Published On: November 15th, 2023Categories: MSN

How Much Does It Cost to Live in Costa Rica?

How Much Does It Cost to Live in Costa Rica?

“Can I live in Costa Rica on a budget?”

We hear this question regularly from future expats deciding on where to move abroad. One of the gems of Latin America, Costa Rica’s cost of living weighs heavily on people’s minds. Americans have been moving to Costa Rica for years, after all. Beach lovers enjoy life around Tamarindo in Guanacaste state, enjoying the warm breezes off the central Pacific. Digital nomads seek major cities like capital city San Jose, looking to save money while working from a laptop among the lush vegetation of the Central Valley. Retirees find the cost to live in Costa Rica to be significantly cheaper, with housing costs, healthcare, and average rent prices coming in well below their comparable cost of living in the US.

This Central American country offers tremendous value for most expats living in Costa Rica. Make sure your monthly income comes from outside the country, though; Costa Ricans take great pride in employing fellow citizens, applying a lot of red tape to minimize jobs taken by outsiders. With that in mind, let’s look at the best of international living that Costa Rica offers its expats. (Note: all values are listed in US dollars, based on the exchange rate at time of purchase).

Healthcare for expats in Costa Rica

Costa Rica cost of living

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Living in Costa Rica has one great benefit when it comes to health insurance. Its universal healthcare system, known as The Caja, offering high-quality coverage to residents at low cost. Once you register during your residency process, you’ll pay about an 8% monthly fee on your income each month for medical expenses. This one fee pays for all healthcare costs—no deductibles, no copays, no bank-draining hospital bills. The Caja will normally cost you under $200 per month. Our healthcare report explains more.

Some expats carry global medical insurance from international firms like Cigna. Others purchase private insurance through the Instituto de Seguro Nacional (INS), the government’s private insurance monopoly that may charge lower premiums. In either case, preexisting conditions tend to get excluded, giving the public Caja health system continued relevance for all residents. Still others pay out of pocket for medical care or use some combination of the Caja, cash, and private health insurance.

This one detail of living in Costa Rica makes the move worthwhile for many expats who’ve seen US medical services financially cripple their families. They choose to add private health insurance into their living costs, citing faster service and English-speaking doctors. Regardless of your choice, the expat community would agree that keeping medical costs between $1500 to $3000 per year goes a long way towards managing their Costa Rica cost of living compared to life in the US. Retirees Paul and Gloria share their experience with the healthcare system on their blog.

Housing costs in Costa Rica

Costa Rica cost of living

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When it comes to budgeting, lower housing cost is another popular reason why expats choose Costa Rica compared to other countries. Popular tourist destinations run higher for cost of living when compared to less trendy spots, leaving cost-conscious types to consider the small town life. You can still have your sandy beaches, national parks, and proximity to big city amenities, of course, provided you look around.

For those truly seeking the down-to-earth Tico lifestyle preferences in this tropical paradise, you can rent a traditional Costa Rica bungalow for well under $500 a month. Granted, this rustic home may not have central air conditioning or other amenities that many expats are accustomed to, but housing at a cheaper cost of living is certainly available. Let’s consider some other options that the expat community has chosen before.

Alyssa found she could live comfortably in Tamarindo as a TEFL instructor (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) in 2022. She shared an American-style two bedroom apartment for the first half of her Costa Rica stay. Aside from air conditioning, it included weekly maid service, laundry, and utility costs (minus electric). Alyssa and her partner lived in walking distance from beautiful beaches in the tropical climate, splitting the $800 monthly rent for their home. Moving closer to the city center for work, she still found the cost of living quite manageable; Alyssa spent the back half of her Costa Rica time in a furnished one bedroom apartment, paying an average rent of $500 per month.

While prices vary depending on your location, most expats living in Costa Rica find the housing costs to be less than what they paid in the US. Digital nomads renting a two bedroom apartment in the San Jose city center may pay $900 per month, while a single person occupying a one bedroom apartment pays near $700. Higher-end homes are also available, too, for those with the budget; you may see average rent prices of $2000 or more for a villa with regular cleaning service. It’s ultimately up to you to make the cost of living comparison and see what Costa Rica offers for you.

Costa Rica cost of food

Costa Rica cost of living

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Life in Costa Rica comes with some spending choices that can make or break your expat budget. Food is one of those areas where small changes to habits can mean big differences in cost. Seeking the comforts of home, Americans may frequent grocery stores to seek out imported goods from the US. Items like alcohol and brand name peanut butter come at a premium. While it’s tempting to stick with what you know, you’ll pay high consumer prices on these lifestyle preferences.

To keep food costs down, expats recommend shopping at farmers markets. You’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables there, along with other grocery staples, for less than the average price you’d pay in stores. Vendors commonly offer free samples to entice buyers. Allen and Rebecca, two expats living in Costa Rica since 2013, share shopping tips on their YouTube channel. Allen displays their shopping habits here.

Of course, many expats want to live it up in Costa Rica, so there’s room to indulge in local cuisine. Costa Rican restaurants offer affordable food options that use local products—perfect for a meal out. Alyssa from Tamarindo says that she often enjoyed empanadas from street vendors for less than $2. Costa Ricans often enjoy eating at sodas, Costa Rican restaurants akin to diners in the US. Couples using a combination of locally sourced foods and weekly meals keep their food budget under $300 a month most of the time. Note that Costa Rica applies a 13% value added tax (VAT) to the bill when dining out.

