Cost of Living in Costa Rica

La pura vida

Our home in Costa Rica.
Our home in Costa Rica.

A complete change in lifestyle.

A big factor for many people who are thinking about moving to Costa Rica is cost of living. Money or lack of it, can be a big factor when making a decision to move to a foreign country.

Americans and Canadians are not allowed to legally work in Costa Rica. There are a lot of expats who move to Costa Rica that have money to live on. There are also a lot of expats who are retired who are able to live much more comfortably in Costa Rica then they could back home on their social security or pensions.

However, there are also a lot of us who decide to move here who don't have an income to live on. For us, we have two different options: starting a business (which takes some money to begin with) or figuring out how to create our income. Most of us do this by doing some type of work online.

It can be scary moving to a foreign country where there are absolutely no job options. We have lived so long in a society that tell us that getting a job is the answer. However, there are other ways to make it work. The truth is that the cost of living in Costa Rica can be very low if do it right.

If you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and change the habits and behaviors that we have all fallen in to while living in a "consumer" driven society, it is possible to well in Costa Rica on very little money.

I know because I've done it.

Time for a change.

One of the main reasons that I quit my job and moved to Costa Rica was because of the lower cost of living.

I woke up one day in Florida and realized that I desperately wanted my life back! I felt trapped, constantly running on the "work to consume" hamster wheel.

My life felt empty and I wanted out.

I did not want to spend anymore of my precious days working for someone else, especially at a job that left me completely and utterly drained. I hated that I had almost no energy left for my children at the end of the day.

I hated knowing that the next day (and the day after that and the day after that) all looked exactly the same and typically went something like this:

Wake up grumpy when the alarm clock goes off. Make breakfast, rush the kids off to school. Get ready and head to my job for a long 8 hours. Pick up the kids. Make dinner, do homework, bathe and put the kids to bed. Throw in a load of laundry and do the dishes. Take a shower and fall in to bed exhausted. Rinse and repeat.

I was sick and tired of getting my paycheck just to realize that once I paid the bills and had a little fun, the money was almost gone again. I was completely over playing the horrible part of what everyone else seemed to just accept as a part of "being a responsible adult".

I wanted to live my life! I wanted to feel young again. I wanted to travel and have experiences that would push me beyond my comfort zone. I wanted to play and laugh.

Instead of waking up to the alarm clock and a sense of dread - I wanted to wake up completely thrilled about the day that was waiting for me.

Something inside of me told me that there was a better way. I didn't understand exactly what that was or how to get there. I had no plan but what I did have was a vivid picture in my mind of the kind of life I wanted. I knew that my current life was not it.

Moving to Costa Rica has led me to that life. I have had to unlearn almost everything that I was taught by the culture I grew up in. I've had to relinquish every idea of what "life as a responsible adult" is supposed to look like. I've had to change, learn and grow.

I've had to step out and live my life in the way that is right for me, regardless of what everyone else thinks about it.

I've had to try to then try again.

I've had to think about what I wanted every aspect of my life to look like for my family.

Then I had to make it happen.

"The only thing money is good for is to buy your freedom." - Humphrey Bogart

San Miguel, Costa Rica
San Miguel, Costa Rica | Source

Trading money for time.

We have been living in Costa Rica now for almost three years now. I knew that our cost of living in Costa Rica was low but I recently sat down and wrote a comparison of our cost of living in Florida verses our cost of living in Costa Rica.

Once I put the numbers on paper, I was completely astonished. At the end of my calculations I realized that by learning to live in a brand new way I have been able to save $1,729.42 per month and $23,402 per year by moving to Costa Rica!

This is not a complete review on the cost of living in Costa Rica. There are many people who live here for much less then we do and there are many people who spend much more money to live here then we do. However, this is a realistic comparison of the two versions of my life. I am a single mother to two children and I've never made a ton of money. I lived pretty frugally in Florida and I live frugally now.

The main difference is in the quality of our life.

I haven't used an alarm clock in three years. (I typically wake up to the sound of the howler monkeys or birds chirping outside my window.) For the most part, I spend my days doing the things I love to do. Walking on the beach, taking pictures, making art, hula hooping and spending tons of quality time with friends, family and my children. My life belongs to me.

