The Cost of Living in Costa Rica

Published: February 9th 2012
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Saving money while buying from the locals.
This is not so much an update on our trip, but a look at what it costs to live down here. Read it if you are interested in knowing how much things cost.

When we were researching and planning for this trip I was particularly intrigued by people's claims that they could live comfortably here on $1,500 / month - a typical retirement income. Keep in mind that this is 3 times the average income of most Costa Ricans (according to stats I've seen on the web) so it seemed plausible. It also seemed that you could "live like a king" if you came down here on a North American salary.

Now that we've been here for a little while, I have learned a bit more about what impacts the cost of living. The most important factor is location (sound familiar?). For example, if you want to be near the shiny new North American CIMA Hospital in San Jose, or in an area with good English speaking schools, you will pay a premium. If you are okay being away from either of those amentinites, you will save A BUNDLE. For us, we needed to be near english-speaking schools and these are only located where there is a high concentration of English speaking people, namely, wealthy expats living on or near the beach or in the Nation's Capital.

Here are some typical expenses:

House or condo purchase:

One bedroom condo within/outside of primary tourist area. $75,000 (and higher) / $40,000

2 bedroom house within/oustide of primary tourist area. $200,000 (and higher) / $90,000

4 bedroom house (VERY hard to find) within/oustide of tourist area. $400,000 (and higher) / $200,000

These prices are for buildings built to North American standards. You can save a LOT more if you buy a basic tico style house . And you can save about about 50%!o(MISSING)n the above if you build but that takes courage, patience, time and a trusty General Contractor who can work with the permit process, local building techniques and local trades.

House rentals:

Generally speaking, there are two types of rentals here, residential rentals and vacation rentals . You can rent a small house outside of a major city or tourist area for as low as $300/month! But if you want to be near a major beach area (like we are), you are most likely looking at Vacation rental properties which are really expensive (by comparison). A nice house near the beach can rent for as much as $3,500 per week! Luckily, the downturn in the economy has created a renter's (and buyer's) market.

The advertised rates may still be based on the boom times of a few years ago, but we are seeing that most property owners are willing to negotiate. Properties here can take a LONG time to sell and getting ANY rental income can really help the home owner offset their costs. While we are in a premium house, with a premium price tag, we were able to get the house MONTHLY at their weekly rate. This is mostly due to us commiting for a 5 month period. In retrospect, I think we may have been able to get an even better deal if we had been able to talk directly to the owner. Be aware that, just like at home, the agents won't let that happen or their commission may be negatively impacted.

Next time (wherever that may be), I would definitely try to negotiate directly with the property owner. Sites like are great because they have a lot of homes all over the world and you are dealing directly with the owners. A good idea is to contact every house that meets your requirements and put in your "best offer" and see what happens.


There is a high import tax and cars here. As a result they are at least 50%!m(MISSING)ore expensive than in North America. And yes, you can ship your vehicle down here but you will pay an import tax based on some kind of "book value" and in the end, it may not be worthwhile (unless you purchased it at a GREAT discount at home). So a 15 year old economy car here may still run you $5,000 to $8,000 and renting a small car is going to cost you $45 - $60 a day. Get into an 4x4 (which you will definitely need in certain areas, or during the rainy season) and you may easily get up to $100 a day or more. Add the "full coverage insurance" for another $20/day. This is why we are trying to live without a car for as long as possible. A Toyota Yaris will run us about $1,300/month with basic insurnace, IF we commit for 5 months. That's a lot of nice dinners out! Let's see..... having extra money for great food and drinks? or a little car that we don't need 90%!o(MISSING)f the time?? That's an easy one!


As you may have read, we recently purchased cell phone SIM cards. The cellular industry here was recently opened up to competition and there are GREAT deals to be had. Prepaid cards cost us about $6 each with a huge amount of minutes on them. Calling and texting within Costa Rica is dirt cheap.

We haven't received a monthly phone land-line bill yet but I believe that will be around $10/month.


Internet access here is relatively inexpensive considering how new it is to most of the country. The problem is reliability and terrible upload speeds. We started with a $49/month ADSL package which seems to randomly disconnect several times a day. The upload speeds are so slow that our VOIP phones are not working properly which has made work REALLY stressful. Today we are getting a new cable modem installed which will hopefully fix the problem. Cost will be $105/month which will be well worth it if we can fix the problem and be able to have reliable VOIP phone calls with our customers and co-workers!!

Right now it is the season of the "Papagayo Winds", and falling trees are common (the ground is also completely dry with no real rain having fallen for the past 3 months). This results in frequent power and internet access outages. This is pretty much what we expected but we still have to do our best to find the "most reliable" solution under the circumstances. Our power and internet lines are hanging over the estuary, coming in from Tamarindo. They look extremely vulnerable to the elements!


