The Foreign Exchange
Expat Exchange
Expat Exchange
A World of Friend Abroad
July 18, 2024

Best Places to Live: Costa Rica vs. Panama

When considering a move abroad, Central America has emerged as a favorite destination for expats, with Costa Rica and Panama topping the list. Both countries have their unique appeal and offer a blend of tropical climate, natural beauty, and warm hospitality. For someone deciding whether to live in Costa Rica or Panama, it's essential to delve into the details of each nation. Our article, Best Places to Live: Costa Rica vs. Panama, compares them across several critical areas. Here are some highlights:


Costa Rica boasts a variety of microclimates due to its diverse geography, which includes coastal plains, mountain ranges, and valleys. The coastal areas are typically hot and humid, while the central valley, where cities like San Jose are located, enjoys milder temperatures. "Costa Rica is Tropical. So it will be humid, guaranteed. The dryest part of the country is the northwest, Guanacaste. You may be able to find lower humidity there... but it is also, generally, much hotter." Another expat added, "You may, if you want cooler weather, consider looking at or near the towns of Grecia, Naranjo, Sarchi, or even Atenas (known for its expat community). The three towns I mention are just north and west of the San Jose main airport. They are higher elevations and have mountainous areas all around them where many people live," wrote one member.

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Cost of Living

In recent years, Costa Rica has seen a rise in its cost of living, especially in touristy regions. While it remains cheaper than many Western countries, expenses like housing and transportation can be higher than expected. Panama offers a slightly lower cost of living than Costa Rica, especially outside Panama City. The country also provides a unique program, the Pensionado Visa, which offers retirees substantial discounts on various services, further reducing living costs.

Health Care System Access

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) is Costa Rica's public healthcare system. Residents, including expats with legal residency, can access these services, although there might be wait times for certain treatments. Expats can access Panama’s public healthcare system once they gain residency. The services are affordable, but it's common for expats to also maintain private health insurance due to the efficiency and quality of private care.