Living in Panama Vs. Costa Rica Vs. Belize

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When comparing living in Panama to living in Costa Rica or Belize, first figure out how much it'll cost to rent a house or apartment in each place. Next, think about your lifestyle: will you live like a native, or like a tourist on a luxury vacation? This'll impact your budget differently in each country. It's also essential to learn which of these three countries is the safest, and which will treat you for the least amount of money if you fall ill.

General Expenses

Compare the general cost of living in all three countries. In Costa Rica, according to the Web site CostaRica.com, an American traveler can live well for $1500 or less monthly. The site YourPanama.com estimates that an American can live in Panama for about $2000 monthly. Caribbean Property Magazine estimated that the average cost of living in Belize in 2007 was $1000 a month for a couple, making Belize the cheapest place of the three in which to live .

Look at the rent prices in all three countries. In Costa Rica, expect to pay about $500-700 a month for a mid-range house. In Panama City, your rent will be about $400 or $500 a month, while in the rest of Panama, you'll probably spend less. Boquete is a city that has a low cost of living: a five-bedroom house in Boquete can be rented for around $300. Average rent in Belize is $400-500 a month for a one-bedroom place.

Compare the cost of groceries in all three countries. Sylvia Peters, the editor of YourPanama.com, says that there's no need to spend money on imported foods: Panamanian groceries are just as good, and much cheaper. She spends around $200-250 on food and cleaning supplies per month. In Costa Rica, if you want to buy high-end imported groceries from the Automercado chain, you could spend up to $200 a week if you're buying groceries for an average American family. The Web site Moving To Belize estimates that it's possible to spend $30 a week on groceries in Belize if you eat simply.

Safety and Medical Care

Compare the cost of medical treatment in all three countries. Medical insurance in Panama costs $30 to $50 a month for a four-person family. Belize has socialized medicine that's available to foreigners, while Panama and Costa Rica do not, although it's cheap to see a doctor in Panama, where they often make house calls. It's also inexpensive to get medical treatment in Costa Rica. Visits to a specialist cost $30-40, and prescription medications cost about a fifth of what they do in America.

Compare safety levels in all three countries. According to Web site PanamaLaw.org, Panama is relatively safe. While it's not wise to eschew common sense and walk alone in sketchy-looking places after dark, or wear flashy jewelry in a poor neighborhood, you can expect to be generally safe. Most apartment buildings have security guards, and most buildings have bars on their windows.

Most of Costa Rica's crime takes place in the capital city of San Jose. As in Panama, it's wise to use common sense when conducting oneself -- put expensive jewelry in your hotel lockbox or leave it in your rented property. One difference -- in 2007, San Jose created a special division of the police force to protect tourists, which decreased the city's crime rate by 36%.

Belize’s safety level, according to the U.S. Department of State, is on the decline. It's best to travel with a reputable tour group than travel alone. Robberies of tourists and sexual harassment of single females or small groups of females are on the rise. The Department of State advises not getting into any taxis in which more people than the driver are riding, and only using taxis with green license plates.

Check with your doctor before heading to Costa Rica, Panama or Belize, in case you need special vaccinations or inoculations, such as a yellow fever vaccination. You may also need paperwork as proof you've received these vaccinations.

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