What is the cost of living in Boquete and generally in Panama? Can you live on your Social Security income? What is the cost of rent, food, and transportation? What is the cost of healthcare? These are important questions that you want to learn about if you consider retiring in Panama and especially in Boquete.
Panama, a beautiful country known for its tropical landscapes and thriving expat community, offers an attractive cost of living that can be significantly lower than in many developed countries. Boquete, located in the Chiriqui Highlands, stands out as a popular destination for retirees and expats seeking a peaceful and affordable lifestyle. On this page, we will explore the cost of living in Panama, specifically focusing on Boquete, and how it relates to the average US social security income.
I am Volker, an expat from Germany who came to Boquete in 2008 and fell in love with this place. My wife Maria is Panamanian and together we are running the small apartment-hotel "Aparthotel Boquete" in a quiet green area close to the center of Boquete. Find more info about this and us in the menu on top of this page if you are interested.
Since I first came here, I have collected information about the cost of living in Boquete and I will link to my early research which I have published on my first panamanian website "mein-panama.de" ("my Panama"), which is mostly in German but may be helpful for some. If you are interested in prices in Boquete of a couple of years ago, visit this page from 2018. It will give you a good idea of how much prices have changed since then.
Please note that decimal numbers and dates there are in the German format (the decimal separator is a comma, and dates are "day/month/year").
Rent will probably be the most important item in your daily expenses, and will thus determine most of the cost of living in Boquete, and in Panama generally.
When it comes to housing, Boquete and its wider area offer various options catering to different budgets. The cost of renting an apartment or house in Boquete is generally more affordable than in major cities in the US. Basic one-bedroom residential apartments in the town center can be found at reasonable rates, and for those who prefer more space, larger houses and villas are available at competitive prices. The diversity in rental options allows individuals to find accommodations that suit their needs and financial situation.
But there can be significant differences in the cost of rent, depending on the size of your home, on how it is furnished, its quality, and, of course, the location. Another factor is whether you are looking for a short-to-medium -term rental or a residential rental which usually require a contract for a minimum of 6 months or a year.
The general rule is, the farther away you live from the areas of high demand, like the center of Boquete or the most coveted areas of David, the lower the rent will be.
In Dolega, which is about 31km (20 miles) from Boquete, you may be able to find an unfurnished one-bedroom residential apartment starting at about $240 a month (seen in Oct. 2023) if you rent for a year or more. But it will be a very simple apartment without or with just basic furniture, and there is not much entertainment in Dolega in comparison to Boquete. This is understandable because there is much more demand for good restaurants and other entertainment in Boquete and thus a better economical basis for opening a higher-end restaurant. Add to this that you will spend more for transportation and probably for air conditioning.
Temperatures get higher the farther downhill you go from Boquete, and one of Boquete's great attractions, and a reason why people want to live here, is the spring-like weather all year through. In Boquete, we need neither cooling nor heating, thus the cost of electricity for a household of 2 people can be as low as $10-20 per month while it may rise to several hundred dollars in the lower and warmer areas. The cost of electricity may reduce the savings in the rent significantly if you choose to live in the lower areas of Panama.
As an example, our small 2-br household consumes about 150kWh per months at a cost of about 18c/kWh but there is a 25% discounts for low consumtion under 600kWh and a retiree discount, so in the end our bill is $10- $15, corresponding to about 7 cents/kWh.
If you are exploring Boquete to understand if this is the place where you want to live, you will probably not use a residential rental that requires a contract of at least 6 months, but look for short to medium-term rental like a couple of weeks up to no more than 180 days, which is the validity of a tourist visa. Hotels are usually too expensive for such long stays (upward from $1500/month), so your best bet is renting a serviced apartment, like at Aparthotel Boquete. These apartments offer a hotel-like service (even including a Welcome DIY Breakfast and daily fresh homemade bread) for an affordable rate, with significant discounts for longer stays. The long-term rate for a single during the green season there is only $27.50/day (2023/24). They have complete kitchens, something hotels usually don't offer, which can help you save significantly on your cost of living in Boquete.
One of the advantages of living in Boquete is the affordability of food. Local markets, known as "mercados," provide a wide range of locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains at affordable prices. Eating out at local restaurants and cafes is also reasonably priced, allowing residents to enjoy delicious meals without breaking the bank.
You can have a complete meal for about $5 at one of the popular restaurants ("fondas"), or you can cook at home for less than $10 a day if you rent an apartment.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I have been tracking food prices since I first came here in 2008. There is a list of food prices on my website mein-panama.de available for 2008/2009 and for 2018. I am working on an update for 2023 but one thing is clear already: many food prices have doubled since 2008, including an increase of about 30% since 2018.
Most local products are cheaper than in many parts of the USA or Western Europe but this is not true for imported products and for milk and milk products like yogurt and cheese. Quarter a gallon of whole milk (about 0.96 liters) cost about $1.00 in 2008 and costs nearly twice as much today (Oct. 2023). The same amount costs only about $1.00 in Germany and between 80 cents and $1.25 in the USA as of today.