I celebrate this accomplishment each and everyday by watching a breathtaking sunset.

My kids have traded up their tired, zombie mom for a mom who is healthy and full of life!

Because I now have most of my days to do with completely as I wish, activities that used to do nothing but frustrate me (such as laundry, cleaning and cooking) are actually enjoyable. I still fall in to bed exhausted each night, but it's because I've really lived each day to the fullest!

If you value your time more then money and you are looking for a way to change your life, I am here to tell you that it is possible. Even if moving to Costa Rica is not something you are interested in, you can start making changes in your life today to free yourself from the chains of the work to consume bondage.

It will not come with out faith, sacrifice and creativity. It will require change and complete dedication.

But I promise you, it is worth it.

How to live pura vida on the cheap.

Housing and utilities.

In Florida, I rented a two bedroom/two bath apartment which was located about a 10 minute drive from the beach. The apartment complex had a pool.

Rent in Florida: $650 each month

Power bill: $250 dollars a month. (I used an electric stove, a clothes dryer and the air conditioning pretty much year round.)

Internet service: $80 a month. (We do not watch television so we did not have cable)

Water bill: $25 a month

Monthly housing expenses in Florida: $755 a month.

In Costa Rica, I rent a two bedroom/one bath apartment which is located a short 5 minute walk from the beach. The apartment complex has a pool.

Power, water, wi-fi and cable (we still don't watch tv but it is available) are included in the rent. We do not have air-conditioning or a clothes dryer. We line dry our clothes and we share a washing machine with the other tenants. We use propane to cook with (which runs about $20 every six months)

Monthly housing expenses in Costa Rica: $353.

Cost of living in Costa Rica savings: $402 per month $4,824 per year

Vehicle, insurance, registration, gas, etc.

In Florida, I had a car loan which ran me about $300 a month.

Auto insurance: $100 a month.
Yearly registration: $78.
Gas: $50 a week $200 per month

Florida travel expenses (not including any repairs): $696.50 per month $8,358 per year

In Costa Rica, I do not own a car. Costa Rica has a great public bus transportation system that I use for longer trips.

My family and I travel to Nicaragua once every three months by bus. It costs about $96 for the roundtrip bus ride for the entire family. Our other bus rides to nearby towns add up to about $10 total each month for the three of us.

Locally, we walk or ride our bikes.

Travel expenses in Costa Rica: $42 per month $504 per year.

Cost of living in Costa Rica savings: $654.50 per month $7,854 per year

Grocery shopping and household items

In Florida, I spent around $200 a week on groceries and household items (cleaners, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc) My family and I ate pretty healthy and I did invest in more expensive food items and buy things like organic fruits, vegetables and chicken.

Cost for groceries in Florida: Monthly $800 $9,600 yearly

In Costa Rica, I spend around $80 a week on groceries and household items.

To be honest, food in Costa Rica can be just as expensive as in the States. I have learned to create meals with what is locally available and inexpensive. Lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes and mostly eggs or fish for protein.

Costa Rica does not offer a wide variety of pre packaged foods and when they do offer them, they are expensive because they are imported from the States. I've learned how to make everything from scratch which takes more time but is way less expensive. I don't buy anything that's in a package, can or a box.

I have also learned how to utilize household items for making cleaning products instead of buying them. Vinegar, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide are about the best cleaners out there. They are less expensive, better for the environment and better for my family.

Cost of groceries in Costa Rica: Monthly $320 Yearly $3,840

Cost of living in Costa Rica savings: $480 per month $5,760 per year

"There is only one success, to be able to spend your life in your own way." - Christopher Morely

Playa Potrero, Costa Rica
Playa Potrero, Costa Rica | Source

Eating out.

As a single mom always on a tight budget, dining out or ordering take out was something that my family rarely did. Most of my meals at a restaurant where times when I would meet a friend during my lunch break from work when my kids were at school which I probably did once a week. The whole family would eat out twice a month.

