Cost of Living in Costa Rica

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Cost of Living in Costa Rica

Here at Travel Costa Rica Now, we get a lot of questions- I think the top question has to be, “So, how much money do you need to live in Costa Rica?” I would probably answer with a few questions of my own:

Do you want to simplify your life, or do you want to maintain your current standard of living?

Or these:

Do you want to live in the city, by the beach, or rural Costa Rica?

Ummm...will you be able to hear him now?
Ummm...will you be able to hear him now?

Are you young or old?

Do you have a medical condition?

Do you need to work here to supplement your income, or are you ‘retired’ and in no need of money?

Are you starting a business?

Do you want to live with other expats or immerse yourself in the culture, or both?

Renting or buying a place?

Do you want or need a car?

Is proximity to modern conveniences such as malls, cultural activities, movie theatres etc, a must?

Gated community or regular street setting?

What’s your preference in weather?

Is cable tv, high-speed internet and a good cell or land line connections a priority?

I’m sure you get the picture.

Roads In and Out- A serious consideration.
Roads In and Out- A serious consideration.

Basically it comes down to this: Infrastructure and Personal Preference and/or Needs. Infrastructure, meaning the entire gamut of services in any given location, such as communications, roads and highways, shopping, medical care, and any other items making up the immediate surroundings. Personal Preference and/or Needs are those personal things we want and/or need in our lives such as specific weather or climate, social interaction, need for standard or emergency medical care, entertainment, cultural fulfillment, etc.

In Costa Rica Infrastructure and Personal Preference/Needs often clash.

It should be noted: San José isn’t really Costa Rica. It’s ‘any’ big city, ‘anywhere.’ In and around San José, there’s everything you’d expect from a big city: Hospitals and other medical facilities, malls, cultural activities, good roads and highways, movie theatres, high speed internet etc, again, everything you’d expect. Apartments, condos, housing- like the States, low end to high-end and everything between. You have to shop around, just like you would anywhere. That said, most gringo’s live just outside of San José in the ‘burbs.’ There you will find all the amenities you may be looking for- at a price.

This is a good example of the wide-range there is in regards to cost of living:

I live in the tourist town of La Fortuna (where the Arenal Volcano is located), actually right in the center of town, overlooking the park. (as of Nov. 2008)

Two bedroom apartment: $230.00 High-speed internet service: $80.00 Electricity- $60.00 Groceries/Entertainment: $400.00 Total: approximately $800.00

I don’t own a car. There are medical services, but if I’m in a major accident, I may be in trouble. As far as the weather- rains frequently and can be hot and humid. Plenty of restaurants, but no movie theatres, cultural activities, or museums- my night out is drinking and partying with friends. Grocery stores here are basic, not much of selection, but at least they sell peanut butter (way expensive). Since this is a tourist town, shopping tends to be expensive, most go to other towns for clothes and appliances etc. Good mix of ticos, expats; so there’s good opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture. Cell phones work here, depending on where you’re standing. Buy or rent just a mile away, the cost is cheaper, but probably no internet and you will need a car. My friend bought a 3-bedroom house in town 2 years ago for $37,000.00, and it was nice- simple, but nice. It just sold for $80,000.00. Another friend bought a place in a small town about 25 minutes away, 10 acres, a house (needs some work) and 2 small cabinas (cabins) are also on the lot- paid $85,000 two years ago, but located outside a small town with very little infrastructure- but definitely living the Costa Rican experience.
A nearby hospital is often top priority when picking a location in Costa Rica.
A nearby hospital is often top priority when picking a location in Costa Rica.

Or these:

Move by the water, the cost goes up, WAY UP (and so does the temperature). And although places are beginning to get connected, and with CAFTA approved, I see the technology part of things getting better, but just because you have a beautiful house overlooking the ocean, doesn’t mean the infrastructure is sound. And most cases- it isn’t. Roads are shabby, hospitals can be hours away, shopping is non-existent (at least our definition of shopping). Really, infrastructure in and around the beach towns would be a couple notches BELOW even La Fortunas, but the houses are nicer.

Could you live a beautiful life for under a $1000/month- I do (live in a no-name tico town and it would be much cheaper than this). But many people want what they want, and need to be ‘close’ to things for a variety of reasons. You want numbers- I would say the average middle class family spends somewhere in the range of $1900 to $2700 per month, but probably lives in or around the San José area. I believe this family would be living comfortable, not posh, but comfortable. You would live like a KING if you spent that much where I live. Don’t get me wrong, I know people that spend $5,000 per month- and that’s my point- there’s as many variables as there are places to live here.

Food Cost

Short answer- like everywhere else on the planet, food just keeps going up here. Beans, rice, fruits and vegetables are still pretty inexpensive in comparison, but even here, they’re rising. Two years ago, chicken and fish was a deal, not so much anymore. Beef, which by the way sucks here, isn’t much of a bargain either. You would have to live in a small Tico town to find food bargains. Street venders and ‘green’ markets (found anywhere) are always a better option in regards to price.

There you have it. Could you live cheap? Yes. Could you spend an arm and a leg? Yes. It’s up to you to find what best fits your needs.

My advice is to do your homework, make lists of needs, preferences and compare them to the infrastructure of different locations around Costa Rica that appeal to you and see how they stack up.