If you’re looking for easy living in the tropics, Panama and Costa Rica would be your best choices. Knowing which one to choose is quite tricky, seeing as both have attractive attributes and accessibility for any type of lifestyle.
Could you resist warm sandy beaches and cool majestic mountain retreats a few hours from the capital city?
I asked four people to compare both countries…
Marta: A Panamanian school teacher married to a Costa Rican who has lived off and on in Costa Rica.
Jose: A Costa Rican engineer, living and working in Panama with his Costa Rican family.
Angelica: A Panamanian with a Costa Rican parent, who goes back to spend time with family there.
Sharry: A Costa Rican with Panamanian relatives she sees on a regular basis.
Everyone agrees that both countries are great, but it all boils down to personal preferences and priorities.
Let’s break it down…
Standard Of Living
Marta, Angelica, and Jose feel that it’s important for them to be able to provide an affordable lifestyle for their families. Transportation, food, and general expenses are considerably lower in Panama than in Costa Rica.
Angelica states that “restaurants are more expensive in Costa Rica, especially fast food, which can set you back by US$10 for a combo at McDonald’s.”
“The bus fare in San Jose is about 80 cents,” Marta explains, “and in Panama it’s 25 cents. However, the buses in San Jose are frequent and cleaner than those in Panama.”
Sharry loves to shop, so Panama for her is a shopper’s paradise. In Costa Rica, the consumption tax is a whopping 13% compared to the 7% in Panama.
Cars in Costa Rica are almost doubled the price in Panama, so Jose plans on driving his newly bought Toyota across the border when he returns to home.
Many expats opt for the Panama Residency Visa. Like in Costa Rica, it is one of the best ways to retire in the country legally. All you need is proof you have a US$1,000 monthly pension.
According to Panama Offshore Services, another way of getting permanent residency status in Panama is by investing US$100,000 in real estate. In Costa Rica, you need to invest US$200,000.
However, the public system is slower, and you have to go through a lot of red tape when buying property and getting loans in Costa Rican banks compared to Panama.
Real Estate is similar in both countries since they’re experiencing and enjoying a real estate boom making housing affordable.
Many expats enjoy the lower costs of real estate and property taxes in comparison to what they’d invest in North America. Prices in Costa Rica are particularly low at the moment, especially in areas such as Guanacaste, Cartago, and San José.
Of the two countries, Panama has arguably the best construction and infrastructure. The evidence is clear in the various high-rise buildings and beautifully constructed offices in the financial district.
Angelica claims that property tax and buying real estate in Costa Rica has increased. Panama is much cheaper. Still, caution must always be taken when investing in real estate wherever you go.
Costa Rica has one of the highest levels of schooling in Latin America because of its “free and mandatory” policy for everyone, increasing the possibility of the wider population getting a good education.
Teachers are well paid and schools’ infrastructure are commendable. Of course, if you want more than public schooling, private schools offer an added bonus of using the American Curriculum. Also, students are taught other languages including French, Italian, and German.
Both countries have excellent health facilities, but Costa Rica has better health care services, especially in public health institutions. Its government has invested quite a bit to ensure that its public health system is beneficial and free to all across the board.
If you prefer private health care, both Panama and Costa Rica offer top-notch services.
Even though it is evident that the standard of living is higher in Costa Rica, it hasn’t stopped an incredibly large influx from North American expats. Many people are drawn by the untouched wildlife and the ability to live among the flora and fauna. Costa Rica has taken advantage of this promoting its eco-friendly tourism.
People are also attracted to Costa Rica’s conservation initiatives. Unfortunately, these issues are still polemic in Panama. Money, rather than environmental policies, is the rule of the day.
Popular opinion suggests that Costa Ricans are one of the most courteous set of people in Latin America. They’re a better trained and educated workforce with outstanding customer service skills. Wherever you go, you will be treated like kings and queens no matter the occasion.
Panama is still a work in progress in this regard, trying to bring its people to a level where “serving with a smile” becomes the norm.
Both Panama and Costa Rica are great countries as retirement destinations. Both have great tropical climate and breathtaking highlands. Both have a growing economy with Panama having the upper hand, because of the U.S. dollar.
However, choosing one country over the other isn’t quite so clear cut. Each person has different likes, and you’d have to see which country fits your mold. I’m sure that if you choose either one, you’ll be happy with the choice you made. I know I am.