If you are a Costa Rican there is good, free education. If you, like us, want to enroll your children in a "private school", you have many options ranging from relativey inexpensive ($500/month plus $30/month for hot lunches and $30/month for transportation) to the "American Style" private schools which are 2 to 3 times this amount and have the look and feel of an American school, with American teachers and American curriculum. I have read about many expats that come here with young children and simply enroll them in the "local school". I don't believe there is much, if any, cost but the children WILL be in a Spanish-only environment. This could be exactly what you are looking for if you are looking to stay long term.


Restaurants range from the relatively inexpensive ($4 entrees, $2 beer) to high-end (as much as you'd pay in Toronto) and there are some great ones around here. The cheapest places to eat are "Sodas". These are small, Costa-Rican style diners, that serve local (or "typical") foods. Expect to pay a few dollars for a Casado which is a VERY popular dish here consisting of rice, beans, home made soft cheese, fried yucca and/or plaintains, salad and a protein of choice (fish, chicken or beef). I love it and the choice of protein means we all get something that we like. Here in Playa Grande we have a fairly inexpensive Soda-type restaurant right around the corner called Las Malinches. On Friday nights they serve a big BBQ platter cooked on their open air grille. The kids fell in love with the Chorizo and even the veggie version is delicous!


There are small to medium sized grocery stores in every town. Prices very greatly with some items, like breakfast cereal, being very expenses ($6 - $8 a box) to the very inexpensive (some fruits and vegetables that we import at home are really cheap here). If you want to save money overall, you may want to adjust your meal planning to eat more local foods here. If you try to eat exactly the same products that you eat at home, you will pay through the roof. We are fortunate in having found a local, home delivery service for fruits, veggies and seafood. We did a major shop last week from the back of Marcela and Sergio's pickup truck. The food is fresh and tasty and they had everything we needed and more. Total cost was $42.

Out of curiosity, I went onto (a service we occasionally use back in Hamilton) and the exact same order would have been $83.07. So we saved about 50%!c(MISSING)ompared to home and received much higher quality, freshly picked foods. This is part of the "dream come true" about being down here.

Here's what we got for $42.

30 eggs

2lbs of cheese

4 bananas

4 avocados

6 large potatoes

1 large Pineapple

1 Broccoli

1 Cauliflower

1 bunch green onions

2 beets (large)

1 papaya

4 plums

6 oranges

3 tomatoes

3 garlic

2 red peppers

2 bunches of fresh spinach

1 head of lettuce

3 stalks of celery


While we haven't received a bill here, we've been warned that electricity is super expensive. Which probably means it's not heavily subsidized as it is a home and that's a good thing. We've been keeping air conditioners OFF except at night if it's too hot to sleep. We are expecting a bill of about $700 or so. I'll let you know what we end up with!!! The good news is that in Costa Rica, over 95%!o(MISSING)f the electricy comes from renewable sources (mostly geo-thermal, powered by the volcanic heat) with some wind and solar.


People here don't get paid very well. We have a house cleaner, Cecilia, that comes here twice a week for $4/hour. This is supposedly a great wage here and we are happy to pay it. because a) it's a lot less than we paid at home and b) we are told that it is good money for her.

It's one of these strange situations where you want to celebrate how much money you are saving and at the same time, hope that you are providing local employment at what would be considered a "very good" wage here. I found out this week that there are lots of "bad" expats here that hire Nicaraguan workers and don't pay them at the end of the job, or pay them even less than was originally promised. It's no wonder that Gringos pay higher prices and often get ripped off by the locals. Look at the examples we set. The bad apples among us probably generate a lot of ill-will and increase the sense of social inequity. It's an ugly reality here. At the same time there are lots of expats here that donate lots of time and money to local schools and other charities. That's as it should be. We will find our own way to say "thank you, Costa Rica".

So, it looks like you COULD live here on $1,500/month but it depends entirely on WHERE you live, how you shop, what you eat, etc..

Sound familliar? If you are good at budgeting at home, then you will do fine here. If you don't need to live in San Jose or a major/touristy beach town you can still get really cheap rental units or homes for purchase.

Purchasing services and products from other expats can provide a level of comfort, but you will likely end up paying a premium for that comfort level.

I do think this would be an EXCELLENT place to retire. Buying into the national healthcare program is only about $25 a month and you can get almost any drugs over the counter directly from a farmacia.

Property taxes are very low (0.25%!o(MISSING)f property value) and it is safe to own land here as a foreigner (usually through a corporation that you'll have set up with a CR lawyer and protected by Title Insurance).

Living "like a king or queen" is someting that each of us would define differently. To the average Tico, ALL OF US live like kings. I feel like we have already achieved that based on the quality of life we are seeing here.

Hasta Luego,



9th February 2012

Great Post!
Nice details, fun friendly tone - yay! Dan for governor. Or does this sound too much like a spam message. Not now, I bet. Glad you are settling in.
9th May 2012

Thanks for all the research!
Hey Dan. I've printed off this post -- great background research for my piece on retiring in Costa Rica -- I owe you a round of beers (at least!). Thanks again -- Anne

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