Panama Living - one opinion

Costa del Este
Panama City, Panama 

Panama Health

Originally posted on the Panaforum

Living the "low" life in Panama.

A number of years ago, before all the Panama hoopla and real estate speculation hysteria, I did a series of essays on "living the low-life in Panama.

The concept was on how to live well AND cheap while living in Panama. During all the condo flipping, real estate speculation, and snake oil BS that has went o the last 5 or 7 years the simple/cheap pleasures seem to have been forgotten.

Now, with the craziness seeming to be on the ebb, I think it is perhaps time to review and revisit the possibilities of "living the low-life" in Panama.

While some seem to have decided to leave for greener pastures, such as Colombia, or Mexico, Panama for many of us is still a very fun, friendly and yes… even cheap place to wile away the hours.
To start with, let's state some unpleasant Panama facts….

  1. Living USA or European style in Panama, while maybe cheaper than Europe, in NOT cheaper than the USA. Burger king, McDonalds, KFC, and subway are all more expensive than the USA. In the USA you can order off the dollar menu and eat well for a few bucks.
  2. Canned food, pork, chicken, ham, turkey and corn chips all cost more. The selection sucks, and it is hard to find any of those Frappachinos or designer sodas…
  3. Building materials, in general cost as much or more, with much less selection.
  4. Speed of getting anything (other than a taxi ride) is much slower.
  5. Utilities like electricity and water go on and off with no rhyme nor reason.
  6. No one, except maybe a newcomer will keep appointments or arrive on time.
  7. Waiter/waitress service usually sucks.
  8. There seems to be no GOOD restaurants serving medium priced food.
  9. The "high class" places have nice chairs, tables and silverware with a dressed up waiter who still gives you poor service, serving poorly cooked and expensive food.
  10. People lie easily about anything.

Now for some good things.

  1. Rent outside of Panama City is usually cheap.
  2. Labor is cheap.
  3. Beer, liquor and wine are cheap.
  4. People are friendly.
  5. Buses and taxis are cheap
  6. The weather is good.
  7. The water (when on) is usually good.
  8. Small houses are cheap and plentiful.
  9. The plants, birds, bugs and animal are pretty.
  10. There are very few storms, earthquakes, or tornadoes
  11. Fishing us usually good.
  12. Rodeos, fairs, and festivals are cheap and plentiful.
  13. Neighbors are neighborly; men and women are open to socializing.
  14. The country has many different types of scenery and weather types (except snow and ice).
  15. The sun rises and set around 6 every day.

Now let me play a scenario on how a person COULD live here.
Let us start with finding a place we might like to spend some time. Put on your traveling shoes and back pack and hit the bus terminal out of PC heading west…

The Pacific beaches offer the beach vibe for those who like sand, salt and corrosion. Usually the most economical are the little towns off from the beach. If you like the vibe of the pueblo, ask around about for a hostel/hospadaje.

If the place still feels good, you might try renting a small apartment or house. Usually they will rent from 90 bucks a month… to sky ids the limit. But you can usually get a decent place in the 200 dollar range. It will not likely be furnished.

Once we figure we like a place, and it might be a long term base of operation, let's get serious…

When picking out our lair/nest/crib, we need to scout the area, and make our selection with what we think we want in mind. We will want to be about a block or so from a small store. This allows you to maximize the room in your home by not having to have all the little items in our own cupboards. A cold sod, eggs, oil, milk, coffee or ice cream is just a minute away.

You will want to pick a place with a covered front porch with a view, hammock spot, and a view that will be easy on the eye for extended periods of time. This porch will likely be a heavily used social area for your future life. Try to make sure you are not too close to a club, bar or cantina, but easy walking distance from a soda or restaurant. If there is no hot water, get used to the luke warm tap water or buy a 12 dollar "suicide" shower head. Make sure all your lights are the low power fluorescent type for coolness and economy sake… except for your disco ball and strobe lights. Your electric bill (without AC) will likely be in the 10-20 dollar range per month.

Now for appliances.

  1. Fan For chilling out a bit. No A.C., unless living in the highlands, sleep with a sheet and a fan
  2. Small fridge ice, beer, milk, soda, left-overs, etc
  3. Coffee maker While the coffee you can buy in the stores is cheap and good, buying a cup of coffee at a restaurant or soda is expensive, usually bad, and no free refills.
  4. Blender for making Margarita, smoothies and milk-shakes.
  5. Microwave quick cooking or reheating of food or leftovers
  6. TV Entertainment
  7. Music box/stereo entertainment. It also lets you announce your desire to party or jam.
  8. Stove Cook (if you) things
  9. Hammock Chilling out and entertaining
  10. Bed sleeping and entertaining
  11. Sofa sleeping, folding clothes and entertaining
  12. Cheap sunglasses chilling and looking cool
  13. Cheap plastic chairs chilling and entertaining
  14. Cooler cold beer, juice and soda. It also allows you to have a mobile party center.

Once you are settled in you will want to find out where a decent bakery, bar, restaurant, and supermarket is.
Eating out should be less than 10 bucks a day. Breakfast Panamanian style is usually around a buck, lunch less than 3 bucks including a drink, and dinner no more than 5. If you were on a budget, you could do it cheaper, if you wanted to splurge, it could be more…

I am going to stop her now. In the next installment, I will go into the inexpensive diversions and entertainment, as well as deal a little more in what the different things SHOULD cost.

We should be able to outline a living budget of from $600 a month to much more. Many things are either free, or real cheap. Many things that ARE real cheap, you could, shall we say… spend a WHOLE lot more for the SAME thing while trying to live like a gringo in Panama.


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