Covered in lush rainforests and stunning tropical beaches, Costa Rica is known as a dream destination. The people are friendly, the nature is unspoiled, and the cost of living is budget-friendly. It’s no wonder it’s such a hot-spot for expats from the US and Canada looking to dial back to a simpler life.
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We instantly feel welcomed and at ease in Costa Rica. The laid-back lifestyle and incredible biodiversity mean living here is never boring. Besides its unparalleled beauty, Costa Rica is a politically stable country with great healthcare. This leads to a high quality of life and in turn, an impressive life expectancy. There are over 40 centenarians living on the Nicoya Peninsula alone!
Unsurprisingly, the Global Retirement Index ranks Costa Rica as the #1 place to retire year after year. Living in Costa Rica promises a balance that you just can’t find in other places. With the low cost of living in Costa Rica, an ex-pat can have a life they wouldn’t otherwise have.
If Costa Rica is calling your name and you’re looking for a grasp on what expenses to budget for, look no further!
Why Move to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a beautifully diverse country that you can enjoy on a budget. All of those million-dollar views and pristine beaches don’t have to cost a million dollars! When we’re here, it’s all about enjoying the simpler ways of life, about disconnecting and fully embracing the Pura Vida lifestyle.
The climate in Costa Rica is pleasant all year round with average temperatures ranging between 21-27°C (70-81°F). Living in Costa Rica means you can truly enjoy an outdoor lifestyle without the stress of expensive housing and healthcare. In fact, private healthcare is just a fraction of what it costs in the US. And if you’re a legal resident, you can pay into the government-run universal healthcare system known as Caja (CCSS).
Real estate is also much more affordable here. The average rent in Costa Rica is 64% lower than that of the United States. And the amazing selection of high-quality local fish and produce doesn’t hurt either!
Cost of Living in Costa Rica
So, how much does it cost to live in Costa Rica? On average, a single person can live in Costa Rica on as little as US$1000 per month.
The cost of retiring in Costa Rica is also much less than in the US or Canada. Many retired couples live comfortably on US$2000/month in a mid-range apartment or house.
If you’re looking for modern North American-style living with all the comforts, a US$3000 monthly budget will have you covered.
Breaking Down Your Monthly Budget
Below is a breakdown of what you can expect as the cost of living in Costa Rica for expats. We dove into everything from housing costs to grocery prices so you can start working on your budget!
Rent and Housing Cost in Costa Rica
The cost of housing in Costa Rica is dramatically less than that of the United States or Canada. Here are a few housing cost examples:
- A small one-bedroom apartment will cost about US$500/month.
- Expect to pay US$800-$1000 for a furnished modern 1-2 bedroom house or apartment in the capital city of San José or Central Valley. Housing in this price bracket often includes air conditioning, modern appliances and building amenities like pool, laundry facilities and gym.
If you’re moving to Costa Rica to get away from the city, you can opt for a beachside house without breaking the bank.
- A furnished basic 2-bedroom house without air conditioning will run you about US$400 in monthly rent.
- A furnished 2-3 bedroom house in a condominium or townhouse with security, shared pool and other amenities range from US$1200-2000/month.
Rent prices for those looking to live lavishly aren’t too high either. A spacious house with a private pool in a gated community costs US$2000-$3000 per month.
Cost of Building a House in Costa Rica
Building a house in Costa Rica is a big undertaking that can get expensive. Expat-friendly reliable builders charge a premium for building to North American codes and high standards. Scams are common and the challenges of building a house on your own in Costa Rica can often outweigh the benefits. Many people pay their builders upfront, run out of money and end up paying way more than the original agreed price to complete the build.
Our advice? But if you have the cash to be able to afford a professional build, the investment will be worth it!
Skip doing a custom build unless you speak good Spanish or have lived in the country for a while and understand how things run here.
As a single expat living in a 500 sq ft apartment, you will find prices for basic utilities to be quite affordable. Utilities like water, and electricity will cost about US$40-50 per month depending on your usage and the province you live in.
Keep in mind that the cost of living in San Jose, Costa Rica would be more expensive than living outside of the city centre.
