I sometimes get a little upset when so much of the press about moving to Panama advertises, “Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!” We worked hard all of our lives and whatever “nice” things we have we worked for, so when we retired we had no intention of living on the cheap. Yes, we did have “fixed” incomes, although we’ve found some ways to augment that income which is a good think since the return on CDs and savings has plummeted. But we wanted to live nice, not ostentatous, but nice. And we moved here from the “Gold Coast” of California the Ventura/Santa Barbara strip along the ocean. It wasn’t cheap in Ventura, so for us at least ten years ago, Panama offered a better lifestyle for less money. And I think for many people from many, but not all, parts of the US, Canada and Europe that is still the case.
Because we worked hard, and still work hard even though “retired,” we’re not going to have a lot of time to run all over trying to find the best deal on cabbages or whatever. Some folks enjoy doing that, and they do save money, but we just don’t have the time. And I don’t mind paying a fair price. I’ve never been one who feels compelled to bargain the other guy down so I can feel I made some kind of “killing.” Some things ARE more expensive in Panama and the price of a lot of things has more than doubled over the past ten years, largely, I fear because we use the US dollar which has been systematically devalued although nobody wants to come right out and say it. In many Latin American countries the money is devalued overnight. In the US … think the frog in the pot of water that gets set on the fire … we’re not supposed to notice or admit that all of our wars and bail outs of financial fat cats have made the US dollar worth less, and a few might argue worthless. Although actually the US $ is still viewed by much of the world as a safe and secure currency, even although it’s only backed up by “the good faith and credit” of the US.
As I pointed out the other day, comparing the cost of the same food items … my market basket if you will … in Costco, Santa Rosa, CA and Price Smart and Rey in David, Panama was slightly more expensive! And I didn’t even include Haagen Daaz which when frequently on sale is HALF the price of the same thing in Panama. Of course I also didn’t include ahi grade tuna steaks, $4.50 a pound freshly caught here and $35 or so a pound in California.
So the emphasis needs to be on BETTER, not just cheaper.
So I was pleased with Jackie Lange’s piece entitled How You Can Live BETTER for LESS in Panama. It’s particularly interesting to me since Jackie moved here from Texas, which is a whole lot more affordable than California.
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 reassess their priorities when they move to Panama. Instead of the 3000 sq ft house with a big yard they had back home, they downsize to a comfortable 1500 sq ft house in Panama.
Other people go from a 1500 sq ft house back home to a 3000 sq ft house on an estate in Panama. Obviously, a bigger house will always cost more to maintain and take more time to manage.
Sure some things will cost more. 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 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 $50 per month.
In Texas, I paid $70 per month for metered water. In Panama I pay $60 a year for unlimited water use.
Plus I get an additional 25% discount off all utility costs because I am over 55 and have a residency visa.
Just these two items alone save me over $3000 per year.
Soup Campbell lived in Fairbanks Alaska before moving to Panama. His annual heating and electric bill was $8500 and now it is less than $600 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, the house prices in Panama could be higher.
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 for the next 13 years in Panama. That’s because houses built before 2011 got a 20-year tax exemption. My Panama house was built-in 2007 so I still have 13 more years with no property taxes. (This is the same 2/2 furnished house I originally rented for $600 a month)
Over the next 13 years, that’s a $45,500 savings compared to what I paid in Texas.
House insurance in Texas cost me $1500 a year. In Panama I pay $125 per year.
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.
It’s not just what you pay…. you have to take in to consideration QUALITY of life too.
Read how Debbie Fishell of http://www.escapeartist.com/panama/ 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!
Doctor Visit in Panama – This is a big savings, especially if you don’t qualify for Medicare yet. If I stayed in the United States, my husband and I would pay about $15,000 a year for insurance, with a very high deductible, which would not be as good as I have in Panama.
In Panama I pay less than $2500 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.
My husband currently pays $900 a year for a medical reimbursement plan but he is switching to worldwide medical insurance like I have so he is covered anywhere in the world too.
