Updated December 28, 2018
About a year ago I wrote an article about the many ways I live for less in Panama compared to what it cost to live in Dallas Texas. Today I updated the article with current 2018 prices. There has not been much of an increase in prices in the last couple of years. Some restaurants have raised their prices but there is always a more affordable restaurant just down the road.
Can you really live for less in Panama? Well, it depends on how you live, where you live in Panama, and where you’re coming from. For most people, it is possible to live for less in Panama.
Some people reevaluate their priorities when they move to Panama. Instead of the 3000 Sf house with a big yard they had back home, they downsize to a comfortable 1500SF house in Panama. You can reduce your costs my moving in to a smaller house in Panama
Other people go from a 1500SF house back home to a 5000SF house on an estate in Panama. Obviously, a bigger house will always cost more to maintain and take more time to manage.
I know a lady who lives in Panama on $800 a month which includes rent. She lives in a modest one bedroom Panamanian style house. She says she is completely comfortable and has everything she needs.
Another couple lives comfortably on $4000 a month in a 3500sf house and they eat out just about every day plus they travel internationally 3-4 times a year. They have a large property so they have additional expenses of a full time grounds keeper.
Many expats are living WELL in Panama on a fixed income of less than $1500 per month total income. I spend less than that, including international health insurance.
So, live Better and Live for Less are subjective. But as you can see from the information below, no matter where or how you live in Panama, there are many different ways you can live for less. If you forego the big house with the big property, you will certainly reduce your costs.
Sure some things will cost more in Panama. But there are many ways you can live better and live for less… much less.. in Panama. No matter what size home you live in, whether you rent or buy, there are many ways you can live for less in Panama. See details below…
The cost per kilowatt hour in Panama is the same that I paid in Texas. But the big difference is that in Boquete, where I live, I don’t need an air conditioner or heater running 24/7 like I did in Texas, my electricity bill went from $250 – $350 a month to less than $30 per month.
In Texas, I paid $70 per month for metered water. In Panama I pay $100 a year for unlimited water use.
Plus I get an additional 25% discount off all utility costs because I’m over 55 and have a residency visa.
Just these two items alone save me over $3000 per year.
Tour client Soup and Sue Campbell lived in Fairbanks Alaska before moving to Panama. His annual heating and electric bill was $8500 and now it is less than $500 per year. That’s an $8000 a year savings.. and living for less in Panama
If you moved from a New York, California, London or Dubai, you’ll think Panama prices are bargain. But if you move from Texas, Oklahoma, Florida or Arizona, (areas most popular with retirees) the house prices in Panama could be about the same or higher… unless you know where to go to find great bargains.
A year ago, a guy from my tour bought a 1800sf house on an acre for $35,000 in Caldera. I got a call last week about a house for sale in Volcan for only $95,000. It’s 1600sf house fully furnished with a detached two car garage on 1 1/2 acre with a stream at the back of the property. So there are great “deals” out there but they are not usually advertised or listed with real estate agents.
The acquisition cost of the house is not the only thing you need to take in to consideration. Buying a house is a one-time expense. You also have to take in to consideration the monthly or annual expenses of Panama vs. where you live now.
Saving $3000 to $8000 a year on utility costs alone makes it possible to live for less in Panama. But there are many other savings.
I paid about $3500 a year for property taxes for my house in Texas. I pay ZERO property taxes in Panama. That’s because houses built before 2012 got a 20-year tax exemption. And any home purchased for less than $120,000 will never have property taxes. My Panama house was built in 2007 so I still have 13 more years with no property taxes for the exemption then no property taxes after that.
Over the next 20 years, that’s a $70,000 savings compared to what I paid in Texas.
House insurance in Texas cost me $1500 a year. In Panama I pay $200 per year for house insurance.
According to http://www.valuepenguin.com homeowners insurance rates continue to rise at a steady rate throughout the United States, up over 50% in the last 10 years. The Florida average for a median priced house insurance is $1933 per year which does not include Flood Insurance which is required in much of Florida.
