Questions About Living Expenses and Crime

Reader Cathy_V commented yesterday about a cost of living report that was very old. To celebrate our fourth year in Panama, I thought that perhaps I should post an updated report. She also had a question about crime in Panama which I answer further down this post.

Once one is settled in a new home, it doesn’t seem too important to focus on the mundane everyday things. As time progresses the newness wears off but, but I forget that some people land on the blog looking for information that will help with their decision-making on whether to move to Panama. Lately, there has been an abnormal amount of traffic from people looking for information. I think that this may be due to US political climate.

All our living expenses are in USD. That has been somewhat difficult for us as SU’s pension is in CAD, but, we are still managing well. It is still true that it seems to cost less to live here than it does in Canada. It also still holds true that there are many choices on how one could live; as a local, a North American or a hybrid. We still do not live extravagantly; we still own the same truck we bought second-hand four years ago and we still are living in our modest house by North American standards. We live within our means the best we can, but we have seen people leave because of health or monetary concerns or just because it was time for a change.

Here’s the update:

Propane  – $10.00 max per month. We have a gas tank for the hot water, stove and dryer and a separate tank for the barbecue. Many months we usually only have to change one tank for $5.00, the barbecue gets the most use.

Electricity –We still don’t use air conditioning much, and our last bill was $50.00.  Electricity, relatively speaking is pretty expensive and out of our bill, $22.36 was for distribution.  There are incentives to keep your consumption low with discounts for using less than 600 KWh and an extra discount for under 400 KWh.

Water – $7.00/month is the norm.

Garbage pick-up – $15.00/year this is the first year the price has increased it’s been $10.00 up until 2016.

Gas for vehicle – As usual it fluctuates, but it’s about .68¢ a litre now, what we use depends on how far we go. We’ve not been travelling too far lately.

Car insurance etc. – $85.00 per year. It kept going down until the truck got old enough that there was a big reduction. Registration and the inspection are both coming up this month, which will be $60.00 for both. Even though our registration was due in May last year, our plates didn’t arrive until August.

Food – I buy fresh fruit and vegetables at least once or twice a week. I spent $14.00 on greens, lovely little tomatoes, and some fresh-baked bread, etc. at my friend’s new store this week. We always buy bananas locally, and I’ve found that even the lettuce is better in our little stores than it is in the bigger grocery stores in the larger towns.  We also eat a lot of national fruits such as pineapple, papaya, mango and passion fruit.  We buy some meat locally, usually chicken or pork. We have managed not to take too many trips to Chitre for our food lately.  With additional meat, dairy, bread, cleaning supplies, gato food, more fresh food and dry goods –  $600.00 per month, about.

Sundries – $150.00 (including Spousal Unit’s smokes and wine/beer, plus grooming items both of us).

Satellite – $57.00, different companies offer different services, some for lower cost. Pricing has become quite competitive.

Internet – $25.00/month.  We’re now wired in with Cable and Wireless instead of using a mobile internet stick.

Entertainment – We don’t go out very often. A good meal when we do varies between $30.00 to $50.00 including at least one drink for each of us and sometimes dessert. Most of our entertainment still involves hanging out with friends. That looks like it’s going to change because there is a new movie theatre being built in Las Tablas. Whoot, Whoot!!! We saw a matinée in Panama when we were there for my birthday; it cost us $1.65 each with our discount.

Health Insurance – No change, we have federal government insurance from Canada, our supplementary plan was modified to a comprehensive plan, and we pay $135.00/month for health and $35.00/month for dental for both of us. Our health expenses have been so small they haven’t been worth the paperwork, and we haven’t used our insurance. (We would never give it up though because of the added benefits, should we need them.) Bloodwork at the public hospital is $2.00; a urine test is $1.50. Prescription prices are comparable to North America, but there are still several types of medications that don’t require a prescription you can buy at the pharmacy.

