Free 200+ Page eBook

Top 57 Places to Live & Invest in the Tropics

Quickly find out which country is right for you.
No-hype updates & resource guides. No Spam. Ever.
Limited offer. Instant Download.

Join More than 58,187 people who are breaking free

we value your privacy

Pricing Paradise: Comparing the Cost of Living in Costa Rica, Panama & Ecuador

Perhaps the most important question for expats considering a move to Latin America is:  What is the cost of living? The differences in prices for basics, such as food, utilities, and rent, can often be the determining factor in choosing one location over another.

By comparing the cost of living of three of the most popular Latin American destinations – Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador – you can get a better understanding of the budget needed to make your tropical dream a reality. Learning about these (and other) popular destinations is a great way to begin the search for that perfect piece of tropical paradise.

costa rica ecuador panama price comparision


What Goes into Figuring the Cost of Living

There are a lot of factors that can be included when calculating how much it would cost to live in one place as compared to another. Looking at the big picture is one way to get an idea of the comparative pluses and minuses of each location.

Below is a chart that compares prices and consumer spending power (on a macro level) between Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador:

Ecuador Costa Rica Panama
Rent Prices are 59.25% lower than in Panama Rent Prices are 86.62% lower than in Panama Rent Prices are 59.25% higher than in Ecuador
Consumer Prices are 17.89% lower than in Panama Consumer Prices are 9.65% higher than in Panama Consumer Prices are 17.89% higher than in Ecuador
Grocery Prices are 23.82% lower than in Panama Grocery Prices are 5.78% higher than in Panama Grocery Prices are 23.82% higher than in Ecuador
Local Purchasing Power is 20.15% lower than in Panama Local Purchasing Power is 19.03%  higher than in Panama Local Purchasing Power is 20.15% higher than in Ecuador

Information Source is as of May 2015

As can be seen, each country has positives and negatives in terms of the cost of living. Ecuador has the lowest rent, Costa Rica has the highest local purchasing power, and Panama occupies the middle ground on most categories.

This is also a direct reflection of the stage where each of the three countries find themselves in terms of growth. Costa Rica has the most developed market in terms of expats, Panama is in the middle of a growth spurt, and Ecuador is just now emerging as an expat hotspot.



Looking at Specific Items That Go into the Cost of Living

To better explain how these percentages impact expat budgets, it helps to look at the actual dollar amount that such things as food, housing, and transportation cost in these three countries. This comparison appears in the chart below:

SAMPLE GROCERY ITEMS Costa Rica Ecuador Panama
Milk (regular), (1 liter) $1.40    $1.06 $1.47
Loaf of Fresh White Bread (500g) $1.61    $1.45 $2.06
Rice (white), (1kg) $2.14    $1.41 $1.48
Eggs (12) $2.83    $1.81 $2.17
Local Cheese (1kg) $6.35    $4.76 $7.73
Chicken Breasts (Boneless, Skinless), (1kg) $6.97    $5.94 $7.15
Basic (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage) for 85m2 Apartment $70.65     $44.13 $69.84
1 min. of Prepaid Mobile Tariff Local (No Discounts or Plans) $  0.07     $  0.17 $  0.14
Internet (6 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) $53.16     $44.07 $41.99
Gaosline (1 Liter) $1.34 $0.50 $0.90
Volkwagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline (or similar new vehicle) $22,569.12 $25,000.00 $19,500.00
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre $833.13 $661.34 $1,780.77
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre $654.21 $524.29 $   967.86
Information Obtained from as of May 2015

Again, the differences reflected in the cost of certain items mirrors each country’s particular characteristics. Panama, long recognized as the commercial hub of Latin America, benefits from the ready access to imports in the form of lower prices for cars and gasoline. Both Costa Rica and Ecuador have significantly lower rental costs than Panama; the modern wonder that is Panama City is a prime example of this disparity.

Interestingly, the food items selected for comparison are all roughly the same in cost across the three countries. The accessibility of locally grown produce and meat can further reduce the food budget across the board.



What Does It All Mean?

Panama, Ecuador, and Costa Rica each have unique qualities that have made them three of the top locations for foreign investors, expats seeking a new or different lifestyle, and retirees looking for that tropical paradise. Depending on where you live, the cost of living may be higher or lower than these examples.

