Ecuador vs Panama… for Expats

Salsa music’s in the air.

Dominoes are being smacked down on almost every street corner by the older folks.

Mulattas, and Mulattoes dressed to impress traffic the cobblestone streets below my balcony.

This week, I’m checking in from Panama City, Panama.

So I thought I’d take the chance to compare life in Ecuador vs Panama.

Here goes…

Money: Both countries use the US dollar, which makes life MUCH easier for us greenback carriers. The dollar can drop in value all it wants but the effect is minimal when in a “dollar” country.

Cost of Living: The essentials are cheaper in Ecuador… food, shelter, transportation, whereas consumer goods are cheaper in Panama. Food is noticeably more expensive in Panama with lunches starting around $4 compared to Ecuador where lunches start around $2. Rents for a 2 bedroom apartment in a nice area of Panama city start around $500 but often cost more compared to Ecuador cities where you can find similar rentals in livable areas starting around $300/month.

Real Estate: Panama real estate is clearly on the down-swing following the general world crisis trend. Since 2009, Ecuador is on its way up since mortgages became more accessible to locals and Ecuador began to be mentioned often by the International retirement press. Panama already had their big boom when prices skyrocketed from 2005-2008. Bottom line, it’s hard to find a decent apartment in Panama City for under $100k, in Ecuador that task is still very doable, especially if you know how to look.

Government stability: Panama wins here as with each time I come here I am more reminded of Hong Kong. Ecuador governmental policies seem to always be closing the doors (more on that in a future newsletter).

Public transportation: In Panama most have cars while in Ecuador most people don’t! Consequently, cars are a need in Panama with much fewer public transport options. Taxi rides start around $2-3 here in the City but at rush hour you can see hundreds of people waiting in the streets for buses and trying to catch taxis making it VERY evident public transport is extremely lacking in Panama.

Food: Food is clearly more expensive in Panama as I see prices only a shade below those of the US. The local gastronomy is not nearly as diverse as that of Ecuador… you’ll see a typical Caribbean beans, rice and fried chicken plate in many of the local eateries.

Women/Men: The women and men in Panama are mainly mulattoes similar to the Dominican Republic. The people are attractive with nice figures, and friendly, and seem to treat foreigners well and are not as quick to overcharge them as I see elsewhere. They are more animated and vocal. Today a girl serving me food at a fast food joint struck up a conversation with and asked for my number… that rarely happens to me in Ecuador, people are a bit more reserved until you get to know them.

Safety: In Panama I feel surprisingly safe, walking around at all hours of the day and at night although there are areas we should avoid.

Weather: It hasn’t stopped raining since I’ve been here. From December to April is the sunny season, the rest of the year is quite rainy, typical for the Caribbean. Also, the humidity, at least this time of year, is so thick at times I feel I have to walk with an extra zest just to push myself through the air, not so in Ecuador.

Airfare: It is MUCH cheaper to get to Panama from the US with budget carriers like Spirit Air.

Visa Residency Requirements: Both offer an investors visa but you need to invest a much larger amount in Panama to qualify. In Ecuador invest $25-30k or up. In Panama, $100-250k. Pensioner visas are also available in both countries.

Banking: Far easier in Panama for a foreigner to open a bank account and the banking system is more sound. With $1000 deposit (that you can withdraw later) and a few bank and personal reference letters you can open an account in many of the banks here in Panama. In Ecuador, unless you know someone, banks won’t open an account for you until you are a legal resident.

Overall: I love Panama, and I’m going to miss the Panamanian ladies, but I’ll stick to Ecuador for the milder weather, lower costs of essential items, the food, the public transport and the business opportunity I see right now.

To see some of the top reader comments, check the forum here… and leave your comment too!

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The view of Montanita Beach in Ecuador, not quite like the Caribbean.

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