Panama vs. Costa Rica

Once I decided to relocate overseas, I spent several years researching and visiting potential countries.  I wanted to live in a place with great weather where I would not need an air conditioner or heater.  A more affordable cost of living would be a big plus.  I’ve been all over Europe, Canada, South America, the Caribbean islands, Mexico, and Panama.  I also visited Costa Rica.  I’m often asked why Panama versus Costa Rica.

Four things that turned me off to CR right away:

1. Crime is a huge problem. Everyone we talked to said they could not even go to the grocery store or out to eat unless they got someone to stay at their house. Who wants to live like that?! A guy I know in Escazu (who used to live in Grecia) has been broken into 3 times in the last 12 months.  I talked to an expat in Guanacasta who lives in a gated community, yet he has been broken into twice in the last year.

2. Even with no air conditioning, the utility costs are extremely high in CR. At least 10 times higher than Panama because of the graduated billing system in Costa Rica.

3. Food costs 50% more in CR for the basic items I compared. Gasoline is more expensive in Costa Rica.

4. Housing costs, including rents, are much higher in CR.

5.  The roads are terrible.  You can be driving along and come to a 3′ deep hole that is 3′ wide in the middle of the road.  No signs.  No warnings.  I would never drive at night in Costa Rica.  Even in the daytime, you need to pay constant attention to the road conditions.

I actually cut my visit to Costa Rica short because I quickly determined it was OFF THE LIST.

Panama is much more affordable.  On my first visit to Panama, I ran into three couples from Costa Rica who came to Panama to stock up on PriceSmart because the prices are lower in Panama.

In Panama, everyone is friendly and helpful – both expats and Panamanians. You rarely hear about any crime problems.

Panama Relocation Guide Come see how you can live BETTER for LESS in Panama.  Join us for a 6-day all-inclusive Panama Relocation Tour or get our Online Panama Relocation Guide to learn all the things you need to know to relocate to Panama the easy way.


Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

Reader Interactions


  1. Kim reynolds says

    This has so much great info! Thank you!🏝

    • Jackie Lange says

      We’re so glad you are enjoying the information at

  2. Don Harris says

    I agree the roads were horrible, I see a lot of dirt roads in Panama also. Is a four wheel drive the bast way to go?

    • Jackie Lange says

      There are not a lot of dirt roads in Panama. Only if you plan to drive off road do you need a 4 wheel drive

      • John Bacon says

        Need to know a little more about the roads. I’m a little adventuresome, so I need to know about the need for 4×4.


        • Jackie Lange says

          the roads are great in Panama. Unless you plan to go off roading, you will not need a 4 x 4. I would recommend a high clearance vehicle like an SUV though

  3. Mike says

    My first visit.. Flying in to PTY in a couple of weeks.. Can you recommend tourist area where I can start looking for hotels within a mile or so of a beach and maybe some entertainment, restaurants ect..

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Mike

      There are no beach areas in Panama City. The closest nice beach area is a minimum 1 hour drive (if no traffic)

  4. Craig Moyles says

    Jackie, It was Enlightening reading your information on Panama ! I am a 70 year old male living with my male partner in St Petersburg, FL. We have loved living in St. Petersburg for many years. It has grown into a wonderful place to live. It was Very affordable for Many years. Recently, the prices of living here, especially rents and purchasing property are out of sight. It is no longer affordable to live here. There are several of us that are Spanish speakers and Looking for a more affordable place to retire. A warm climate is a must as well. Very interested in Panama ! Thanks , in advance for any help provided for us !

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hi Craig, Thanks for your interest in Panama and Panama Relocation Tours. A good place to start is our YouTube Channel – you’ll see videos of various areas with warm weather and get to listen to expats talk about what it’s like to live there. See this


    Hello Jackie, very good information about Panama, do you have any information about relocation to Mexico? I live in california and all my family also and I would like to be able to be closer to them. I was thinking about Baja California, San Felipe.

  6. Sue Billings says

    Jackie, I’m considering the tour to see what living would be like in Panama. I have some questions that I’m looking for answers prior to any decisions.
    Does the Medicare system in the US transfer to Panama? How does Social Security work? How does Pension check(s) work? What’s the best city to live?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hello Sue. Medicare does not tranfer to Panama. I you have the right Medicare Advantage plan, it can be used for urgent care and emergency medical care in Panama. You’ll still get Social Security. You can have it direct deposited into your US bank or a Panama bank. If you deposit into a US bank, you can write a check for up to $3000 per month to deposit it into your Panama account (so no wire fees). The best city to live is the place that has the weather you like and it’s a good fit for your budget.

  7. Michael Combs says

    I am thinking of moving to Panama. My wife my son who has special needs (Downs Syndrome) and myself. I am concerned about medical care for my son. If Medicare does not transfer to Panama what plan would I need to obtain. Can my pension check go directly to a bank in Panama. We visited Boquete a few years back and we fell in love with the place.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hello Michael. You’re right that Medicare does not transfer to Panama so you’d have to get Panama insurance. However Panama insurance does not cover most pre-existing conditions so you would need to pay for medical care out of pocket. Medical care is much more affordable in Panama. See this information about health insurance

  8. bud rear says

    was told if your a vetran medical is free how about dentaland vision

  9. bud rear says

    was told if you are a veteran health care was free how about dental and

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