Cost of Living Report, July 2016

We haven’t tracked our expenses for a long time. Like everywhere, it seems that costs are gradually creeping up so I was curious to see if this was indeed true. It is, but thankfully we are still doing very well.

We live in a Panamanian, middle class neighborhood on the north side of David. The house has three bedrooms and two baths, and I’m guessing it’s almost 1000 sq ft. I’ve planted a lot of things in the yard so I included an old photo where you can actually see the house.

Basic expenses (in dollars) –

  • house – 385
  • cable/internet – 67.44
  • electricity – 34.59
  • car insurance – 48.30 (two cars, one full coverage, other liability only)
  • netflix – 9.99
  • data plans on two iPhones – 22.44
  • TOTAL – 567.76

We rented the house almost four years ago and our rent hasn’t increased. A similar house today could cost a bit more. Water and trash are included in our rent (around $11 month for both) We did a report for July 2013, exactly three years ago, so this is a good basis of comparison. At that time cable/internet cost 59.06 (so today it’s 8.38 more). Electricity has remained pretty much the same. We have AC now but rarely use it. Car insurance is also about the same. I apparently didn’t list Netflix in the old report, and we didn’t have devices with data plans at that time. We also have the phones for talking and add money as needed, but since we use them very little for this we rarely need to add money.

  • Food – 400.90

I thought this might be significantly higher, but according to the old report the average was also around $400/month. We bought three pigs in the last year so we eat a fair amount of pork that was paid for months ago, but otherwise our food buying habits haven’t changed significantly.

  • current TOTAL – 968.66  This covers our basic expenses, the basic necessities of daily living.

The next category is miscellaneous, non essential expenses and those were quite high this last month, mainly because I bought a new camera for $180 (the display went out on my old one, and I was told it’s cheaper to just buy another so I bought a little, basic point and shoot camera for daily use). Then we had other things like beer and liquor (though I see we have four cases of beer on hand at the moment! We went a bit nuts at Pricesmart), my audio book habit, a couple lunches out, art class and supplies, couple OTC reading glasses, cold medicine, few things for the house, and some new ear buds. Total 423.95, or 243.95 without the camera, for a total of 1212.61 without the camera.

There’s always something in the miscellaneous category though – car repairs, something for the house, my books and art habits. etc. so when making a budget allow wiggle room for extras.

I’m really really happy to see that we continue to live well within our budget! This allows us enough extra for a bit of travel, and those very important and expensive trips back to the US to see my family. Since we have no immediate travel plans, however, I think I’ll continue to track expenses for another month just to see if anything in significantly different.

If you are reading this report to get an idea what if might cost you to live in Panama, keep a few things in mind. Panama City is significantly more expensive. Rents can easily be $1000/month and more for what most expats would consider a decent place. In the interior (anywhere outside of Panama City) rents vary widely. You can expect to pay more where there are lots of expats like Coronado or Boquete. You can pay much less in more rural areas. I know someone paying $125 for a decent little house in a small town not far from here.

Food is another significant expense. The advice to save money is always “eat like a Panamanian”. Eat local food. Make friends with the most tight fisted Panamanian you can find and let them teach you where they shop and what they buy. Imported food is available but it will cost more. Eating at restaurants will also raise your costs.

Internet is another expense that can vary a lot depending on area, so be sure to ask about this before you settle on a place to live. The speed and reliability can also vary a lot.

Electricity can vary widely depending on AC use. I know people with less than $10/month and others with more than $400. If you need to be cool, stay out of city centers and try going higher in the mountains.

Ask about water reliability also. Water isn’t expensive, but if your intended area has a lot of problems with keeping it flowing it might not be a comfortable place to live.

I think that’s all the advice I have at the moment. I hope you have found our report helpful.

About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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27 Responses to Cost of Living Report, July 2016

  1. Excellent and very thorough report, Kris. It is comparable to our expenses on Ometepe, but our electric and phone plans are more expensive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Robert&Helen says:

    I see the garden. We had the same in St. Lucia (everything growing fast and out of control). Regular trimming we had to do. We rented a house, unfurnished, painting, 2 ceiling fans and furnish and equip the kitchen (Stove was already there). 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, living with open kitchen. 400 m2 garden with a fenced wall. Middle class neighbourhood. $ 450 p.m. Community water from a well with a 6,000 gallon tank on high poles. Just 7,2 km from Boquete centre. Jardines de Boquete opposite Brisas Boqueteñas. We are very happy here with nice Panamanian neighbours. Electricity $ 20.- as we have a dryer. We got the house through Eduardo Horna.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You did well! I think I know the general area where you are now. Eduardo is a good guy for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert&Helen says:

        Yes Eduardo is a very nice guy, his wife Liz too. They are since about 2 month in a partnership with a small boutique, nice female clothing at affordable prices. At the end of the road left after Multi Bank in Boquete. Really nice. Anyway thanks, trust to meet you again some day. I have to go in the next couple of weeks to the dentist opposite Chiriqui Hospital.


        • He told us the boutique is doing really well, good to hear. Some time if I’m in Boquete I’ll have to visit. I come up occasionally with Joel when his bands have gigs. Yella Fever has something this Saturday, and Me3 has three Saturdays at Mike’s Global this month so I’ll probably come up to one or two of those.
          Good luck with the dentist!


