Friday, March 18, 2016

Considering a Move: How Does Panama Compare to Costa Rica?

I get a lot of questions from people in the States who are considering a move to Central America, and are thinking about Costa Rica as one option.

I've traveled extensively throughout Central America, and have several friends who I visit that moved there from the States and are doing well.

Here's my take after driving both Costa Rica and Panama extensively by car, alone, and stopping at as many small towns and little out of the way places I could along the way over the last 15 years:

Your ability to survive and prosper in the places I have been, depends on your expectations.

Panamanian Gas Station - Click to Enlarge
If you are typical (and I don't think you are) and you move into some kind of gated community full of a ton of snobby westerners who haven't had to live on $15 a day, and feel they are somehow "above" the local residents, and treat them like they are your servants, you'll get the appropriate snubbing from them in return.

You might even have your place broken into, especially if you are dumb enough to leave your stuff out in the open and unsecured. And, if you are in a big city and act like you are afraid of everything around you, you could be targeted and maybe robbed, but probably not.

That's one reason, after looking at many areas of Panama for a place to put down roots, I decided against the large expat communities like Boquete and Coronado.

Boquete Expat Community - Click to Enlarge
They become target areas for theft and sometimes aggressive behavior, and in a SHTF scenario, being that close to a large metro area, where people are dependent on modern conveniences, is no kind of improvement over being stuck in a big city in the States when the lights go out.

I wouldn't mind having a small apartment in Panama City for occasional entertainment and cultural activities, but wouldn't want to live there. Too hot and humid and noisy. But that's just me.

Mountains Near Finca Cazador - Click to Enlarge
I prefer peace and tranquility, especially for a bug out location. And I like not having to use air conditioning and heating. Likewise for Costa Rica. It's hot and humid at the lower elevations.

As far as Costa Rica goes, the roads and infrastructure are terrible. Having driven through quite a few areas, the potholes alone can swallow up a small car.

That being said, it is beautiful country, but you pay for that beauty. The cost of living is much higher there, and the crime is worse than in Panama, if you compare apples to apples (city to city, country to country, etc)

Costa Rica is light years ahead as far as protecting the ecology, but Panama is making a concerted effort to improve some of their issues like cleaning up the bay next to Panama City.

And the "Tico's" don't seem to be as friendly to Americans as Panamanians are. Probably because Americans have been in their country for decades, starting with the building of the canal. They are used to seeing them out and about, and lots of American products (for better or worse) have made their way to store shelves, even in the rural areas where our development is.

Duty Free Store on Border - Click to Enlarge
Lots of Americans and Europeans have moved to Costa Rica, and their economy is not a vibrant as Panama's, so the cost of living is higher there, and inflation could get bad there. Panama also has better tax structures for Americans. At this time, they don't tax foreign income, and the US gives a 108k break to Americans who live overseas and have income from there.

Our project is in the country right near the border with Costa Rica, so we have options as far as getting in and out, we have many roads we can use. It's a short drive to some really nice Costa Rica beaches from where we are, and it's nice to have a back door exit route.

I would suggest taking a trip for at least a few months and try out different areas. Since we all have a different picture of what paradise is, try spending some time in a city, and some time in a beach location, and some time in the country.

Typical Breakfast - Click to Enlarge
Once you have done that and can say which environment you would resonate with the most, go spend some time in that environment and live among the locals and see if you can handle living in a different reality.

It's not really that difficult if you are a decent person, not looking to take advantage of people, and don't have an expectation that the locals should change the way they've been doing things for sometimes multiple generations.

And if you can eat the local fare (rice, beans, chicken mostly) you can live pretty comfortably on almost nothing, especially in the country.

It's all about your expectations.


Post a Comment