True Cost of Living in Panama City An Executive Perspective

Since 2004, the Panamanian government has aggressively pursued a policy designed to attract direct foreign investment in the country by offering extremely attractive incentive programs to multinational corporations.  Today, there are hundreds of international corporations with regional headquarters in Panama City, including Dell Computers, Caterpillar, 3M, Hewlett-Packard, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson and Johnson, Maersk, Nestle, Halliburton and SAB Miller, among others.  Panama City is also Latin America’s financial capital, boasting 137 private banks, most of which are international institutions. Inside Panama Real Estate recently opened a new office in the Trump Ocean Club in Panama City, and Andrea Cooper, Director of Operations, specializes in helping international executives relocate to Panama City.  Here are her insights on the true costs of the executive lifestyle in Panama City.

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Panama City as seen from the Trump Ocean Club

Housing

Most executives gravitate to the glamorous residential condominiums in the prestigious oceanfront districts of Panama City, primarily Avenida Balboa and Punta Pacifica. Furnished, one-bedroom apartments with an ocean view start at $1600/month (plus utilities), whereas two-bedroom units generally range from $1800 to $2500, depending on the size of the unit and the quality of the decor.  Large three-bedroom condominiums suitable for families range from $3500 to $5000/month.  Prices fall dramatically as you move inland to neighborhoods such as Obarrio, El Cangrejo or San Francisco, where one and two-bedroom furnished condos can be found for $1300-1500/month and three-bedroom units start at $1,700.

If a foreign executive is likely to be working in Panama for a long period of time, it is often more cost-effective to purchase a residential unit, rather than rent, as mortgage rates in this country are among the lowest in Latin America.  The monthly mortgage payment on a unit that normally rents for $1800/month is approximately $1000 (assuming a 20-year mortgage at a rate of 4.5 percent and a 20 percent down payment) and homeowner dues are approximately $150/month–representing a savings of $650/month while building equity in a spectacular investment property that can easily be rented or resold once the executive leaves Panama.

Utilities

Monthly electricity costs are directly related to one’s affinity for air conditioning.  If you leave the A/C running 24 hours a day, expect to pay $300-600/month, depending upon the size of your apartment.  Those who use air conditioning more conservatively can expect to pay $70-120/month.  Water and garbage collection (aseo in Spanish) will generally run $15-20/month, while gas for cooking and heating water is generally included in the rental rate or the homeowner dues.  A premium Cable TV (with hundreds of channels, many in English) and high-speed internet package starts at $100/month.

Domestic services

Executives from first world nations take great delight in the extremely low cost of domestic labor in Panama.  Hiring a cleaning lady for four hours a week in a major Canadian city costs approximately $85.  In Panama, you get a full-time cleaner and cook for a 40-hour work week for exactly the same price!  In-home spa services are also incredibly reasonable:  $30 for a 90-minute manicure and pedicure by a trained professional using top-quality products and $50 for a 60-minute massage!

Medical care

Medical services in Panama City are first rate.  Most of the doctors at the prestigious private hospitals like Punta Pacifica and Paitilla have trained in the United States or Europe, are fully bilingual and have access to state-of-the-art diagnostic and surgical equipment.  A private healthcare plan for a 40-year-old in good health will run from $75-140 a month and cover 100 percent of hospitalization costs and 80 percent of non-emergency doctor visits, laboratory exams, scans and prescription drugs, usually with a very reasonable annual deductible.  If you opt to pay as you go, a consultation with one of the country’s top specialists will only cost $60-80.

Automobiles

Vehicles are approximately 15 percent more expensive in Panama than in North America.  An entry-level SUV like a Hyundai or Kia will start around $22,000, while a European base model sedan like an Audi or BMW will be in the $45,000-50,000 range.  Sadly, vehicle leasing programs do not exist in Panama.  Considerable cost savings can be obtained by purchasing a gently used vehicle.  If you speak Spanish, you can find deals at www.encuentra24.com by buying directly from owners.  If you prefer a certified, pre-owned vehicle, both the local Toyota/Lexus dealer and the BMW dealer are your best bets. Keep in mind that European vehicles lose more value than Japanese vehicles because of the high cost of parts and specialty labor once the warranty period expires.

Food and Entertainment

Panama City has wonderful supermarkets offering a wide variety of produce, fresh meats and seafood and many imported products. While considerable cost savings can be achieved by going directly to the city’s fish and vegetable markets, foreign executives rarely have time to do this and opt for the one-stop shopping experience. Riba Smith supermarket is a favorite of expats given the high quality of its products and their excellent home delivery service (online orders at www.ribasmith.com), while El Rey and Super 99 are convenient alternatives, both open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!  A couple that prefers imported goods, high quality meats and produce and good South American or Spanish wines can easily spend $200 per week on groceries.

Busy executives end up eating out and entertaining frequently, and Panama City’s restaurant and bar scene is the best in Central America. A three-course dinner for two and a nice bottle of wine at the finest city restaurants will generally cost $90-120, while a good meal at a more casual establishment will average $45-60 for two people. Executives can certainly economize at lunchtime, when most of the city’s restaurants offer a fixed-price menu ejecutivo, with main course, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage from $7-15.  If you speak Spanish, one of the best on-line restaurant guides is  www.degustapanama.com.  It classifies restaurants based on cost, cuisine and ambience and contains thousands of diner reviews.

The city’s trendiest bars, discotheques and lounges are located in the Calle Uruguay entertainment district, the Casco Viejo historic district and luxury hotels such as the Hard Rock Megapolis and the Manrey boutique hotel. Cover is rarely charged, unless there is a live band or special event, but expect to pay $6 for a beer or glass of wine and $8 for a cocktail at the city’s most popular establishments.  Smaller, less sophisticated bars and pubs will charge about half of that price!

Panamanians love going to the movies and there are world-class cinemas in every mall in the city. VIP theaters, such as Cinepolis at Multiplaza, allow you to reserve your seats online and relax in reclining leather chairs, with bar and food service to your seat, for $13 a ticket. Seats in the regular theater, on par with what you would find in any North American city, are a bargain at $5.

Relocating to Panama City and need help finding the perfect condo to rent or to purchase? Contact Andrea Cooper, Director of Operations of our Panama City office, via E-mail: andrea@ipreinfo.com.

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