Oh, No, Not This Question Again!

Oh, No, Not This Question Again!

Last month’s premier issue of The Panama Letter introduced subscribers up-close-and-personal to the town of Las Tablas on this country’s Azuero coast. This month, we turn our attention to the capital and show you, again, firsthand, what it’d be like to call El Cangrejo home. This is the neighborhood where Panama Letter Editor Rebecca Tyre lived during her first two years in this country and the one she still recommends as her favorite Panama City address.

From the beach to the heart of the big city and, as well, from one of the most affordable spots to live in all Panama to a more costly cosmopolitan alternative…reminding me of that all-important question:

How much does it cost to live in Panama City?

How long is a piece of string?

Last issue, Rebecca provided you with a detailed budget for living in Las Tablas totaling about US$1,200 per month, including rent, full-time help around the house, and regular dining out. One reason the cost of a comfortable and active life in this part of Panama is so affordable is that rents are cheap. As Rebecca reported last month, you can rent a house by the beach in Las Tablas for as little as US$200 to US$400 per month. That’s hard to beat anywhere in the world.

And impossible to match in Panama City.

Some claim, as you’ve likely discovered in your research, that it’s possible to live in Panama City on US$1,200 a month or even less. Technically, I guess that’s true, and, in fact, I met an American gentleman recently who swore to me that he’s living in Panama City on about US$1,000 a month. He’s renting a small, furnished house for US$650 a month and spending US$350 a month on his other expenses. Impressive…I guess.

On the other hand, the house he’s renting is not air-conditioned. He doesn’t have a car and walks everywhere he goes to save the buck-and-a-quarter taxi fare. He cooks for himself and dines alone at home every evening. He does his own laundry and irons his own shirts.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but it’s a lifestyle I’d describe as “modest,” not “comfortable.”

How much to live more comfortably? Build out from that US$1,000-a-month baseline. Rental expense of US$650 a month is about as good as it gets…with occasional exceptions. In fact, Rebecca is renting a one-bedroom apartment in the San Francisco neighborhood for US$450, unfurnished but with air conditioning. Rebecca pounded the pavements (and scoured the local classified ads) for months to land this deal. Maybe you could find another one like it…

More typical, though, certainly if you want more than one bedroom, would be monthly rent of US$800 or more.

Given that, you understand how a total monthly budget of US$1,200 a month would be tight. And, in fact, Rebecca’s figuring, detailed in this current Panama Letter issue, suggests that a more reasonable budget for an expat living in El Cangrejo would be US$2,000. In addition to housing, as Rebecca points out, other expenses are greater in Panama City than in a beach town like Las Tablas. The cost of household help, for example, can cost two to three times as much in the capital as in the interior, and you could spend four or five or six times as much every month on entertainment if you set your mind to it.

As anywhere, you could spend less, maybe (don’t have a maid, don’t eat out, never go to the movies, etc.), and, certainly, you could spend much more, but, for US$2,000 a month, you could call one of the liveliest, friendliest, safest, most eclectic, and most international neighborhoods in Panama home…and take full advantage of the interesting lifestyle it has to offer.

Rebecca has the full story in this month’s issue of The Panama Letter, in the final stages of production now. If you’re a subscriber, watch for it in your e-mailbox early next week. If you’re not, get on board here now.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. At the same time, rents in this town are more negotiable right now than they’ve been in years. Over the past four or five years, Panama City rents have risen steadily and significantly. Finally, in the past several months, we’ve seen this changing. Rental rates are steady, even sliding. Not dramatically but definitely. And, Rebecca reports, it’s possible today to ask for little extras–first month’s rent free, complementary membership at the neighborhood gym, some property improvements before you move in, etc. Again, Rebecca tells you more in this month’s issue of The Panama Letter.




“Kathleen, hello from Florida. I so much enjoy your information and am just like all the rest when it comes to coming to terms with this overwhelming idea of retiring outside the States. But I’m determined.

“I am interested in Ecuador, thanks to your letters.

“I have been to Costa Rica twice with the thought of living there, but, like you’ve said, that made sense 20 years ago. I bought your Panama book, and I’m afraid my income now would not stretch far enough there.

“I am retiring on US$1,150 per month. I live alone and will bring some cash with me for emergency, or maybe for buying after a while living there if I like it. But I’ll need to live on only my Social Security income.

“Can you offer any insight to my situation?”

— Capt. Jack I., United States

Yes, Ecuador could be a good fit for you; certainly, it’s the best budget-minded choice in the Americas. If you’re up for more exotic, consider Thailand, where you could also live comfortably on the monthly budget you indicate.

Read our correspondent’s full report on expat life in Cuenca, Ecuador, here.

And go here for our firsthand report on living the good life on the cheap in Chiang Mai, Thailand.


“Kathleen, we are drawn to France–the people, the culture, and the climate. In seven weeks, we are setting out to search for our new nest. Please let us know your top recommendation for where to settle in this country.”

— Pam Z., United States Languedoc, the “other” South of France. Full report from Euro-Correspondent Lucy Culpepper here.

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