A last note about expenses. I would always recommend taking Spanish lessons if you don’t already speak the language. Even learning a few key phrases will make a huge difference in your life. SU and I took lessons for a long time at our local school,  and even though we still stumble and bumble through a conversation, learning some Spanish proved invaluable to our successful living in Panama.

Here is the other part of Cathy’s request:

Are there a lot of guns, armed civilians, and mass shootings there?

There is not anything of the kind where we are but, we’re in the campo (countryside). Here, you find mostly farmers, fishermen, laborers and small business owners. We don’t usually have crimes against persons in our area; that’s not to say there isn’t, but most of the offences are thefts.  We also have incidents that involve alcohol, fights and traffic accidents.

There are areas in and around Panama City where you will find more gang and criminal activity. In our locale, there is a problem with drugs coming in on the beaches as we’re a half hour boat ride across from Colombia. Unless one is involved in drug trafficking, it won’t impact your life. Crime seems to come in waves and subsides in waves just as quickly.

I have had no personal experience with a crime, but there was a rash of home robberies over a year ago in our area that affected a lot of people. We took precautions and installed security bars on our windows, and we have an abundance of outdoor lighting. I have read that some of the areas around Boquete have a few problems and around Coronado. Again, I’m not speaking from personal experience. My best advice would be to talk to people who live in both those areas to get their take on crime and how they feel about it.

I can honestly say that I have never seen an armed civilian in Panama. There are very strict gun laws here. I’ve never felt unsafe enough to think about wanting a gun myself, but Canada, in general, is not a gun culture. We do see people walking around with machetes here, but these are work tools.

My best advice when it comes to crime is not to leave your common sense at home when you’re out and about. By that I mean you don’t have to be paranoid just be aware, as you would in your country. I know that statistically that is not always possible, sometimes good, smart people get caught in bad situations.

I hope that my response has answered some of the questions that you have. Readers, if you’d like to add anything about your experience with the cost of living, crime, guns, etc. in Panama, please feel free to add to the discussion by leaving a comment.

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About indacampo

You'll find me at https://indacampo.wordpress.com/ blogging about Panama...and other things.
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14 Responses to Questions About Living Expenses and Crime

  1. Bob Shapland says:

    Aren’t you in Pedasi? Can you really get to Columbia in 30 minutes by boat from here? That comment really surprised me since it takes 20 minutes just to get to Isla Iguana.

    • indacampo says:

      Drug runners use high speed boats. This is something that the National Police told us a few years ago.

      • Bob Shapland says:

        OK, good to know. Hmmm…. or is it?

      • indacampo says:

        Good to know that you should stay away from the beaches. In the dark. In the middle of the night. An example of common sense. 🙂

  2. Great report!
    So looks like you are coming in at $1700 a month? We are at $2818. $450 of that is for World Wide Heath care. Your lucky you have the health coverage you get at that price.
    Some things in our budget that you did not mention are:
    Cell phones
    Gardner
    House keeper
    Shipping from US
    Meds
    Spanish class
    Property Insurance
    Travel/Airfare which we allocate $300 a month
    Home/garden improvement/ $200 budget
    Misc $100

    We will have a more detail report in our next blog on our cost of living in Boquete.

    So.. budget wise we are pretty close.

    Regarding crime… yes there HAD been an increase of break ins and a few home invasions. One must keep in mind most of these break-ins have occurred at homes with out adequate security and no bars. A few of the home invasions happened due to not having the gates locked while the victims were home. ( When we lived in Long Beach there was a home invasion 3 doors away from our house that occurred at 10 am) There is now a 24 check point coming into Boquete, a large increase of police presence, and several new police cars and many additional officers added to Chiriqui. They patrol a lot more and several hundred gang members have been arrested and are now in a new work/training program.
    Unlike some other countries where they just lock them up.
    We have a great neighborhood watch, street security cameras, walkie talkies to report suspicious activities to each other, secure bars on windows and cameras.
    We feel much safer here then the US.

