By Nanette Witmer, International Living,

One of the biggest reasons expats move to Panama is the cost of living. I can include myself in that group. Most expats I know have moved to Panama because of the affordability of maintaining the lifestyle they want.

The great benefit of living in David is that it has given me the opportunity to live really well on a limited budget.

Let’s talk about the unavoidable living costs first. Those of us living in David pay the same for water, garbage, and propane. Water is not metered currently, so monthly water costs are $12. Garbage is picked up twice a week for a monthly fee of $4. Propane for cooking and dryers runs $5 monthly.

Electricity can be a big expense, depending on your lifestyle and budget. My monthly electric bill is never over $20, but I don’t use air conditioning. Others I know who run air conditioning 24 hours a day and use lots of electricity for pool pumps and such pay over $200.

Now for the choices. When it comes to housing, do you rent or buy? There is a big difference in costs obviously. I own my home—eliminating the rental cost—but let’s stick with looking at rentals. A few friends of mine rent typical Panamanian homes unfurnished for $300 or furnished for $550. Larger, North American style homes rent unfurnished for $500 and up, with furnished rentals going for $650 and higher.

Cable TV choices vary greatly. You could purchase a monthly plan with 274 channels for $62.95 for one television or pay $29.95 for 175 channels. How many televisions you have will add more to the plan. I have a great cell phone plan that runs me $35 a month. It includes 450 minutes, 2 GB of data, and 100 text messages.

My high speed, reliable internet costs me just $49 a month. That is for 15 download Mbps and an upload speed of five Mbps. You can purchase a plan for less if you don’t mind a slower speed.

Do you want to buy produce from local markets and eat chicken and fish? Or do you prefer buying imported items from grocery stores? This makes a huge difference as imported items are often three times as much as what you are used to paying for them back home. I don’t spend more than $350 myself on groceries. I never buy imported items and prefer to do my vegetable and fruit purchases from local vendors.

I eat out maybe a couple of times a week at local restaurants. Depending on what I want, I spend between $3.50 for a lunch up to $10 for great food, a nice atmosphere, and generous portions.

Planning to buy a car and drive or take taxis? In David most taxi trips won’t cost more than $3 one way. I own and drive my car and spend about $30 on gas a month.

Are you going to go without health insurance and pay out of pocket? Do you plan on getting a health insurance plan or discount plan? These services can run you anywhere from $85 a month to $300 per person, depending on what coverage you want and your preexisting conditions. Plans and coverages differ greatly.

I pay for a great health plan that covers me 100% for hospitalization without a copay. Doctors’ visits, medications, blood work, and other non-hospitalized medical needs I pay in cash using my jubilado (retiree) discount and it goes toward my $5,000 deductible for the same services.

I am a single woman living in a purchased home. I spend roughly $900 a month. You can live here easily in a rented home on $1,200 if you like the lifestyle that gives you. Or you could spend as high as $2,200 a month to live more lavishly. It is entirely up to you, your financial situation, and how you want to live.

It is a great idea to try living here for at least six months to see what the lifestyle you desire will cost you in Panama.

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