  3. nickgrimshawe says:

    Awesome report Kris. If I could rent in that price range for something like you have, that would be awesome. I don’t need a three bedroom so something smaller would be just fine. I love to enjoy my meals outdoors especially breakfast, not sure how practical that is there.
    My main requirement is internet since I work online.
    I am a pretty good cook, and love to eat local foods and explore local cuisine as long as I can find olive oil. The world gets pretty dark without olive oil.
    I’m hoping to do a try out over the winter months up here in Ontario.
    With all that I’ve read an watched, I’m sure I could recognize parts of David even though I haven’t been there yet.
    The 2 IPhones with a data plan of $24 dollars rocks my mind.
    It looks like a fit for my budget.



    • There are a lot of options here, though in David it’s harder to find furnished rentals since it’s not a transient population.
      I spend almost all my time outdoors, always eat breakfast and lunch outdoors. I’m in my “outside office” right now as we speak. Most Panamanians do their socializing outdoors also – visits from friends, birthday parties, all of that usually in the carport or an outside terrace.
      There is plenty of olive oil here, quite a few brands. We are especially lucky here because of the large expat population up in Boquete, so supermarkets tend to stock more things that will interest them.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Robert&Helen says:

    By the way Kris. A couple of days ago we had a free upgrade from 15 mb to 25 mb without any monthly increase.


  5. Jim VanZwol says:


    I so enjoy to read your blog! Can you tell me what you do for medical insurance?


    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh yes, I forgot to mention that. We have some money put aside for emergencies. We also have insurance in the US so we could go back there for anything major. Thankfully we are healthy so it seems like a reasonable plan for us. Anyone with health conditions and/or need for medications should definitely research this before coming here. Health care is very affordable compared to the US, but medications are often expensive.


  6. Great report Kris.
    One thing we would add is our International Health/Travel Insurance that covers us for major complications. $436. It covers us anywhere in the world including back in the States.
    We also have MS Panama, $160, that covers us here for smaller stuff.As you know it is more of a discount program. We have used it and have to say the discounts are pretty good and they always reimburse us within 2-3 weeks.
    So, $596 a month for health coverage. We know this will only go up. We plan on dropping the International coverage when we each hit 65 and buy Travel Health Insurance as needed.We will stick with the MS Panama coverage.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes thanks, I forgot to address health insurance. We have money put aside and insurance in the US, so we’d have to go back for anything big. Wow, your health insurance bill is about 30% of our income!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Kat McKay says:

    Very useful info Kris. Thanks for reminding me to sit down and do the same! Costs can get away from you quickly! Love reading your blogs from cool Boquete.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Robert&Helen says:

    My wife broke here upper right arm just under hear shoulder badly when falling in the bathroom at midnight. Next morning we took Xray’s in the public health clinic in Boquete for $ 13.-. Then we went to Chiriqui private hospital in David. at 15.00 she was operated. Titanium/patinum rod with 2 crews of the same material. 1 night in hospital with excellent food. 3 visits for after care and check up. All in $ 3,500.- Try that in the US or Europe.


  9. Robert&Helen says:

    It happened last year 2nd of September.


    • I think I remember you telling me about the unfortunate incident, but how good that she got the care she needed so quickly. $3500 – no, not in the US. That wouldn’t even cover the emergency room. My husband was in the ER for 4 hours just before we moved here, IV, blood test, pain medication, MRI – $8000. No one we asked could tell us if his medicare A would cover it (it didn’t). To make it worse, a few days later they said if we paid immediately $4000 would cover it. Then why didn’t you charge that in the first place??? Oh, and they misdiagnosed him. We left and took him to the VA hospital where he spent a week for $1200 and got very good care.
      OK, enough on US health care. It looks like another beautiful day in Panama!


  10. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    We are hitting the 100 degree days in north Texas now but our electric still hasn’t reached $200/month. We usually see only one month of that amount, mostly due to the amount of work we did to seal and insulate our house. And we only run the AC at 77, Nena’s preference.
    We have an enclosed back porch that has clothes lines that we use while running a window unit AC. We get cool, moist air and dry clothes instead of running the clothes dryer so we get double use from the electricity. In the winter, we do use the dryer but we exhaust the hot, moist air through a filter system back into the house to keep the humidity higher. Nena does OK with the cold, but her system does not deal well with low humidity so our method avoids dry, winter air.

    Nena did a day at the hospital after her 3rd trip to ER in a week with abdominal/back pain. She had a gall bladder attack several years back so the docs were hoping for gall bladder surgery. The surgeon looked at the scans and ruled out the surgery but our attending (from India) wanted to do EXPLORATORY surgery!? In this day of technology, WHO does this? So, she spent the night on pain meds, did the gall bladder test the next morning, negative, and she was pain free so we told them we were leaving the hospital. Our attending wanted to keep her for diabetes testing. I pressed them for a release and the nurse said if we left AMA (against medical advice) that Medicare/insurance would not pay. We left anyway and Medicare did pay the bills. AMA is a huge myth here, professionals are liable for telling patients this.

    We have always had excellent care from our medical experiences. I am hoping this latest event is not becoming the trend.


    • Wow, that’s plenty hot. It sounds like you are very efficient with your energy use though, good for the costs and the planet.
      I hope Nena has no more trips to the hospital! Glad to hear she is doing better now. I agree, get out of there as quickly as possible and don’t let them do anything that doesn’t make sense. A lot of people get excellent care but some crazy things happen as well.


  11. Anonymous says:

    Health insurance ?


    • We have some money set aside for emergencies and insurance back in the US. My husband has coverage through the VA and I have insurance for $1 thanks to Obama care, so not a significant part of our budget. (I am so thankful for it though!) Since we are healthy and take no medications this seems like a good option for us.


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