- Fresh Fish. You can get a full range of seafood in Panama--from salmon to octopus--but the local fish is what's the best bargain.It's cheapest if you buy directly from the fishermen, but even if you go to a fish market, you'll still be amazed at how much you save. A whole Corvina (local sea bass) can be as little as $1 per medium-sized fish, and sushi grade Ahi tuna is only $2.50 per pound.
- Fresh Produce. Year-round good weather means year-round fresh produce. There is an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables available. When purchased at a Farmer's Market or the Wholesale Produce Market in Panama City, you'll be amazed at how cheap the produce is. Here are some examples of things you can buy for $1: a dozen bananas, 2 pineapples, 20 limes, lettuce, 2 coconuts, a watermelon, 5 small mangoes, 4 ripe tomatoes, and more! You can literally stuff your refrigerator each week for less than $20. Fresh produce at a fraction of the price... one more reason to love Panama.
- Maid Service. A typical maid costs $20 per day. My maid not only does surface cleaning--such as mopping and dusting--but she also launders my clothes, washes, the windows, cooks lunch, and then cleans all of the dishes. Because domestic help is so inexpensive, many people have a maid several times a week. It's amazing how much more you can enjoy life when you're not overwhelmed with the tedium of cleaning.
- Health Insurance. This is a touchy subject right now, so be prepared to smile. You can get full coverage for a fraction of the cost that you're currently paying. For example, if you're 55-59 years old, you can get full coverage for $140 per month.
- Homeowner Association Fees. Panama doesn't just have cheaper real estate and property taxes, but it also has cheaper HOA fees. In fact, the rising cost of HOA fees around the world is making Panama even more attractive. Beachfront properties in Miami can be as much as $3,000 per month, while similar fees in Southern California can cost $500-$1000 per month. Beachfront HOA dues in Panama can be as little as $150 per month for a beachfront condo in Coronado. This price includes water, trash, gas, security, common area maintenance, and a slew of amenities such as swimming pools, a gym, a sauna, a party room, a game room, a rooftop kitchen area, and more.
- Labor. Unskilled labor in Panama is cheap. It doesn't matter if you want your house painted, a full-time live-in gardener, or ceiling fans installed, you'll pay a fraction of what you're used to. For example, when I had two guys install ceiling fans, it took them 10 hours and they charged $100. A full-time caretaker will cost about $500 (if you provide lodging),
- Property Taxes. The Panama property tax exemption is one of the things that has made Panama so attractive to expats. Property tax exemptions can be up to 20 years. Most people save $10,000 - $20,000 per year on this savings alone. But even after property tax kicks into effect, it is much lower than in other Western countries. )Property tax is based on a sliding scale. Request my book "Panama Uncorked" to get the whole scoop on property tax.)
- Dog Grooming. If you have pets, you'll love the cheap grooming services in Panama. Getting your dog bathed, trimmed and toenails clipped costs a mere $16. And if you give them $1-$2 for a tip, they are thrilled.
- Medical Procedures. Many medical procedures are just a fraction of the cost of what you would pay at home, often up to 70% cheaper. There are several reasons for this, including lower wages and lower malpractice insurance. Medical procedures--from dental implants to heart surgery--are so much lower that a new industry of medical tourism has erupted. If you want to learn more, click here to read a recent article about medical tourism.
- Taxis. Taxis in Panama are not metered, so be prepared to negotiate. The key to cheap taxi service is to ask someone who knows. A trip from the Coronado Beach to the grocery store? Just $2. A trip from Tocumen Airport to downtown Panama City? After tolls and tip, just $30.
One of the reasons to move to Panama is that it costs less to live. Here are my top 10 picks for cheap things in Panama that help save on your monthly living expenses.
Melissa Darnay is a Gen X real estate broker who traded the hustle and bustle of American life for the charms of Panama in 2012. Learn more...