Frugal Living in the Coronado Area
(This is an abridged version of my answer to a recent email question as to whether it would be possible to live in Panama on $600 per month including rent) Hi Kathy, good to hear from you and please say hello to our common friend. Your question about whether one could live/retire in Panama as a single person for $600 per month (or 25% of your North American budget) is intriguing so I have decided to check it out a bit more closely.
Things have changed dramatically in the Coronado area since publishing my original 2006 eBook “Panama Your Best Value for Offshore Living” although this book still serves as an interesting reference and comparative study as to why living in Panama makes a lot of sense. Incidentally, I now have an updated version published in 2007 which you can download here.Ebook1018
I would say that prices have moved up a bit on a percentage basis so I am currently claiming that one can live easily at the same life style on say 40% of a North American budget (rather than 25% or 33%) but I think that is because we are getting a bit more spoiled. Our current lifestyle (large house on a half-acre across the street from a great ocean beach on a street filled with huge mansions) anywhere in Canada or the USA would probably cost us at least $50-$80,000 just for municipal property taxes and house insurance. As I said it is difficult to compare, but most of my “coupled friends” seem to live on about $50-60,000 per year in Canada/USA whereas we currently live on about $27,000/year
However, we dine out much more often than we ever would (or our friends currently do) in North America (a minimum of 2 times a week). We engage our “maid/gardener” for an average of 25+ hours per week although we do have several extra houses for rent (3 to be exact) but this is a lot of domestic “help” you would have to admit. In Canada and when we lived in the USA we never engaged a maid or gardener as is typical with most of our northern friends although we had a person plow the snow in our driveway. In Panama we tend to go shopping in the big shopping malls in Panama City almost every other week for clothing and other stuff (for ourselves and our three rental properties) although we might not buy all that much …. because one does not wear that much here!
My cost of living estimate for Panama for 2007 was 33% of a roughly similar North American lifestyle and this number is still fairly accurate with a bit of care. This budget estimate was based on owning your own residence (not renting) and having no debts.
back to the $600/month budget. Although Gorgona, right next to Coronado, has seen a recent surge in high end construction activity one is still able buy a very small lot AND build a small low to medium quality one bedroom house (say 600 to 700 square feet) for probably $25,000 or even less. This would would be one option if and of course eliminate one of your largest monthly outlays namely “rent”. Of course there are some additional maintenance expenses but these would be minor.
For rental purposes, San Carlos has always been a charming seaside town with many opportunities for really frugal living. It is located a 10 minute bus ride from Coronado and has its share of gringos. Recently there are several high end developments under construction in San Carlos including Rio Mar, Palmar, Casa Mar and soon the Marriott Hotel (condos are often priced in the $400,000 range). However, you can still rent a small “downtown” San Carlos one bedroom house with a small back yard for $175 to $200 per month although you may have to apply some “elbow grease” and paint to get it “ship-shape”.
There are many inexpensive open veggie markets in San Carlos and one could even walk (or bike) to the fishing docks to pick up fresh fish at $1.25 per pound depending on which kind you choose. Chicken costs $1.20 a pound and the best steak is around $3.75 per pound. Fruit and vegetables in season are very inexpensive (pineapples $1 to $2 etc.) It would be difficult to spend more than $200 per month on food even if you go to a local restaurant once a week … and there are some good local ones at $$2.50 to $3.00 for a very substantial lunch.
Buses are frequent and cheap. Buy a bike for $100 and you have instant transportation. Everyone else has one! You can actually dress up and “go out” with about $50 to $60 of clothing on your back (try that in Canada). If you were to totally wear out and discard three complete sets of “going out” clothing per year that would cost you about $15 per month for cash flow purposes. Your “work around the house” clothing would cost much less. Your cell phone might cost you $20 per month, your internet/cable another $45. You would be wise to consider a local health insurance ($50/month depending on your age). Water is fixed at $7/month and electric bills might run $20.
Those would be your main costs and with some minor changes you could live on $600 month. This does not leave much for fancy wines but there is an excellent Chilean “table wine” available called “Clos” that sells for $3.25 per liter. With the new airport opening soon in Rio Hato (Wikipedia says September 2013 but this remained unconfirmed) there will be many more “job opportunities”.
Incidentally, I verified these budget numbers with a local Panamanian who knows the area very well and she completely agreed with this budget assessment.
Summary Frugal Budget
In summary, the following “frugal budget” totals $617 per month:
- Rent $200
- Groceries (etc) $200
- Restaurants $40
- Electricity $20
- Water $7
- Bus Transport $15
- Cell Phone $20
- Internet/Cable TV $45
- Clothing $20
- Health Insurance $50