Cost of electricity in Costa Rica is the biggest variable when it comes to your total utilities bill. AC and other modern luxuries like a dishwasher or washing machine can increase the cost of electricity, but you’ll be hard-pressed to spend more than $100-200 if you are conscious of your usage.
Food and Dining
The amazing selection of affordable locally-grown fruits and vegetables is one of our favourite things about Costa Rica. On average we spent 30-50% less on groceries in Costa Rica than we typically do in Canada or the US.
Our weekly spending for 2 people looks like this:
- Fruits/veggies purchased at the local feria or from a delivery truck that comes to our house – $50/week
- Meat/fish purchased from a local fish truck or at the grocery store – $50/week
- Staples/pantry supplies from the grocery store – $50/week
Below are a few price comparison examples:
- 2lbs bag of rice – US$1.25
- 1lb of beans – US$0.55
- 2lbs of bananas will cost about US$1.25
- 1L non-dairy milk – USD $3
- 30 pack of eggs – USD $5
- Local beer – $1
Of course, the cost of food in Costa Rica goes up when you’re seeking out specialty items like vegan or gluten-free food. Specialty items can be hard to find and they do cost a premium. Here are a few examples:
- Vegan cheese – US$10-15/pack
- Nutritional Yeast – $8/100g
- Tofu – $3/pack
- Almond butter – $10/small jar
- 1lb Tahini – $12
Some local specialties are a steal! For example, the cost of coffee in Costa Rica ranges from $3-5 per pound and the quality is unbeatable!
Where We Shop for Groceries in Costa Rica
A local feria, or local farmers market, is the best option for fresh produce. Weekly ferias are abundant throughout the country.
AutoMercado is another popular chain that we like to refer to as the gringo supermarket. You can find pretty much anything you want here…but often at a premium. For bulk buying Walmart and Price Mart, which is a membership-based chain like Costco, offer great deals and decent selection.
Lastly, Pequeno Mundo is a Walmart alternative where you can find the odd gem, like keto chips or frozen edamame, among many Chinese-import products. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for affordable home décor and supplies!
Cost of Eating Out in Costa Rica
Dining out in a local restaurant, called soda, is pretty cost-effective. You can get a full meal for just US$5-$10. In tourist areas, prices are a bit higher, you can expect to pay US$15-20 per dish at a restaurant. You’ll find lots of variety in tourist destinations but almost none in small remote communities. With the cost of groceries in Costa Rica being so affordable and produce so fresh and tasty, we barely eat out when we live here!
If you want to explore all that Costa Rica has to offer, traveling by car is the best way to do it. With your tourist visa, you can drive freely in Costa Rica with a foreign driver’s license. You will want to carry a copy of your passport with you in case you get pulled over. After the three-month tourist visa period, you can apply for a Costa Rican driver’s license if you plan to stay longer.
Buying a car is expensive in Costa Rica so most expats import older cars from the US. Import duties are based on the age of the car and range from 50-100% of the car’s value. Newer vehicles cost less and duties on cars over 6 years old can climb much higher.
Thanks to a new law, electric cars have no tax in Costa Rica! The country is making a bold effort to encourage zero-emission transport by implementing an impressive network of charging stations. With over 120 locations, Costa Rica is the first country in Latin America to have a fully connected charging grid!
Many people prefer 4×4 vehicles since so many unique destinations are reached by rough roads. The Toyota Hilux is very popular among expats because it can handle pretty much anything you can throw at it. Motorcycles and ATVs are also popular options for transportation.
The cost of gas in Costa Rica is comparable, costing about US$0.96/L, which works out to US$3.63 per gallon.
If you don’t have wheels yet, public transportation is an option too. A monthly pass for local buses in San Jose costs US$40 per month and a single ride is under a dollar. Routes are good between major cities and in San Jose but smaller towns aren’t very well connected at all. It’s really hard to rely on public transit in beach towns or mountain communities.
Cost of renting a car in Costa Rica is around $20-30/day for a compact car. SUVs and 4x4s start from $40/day.
When it comes to entertainment in Costa Rica, most expats here opt for the great outdoors, beaches, mountains, and national parks. More traditional types of entertainment like movie theatres, museums, malls, and cultural events are primarily only available in San Jose.
