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
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
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….
- 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.
- 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
- Building materials, in general
cost as much or more, with much less
- Speed of getting anything (other
than a taxi ride) is much slower.
- Utilities like electricity and
water go on and off with no rhyme
- No one, except maybe a newcomer
will keep appointments or arrive on
- Waiter/waitress service usually
- There seems to be no GOOD
restaurants serving medium priced
- 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.
- People lie easily about
Now for some good things.
- Rent outside of Panama City is
- Labor is cheap.
- Beer, liquor and wine are cheap.
- People are friendly.
- Buses and taxis are cheap
- The weather is good.
- The water (when on) is usually
- Small houses are cheap and
- The plants, birds, bugs and
animal are pretty.
- There are very few storms,
earthquakes, or tornadoes
- Fishing us usually good.
- Rodeos, fairs, and festivals are
cheap and plentiful.
- Neighbors are neighborly; men
and women are open to socializing.
- The country has many different
types of scenery and weather types
(except snow and ice).
- The sun rises and set around 6
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
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
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
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.
- Fan For chilling out a bit. No
A.C., unless living in the
highlands, sleep with a sheet and a
- Small fridge ice, beer, milk,
soda, left-overs, etc
- 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.
- Blender for making Margarita,
smoothies and milk-shakes.
- Microwave quick cooking or
reheating of food or leftovers
- TV Entertainment
- Music box/stereo entertainment.
It also lets you announce your
desire to party or jam.
- Stove Cook (if you) things
- Hammock Chilling out and
- Bed sleeping and entertaining
- Sofa sleeping, folding clothes
- Cheap sunglasses chilling and
- Cheap plastic chairs chilling
- 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
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.