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.
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:
|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 Numbeo.com 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|
|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|
|RENT PER MONTH|
|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 Numeo.com 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.