(Panama Gringo) While articles concerning the cost of buying real estate in Panama are easy to come by its not easy to find out the low down of how much it actually costs for an expat to live in the great capital of Panama. Being a young, ESL teaching, gringo, expat on a budget, the cost of living is an extremely important factor in determining my place of residence. Everything from the price of local cervezas to rent play major roles in why I chose to live in Panama, and here you will find out the true prices of everything from a Panamanian transplant who’s beginning to feel like a local.
As Panama is a sizable city with tremendous diversity in people and socioeconomic standards the question of how much it costs to live in this city really depends on the lifestyle you are looking for. The first and foremost price factor many people consider when choosing to relocate to a new city is the price of local beer at the supermarket. Ok, maybe that’s just true for me, but this seems to be a nice place to start the discussion of Panamanian prices. At a “Rey”, the king of Panamanian supermarkets you can purchase a local cerveza for a mere $0.35! If this isn’t reason enough to check out this city, a liter bottle of delicious local rum (Ron Abuelo) will cost you a whopping $6 and more often than not you have a promotion where you receive two nice tumbler glasses with the Ron Abuelo bottle to spruce up your apartment with some local flare. Grocery prices are somewhat similar to the United States with the exception of fruit. You can purchase a plethora of succulent, exotic fruits for a dime or less as well as all the juices to match. At your average restaurant lunch will run you $5-7 and dinner about $8-10, however there are a number of local joints that can only be discovered when getting to know your neighborhood for half that price! House wines and mix drinks range from $3 and up and national beers will cost you $2 at your local watering holes. Supermarkets are fairly common throughout the city, but the debilitating heat often causes extreme laziness so for about $.50 to $1 more you can purchase most everything you need from a Chino (convenience stores are almost exclusively owned by the Chinese) which you can find on nearly every street corner.
If you’re like me and just like to use your phone for local calls, texts and hopefully storing an abundance of pretty girls phone numbers, your basic Samsung will run you $20. You can purchase Mas Movil minutes from any of the phone stores or Chinos in the city and I’ve found that $10 can last you 2 weeks or more depending on how chatty you are. If you are looking for a higher end cell in Panama such as a Blackberry or I-Phone I highly suggest you bring one from home as these premium cell phones seem to cost you an extra $50 to $100 in Panama. Another more expensive aspect of Panamanian life is purchasing a vehicle. It is a common occupation to ship used cars from the USA to Panama as they will be worth more here, so look to pay an extra grand or two if you need wheels.
Housing is a complicated subject and you can read more about my current situation by reading this article, but here are the basics. I currently pay $350 a month to live with three students roommates in one of the best neighborhoods in the city. All utilities included (a weekly maid is part of this), but my pad DOESN’T include air-conditioning which can be a deal breaker for those who aren’t willing to spend the majority of their days in a constant state of perspiration. Taxis are very cheap and as long as you are willing to haggle you should be willing to barter down the price to a couple bucks to go virtually anywhere in the city. Another cheap secret of Panama is going to the movies. In hellish humidity and heat an air-conditioned theater can be the perfect escape and movies here will only run you $3!
It’s difficult to quantify exactly how much plata ($$$) it takes to live comfortably in this city as it depends on what you like to do, but from my experiences I think you can live on $1,000 a month if you keep it simple. I currently earn $1,500 a month teaching ESL and I’ve been able to travel on my days off, go out on weekends and still put a couple hundred in the bank each month