What’s the cost of living?
That’s the question on nearly everyone’s mind when they think about retiring overseas.
Even if you’ve got a big budget, you still want to know the sorts of expenses you might run into in a new place.
Naturally, your expenses and mine will never line up perfectly. You might be happy in a smaller, less expensive house. Or maybe you like to eat out five nights a week. But after tracking what we spent over eight months here in Las Tablas, Panama, I can give you a realistic cost of living picture.
This is always a big chunk of the expenses. In the US, it’s usually the biggest expenditure, but not here! We’re renting a fully furnished and equipped three-bedroom, two-bath home in a subdivision on the edge of town. When I arrived, the only thing I had to purchase was towels.
Along the way, we’ve spent some money on the house. Our biggest expense was a washing machine.
We’ve also bought some pots and pans, dishware and glasses because what was here was pretty basic. We fenced in the back yard to keep our dogs from wandering off. We bought materials to make window screens. These were all optional expenditures but they’ve made our lives here easier.
This is actually our biggest living expense. Food is one area where there’s a huge amount of variation, depending on what you like to eat and how often you eat out.
We enjoy a varied diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. We eat out a couple times a week, and we purchase a few higher-cost imported items. My husband likes imported beer, for example, and I have a weakness for chocolate.
Our food budget also includes the food for our three small dogs. There’s not much selection in prepared dog foods here, so we’ve been mostly making our own.
Our electric bill is very reasonable, exceeding $40 only once since we moved in. We run air conditioning only in the master bedroom. The other two bedrooms have ceiling fans, and we have several stand fans we’ve purchased for other spots. We don’t watch much TV but the computer’s on most of the time.
The landlord pays for the water, so it’s not included in the figures below, but it runs about $7/month.
Cable and internet are the biggest expense. The package we have gives us basic cable and high-speed internet for $56 monthly.
Phone service runs about $30/month. That includes $17 for our Vonage VOIP service so we can talk with friends and family in the US and prepaid cell phones that we pay by the minute for calls and text messages.
Until last month we relied on cabs, buses and our own two feet to get around. We haven’t had the car long enough to have good numbers on what it costs to run it, but I’ll give you those in future updates. I did average in the cost of renting a car for a week while we looked for a car to buy.
Locally, taxis generally cost $1.25 around town, the bus to Chitre is $1.50 and buses to various local barrios are dirt cheap.
Postage and Shipping
We have an account at a nearby Mailboxes, Etc. store. We receive a small amount of mail forwarded from the US each month, as well as shipping for a few online orders. It’s not a practical solution for shipping heavy items.
This is a small category for us. No doctor visits as of yet. My husband has a couple of inexpensive prescriptions he gets from the VA back in the US, and I buy some vitamins and supplements.
This is another zero category for us as we haven’t really needed to replace any of the clothing we brought from the US.
What this Budget Doesn’t Include
This budget doesn’t include medical insurance, entertainment expenses or travel to and from the United States. Everyone’s expenditures are so different for these items I didn’t feel it was worthwhile to include them. It’s strictly a snapshot of what we’re spending for daily life here in Panama.
Without further explanation, here’s the breakdown.
|Postage and Shipping||$46.00|
Yes, You Can Live for Less — or a Lot More
This budget is a little bit higher than we had hoped when we came here. If we wanted to lower it, we could.
If we looked, we could find a less expensive rental, and we could also spend less each month on rent if we were willing to buy our own furniture. We could cut back on eating out and on some of our more extravagant grocery store purchases.
But for two people and three dogs living quite comfortably, it’s pretty good.