Lunch out during the week $60 per month

Family night out twice a month. $80 per month

Florida eating out costs: Monthly $140 Yearly $1,680

In Costa Rica, we still do not dine out very often. (Maybe once a month) $30

Costa Rica eating out costs: Monthly $30 Yearly $360

Cost of living in Costa Rica savings: $110 per month $1,320 per year

Activities and entertainment

Back in Florida, we didn't spend a lot of money on activities compared to most people I know.

Movie rentals from the $1 RedBox machine (3 a week) $12 per month $144 a year

School field trips: These were usually a few times a year and usually cost around $40 per trip. $13.35 per month $160 per year

Every once in a while we would go to the movies, skating or bowling. $30 per night out, probably five times a year $15 per month $180 per year

Once a year we might take a weekend and go to Disney World or some other type of mini-getaway. This was considered our "vacation". Tickets, lodging, food - $41.65 per month $500 per year

Concerts were usually my big splurge for "mom time". I'd say I averaged about 3 concerts a year at around $100 per concert (including ticket, drinks, food, etc.) Monthly $25 Yearly cost $300

Florida activities and entertainment: Monthly cost $107 Yearly cost $1,284

There are no Redbox machines in Costa Rica! (Those $1 movie rentals really add up!) We watch free movies online.

Field trips in Costa Rica are usually to national parks and are free. The only cost is for transportation. Yearly field trip cost = $2.08 per month $25 per year.

In Costa Rica every day of our lives feels like a vacation. From time to time we do like to get out of town to see some place new. We might hop on the bus to check out a waterfall, a new beach or a volcano. We visit the free locations or locations that charge a very small fee. $12.50 per month $150 per year.

There are no movie theaters, skating rinks or bowling alleys in the area we live in. Costa Rica does have a few big concerts a year in San Jose but I have not attended any. I cure my craving for live music by checking out local music for free around town. We have spent $0 in these areas.

Our other big splurge is when we visit Nicargua. With lodging and food I'd say we spend an extra $100 every 4 months = $34 per month and $400 per year.

Monthly activities and entertainment in Costa Rica - $48.58 per month $575 per year

Cost of living in Costa Rica savings: $58.42 per month $709 per year

"The greatest wealth is to live content with little." - Plato

Fisherman in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.
Fisherman in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. | Source

Clothes, toys and other "stuff"

Each school year in Florida began with a shopping spree. School supplies, uniforms, new shoes, socks, etc. $400 per year

I have never been a "fashionista" or one to spend a lot of money on purses, shoes or even clothes. Even though I always tried to shop for the inexpensive items and find bargains, I'd estimate that I spent around $100 a month on clothes. Yearly cost $1200

My kids didn't have a lot of expensive toys and gadgets however, we did have little shopping sprees as Target and the Dollar Store to quench our want for something new. I'd estimate that I probably spent $60 a month Yearly cost $ 720

I would from time to time pick up the occasional household decoration when out shopping. A low ball estimate would be $20 a month. Yearly cost $240.

Books and music were (and still are) the one thing that I did like to spend money on. I would visit a bookstore probably once a month or order used books from Amazon. I also utilized the free library. Although I'd frequently share music with friends (which means free), I would also regularly buy new albums. Starbucks was not an everyday affair for me - probably more like twice a month. $100 a month. Yearly total - $1200

In Costa Rica:

There were no purchases made for the kids for school this year. They are able to wear the clothes they have. School supplies were very basic, paper, pencils, a ruler and crayons - $15.

At the beginning of last year I went back to Florida for a visit and purchased some new clothes for the kids and I. Since that time, I have not purchased any clothing items what-so-ever. (It's been over a year now). I have had to buy a couple new pairs of flip flops -$50.

Toys in Costa Rica are outrageously expensive! For this reason, we don't buy them. My daughters are enrolled in gymnastics class which cost $50 a month. Other then that we take advantage of nature, the beach, free games on the internet and friends for entertainment and fun. We have also learned how to make our own craft items such as play dough, molding clay, glitter and watercolor paints all using household items for virtually no cost. Total cost for the year - $600.