Don’t rush in to buying a house! I recommend that you wait at least 6-12 months before making a buying decision. This will give you time to make sure you like living in Panama. And it will give you time to make sure you like the area you have slected.
Renting is a lot more affordable in Panama than it is in other countries, including the United States. In Texas, you’ll pay $1200 a month for a $125,000 house. That is unfurnished and does not include any utilities. A $125,000 house in Panama, fully furnished and all bills paid, will rent for $700 to $750 in 2018. The Panama house will probably include a weekly or bi-weekly gardener too. Plus you don’t have to deal with the upkeep and maintenance when you rent.
If you buy a house priced at over $250,000 in Panama it could take many years to sell it in Panama. You can’t move on with your life and other plans if you are stuck trying to sell a house. Instead of investing in buying a house, you could put the money in to a savings account in Panama and earn 1.5% to 2.5% interest. Some credit unions pay even more. It’s hard to put a price on the FREEDOM to move when you want to!
It’s not just what you pay for rent or buying a house …. you have to take in to consideration QUALITY of life too.
Read how expat Debbie Fishell explains how she lives better for less in Panama.
The home I purchased in Panama is probably at least half of what a similar home in an oceanfront community in the USA would have cost me. Not to mention, my utility bill last month was under $40 for everything – electric, water, trash included. I don’t need AC here, but in Arizona we were rarely under $200, even in the winter, and near $400/month in the summer – just for electric! Another plus to my monthly budget are the local Farmer’s Markets. Again, I pay about 1/2 the price I paid at Farmer’s Markets in the states for wonderful, fresh, and organic produce in Panama.
Veggies – Panama $2/large bag organic greens vs US $4-6/ bag of mixed organic greens
I also have about 30 Amazon Parrots, a couple of large iguanas, and a cute turtle that visit my yard regularly. I call them my free “wild pets” because they take care of themselves!
Health Care is a big savings, especially if you don’t qualify for Medicare yet. If I stayed in the United States, I would pay about $12,000 a year for insurance, with a very high deductible, which would not be as good as the health insurance I have in Panama.
In Panama I pay less than $2200 a year for health insurance that covers me in Panama, in the United States or anywhere else in the world. My deductible is $1000 but I only have to pay that if I have a procedure done outside of Panama. I have zero deductible in Panama.
My total health care costs will be $2200 a year for worldwide coverage compared to $12,000 a year for US insurance only. That’s a $9,800 a year savings!
$2200 a year is still a big expense even though it is much less than the USA. I could reduce my costs if we were only covered in Panama or if I increased my deductible. But I like to travel and want to option to have any procedure done in the USA and covered by my insurance.
My 36 year old daughter in Texas looked in to getting Obamacare. At $285 a month ($3420 per year) with a $6000 deductible she decided to pass. It’s cheaper to pay the penalty which will luckily go away with the 2018 tax returns.
I asked my insurance agent in Panama what it would cost for my daughter to get worldwide health insurance in Panama. I got a quote of $1200 a year with zero deductible in Panama and a $1000 deductible outside of Panama. Much better than Obamacare! And she will be covered worldwide.
Because it is so affordable to go to a doctor, many people decide to put that insurance money in savings then self-insure (pay out of pocket).
In Texas you pay $125 – $185 for a general doctor visit.
In Panama it is $12 to $20 for a doctor visit. A specialist will cost $40 to $50. These prices are without insurance!
And the doctors in Panama put the CARE back in to Health Care. They will spend as much time as they need to evaluate your situation, carefully explain your options, and even give you their cell phone number so you can call them if you are not better quickly.
A few years ago I had to go to the emergency room at Hospital Chiriqui in Panama. I was in so much pain I forgot to give them my insurance card. After two IVs, pain medications, blood tests and other lab work, and a great doctor who spoke perfect English, my emergency room visit was less than $50 without insurance.
Try getting that price at an emergency room in the USA!
