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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 GuideCome 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)

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