Transportation expenses in Costa Rica

Costa Rica cost of living transportation

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Managing transportation expenses is the other area where expats can make or break their living costs. Where Americans expect to build car ownership into their cost of living, owning a vehicle adds up quickly in Costa Rica. There’s also more dirt roads and potholes in Costa Rica compared to what you might be used to; blogger Chris Christensen describes the driving hazards he encountered when exploring the Central Valley.

Aside from traveling occasionally treacherous roads, expats can see their cost of living explode when owning a car here. Moving to Costa Rica with a vehicle adds high import taxes and customs duties, making car ownership 25-30% more expensive than doing so in the US. Once you add maintenance and $5 gas, owning the car can run over $350 a month after thousands in import fees. Rather than sacrifice the cost of living decrease they’ve found in Costa Rica, most expats forego owning a car in favor of other options.

Transportation options generally look the same across Costa Rica, though your choices may change depending on where you live. Living in Escazú or Puerto Viejo, you might use a motorbike or bicycle to get around daily. Ride sharing or taxis may be more your speed in downtown San Jose; fares average $1 per km. You could take the bus from San Jose to Manuel Antonio National Park, a 3.5 hour ride, for about $10. Your own two feet also work well in more self-contained communities and beach towns, where the culture of Latin America brings people together instead of spreading them apart.

For those with mobility issues, note that this Central American country lacks a certain regulatory advantage that our home countries might possess. Where the US has the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to enforce wheelchair access and other provisions, there’s not a similar program to make Costa Rica safe especially for people with disabilities. However, since the infrastructure is strongest around large populations, consider living near the city centre if you struggle with getting around on foot.

Utility costs in Costa Rica

Costa Rica cost of living utilities

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Like the previous factors, utility costs vary in their impact on your overall cost of living in Costa Rica. This blogger at Going Pura Vida describes how these expenses break down. Water and electricity should cost around $30 and $60, respectively, if expats live in the cooler Central Valley region. These two costs can go higher in hotter beach towns like Playas del Coco. Expect to pay around $50 for satellite TV and internet access. Most Costa Ricans opt for $20 prepaid SIM card plans, using WhatsApp for texting and phone calls over Wi-Fi instead of relying on phone service providers.

Final thoughts on the cost to live in Costa Rica

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As we’ve said before, the cost of international living looks different for each of us when moving to Costa Rica. Some retirees choose a $5000 monthly budget and buy homes in gated communities, eating out daily and owning multiple cars. Digital nomads might lower their cost of living by renting a one bedroom apartment in the city on a $2000 budget. Others just want the pura vida life on the beach in a bungalow, living simply on $1300 a month. Your life in Costa Rica depends on what’s right for you.

When living in Costa Rica, we invite you to live comfortably like locals. Embrace your new culture for what it is. Don’t try and replace it with what you left behind. Allow yourself to pare down your cost of living in Costa Rica compared to where you came from.  As expats, we believe the best way to honor our new communities is by living as they do, rather than by trying to rebuild America in their backyards.

Is the US Driving You Insane? Consider These Countries for Mental Health

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Since 2022, the Expatsi Test has helped users find out where they’d like to move abroad to, based on their personal needs. Its data covers everything from healthcare rankings to languages spoken and best places for raising kids. The goal—to boost psychological safety for Americans by navigating to a healthier life in another country.

Over 40,000 people have taken the Expatsi Test in the last 18 months. Here’s their best countries for mental health, based on test data:

Is the US Driving You Insane? Consider These Countries for Mental Health

How to Leave America: 6 Steps to Your New Life

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Are you thinking about leaving the United States? You’re not alone; as many as 15% percent of Americans say they want to leave the country permanently.

➤ How to Leave America: 6 Steps to Your New Life

10 Remote Side Hustles That Can Help You Retire Early

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Whether you’re already retired or aspire to be, there’s never been easier to turn your spare time into cold, hard cash.

One of the best things about these remote gigs is that you can also do them from a country with a low cost of living, so you won’t have to make a fortune just to get by. You can save twice as fast!

Here are 10 side hustles that you can turn into real income.

10 Remote Side Hustles That Can Help You Retire Early

Hands Off My Check! These Countries Don’t Tax Social Security

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For many Americans looking to retire abroad, living well on a fixed income ranks among their highest priorities. You’ve paid into social security through your working years and want to relax. Maybe you have a pension or a 401(k), too, and intend to stretch that retirement income as far as it’ll go. If you could enjoy a lower cost of living, warm climate, and countries that don’t tax social security, that would be the dream, right?

For many retirees, that dream has come true in each country on this list. Many of them entice American retirees through good healthcare, friendly locals, and lucrative tax treaties. They offer clear paths to permanent residency and, for the truly invested expats, a chance for second citizenship. Most countries on this list have nice beaches and national parks to explore at your leisure. And each country wants you to live out your golden years with them.

Hands Off My Check! These Countries Don’t Tax Social Security

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Co-founder at Expatsi | + posts

Brett Andrews is the co-founder of Expatsi, a company that helps expats discover how to leave the U.S. Brett and his partner Jen developed the Expatsi Test to recommend countries to move to, based on factors like budget, visa type, spoken languages, healthcare rankings, and more. In a former life, he worked as a software developer, IT support specialist, and college educator. When he's not working, Brett loves watching comic book movies and reading unusual books.

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bed49dc5d4263d6d37b46cb09574d411?s=150&d=mp&r=g
Co-founder at Expatsi | + posts

Brett Andrews is the co-founder of Expatsi, a company that helps expats discover how to leave the U.S. Brett and his partner Jen developed the Expatsi Test to recommend countries to move to, based on factors like budget, visa type, spoken languages, healthcare rankings, and more. In a former life, he worked as a software developer, IT support specialist, and college educator. When he's not working, Brett loves watching comic book movies and reading unusual books.