For dining out, there is a wide range of price levels, starting with the cheap fondas for about $5.00 for a meal, going to the eateries used mostly by average-income expats, where a meal can cost between $10 and $15, up to places where you can easily spend $30-60 and more per person.
Overall, the cost of groceries and dining out in Boquete depends on your lifestyle. They will usually be a minor part of your cost of living in Boquete.
Transportation costs in Boquete are typically much lower compared to many places in the US or Europe. Owning a car may not be necessary for everyday commuting, as the town is relatively small and easily navigable on foot. This is true especially if you live in a place very close to the center of Boquete, like the Aparthotel Boquete.
Local bus services offer affordable transportation to nearby towns and cities. Taxis are also available, with reasonable fares for shorter trips.
Here are some examples of transportation costs.
For local transportation in Boquete and its closer area, there are two different types of transportation: individual and collective. Panamanians usually use collective transportation if available. The vehicles may either be taxis that collect up to 4 or 5 passengers or they may be small busses with up to 15 passenger posts. They have fixed start points and start their tour generally when the vehicle is fully occupied, so there are no fixed timetables. The cost is low, like 40 cents per passenger for the shorter routes
If you take a private tour within the area of Bajo Boquete, Panamanians usually pay between 1 and 2 dollars, while foreigners are charged 2-4 dollars (if they accept it).
There is also the regular bus from Boquete to David whis runs about every 30 minutes, starts near the Municipal Park in Boquete, and ends at the central Bus Terminal in David. The ride takes about an hour and costs $1.75 regularly, or $1.50 for "jubilados" (women 57 years old and above, and men 62 years old and above). This is a discount of about 15%.
If you do the same trip with a taxi, the regular price is about $30 for one or two guests. A ride to or from the airport of David can cost between $35 and $40.
A taxi ride within David will cost between $2 and $3. To do errands in David, coming from Boquete, the cheapest way is taking the bus from Boquete to a place near your destiny in David, and then take taxis while you are in David.
There are also private drivers for hire, similar to Uber, which is also available in David.
They charge about as much as regular taxis, but often they offer greater comfort in better and newer cars. We often use them to pick up our guests at the airport in David or to bring them there.
Transportation costs are significantly lower than in the USA or Europe.
Renting a car is often more expensive than hiring a driver and using public transportation, especially if you don't use the car every day for extended trips. Add to this the comfort of having a knowledgeable driver and not having to worry about where to leave the car.
Overall, the lower cost of transportation can contribute to a more budget-friendly lifestyle in Boquete.
Panama has a reputable healthcare system, and Boquete has a few medical facilities that cater to residents. There are several private clinics and half a dozen of pharmacies in Boquete, besides the public health and emergency services that can also be used by expats.
A general doctor's visit in Boquete will cost between $15 and $20 and a visit with a specialist runs from about $40 to $70.
In David there are public and two major private hospitals, and all kinds of specialists working either in a private clinic or in one of the public or private hospitals.
Many doctors in the private clinics work also in the public health system.
The difference between using one or the other is not so much the qualification of the medical personnel but more a question of cost on one side and comfort and waiting times on the other. While the cost of a doctor's visit or a treatment in the public health system, including surgeries, is low, the waiting times are generally long or surgeries may be available only in urgent cases, and the comfort in case of hospitalization is very low compared to private hospitals.
The cost of healthcare services and medication in Panama tends to be significantly lower compared to the US. The cost of a doctor's visit, an exam, or even a treatment in a hospital, paid out of the pocket in Panama, is often cheaper than even the co-pay with a private insurance in the USA or Canada.
Expats and retirees can obtain comprehensive health insurance at reasonable rates, ensuring access to quality medical care without excessive financial burdens. But there are limitations related to age and pre-existing conditions that may sometimes make "self-insurance" (i.e. setting aside the insurance premiums and pay out of the pocket) more cost-effective than paying for a Panamanian private health insurance.
The affordability of healthcare in Panama, including Boquete, is advantageous for those relying on social security income.
The average US social security income acts as a crucial factor for US retirees and expats considering relocation to Boquete. The relatively lower cost of living in the area allows individuals to stretch their social security income further, enabling them to maintain a comfortable lifestyle without significant financial strain.
As of August 2023, the average US SS check was $1,705.79, according to the Social Security Administration. This is 70% more than the $1000 guaranteed minimum income that is required for Panama's pensioner visa ("visa de jubilado").
Can you live on $1000 a month in Panama?
Yes, you can if you live like many Panamanians. Consider that the legal minimum salary in Panama is around $650 and many Panamanians earn less than $1000 a month.
But a healthy couple can live well on $1200 a month, while in the USA this would be considered below the poverty threshold.
With a monthly available income of $2-3000 you can live very well, set aside money for major health costs or health insurance, and even hire a part-time maid or gardener.
The combination of affordable housing, reasonable food costs, transportation options, and accessible healthcare helps align expenses with social security income.
Boquete, with its charming scenery and attractive cost of living, presents a compelling option for individuals looking to make the most of their social security income in Panama.