If a more rustic lifestyle is the preferred choice, the amount spent will be lower; conversely, for those seeking a luxury residential location with modern amenities, the cost will obviously be higher. In any event, what one would spend for these items in the U.S. is going to be different than in any Latin American location.

Ultimately, the question that has to be answered is a simple one: Does this place (Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, or elsewhere) call to you? Being realistic about your own monetary resources is another important facet in the expat process.

Learning about each country by connecting with others who have made this leap of faith, and, hopefully, visiting those places that appeal to you, is the best way to put everything into context. You can then measure the cost of living in the context of the cost of making a dream come true.

Up Next

7 of the Top Places U.S. Expats Are Living in Latin America (and Why)

New data shows where U.S. expats are residing all across the globe. Many of the top destinations are in nearby Latin America. Find out why. (Read It)

Central America's Best Real Estate Buy

Don't miss this up and commer. It has the tropical lifestyle, stunning beauty, and smokin appreciation potential. (Read It)

The World’s Top 10 Best Places to Put Your Money

Offshore banking isn't just for the super rich. But how does the average Joe decide where to put his money? Here are the world's top banking jurisdictions. (Read It)
panama city panama real estate update

Panama City, Panama Real Estate Market Update

Today we have a guest post written by Kent Davis, owner of one of the most successful real estate brokerages in Panama City The Panama City real estate market may have finally taken a turn in …

(Read It)
costa rica websites

Top 133 Costa Rica Websites for Expats and Investors

Did you know there are dozens and dozens of great resources on Costa Rica for expats and investors? Sure, we have a ton of resources for Costa Rica on our site, and a whole bunch …

(Read It)

The Truth about Living in Costa Rica: The Good, the Bad, and the Muddy

It's easy to find tons of articles and information out there highlighting all the great benefits of living in Costa Rica. But it's also easy to read those blogs and marketing pieces and think, "Yeah, it …

(Read It)

Why Nosara, Costa Rica Is Not Your Average Surfing Town

A deeper look at Nosara and its history will quickly reveal that this long-time mecca for surfing enthusiasts offers so much more than just the sand and sea. The increasing interest in the area as a …

(Read It)

Expats Are Still Falling in Love with Nosara and Here’s Why

What was once the up-and-coming expat haven of Nosara, Costa Rica, has blossomed into one of Costa Rica's most established expat communities that continues to be ranked near the top of the list of most desirable destinations in the Latin …

(Read It)

How Nosara Strikes the Perfect Balance of Rustic vs. Connected

When you hear people applaud Nosara for its laid-back rustic vibe, what you may not realize is that despite it's off-the-beaten-path atmosphere, Nosara is also surprisingly well connected. As such, this Costa Rican hotspot continues to be one …

(Read It)

5 thoughts on “Pricing Paradise: Comparing the Cost of Living in Costa Rica, Panama & Ecuador

  1. 1

    You conclude that Ecuador has the lowest rent. Ok, but in that case, there may be a misprint: in your chart you have rent prices in Ecuador as 59.25% lower than in Panama, and rent prices in Costa Rica as 86.62% lower than in Panama. Clearly, this means that rent is lower in Ecuador.

  2. 3

    And what about income opportunities if you’re considering moving your family as opposed to being retired?

  3. 4

    The reference site can’t be reached. Would like to compare to Mexico. Interesting info!

  4. 5

    Quite fascinating!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hot Real Estate Offer

Real Estate In The Area

Punta Barco
Are you looking for the Beach House of your dreams?, We have for you for sale this spectacular Beach Detached House in Punta Barco Viejo, you can find it just 1...
4.0 beds
5.0 bath
Building Size:4,812 sq.ft.
Altos del Golf
Located in the exclusive neighborhood of Altos del Golf. - 210 m2 apartment with 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. - Main Room with Walk In Closet. - Maid's room and ...
3.0 beds
3.0 bath
Building Size:2,260 sq.ft.
El Frances
Farm for sale that you can use as a dairy for your own consumption, located in El Frances, Alto Boquete, just 5 minutes from the main road David-Boquete, the st...
Land Size:17 acres
See All Listings In The Area
Free Tropical Toolkit
Free 200+ Page Report: Top 57 Places to Live & Invest
  • The only book in the world that ranks investment and lifestyle in one place.
  • Over 200 information packed pages with hundreds of beautiful photos.
  • Download the book instantly (for free!) with this limited time offer.
*We value your privacy. No spam. Period.