Survey shows that Panamá grocery prices are lower

When traveling from one Latin American country to another, the difference in prices becomes apparent.

Backpackers and locals in both Costa Rica and Panamá will immediately tell those going between the two countries that the prices of items in Panamá are less. Some expats who live along the border travel into Panamá to do shopping.

A taxi driver in Panamá described a recent visit to Costa Rica as too expensive. He was traveling to the country to celebrate his Costa Rican relative’s graduation.

“We went to a restaurant and a casado there was 4,000 colons. That’s $8,” he exclaimed. “Here, in Panamá, you can get a meal with a Coca Cola, not a fruit drink, for $4.”

“The prices in Costa Rica are crazy,” he added.

A price check at the local groceries will confirm what the taxi driver said. However, although the majority are cheaper, the savings in Panamá vary from a few cents to a dollar, depending on the item.

A reporter checked prices at the Machetazo grocer in Avenida Central, Panamá City, Monday and at Mas X Menos in Avenida Central of San José Wednesday. It should be noted that these prices are not adjusted for taxes. President Laura Chinchilla engineered a recent change that applies the country’s 13 percent sales tax to many items that are not in the basic food basket.

The reporter found that a sampling of 15 items in Panamá would cost $26.94. The same or similar items in San José would cost $34.52, a difference of $7.58. The Costa Rican prices were adjusted to dollars at the current rate of exchange. The difference is about 28 percent.

To compare the prices, staples like bread and beans did not vary much in price. However with items like cheese and chicken, one could get a significant amount more in Panamá for the same price.

There are politics involved in grocery prices. For example, Costa Rica rice growers receive a subsidized price from the government and fight against importations of cheaper, foreign rice. That is one reason why two kilos of rice in Costa Rica cost $3.88, a price that is $1.49 higher than the same amount in Panamá.

A dollar here and there may not seem like a lot, but for those buying many items at one time, the amount saved could be immense. This is not to say the lower prices cannot be found in Costa Rica.

A study by the economy ministry released last week found that the prices of products in different stores in different provinces varied by 161 percent. It also found that in the case of articles that are the same weight and size, but have different brand names, the difference in prices can be up to a 720 percent difference.

The moral, whether shopping in just Costa Rica, or traveling to the next country over is to shop around. A lower price is always available somewhere, but you may have to travel a bit to get to it. Then comes the next question, is the travel expense really worth it?

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