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Costa Rica, Panama’s well known cousin to the west, is the place most people think of when they think of vacationing, living or investing in Central America.  I lived in Costa Rica seven years and it has it’s good points but it can’t even begin to compare to Panama.  I’ve lived in Panama four years now, and you couldn’t get me to move back to Costa Rica.  What I was looking for in Costa Rica, I, like many others, have found in Panama.Compare Land: Panama is the hands down winner on this one.  The same lot I sell in Panama for $50,000, I would sell in Costa Rica for $250,000.  There is that much difference!  This is no exaggeration.  I figure land prices in Costa Rica are about three to six times more expensive than Panama.  I do expect that gap to shrink in the years to come and, in fact, I believe it already has in certain parts of Panama.  But don’t take my word on it.  Take a look at the properties I have available for sale and compare the prices to similar properties in Guanacaste, an area very similar to the Azuero Peninsula.  Panama also wins hands down on security of ownership of beach property in particular and all property in general.  Costa Rica has very serious squatter problems that have even resulted in gun fighting and deaths.  Panama has very few squatter problems and they are resolved many times more quickly and easily.  In Costa Rica squatting can even be a business.  Lawyers and government officials have, on the side, organized squatter invasions wherein they charge participants a fee, bring everyone in all at once in buses to a targeted squatter invasion and provide legal and corrupt government support.  The squatters in these invasions are NOT poor campesinos.  Poor campesinos don’t have the money to join these invasions.  Invasions in the Dominical region of Costa Rica resulted in years of nightmarish problems for owners and the community and resulted in the loss of the land by the owner in a number of cases including land behind the 200 meter line.  Also there has been a lot of fraud and incompetence in land sales in Costa Rica.  Many times Ticos have sold careless, trusting foreigners whom they “befriended” beach land which was not theirs.  In addition I have seen a third lawyer in Costa Rica conspire with the previous owner and the attorney responsible to deprive the rightful owner of land purchased years before but never registered by the (ir)responsible attorney.  Often problems arise out of carelessness.  In one case, friends who were long time residents of Costa Rica and relatively savvy to the games, found out that fifteen years after they had purchased a property the responsible lawyer had never registered the property.  I have seen registered property maps with twelve hectare (30 acre) spaces of “no owners” land between neighboring parcels and worse yet, overlaps of as much as twenty hectares (50 acres).  I have seen neighbors secretly move fences in large parcels in an attempt to rob land.  All of the above is fairly common in Costa Rica.  “Pura vida” Costa Rica is not!

Compare Building Costs: Overall, about the same.  Building costs for the labor and building materials (e.g. blocks & cement) is about the same.  For manufactured goods (e.g. sinks, stoves, etc.)  used in construction, Panama is cheaper and better.  For hardwoods, Costa Rica is better and cheaper.   For labor, it is about the same.

Compare Vehicles: Panama wins by about two to one.  Costa Rica has a huge tax on new and used cars.  A two year old Toyota Four-Runner I bought in Panama for $17,000 would have cost me about $32,000 in Costa Rica at the time.  Also, given that the roads in Panama are so much better than in Costa Rica, the cars don’t get beat up as much.  (Note:  Roads in Panama are at an all time low due to the deterioration during the 1999-2004 Moscoso/Arnulfista administration and are still better than roads in Costa Rica.)  Costa Rica lowered the tax on new cars but Panama is still about 50% cheaper.

Compare Manufactured goods: Electronics, TVs, stoves, refrigerators, clothes, tires, anything manufactured outside the country is much, much more expensive in Costa Rica than it is in Panama.

Compare Legal Work: If you speak Spanish and know your way around, Costa Rican legal services tend to be significantly cheaper, but of slightly less quality.  Few lawyers in either country are good at what they do or are trustworthy.

Compare Government Ministries: Neither country does well here, but Costa Rica wins by a slight margin just because the last administration in Panama was so incompetent and corrupt.  I believe Panama will be better than Costa Rica in this score under the current administration.

Compare Carnivals and Festivals: No contest.  Panama wins.

Compare Crime: You can’t live in Costa Rica without getting ripped off.  Stealing in Costa Rica is everyday.  Residents of San Jose will tell you to never leave anything in your car when you park it on the street, even in broad daylight.  I don’t have this problem in Panama City.  Living here in Panama, I leave my surfboards and tools out in an open garage.  In six years, I have had only one small thing stolen.  If I did this in Costa Rica, forget it.  It would all be gone in no time.  Of course, I live in the Azuero Peninsula.  If you lived in Curundu it would be different, but that would be like living in a ghetto in the U.S.  Violent crime is not a big problem in Panama or Costa Rica, although I would say it is worse in Costa Rica and the reason is because the police of Costa Rica are a joke.  Tico cops are known to turn their back and walk away when a fight or attack occurs.  On the other hand, Panamanian cops jump in and get control of the situation.

Compare Beaches: Both countries do great in this respect and the climate at the beaches in both countries is about the same.  Costa Rica has somewhat bigger and better surf than Panama, but the advantage of Panama beaches is that you can relax and enjoy the beach a lot more because you don’t have to worry about theft so much.  Costa Rica has the reputation of having cooler weather, but that is because Costa Rica has a large area of cool highlands and Panama has only a little of that, the Boquete/Volcan area being the best known.



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