Soup and Sue Campbell came on my tour a few years ago then moved to Volcan. Soup had a stroke a few month ago. With no insurance, he paid $75 a day for a hospital stay. His total costs for the stroke with 3 doctors, CAT Scams, MRI’s, medications, and several days in the hospital was less than $4000.
A friend in Florida recently had a stent put in his heart for $125,000 out of pocket. Richard Dietrich’s wife Nikki had the same procedure done in Panama City a few years ago for less than $20,000. Plus her medical reimbursement plan (they do not have insurance) paid for half so their out-of-pocket expense was less than $10,000.
In Texas I paid $225 a month for my ATT cell phone use including data. In Panama I pay $15.37 a month. That’s a $215 a month savings!
Until a few months ago, my internet did cost MORE in Panama and I got less speed. I was pay $99 a month for 10 mbps. HOWEVER.. the internet service provider Cable Onda recently installed fiber optics on my street so now I have 100mbps and cable tv for $60 a month. Now, I pay much less than I paid in Texas for internet and cable tv.
In Texas I paid $35 to get someone to mow my lawn. They were finished in less than an hour. In Panama I pay $25 for a gardener who is here from 9-4. The gardener comes to my property two times a week.
A 7-hour bus ride to Panama City $10.60 with pensionado discount. It’s a double decker Mercedes bus with reclining seats. I don’t know what it would cost for 8 hour bus ride to anywhere in North America but I bet it would be more than $10.60
Soup and Sue Campbell paid $199 for an inflatable 4 person hot tub at Novey in Panama. They are advertised online for $400 in the United States.
Electronics and appliances cost about the same in Panama as they did in Texas.
Furniture prices are the same if you buy them in a store. But you can have high quality furniture custom made for a fraction of what you’d pay in the store… and be giving work to a Panamanian too.
If you have any residency visa and you are a woman 55+ or a man 60+, you will get these Pensionado discounts:
50% off entertainment (movies, theaters, concerts, sporting events)
30% off bus, boat, and train fares
25% off airline tickets
25% off monthly energy bills
30% to 50% off hotel stays
15% off hospital bills
10% off prescription medicines
20% off medical consultations
15% off dental and eye exams
20% off professional and technical services
50% off closing costs for home loans, and more…
Last year I flew to Texas. I looked up the non-stop flight I wanted on Copa Airlines web site. It was $710. Then I sent the flight information to my travel agent in Boquete. She got the pensionado discount for me so I only paid $521. More savings!
If you buy a lot of imported items at the grocery store in Panama, you will pay more for your groceries. But if you buy local produce and local brands, you will save money. There is a huge variety of fruits and vegetables readily available at farmer’s markets and at the grocery store.
Even produce which is not grown in Panama, like apples and pears, are readily available.
An example, imported Del Monte can tomatoes are $1.69 a can at Romero. But a Panama brand of can tomatoes is only 69 cents. Or, buy fresh tomatoes at the farmer’s market to get much better quality for even less.
If you avoid anything that comes in a can, bag, or box you will save money.. and be much healthier too. You may be able to get off all those expensive medications!
In Texas I paid $150 – $200 per week for groceries. In Panama I pay right around $50 per week.
Just like North America, you will save by buying produce when it is in season. In Panama you can buy 100 Panama oranges in season for $4 a bag. Get 50 pounds of carrots for $6. In Panama if you buy imported oranges, they are $1.45 a pound. I don’t know what they cost in the USA now.
The sweetest pineapple you have ever tasted is 75 cents to $1 each depending on the size. Pineapple is available year round in Panama. I paid $5 for a pineapple in Texas and they did not even have any flavor.
Soup Campbell reported these prices in Volcan: beer in the grocery store $0.35 -> $0.50 / can, Soda in the grocery store $0.50 -> $0.75 / can, Milk in the grocery store $2.50 / gal
If you buy locally grown produce from the farmers market (not the grocery store), you will get better quality food at cheaper prices. How about a papaya, pineapple, a few mangos, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes and coyote for only $6… photo to the right.
When you eat at Panamanian restaurants for $4-$5 you get a full plate of 1 meat, rice with beans and a salad.
