I’ve said before that it’s a mistake to sell Panama as a “cheap” place to live and retire. It’s not … not anymore. Party it’s because crazy expats have moved here and spoiled it for everyone. When we came, 12 years ago, a gardener cost $8 a day and usually you gave him lunch. Then gringos moved in from Chicago and said, “Oh, $8 a day … that’s too low compared to Chicago. We’ll pay our gardener $20 a day.” So they did, and guess what? All the gardeners in Valle Escondido started expecting $20 a day! Now some expats are paying $30 a day and gardeners are starting to question $20 a day. It may look generous on the surface, but it is dissing the entire culture and upsetting things for Panamanians and expats alike.
Same thing with tipping. It is disrespectful NOT to tip, but it is equally disrespectful and culturally ignorant to over tip. I know people mean well, but it is disrespectful to local workers and the local culture to come in and feeling like a well-heeled, rich gringo flaunt your wealth.
Panama may be less expensive … but, as I’ve noted, it depends. Depends on where you are coming from. I noted before that in some cases you can get more house for your money in places in the US … although they may not be places where everyone wants to live … than in Panama.
But here’s the deal … you get a better lifestyle in Panama which in many cases costs less than many places in North America and Europe. And although some housing in Panama may look expensive, you get far more value for your money than you would in many areas of the US where people want to live.
When we came there weren’t many North American style homes available for resale. To get what you wanted you had to build your own. Now, as people come and go and we get an inventory of North American style homes, there is lots of choice and in many cases you can buy nice homes for less than they would cost to build today. Cement that costs $4 a bag 12 years ago is now $11 a bag. The cost of all materials has more than doubled. The enormous amount of construction all across Panama has created more jobs than there are qualified people to fill them, so wages have gone up, and the cost of labor has more than doubled.
So, by way of comparison, here’s a Boquete property, in this case mine, for sale for $795,000. Here’s a comparison of what that same $795,000 would buy in areas of the US where people would choose to live, if they had a choice.
3 + 3.5, 4,500 sq ft, distinctive Tuscan design, huge outdoor living area, double-sided fireplace, 3.5 acres planted in coffee, citrus, banana, and tropical fruits, cathedral ceilings, library with built-in bookshelves, fantastic mountain views, single level*, caretaker cottage, out buildings, off paved road, 15 minutes from town, built 2007, tax exemption until 2027
3 + 2, 1,850 sqft, 60’s ranch style single level*, backs up to picturesque open space preserve. high vaulted beam ceilings throughout, fireplace in living room, additional outdoor living space via a private courtyard in front. Built 1966. 1/4 acre, current property tax $1,012 per month
3 +4, 4,018 sq ft, located in Golf Club Section of Indigo Run Plantation, fireplace, open concept, screened in porch, views of 1st & 9th hole, single story*, Golf club, fitness center, pools, lots of nice amenities, built 1999, lot .66 acre. $3,936 property taxes plus $3,481 association dues.
Of course in Boquete water is $60 & trash is $28 a year, and you don’t need heat or air conditioning. Boquete water runs $60. Panama unlike US measures total house under roof since covered outdoor area is a major living area in Panama.
*By the way, I can’t imagine anyone considering a retirement home eve n thinking about anything but a single story home.