    • indacampo says:

      Good points about the cell phone. I use $15.00 of data and only about $5.00 of time a month. SU uses $5.00 a month. We don’t have a gardener or a housekeeper. We pay $150.00 a year for Hot Express. We don’t use it often. Every couple of months we might order something from Amazon or receive mail from family. The service provides 5 lbs per month. We don’t take any meds, the occasional would be included in ‘sundries’. We don’t take Spanish classes any more although I do recommend them. Travel is ‘one of’ per year. We do have a few home repairs but there’s not much else to do in the garden. SU loves to grow things from clippings but we don’t have much space left. He often ‘guerilla plants’ or gives stuff away.

      Thanks for your comments on the crime situation. It’s very good to hear that the country is taking action with gang problems.

    • Catherine Virgenock says:

      I’m impressed at all you are doing in your neighborhood. I would feel safe with all that.

  3. Thanks to all for this very good information. Like you said, it’s all in how you choose to live, and I think you made a very good choice, it sounds very manageable even for me. I like the “No Gun Culture” even more. Crimes against property doesn’t scare me as much as some things happening daily here in the U.S. I’ve been learning Spanish, since I completely forgot just about everything I learned in two years of it in high school. I did a CD course “Conversational Spanish.” and have enrolled in classes starting in 2 wks. So far all I really know how to say is “Quiero una cerveza fria por favor” but maybe that’s all I need to know. I will be proceeding to Step Two next… a “check it out” tour of the places I’ve been checking out on-line. I have two more questions: What are your thoughts on the Zika virus? And did you get malaria vaccinations before you moved there?

    • indacampo says:

      I don’t believe there was a vaccination available for malaria when we moved. I did get all my vaccinations updated before our first trip to Nicaragua and Panama though.

      Zika virus is a concern as is Dengue and it’s probably going to be for a while. The Government of Panama has been very pro active in trying to contain and control the spread and an information campaign has been ongoing. I imagine as Wet Season approaches and the mosquito breeding season begins their efforts such as inspections will be increasing.

      My best advice is to avoid being out at prime biting time and if you are to use a good repellent and clothing that covers your arms and legs.

      Personally, as some one who has had Dengue once already I’m looking forward to being the first in line for the vaccine once it is approved for use in Panama.

  4. Joan Ramos says:

    Very helpful information, but I did not see an entry for rent. I guess you purchased your home. Perhaps you could comment about rents & home prices. 🙂

    • indacampo says:

      Yes, we own our home. There are several nice houses on the market from the 90’s to into the millions of dollars in our area.

      In regards to rents once again, the only area I feel confident commenting on is our area. They fluctuate of course but it’s my understanding because of our status at a ‘tourist area’and proximity to the beaches they are a bit higher. I have seen rents as low as $250.00/mo for a tin roof shack with concrete blocks for windows and no screens and they can go as high as $2,000.00+/per week. That’s the great disparity in the types of housing here. 🙂 I would say though that you could find a nice house somewhere around the $650.00 to $750.00/mo budget in our town.

      The best bet is to look on Encuentra 24 and Craig’s List Panama for both sales and rentals or Airbnb for long and short term rentals. Another tip; if you see several listings by the same person on Airbnb they are likely a property manager who have a better ‘in’ on what the market is like. Hope this helps.

  5. For Boquete you can add another $200 to the monthly rental….and you would be lucky to fine exactly what will fill your needs.

    Three very important things on renting:
    Who is the Internet provider.?.. at present there are 4 providers with Cable Onda being the best and reasonably priced. Up here in Boquete we have Cable Onda with 20 megs.. and it is US quality!
    Security: You must have security bars and secure doors and or a completely gated property… having a dog or two is a bonus
    Water: How reliable is it? Is there a water tank back up? Is it filtered?

    Another way to find a rental is being here on the ground and network with people. Good rentals owned by Panamanians usually rent by word of mouth.Gringo owned rental are going to be more expensive. Come here and get a 30-60 day rental and look around to find something long term.

    Good luck!

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