Or, you can eat at an upscale restaurant like Panamonte for $20 a person. There are plenty of restaurants with prices everything in the middle too. One of my favorite restaurants in Panama City is El Greco, a greek restaurant where it is about $10 a meal including beverage.
In Coronado, the tour group sometimes eats at Coronado Cafe. We have delicious chicken kabobs and grilled vegetables for $9.95 (see photo on the left)
When I was recently in Vegas, I paid $20 for 2 eggs, 1 piece of bacon, and a piece of cold toast, orange juice and nasty tasting coffee. In Boquete I can get that same breakfast, with great coffee, for less than $5.
I love Taco Tuesday at the Boquete Sandwich Shop – $1.50 for a HUGE taco .. fish, chicken, beef, or vegetarian.
Some restaurant prices have gone up in the last couple of years. But there is always a more affordable option just down the road.
Last weekend, Soup and Sue Campbell reported that they went to Deep Forest Tavern near Volcan (now called Wandering Sloth) to listen to 3 hours of “Gringo Music” They had 2 hamburgers, 2 fries, 2 cokes for $7
I get high lights, low lights and a haircut for $40-$50 in Panama. This cost me $200 plus a tip in Texas.
A manicure and pedicure is $20 in Boquete. It was $65 in Texas
In Panama, I get a massage every week because it is only $25 for a really good 1 hour deep tissue massage. In Texas I paid $65-75 per hour for a massage.
With these kind of prices, you can splurge on life’s little luxuries more often.
In Boquete, and many other areas in Panama, you can leave your windows wide open to get fresh air every day. I’m surrounded by spectacular views or lush green mountains and flowers everywhere. It’s good for your soul.
Nature is all around you in Panama. It’s up close and personal.
Panama is like having 3 countries in one… and you can drive to all of them in a day. There’s the Pacific Ocean to the south, the Caribbean Sea to the north, and a huge mountain range in the middle. There are 1500 islands surrounding Panama. Plus I have ready access to Panama City. And I’m less than a 2 hour drive to Costa Rica (country #4).
There are often specials at all-inclusive resort next to the Pacific Ocean for $69 a might – which includes food and adult beverages.
You can visit primitive indian tribes or monkey sancturaries, see sloths and beautiful blue butterflies. Or go to Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean Sea for a weekend of swimming in turquoise blue water, lively music and dancing. I love their rock-n-roll concerts.
Just about every day I have a flock of green parrots fly by my bedroom window on the way to the jungle area next to my house where my organic coffee grows. My yard is filled with hummingbirds and butterflies. And my windows are usually open to take in the FRESH AIR which is much more healthy than living in a place where you need an air conditioner.
When you don’t have to work so hard to keep up with all the expenses in North America or Europe, it removes the stress. Less stress = better health. You really can live better for less!
The list goes on and on about ways that I live a better life for less in Panama. You could too!
The United States taxes citizens and residents on their worldwide income. Citizens and residents living and working outside the U.S. may be entitled to a foreign earned income exclusion that reduces taxable income. The exclusion is available only for active, earned income,not pensions..
If you are a US citizen living overseas at least 330 days a year, you could qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exemption. The income must be active income. Passive income does not qualify.
In 2019, you can deduct a little more than $104,000 in income from your taxes. If you and your spouse both live and work that is $208,000 on tax free income.
If you are in the 33% income bracket, that is a savings of about $66,000 per year for a couple.
With all the violence and constant threats going on around the world, it is refreshing to live in Panama where I feel safe! Safety and security are PRICELESS!
With all these savings, you can see why so many people are moving to Panama!
A little savings here and a little savings there … all add up to BIG savings when you live in Panama.
In Panama, just like everywhere else in the world, prices have gone up in the last 8 years. But for the most part, prices have gone up much less in Panama than they have in North America.
Sure you might pay more for a few things but overall you will save money in Panama
You really can live for less in Panama! And is is much safer too!
Join us in a Panama Relocation Tour to see how you can LIVE FOR LESS in Panama too!