Cost of Living in Panama - City of David by Expat Kris

Published: 28 Feb at 11 AM
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Filed: Cost of Living,Panama

Local Expert Series: Cost of living in Panama by Kris

The cost of living is naturally a big concern for anyone considering a move to another country. No one wants to move and discover that expenses are more than anticipated, and money is a problem. Now that we have lived here a few months I thought I'd share how it is going for us so far. 

We live in the city of David, Chiriqui Province, Republic of Panama. This is only our experience. Other people who make different choices and live in different areas may have different expenses. 

This is our house
This is our house
This is our house:
It's about 1000 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, and outside carport, laundry area and back patio. It is typical Panamanian construction of cement block, tin roof, and drop ceilings. It is in a nice, quiet, middle/upper class neighborhood. Our neighbors are teachers, business people, tradesmen, and other professionals. It is in a part of town considered very desirable and expensive by most of the locals. 
Our street in City of David, Panama
Out street in City of David, Panama

Rent is $385/month (unfurnished, no appliances) and includes water and trash pickup (water is about $8/mo and trash about $5/mo)
Electricity last month was $49.45, 421 kWh. We have no air conditioning.
Cable - TV and internet (mid range, about 5MB) $53.52/month
Gas (for cooking and an on demand water heater) comes in a can. It's about $65 to purchase a can, and you will probably want two. Refills are $5.12 and last about a month (our food is home cooked so we use the gas a lot) 

Food - for 2 adults, last month our total was #339.31.  This month is $441.49 but we have a fair amount of chicken and fish in the freezer, and some other bulk items on hand. We have spent $84.60 at the produce market this month. This includes all our fruits and vegetables, as well as some corn for tortillas, beans, and eggs. We have fresh fruit at every meal, fresh veggies daily, and never open a can or get produce from a freezer. We do buy soda and occasional packaged food, but the majority is fresh and home cooked. We rarely eat out.

Food can vary a lot depending on what you buy. You can get US food, but you will pay US prices and more. Produce is also available in the supermarket but it
will cost quite a bit more, and I don’t think it’s as good. We found good chicken for $1.30/lb. Hamburger can be found for as little as $1.30, and is almost fat free. We go to Pedrigal (20 minutes away) and buy fish from the fishermen for $1 - $2.50 / lb.

If you eat out, prices also vary a lot. Lunch at the corner hang out is maybe $3-4.50. Other restaurants can be $6, or $10 each or more. You can also get fast food but it will cost you as least as much as in the US, probably more. So, if you want to keep your food costs lower and also have the healthiest, most delicious food, eat like a Panamanian and shop around. Make friends with the locals and they can tell you where to find the best deals.

Transportation – major brands of cars are readily available, but you may find used cars surprisingly expensive. Most people advise not bringing in a car because it’s expensive and complicated, and more expensive for an older car. We found insurance reasonable though, $95/year for my 97 Mazda and $550/year for full coverage on our 2007 Hyundai Atos. Gasoline has ranged from $3.85-$4.10 a gallon for 91, the lower octane rating here.

Public transportation is excellent. There are buses everywhere, and a local ride is $.25-$1.00. You can get a bus to Panama City for $18. Taxis are everywhere and also inexpensive, maybe $1 – 3 for a local ride depending on distance, number of passengers and amount of packages or baggage. Bicycles and walking are also common. Since drivers are used to bicycles and pedestrians they are considerate and share the roads well.

Alcohol – there is a variety of beers, wines, and liquors available in the supermarket, as well as in wine and liquor stores at a variety of prices. Again, buying locally produced products is less expensive. Local beer is $.40/can, Rum $10.89/2 liters, Seco (rum type product) $8.69/2 liters, and decent box wine $2/box/liter, all at Pricemart, and a bit more at the supermarkets. Good bottled wines can be found for a little as $5.

Entertainment – movies are $5-7 for two people. We joined a tennis group for $25 each, and monthly dues are $5 each. I believe golf is also available for $30/month. There is a good bike shop in town that sold us very good quality 21 gear bikes with front shocks, $265 each. Or, for free you can go walking, hiking, visit the river, climb hills, explore the area, and spend time with friends.

Health Care – a doctor visit (for as much time as you need) basic cost - $20-40. A dentist is around $30 for a cleaning or filling. I’m getting a crown for $250. We have visited a number of doctors with my husband’s mother and found the quality of care to be excellent. Since care is so affordable, we have decided to pay as we go so I am not qualified to talk about health insurance.

Also, for those who qualify for jubilado or pensionado discounts, costs of many things will be even lower. For more info, visit this link.

Moving and getting settled – this of course is a one time expense, but it’s still something that must be factored in to a move. It is possible to rent a container and move an entire household, but it will cost many thousands. Even moving smaller amounts will cost thousands and take time. If you want to ship things, be sure it is worth it. Everything you need for a home is readily available here at a variety of prices, and in many familiar brands. It will probably be cheaper to arrive with as little as possible in suitcases and start fresh. It’s also possible to rent a furnished home, sometimes with everything including the spoons and towels.

This is only a little information based on our own experience here. Do you own research and make your own decisions on what is best for you. There are other resources and helpful people on line for further questions. Some that come to mind are:

About the author

Local ExpertKris and her husband, nearing retirement age, were looking at options and researching the possibilities of living in another country. Panama seemed to have everything they needed. When they visited they loved it! After the third visit (with an enthusiastic OK from his mother, who moved with them) they accelerated the plans. Since the cost of living in Panama is so much less, they were able to begin a new life now instead of working 10+ more years. It has turned out to be everything they hoped and more, and they are all very happy to be in Panama.

If you have anything to add about your own experience relating to this article, or perhaps have a question for Kris please leave her a comment below!
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Comments » There are 2 comments

Jerry Reidelbach wrote 10 years ago:

Hi Kris, we plan on retiring to David next year and would like your advice on where in David we could rent a house or apt. furnished in the range of 800-1,000mo., and what part of town would you recommend.

William Delaney wrote 9 years ago:

Kris, I see the post about the rental for $250 a month, but the contact number is from 2011. Do you have a more recent real estate contact. I am retire living on Social security and want to continue writing. Need assistance from an English speaking expat and thank you in advance.

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