Groceries
Entertainment US$80 Eating out, movies, bars, etc.
Homeowner's Insurance US$0  
     
TOTAL $1,070  

Apartment or House Ownership

Item US dollars Remarks
Rent US$0  
HOA Fees US$50  
Property Taxes -  
Transportation US$50 Occasional taxi fares
Gas US$5 Used for cooking
Electricity US$100 Figure more if using A/C
Telephone US$30 Land line
Internet US$25  
Cable TV US$30  
Household Help, fulltime US$150  
Food US$300 Groceries
Entertainment US$80 Eating out, movies, bars, etc.
     
TOTAL $820  

By Kathleen Peddicord

Boquete is one of the few places in Panama where you can live without knowing Spanish. Many locals speak at least some English, while others, especially those who work in the service industry, are nearly bilingual. Though many people speak English here, it's always beneficial to learn at least basic Spanish, if for no reason other than to show respect to the locals.

Living in Boquete costs much the same as it does elsewhere in Panama. If you own your own home, you can live in Boquete for around US$1,300 a month. The cost of real estate is slowly decreasing in this region after years of seeing some of the most rapid appreciation in the country. Boquete real estate is still the second most expensive in Panama, second in cost only to Panama City.

That said, it is possible to find real estate bargains if you know where to look and who to ask. As in any unregulated market, you'll find better real estate purchase and rental deals if you have your feet on the ground in Boquete. Scouting real estate from afar is much more difficult than if you're physically present in the area.

Boquete Monthly Budget

Apartment or House Rental

Item US dollars Remarks
Rent US$500 to US$1,000  
HOA Fees US$0  
Property Taxes -  
Transportation US$50 Occasional taxi fares
Electricity US$100 Figure more if using A/C
Gas US$5 Used for cooking
Telephone US$30 Land line
Internet US$25  
Cable TV US$30  
Household Help, fulltime US$300  
Food US$300 Groceries
Entertainment US$400 Eating out, movies, bars, etc.
Homeowner's Insurance US$0  
     
TOTAL $1,740  

Apartment or House Ownership

Item US dollars Remarks
Rent US$0  
HOA Fees US$50  
Property Taxes -  
Transportation US$50 Occasional taxi fares
Gas US$5 Used for cooking
Electricity US$100 Figure more if using A/C
Telephone US$30 Land line
Internet US$25  
Cable TV US$30  
Household Help, fulltime US$300  
Food US$300 Groceries
Entertainment US$400 Eating out, movies, bars, etc.
     
TOTAL $1,290  

By Kathleen Peddicord

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