Once he is registered for worldwide health insurance, our total health care costs will be $5000 a year for worldwide coverage for both of us compared to $15,000 a year for US insurance only. That’s a $10,000 a year savings!
$5000 a year is still a big expense even though it is much less than the USA. We could reduce our costs if we were only covered in Panama. But I like to travel and want to option to have any procedure done in the USA and covered by my insurance.
My 32-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. See other prices at http://www.valuepenguin.com/ppaca/exchanges/tx
I asked my insurance agent in Panama what it would cost for my 32-year old daughter to get worldwide health insurance in Panama. I got a quote of $1200 a year with a $1000 deductible. 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 $10 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 Detrich’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 paid for half.
[Richard: True, but unfortunately this would not be the case today. Some might say the medical establishment in Panama has gotten greedy: prices have soared. And that insurance, has almost completely changed the terms on us. Thankfully in the States we have Medicare and a Medicare Advantage Plan which, now that we are both over 65 works better for us in all but emergency situations. In an emergency we take our chances in Panama.]
A few months ago Lee Zeltzer recently paid $20 for an EKG at the local hospital in Boquete. In the United States, the average cost for an EKG, without insurance, is $1500.
In Texas I paid $225 a month for my ATT cell phone use including data. In Panama I pay $9.99 a month. But I could just buy minutes as I need them and have no monthly charge. That’s a $215 a month savings!
My internet cost MORE in Panama and I get less speed. I currently pay $135 a month for 2 mbps. HOWEVER.. the internet service provider Cable Onda is installing cable on my street so soon I will be able to get 15mbps for only $25 per month. (I can’t wait!). If you want high speeds at affordable prices in Panama, you need to live in an area which is serviced by Cable Onda.
In Texas I paid $75 per month for Cable TV. In Panama I pay $30 a month for cable TV with 200+ channels and many are in English.
In Texas I paid $35 to get someone to mow my lawn. They were finished in less than an hour. In Panama I pay $15 for a gardener who is here from 8-4.
A bus to Panama City $10.60 with pensionado discount. 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 a 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 month I flew to Las Vegas. 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!
[Richard: This air deal is a great benefit when you haven’t reached 65 and qualified for the over 65 rate, or when an airline doesn’t offer a senior rate. Unfortunately you con’t get to combine the senior fare and the pensionado discount, which are the same fare.]
Farmer’s Market in Panama
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 59 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.
In Texas I paid $150 – $200 per week for groceries. In Panama I pay right around $80 – $100 per week.
orangesJust 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 $1.50 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
Richard Detrich recently did a comparison of food prices in the most expensive area of northern California compared to Panama. SEE THE COMPARISON HERE
When you eat at Panamanian restaurants for $3-$4 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 $25 a head. 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.
Panama Relocation Tours Coronado
Lunch in Coronado
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)
Last night my husband and I went to Big Daddy’s restaurant we each had a huge organic salad with fresh blackened tuna steak on top and margaritas. Total Bill with tip was $22
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.
My favorite restaurant in Volcan is MANA. If I lived in Volcan I’d just go there to eat every day because the food is so good and affordable. LOOK AT THEIR MENU AND PRICES HERE
Last weekend, Soup and Sue Campbell reported that they went to Deep Forest Tavern near Volcan to listen to 3 hours of “Gringo Music” They had 2 hamburgers, 2 fries, 2 cokes for $7
Hair cut in PanamaA men’s haircut is $2-$3 in Boquete. My husband paid $20 in Texas
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 $12 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.
hummingbirdIn 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 Odean for $69 a might – which includes food and adult beverages.
You can visit primitive indian tribes or monkey sanctuaries, 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.
When you don’t have to work so hard to keep up with all the expenses in North America, it removes the stress. So you can live better!
The list goes on and on about ways that I live a better life 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 wages or self-employment income earned for services performed outside the U.S.
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 2014, you can deduct $99,200 in income from your taxes. If you and your spouse both live and work that is almost $200,000 on tax free income.
If you are in the 33% income bracket, that is a savings of $66,000 per year for a couple.
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 5-10 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!
Join us on a Panama Relocation Tour in 2015 to see how you can live for less too!