The Cost of Living in Costa Rica
If you’re thinking of coming to Costa Rica, you probably have the following question in mind: “How much does it cost to live in Costa Rica?”. The honest answer is, “It depends on your lifestyle.”
You can spend as much or as little as you want to live in Costa Rica. It depends on what you consider a good living and your minimum requirements of a comfortable lifestyle. If you are used to a wealthy lifestyle, you’ll spend more than someone accustomed to living economically. Either way, due to the favorable currency exchange rate (1 U.S. dollar is worth 538 colones), you will find that the U.S. dollar in Costa Rica enjoys a much greater purchasing power than it does back in the States or in Canada.
If you want to live frugally and save money in Costa Rica, and still enjoy a very comfortable life, here are a couple of rules to live by:Fence (1) all imported goods (food, household items, clothing, etc.) cost you more in Costa Rica than they cost you back in the States and they are much more expensive than the other local brands here; these goods are subject to import taxes that drive their prices much higher. (2) If you buy Costa Rican products and adapt to the Costa Rican lifestyle as opposed to the American lifestyle, you will definitely save lots of money and enjoy a high quality of life.
Remember that the average Costa Rican family lives on $4,800 a year, and they’re not living in poverty. They have plenty to eat, wear decent clothing, and maintain a healthy and clean appearance. They also have TV and own their own home. Considering that the average Costa Rican earns only $250 to $350 a month, you should be able to live very well.
It is possible to have a very comfortable lifestyle on a more modest monthly budget than that in the U.S. In fact, San Jose, in the Central Valley, is ranked – in the 2005’s Worldwide Cost of Living Survey – the 9th least expensive city in the world in which to live. Mercer Human Resource Consulting regards Costa Rica as an inexpensive place in which to live. So on top of a perfect climate year round, Costa Rica, specifically Grecia, offers a low cost of living. People here in Grecia can live comfortably and happily on as little as $900 per month (Social Security) and enjoy a nice quality of life. With that sum, they can also have cable TV, enjoy cultural activities, and occasionally dine out. Retirees can also live comfortably on their pensions.
In Costa Rica, you will enjoy a higher standard of living and get more for your money, as you will generally find that the cost of living here is affordable and cheaper than that in the U.S. or Europe. Most importantly, the Costa Rican government strives to keep the cost of goods and services affordable for the Costa Rican people so that the social implications found in most other Latin American countries can be avoided.
Let’s get more specific and take a look at food expenses since they are what most affect your monthly budget. Again, your food budget depends on what you eat and where you shop. Chicken, fish, pork, rice, beans, vegetables, fruits, meat, and pasta are the core diet of the average Costa Rican, and they are all widely available. Here, fish costs less than that in the U.S. ($4 per pound), and chicken has lots of meat and great flavor and it costs around $4 per kilo (2.2 lbs.).
Rice, beans, vegetables, and fruits are very cheap, especially if you do not buy them at the supermarket. If you enjoy a diet with lots of veggies, your food expenses will be very low. There are a zillion street vendors at the market who sell first-rate fruits and vegetables at ridiculously low prices. On Saturday mornings at market, you can buy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that will last more than a week from the street fairs (ferias) at extremely low prices. For example, from the Saturday market, two big pineapples cost $1, three big cantaloupes cost $1, one big broccoli head costs $1, one kilo (2.2 lbs.) of potatoes costs $1.50, and a big bunch of bananas costs $0.40. You can also get excellent bread from a bread store (paneria) or bakery where a large loaf of French bread costs 400 colones ($0.80). Lots cheaper than the States.
You can buy the other groceries from the supermarkets (supermercado) here, which look exactly like the large supermarket chains in the U.S. – large and air-conditioned. There are a lot of products and brands that cater to Americans living here, and you can buy a lot of U.S. imported products, but you will have to pay more for them than what you pay back home and they cost more compared to the other local brands. Learning Spanish and buying locally made brands will help you keep your cost of living way down. Remember that you will pay more if you choose to buy everything from the supermarket instead of going to the Saturday market and bakeries.
Costa Rica has a wide array of excellent restaurants, but eating out frequently will drive your food expenses higher and might land your budget somewhere you do not want. However, if you eat at “sodas”, which are very small eateries with very limited table space, you will get a complete, delicious meal – including desserts – that is tasty and well prepared for only $3 or $4. Again, lots cheaper than the States.
The cost of clothing in Costa Rica follows rule #1: brand names and imported clothing, being subject to import taxes, are more expensive than the clothing made locally. Likewise, U.S. imported household items like soap, detergents, and cleaning supplies cost much more than the locally made brands.
In Costa Rica, you can build, buy, or rent a house, condo, or apartment. The cost of housing depends on where you want to live and the house and the property you are after. You can also choose to live either with Ticos or in areas that are heavily populated with American expats. All of these options come, of course, with different price tags. Naturally, the closer you’re to the beach and the closer you’re to the city, the higher the prices will be.
In Grecia, where we live, renting or buying houses is less expensive than that in the U.S., and both new and second-hand furniture are available at very low prices. Our advice to you is to buy your house or land for building in the Central Valley now, before the Boomers make their rush on Costa Rica. With the U.S. economy in a downward spiral, there will be many seeking a way to retire in a nice place with less money needed to live on. Land here just as an investment is wise, even if you later decide you want to live somewhere else or buy another piece of land. Land prices are still appreciating here, unlike the States.
You will find that some of the prices here in Costa Rica are higher than those in the States. While home phone and cell phone services, health care services, ADSL Internet, cable TV, water bills, groceries, movie-going, and haircuts are cheaper than those in the U.S., long distance phone calls, electricity (per KW per hour), dry cleaning, cars and their spare parts, and fuel (per gallon) are more expensive. Remember, however, that our electric bill is way less than half what it was in the States because we don’t need air conditioning or heating. And with Skype, I call my mother in El Paso, Texas for 2 cents a minute, which is much cheaper than my calls to her in Dallas!!
And you don’t really need a car in Costa Rica! New cars can be very expensive due to high import duties, and you cannot bring your car from the States, as you will have to pay very high import tax on the book value of your car. We sold our two cars in the States and bought one new car here in Costa Rica.
Public transportation, on the other hand, is very inexpensive, comfortable, and widely accessible. It is definitely the best option to go for. The buses are very modern and air-conditioned, and a bus ride usually costs only $0.25 to $0.50. The taxi is also very inexpensive.
Something I say a lot is that if you plug it into the wall, it will cost more. Electricity in Costa Rica is more expensive than in the States per KW per hour, but our electricity bill here in Grecia is way under half what we used to pay in Dallas because we enjoy temperate daytime and nighttime temperatures and do not need air conditioning or heating. Back in the States, air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter can cost hundreds of dollars, but neither of which is necessary here in Grecia. However, those who live closer to the beach, where it is much warmer, will pay more because of the need for air conditioning. There is a reason 2/3 of the population live in the Central Valley. Food, services, and the general cost of living in Costa Rica are much less expensive. Our last water bill here came at $7.50 as opposed to the $100+ water bill we used to pay back in Dallas. We pay our maid once a week less than $2 an hour and she does everything, including the ironing. Similarly, we pay our gardener less than $2 an hour, and he also does everything. All movies at the theater are in English with Spanish subtitles and cost as little as $3.
It is not a secret why many people choose to live in Costa Rica. In addition to enjoying a very high standard of living, a high quality of life, and a perfect climate year round, you get tremendous value for your hard-earned dollars.
There are very few places left in the world today that can offer the same rich lifestyle, temperate climate, and safe environment that Costa Rica offers to us.