Affordable Day-to-Day Living in Costa Rica
Most American, Canadian, and European expats in Costa Rica spend much less money on day-to-day expenses than they do in their home countries. Cost of living, of course, depends on lifestyle. But in many ways Costa Rica is much more affordable than back home.
A single person can live on between $1,400 and $1,700 a month. Some single people scrape by on considerably less, and others spend hundreds of dollars more, depending on their lifestyle. Many retired couples live well on $2,000 per month and even better on $2,500 to $3,000. That includes all costs, including housing, transportation, medical care, utilities, food, and entertainment. Real estate, whether you rent or buy, is more affordable in Costa Rica, with North American-style homes in great locations reasonably priced.
Medical care is high quality and low cost, with legal resident expats enjoying use of the government-run universal healthcare system known as Caja. For a low monthly fee based on income, you get doctor’s visits, prescriptions, surgeries…any care you need…for free. Private clinics and hospitals are also a fraction of the price if you pay cash—and insurance is available, too.
When it comes to food, it pays to shop and eat out like a local. The feria, or weekly open-air farmers’ market, is an institution in just about every Costa Rican town or village. This is where the locals come to stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables, and spices. You’ll also find farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, beef and chicken, eggs, dairy products, bread, coffee, and more. Prices are low…$1.50 pineapples…a pound of red snapper for $4…a head of lettuce for 50 cents…fistfuls of herbs like basil for 25 cents—you can fill your fridge for about $30 per week for a couple. Plus, going to the feria is fun too, with the vendors offering free samples and calling out deals all surrounded by tables piled high with produce.
Keep in mind that many beach destinations that are popular with tourists will be more expensive to live in because prices for dinners out and grocery stores tend to be more expensive. And you will use air conditioning, which drives up your electric bill. Still, wherever you are in Costa Rica, there are many ways to save.
Sample monthly budget for a couple in Costa Rica
|Housing (rental of a furnished, two-bedroom apartment)||$700|
|Electricity (varies widely with A/C usage)||$50|
|Fuel Costs (you will not need to heat your home in CR)||$0|
|Garbage/trash pick-up (typically included in rent)||$0|
|Household help (maid 1x week)||$40|
|Cell Phones (x2 one plan, one pre-pay)||$30|
|Healthcare (four $50 visits to a doctor per year for two people + monthly Caja payment)||$150|
|Transportation (owning a car)||$130|
|Food/groceries (including alcohol)||$400|
|Entertainment (two people dining out eight times a month at local restaurants or other entertainment, such as movies, concerts)||$250|
|Taxes (included in rental rates)||$0|
|Misc. (rainy day fund and unexpected expenses)||$100|
|Landline (not necessary)||$0|
We Slashed Our Living Expenses in Beautiful, Beachside Jacó
By Paul Maxfield
My wife, Brenda, and I love our second home in Jacó, Costa Rica. With the beach a block away, and all the amenities we need within walking distance, it is a wonderful place to enjoy the beautiful weather, the exotic tropical plants, and the engaging and vibrant people of Costa Rica. Of course, scarlet macaws in the tree next to our patio and toucans whistling overhead don’t hurt either.
Our life is much simpler here, and we spend less than at home. We don’t need a car, so our transportation expenses are very low. It costs us less than $5 to take the bus into San José and/or to the airport (50 miles), and the return trip is about $9 (involving two buses).
A short taxi ride within Jacó costs about $1.85. A day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park using two buses (one-and-a-half to two hours) costs about $7.
We also have bikes which have the double benefit of giving us a nice breeze as we pedal our way to our destination.
Sometimes we take a local bus (for about 50 cents) to a nearby community to hit the fully equipped North American style grocery store. But if we shop in the local grocery stores and buy local products, prices are considerably less than back home in the States.
Meat costs a little over $3 per pound for pork or beef and $2 per pound for chicken. A loaf of whole wheat bread costs $1.80, eggs are $1.63 per dozen, and Betty Crocker chocolate fudge cake mix is just $1.26.
We load up with fresh fruits and vegetables at the Friday morning farmers’ market for less than $20. That includes several large pineapples for $1.63 each.
Our housing expenses are low since we own our condo. Our monthly costs include utilities, maintenance, internet, and cable. For those who rent in Jacó, costs vary, depending on the size and style of the condo, house, or apartment. Proximity to the ocean will also influence the monthly rent. Many expats live in condos that come with some utilities provided, and there is almost always a pool and sometimes a gym. I recently found a range of rentals in Jacó—from small, two-bedroom apartments for $400 to luxury condos for $2,500 a month and up, and every price range in between. Private homes are also available for rent, or they can be purchased in the $75,000 to $300,000 range, depending on your needs and desires.
For entertainment, there is surfing, walking or jogging on the beach, civic activities, and lots of great restaurants at every price range. You can also take in a recently released movie at the local cinema for $5.
Costa Rican restaurant food is delicious, simple, and affordable. A local soda (simple restaurant serving local dishes) will offer an ample meal of meat (chicken, beef, or pork), rice, beans, salad (various choices), and vegetables for $4.50. Without meat, it will run $3.60. Sometimes they will throw in platano maduro, a baked plantain that will satisfy your sweet tooth.
I can walk six blocks and see an English-speaking doctor for $25 to $50 cash. For those who need prescription medications, common ones can easily be found here at one of several pharmacies with no prescription needed for many. For common ailments, it is handy to be able to walk into the pharmacy, ask the resident doctor to take a look, and then purchase the recommended medication and be on your way.
As retirement approaches, it feels good to know that we can live comfortably in this beautiful beach setting, enjoy the beloved Pura Vida lifestyle, and still have the resources to travel and spend time with family back home.