Living in Costa Rica


If you're considering a move to Costa Rica, one of your most important concerns is probably "how much will it cost me?" The good news is that Costa Rica can be very affordable, but the real answer is that you determine your own cost of living. Do you live simply? Will you buy imported goods? What kind of home will you rent or buy? Here's a look at cost of living's most influential factors: location is an important factor in housing costs.

Food & Dining

Farmers' market fare is very inexpensive -- think pineapples for 75 cents and mangoes at less than $1 per pound -- while imported foodstuffs can cost more than double what they do back home. An exhaustive trip to your local farmer's market will cost $20-40, and can provide a small family with the produce, meats and fish for a week's worth of meals.

Fancy restaurants and upscale ethnic joints often cost at least as much as their North American counterparts, while Costa Rican diners, known as sodas, usually charge less than $4 for a belly-filling meal, including drink.

Health Care

Costa Rica's public health care system (CCSS, or Caja) is inexpensive and offers excellent medical care from highly trained physicians. Monthly rates begin at $20 per individual and are calculated on a sliding scale depending on income and monthly expenses. Wait times can be long for anything from a routine checkup to a major surgical procedure.

Alternatively, residents can purchase health insurance policies for about $50-$100/month with the country's private hospitals and clinics that provide first-rate care, with no waiting lines. Paying for medical services out-of-pocket is another alternative; office visits start at $40 and individual tests and procedures cost a fraction of what they would in the United States. Note: As of March 2010, all legal residents of Costa Rica are required by law to participate in the Caja. Private insurance is optional.

Housing

As in every country around the world, certain towns and neighborhoods in Costa Rica are more expensive than others. An important consideration is what your Costa Rican home looks like: is it an expat community, typical Costa Rican neighborhood, gated complex, upscale town, or condominium building? Will you live in the rural countryside, or beachfront? Housing costs range from $100 per month for a tiny house in the country to over $3000 monthly for luxury homes on the Pacific coast or in upscale Central Valley neighborhoods. On average, a two-bedroom fully furnished home can be rented for $300-$600, depending on location and amenities.

Services

In general, services and labor are very inexpensive in Costa Rica. Housekeepers earn $2-$3 per hour, while handymen and even skilled laborers (for example, tile layers) command $3-$4 per hour.

Transportation

Taking public transportation is economical: local buses rarely cost more than 50¢ per trip, and taxis cost less than half what they would in the United States. Owning a car, on the other hand, can be an expensive proposition: even used cars can run double what they would in the States, gas is more costly (roughly $3.50/gallon) and comprehensive auto insurance is more expensive than it would be in the States for late model vehicles.

On the flip side, automotive repair is much cheaper in Costa Rica. Putting in a clutch, getting new brakes, and other basic repairs are usually 60-70% less than in the States. Along those lines, cars hold their value for decades in Costa Rica; you can sell your used truck or car for the purchase price five years later, as long as you maintain it.

Utilities

In general, you get a fair deal on utilities in Costa Rica. Monthly rates for basic cable start around $30; cell phone service begins at $6; high-speed Internet ranges from $20-$170+; water hovers at $10-$15; and home phone service begins at $4. Electricity costs are calculated on a sliding scale, depending on usage: plan to spend 10-30¢ per kWh.

In Costa Rica, cost of living is unique to every resident and it boils down to your lifestyle. A frugal individual could live happily on less than $750 per month, while a family (with children in private school) could easily spend more than $5,000 monthly. My best advice is to think about how you really live, determine what you can live without, and go from there. You may be surprised at how far your dollar goes in Costa Rica.