I have lived in Panama for almost 3 years on a $500 a month budget, and you can too. Check out my detailed budget breakdown.
Boquete, Panama draws people from all over the world because of its scenic location. Nestled between the mountains with its eternal spring-like weather, this jewel is a magnet for expats. Boquete offers a small-town vibe with endless potential for meeting newcomers. Plus, it's a nature-lover's paradise. The Boquete expat-lifestyle varies because of the many options for housing, restaurants, activities, and the different neighborhoods that offer either a buzzing social life, or a quiet private life up in the mountains.
Housing in Boquete, Panama
The housing you choose will have an impact on your cost of living. My fiancé and I rent a small 2-bedroom, 1 bath, Panamanian-style home in Alto Boquete. The house comprises about 1000 square feet, including a small living area and kitchen. It has a cozy patio and a lovely garden, all fenced in. It is perfect for our four-legged family members, and it provides space for guests. The rent is $450 a month which, split between the two of us, is $225 per person. Throughout the Boquete District, you can find a tremendous diversity in rental options, from modern mansions in gated communities to more traditional block and concrete homes in local neighborhoods or even small one-person apartments in town.
Utilities in Boquete, Panama
We pay $50 a month for cable and internet, ($25 per person). I pay $30 a month for an unlimited data cell phone plan. Our electric bill runs typically $25-$40 a month, so we average $15 per person. We use gas for cooking, and each tank, at $5 a refill, lasts us a few months. Air conditioning and heating are not common due to the very comfortable temperatures year-round. Finally, our water and garbage pick up is included in the rent.
Food and Entertainment
I budget $200 a month for food and entertainment. The majority of Panama’s produce comes from the Chiriqui Highlands, right where I live, so I am able to get the freshest produce at great prices in the town market. Other than that, we try to buy in bulk at PriceSmart (the Central American version of Costco) to cut costs on items that we use regularly.
Boquete. You can get a $5 Panamanian-style meal (rice, beans, chicken), $7-10 American-style meal such as a burger, sandwich, or salad, but our choice is almost always a large pizza for $14 from our favorite neighborhood pizzeria.
We own a small car that does great on gas, which is currently $0.60 per liter, or $2.28 per gallon. Usually, we drive around to do any shopping or activities in town which is just a few minutes drive from our home, and we go to David City for shopping once a month. Overall, we average $40 on fuel a month not including any vacation travel ($20 per person).
I have also used public transportation to travel all over the country. It is very affordable and reliable. In Boquete, you may not need a car if you like to walk or ride a bike. The bus to David is $1.50 each way and runs every 30 minutes, and taxis are readily available. I suggest getting the number of a local taxi driver, but always negotiate the price before taking the ride.
Things to Consider When Moving to Boquete
Insurance is another thing you will want to consider. Car insurance will cost anywhere from $150 to $1,200 a year depending on the type of vehicle. Health insurance for a young, healthy person is not too expensive; depending on the type of insurance; the monthly expense should be under $100. Even for those without insurance, the health care system is affordable. A private doctor's visit in town costs merely $12.
It is possible to live in Panama on a much smaller budget than in North America or Europe. During my time in the Peace Corps, my cost of living was even less because I lived in a very small, rural community. If you are looking for a culturally immersive experience, then this may be an option for you. My lifestyle was much like that of the locals; I ate mostly rice, beans, plantains and local fruits, and I lived in a bare-minimum home for $90 a month. This type of lifestyle allowed me to have the additional disposable income to travel around the country.
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Have you considered Boquete, Panama as a potential expat location? Let me know if you have any question about living in Panama or living in Boquete in particular.
by: Megan Thompson