The cost of living in Costa Rica lures a large quantity of expatriates, but it’s important to become educated on effective spending habits prior to calling this southern paradise home. An individual, a couple, or a family can get by on much less while living much happier!
Moving to a new country is not a simple task. Adjusting takes a significant effort, and one of such adjustments is acclimating to a new currency. Though American dollars are widely accepted, it’s important to adapt to colones (the standard conversion is 1 USD to 500 colones). But it’s not simply about understanding the conversion. Using a new currency can put a blip in your spending radar. People attach a value to goods based on their home currency, so it’s difficult to assess prices when using a new currency in a foreign country. However, if you take our advice, you’ll be on your way to living an extremely affordable, prosperous life in Costa Rica!
The cost of living in Costa Rica is cheaper – often significantly – than most places in North America and Europe (while the quality of living skyrockets for most). There are various tactics that lead to a financially efficient, prosperous lifestyle in Costa Rica. Our goal is to relay our expertise to help get you there.
Gasoline is expensive in the US and abroad, and it’s expensive in Costa Rica, too. However, most people find that all necessary infrastructure and amenities are in close proximity. Getting to the grocery store, restaurants, the gym, the doctor, and neighboring towns will require little gas, given that larger expatriate communities (and towns in general), are generally settled near one another. Though 4-wheel drive vehicles are often recommended, they’re absolutely necessary only to people who live on unpaved mountainsides, or around other extreme terrain. A typical, gas friendly vehicle will absolutely suffice in Costa Rica! Even if you’re driving everyday, $30-$50 will keep you full depending on the vehicle.
Living in Costa Rica promotes a healthy lifestyle, especially when it comes to diet. Vegetables and fruits are fresher, more flavorful, and probably cheaper than almost anywhere else in the world. Grocery stores and convenience stores have a great selection at good prices; but the real treasures are at the farmer’s markets. You can get fresh pineapple and papaya (in juice form as well), avocadoes and tomatoes, and various homemade dishes all for extremely cheap prices and extremely high in quality. On top of all the great fruits and veggies, markets often have great cuts of fish, chicken, beef, and pork that were part of a live animal earlier in the day. An adult couple can buy generous amounts of fruits, veggies, and proteins and spend less than $400 a month! By shopping at the markets, you’ll find the perfect ingredients for a healthy and delicious diet, while also being smart about your cost of living in Costa Rica.
Buying groceries is another area where a ton of money can be saved! Remember this when it comes to price: brand matters! Depending on what type of product you’re buying, the quality/taste between brands is usually unnoticeable. However, in the grand scheme of things, brand choice can significantly affect your cost of living in Costa Rica. Imported products are usually fairly expensive, so stick to local brands when you can. You’ll find that Costa Rican brands of various snacks, breads, and drinks to be nearly identical in taste at half of the price. Though, you don’t have to avoid imports at all costs. Soda, peanut butter, and other American or European goods may be the only products of their kind available, or potentially equal in price to Costa Rican brands. If you do the majority of your shopping at the farmers markets (for extremely high quality products at a cheap price), the rest of your groceries — snacks, coffee, beer/wine — will likely cost less than $200 a month for the average couple. The total cost of food per month for an adult couple is around $600, whereas a family of 5 would be around $1100-1200.
On average the cost of living in Costa Rica can be far less
Many people come to Costa Rica to free themselves of fast paced, stressful lives. Costa Rica offers a connection to the natural world that soothes the soul. And though the rainforest and Ocean are endless sources of relaxation and entertainment, you’ll still want in home Internet, and probably cable TV as well. Together they’ll cost around $70 a month—pretty similar to prices abroad. While we’re on electronics, now would be a proper time to discuss cell phones. Smartphones are extremely expensive in Costa Rica, so if you’re particular about having the latest models, you probably want to bring one with you. If you’re fine with very simplistic phone, it’ll cost $20-$50. Service is typically pay as you go, through a provider called ICE; minutes come from Kolbi, directly onto the sim card inserted into your phone. Some people get by on $5-10 a month, as local texting and calling is cheap. Though these bills aren’t extremely substantial, they contribute to your cost of living in Costa Rica.
When considering the cost of living in Costa Rica – everyone is different
Not everyone buys a home or condo in Costa Rica, and revert to renting. Depending on location and age, properties have varying costs. In nicer parts of San Jose or on the country’s northwestern Gold Coast, rent for a 2 bedroom can cost $500-1200 per month, and 3 bedrooms $600-1800. High-end 2-3 bedroom homes or condos can be had for $750 monthly if you know where to look. As you can tell by the price range, there are major differences among properties on the market. Typically, long-term rentals on a 2 bedroom condo in a nice area will cost a mere 600-900!
Labor in Costa Rica is still quite cheap, so if you’re not one for maintenance, gardening, cleaning, etc., quality workers can easily be found for $2-3 an hour. This translates in to most areas of service, like auto repair. Though cars are very expensive in Costa Rica (partly because not a single automobile is produced in the country), various forms of auto repairs are fairly cheap, as long as you’re not driving an exotic import. If you bust a tire on the road, a local shop will repair it for $5-10. However, buying new parts is expensive, since everything auto related is imported into the country.
Many people come to Costa Rica to retire, but there’s also a large group of families with children k-12 and young professionals. Those who fall into the latter group are likely doing something for income, though the source may reside outside of Costa Rica. If you’re living in Costa Rica, you will be subject to taxes. Much like anywhere else in the world, it would take an entire book to extensively cover tax laws; but we’ll efficiently provide you with a little insight to basic tax laws that apply to the common expatriate in Costa Rica. First off, if you’re not generating income from a job in Costa Rica, you will not be subject to income tax. Any income under roughly $450 monthly is exempt. Any monthly income between $450 and $650 is taxed at 10%. Monthly incomes greater than $650 are taxed at 15%. Self-employed professions—like doctors and lawyers—face a different tax structure. Incomes less than $2000 monthly are exempt from taxation. The tax rate increases in small increments up to 25% for any monthly income greater than $10,000. Local municipal taxes are also relevant, but not at all expensive, generally running around $10 a month. These fees finance street cleaning, public lighting (although you wont see much of it), and local government.
When evaluating the cost of living in Costa Rica it’s best to consider EVERYTHING!
If you decide to relocate to Costa Rica, tack health care onto your monthly payments. Though, as mentioned in one of our other articles, it’s very cheap and among the best in the world. Private medical insurance, through INS (the National Insurance Institute) runs roughly $60-130 monthly, per individual. All legal residents of Costa Rica are required to pay $30-50 per month for public health insurance. The payments to the Caja (CCSS/Costa Rican Social Security) are mandatory, but the service is astounding and makes residents eligible for pension payments that begin at 65.
Living with a low cost of living in Costa Rica not a science, and you don’t have to revolve your life around the methods we’ve offered. After spending some time in Costa Rica and getting a feel for things, a natural routine will emerge and you’ll no longer have to consciously assess your spending habits to spend successfully. Many people desire to be told exactly how much it costs to live here, but there are too many factors involved to offer an estimate to the individual reading this on the other end. However, it’s completely feasible for 2 people to live here for $2000 a month. When it’s all said and done, there’s no reason to worry about your cost of living in Costa Rica; life in this paradise can be very relaxing, and chances are, it’ll also be significantly cheaper than the place where you’re currently reading this.