Here are a few examples:
- 2 x IMAX movie tickets will cost you around US$10
- Museum admission or national park entrance – $10 for a foreigner, and just $3 for a local/permanent resident
Just keep in mind that entertainment costs and availability vary greatly from San Jose to smaller communities.
For entertainment at home, Netflix, is readily available in Costa Rica. A basic plan costs US$8.99. And it’s just as easy to get access to Hulu, Amazon Prime, or Disney+
These days, as long as you have access to the internet, you have access to any TV Channels or programs you may miss from back home.
Fiber optic internet with speeds up to 100Mbps is becoming more readily available across the country. Most cities and expat towns will allow you to work from home and steam any entertainment your heart desires. However, some remote beaches and mountain communities still struggle. Where we are in Playa Avellanas, Guanacaste, we only have 5Mbps download speeds but thankfully, fiber is coming next month!
4G mobile connection is widely available. We recommend getting a local SIM card when you arrive in Costa Rica with a provider like Kolbi. The card itself is less than a dollar and they offer cheap pre-paid plans. For 8,000 Colones (US$13), you can get 4GB of data, 30 SMS, and 50 talk minutes. Many locals and expats use their 4G mobile connection as a hotspot for internet in their house. We often find 4G to have better speeds and more reliable service than home internet in our area.
Living in Costa Rica means you’ll have access to all the personal care services you’d need with low healthcare costs. A short visit to a private doctor will cost about US$75. We always recommend traveling with medical insurance too. Safety Wing is our go-to for affordable expat health coverage plans.
Affordable dental work is also an amazing perk of the low Costa Rica cost of living. A root canal, for instance, would cost US$2,200 at a dentist in the United States or Canada. Comparatively, this would only cost US$750 in Costa Rica.
Cost of dental implants in Costa Rica is also much lower. Max had 2 implants done a few years ago and paid a total of USD $750/implant. Plus, many Costa Rican dentists have been trained in the US and offer excellent service!
For personal care items, like shampoo and over-the-counter medication, you can easily find all the basics at a pharmacy. Prices are a bit more expensive for higher-end brands but overall, still reasonable.
A box of Tylenol costs about US$9 and a tube of toothpaste is US$2. Finding natural or higher-end products can be a challenge but there are some local brands out there. We love BioLand, a local eco-conscious personal care brand with a great selection of shampoo, conditioners, creams, soaps, etc.
Schools and Education
If you’re thinking of living in Costa Rica with kids, there are a few different schooling options. Public school system isn’t great here, so many expats choose to send their children to international schools. A year of primary school costs US$7,000 on average.
Montessori schools are quite popular as well. A full-day program at a private school costs around US$340 per month. In Guanacaste, there’s a Costa Rican branch of the Waldorf School that offers a bilingual education in English and Spanish. Expect to pay US$450 per month with an additional US$1000 in enrollment and materials fees.
Other Info and Tips
Now that you’ve got a handle on the costs in Costa Rica, here are a few additional things to consider before your move.
The local currency in Costa Rica is the Colon (₡). The US Dollar is also accepted at many places but it’s best to carry Colones as well. You can check the current exchange rate here.
Knowing Spanish can be very helpful when living in Costa Rica. However, with so many expats from the United States and Canada, you’ll find plenty of English speaking neighbours. English is well spoken among the younger population in cities of the Central Valley and the San Jose city center. Many people choose to live in an expat or tourist town anyway, so the language barrier shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
Many expats who live in Costa Rica are perpetual tourists. Every 90 days, they’ll hop over to neighbouring countries like Nicaragua to renew their tourist visa. There are even shuttle companies that offer this border run service to make the process easy.
If constant border-hopping isn’t your thing, you can make a US$200k investment to qualify for permanent residency. This can be in the form of buying a business or a property, which can be a win-win for those looking to relocate anyway. Additionally, if you give birth to a child in Costa Rica, you can apply for permanent residency once you’ve received the birth certificate.
Banking in Costa Rica
You can’t open a bank account as a tourist in Costa Rica. You can, however, register a business as a tourist and do your banking through the business if you need to.
Being an expat in a country like Costa Rica is a fairly easy process. The low cost of living in Costa Rica vs USA offers a lifestyle that’s much more affordable and stress-free. While it’s not the cheapest among the Central American countries, life here is sure to be filled with Pura Vida.