Life in Costa Rica has taught me a big lesson in living simple. We gave away or sold most of our "stuff" before moving here and once we got here, we had no intention of getting back all those "things". For the first year I lived here, I decided to just live with whatever I had. After I realized that I was going to stay in Costa Rica, a few items have been purchased (like a coffee maker, rice cooker, etc.) to make life just a little more comfortable. Yearly household purchases in Costa Rica - $100.

Books, music and coffee: there is one Starbucks in the entire country of Costa Rica and I've never been to it. I make my coffee drinks at home now. (Yes, even the yummy frozen ones!) I still buy kindle books and music from time to time, but I mostly use websites to earn free Amazon gift cards to cover those purchases. Total spent for the year - $50.

Cost of living in Costa Rica savings: $245 per month $2,935 per year

Cost of living in Costa Rica equals big savings!

Again, I have to tell you that these figures blew me away! I don't care who you are $23,402 is a lot of money! As I finished writing this, I realized that I hadn't included all the money that I used to spend during all of the commercialized holidays in the States (which we still celebrate but in a different way that doesn't include the commercial aspect). I also realized that I didn't include my phone bill. My phone bill in Florida was around $80 a month and in Costa Rica it's around $10 a month which would add another $860 a year in savings! That brings me pretty close to living $25,000 cheaper a year just by changing simple spending habits!

What could you do with an extra $25,000 a year?

If you feel trapped in your current situation, if you are unsatisfied living a life that you don't remember every really choosing and one that you really don't even like - know that you can change it.

If you are thinking about moving to Costa Rica and wondering about the cost of living, keep in mind that this is just one way to live in Costa Rica. There are many expats who move to Costa Rica and continue living in the exact way as they did back home.

Costa Rica has been named the "Happiest country in the world." I believe it's because their society is not driven by profit and material wealth. They live "pura vida" which means slowing down and appreciating the beautiful things in life that don't cost a thing. Family, friends and nature. I am forever grateful to this culture and it's people for helping me see what finally matters and for showing me a better way.

We've all been told that money doesn't buy happiness but yet we've also been trained to believe that pursuing money and buying things is what deserves most of our attention and time.

I no longer believe that to be true.

For my family and I, starting a new in Costa Rica was just what we needed to break our old habits. This has led us to a beautiful life that requires a lot less money and feels a whole lot richer!

Pura vida!

"They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price." - Khalil Gibran

Paradise found.
Paradise found.

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Comments 19 comments

Valene profile image

Valene 3 years ago from Missouri

I love this hub! I lived in Costa Rica for a few weeks once during a school trip in college and I just loved it. So what are you doing for income in CR? I know how much cheaper it is to live there, but since expats can't get jobs, what do you use for income? I would love to get a job teaching English or something there.

puravidatravel profile image

puravidatravel 3 years ago from Playa Potrero, Costa Rica Author

Hi, Valene! Thanks for your comment. I work remotely online from Costa Rica through the States. I do a couple different things part time to keep the money coming in. I'm a travel agent, I sell my photography and I do some transcription work. Teaching English here very popular too, I have a lot of friends who either work at schools or teach English freelance. It's really great to be able to work less and enjoy more.

We'd love to have you join us, pura vida.

Juan Edwuardo 3 years ago

I would like to state that I love Costa Rica and the Tico people, but I must admit that the cost of groceries and electrical power (for those needing air conditioning) has now resulted in numerous expants throwing in th towel and leaving the country. Almost all of our Gringo friends are gone, and now rent out their homes to tourists "who can afford the electric bills".

The governments high import taxes on virtually everything is killing the country for retirees and tourists. Example: According to the salesman at the Monge appliance store, the taxes on a refrigerator is over 80%. Real estate sold to Gringos is all over priced, car prices are probably the highest in the world, and we don't live a week without a report of a car break in or mugging. It's all so sad, as Costa Rica was once a great place for retirees and tourists.

Shirley RMT 2 years ago

Thank you for shaving your experience!

I thoroughly enjoyed feeling your joy and excitement of starting to live your life.

I am seriously considering the move from Canada to CR.

My question to you is I am a Registered Massage Therapist and would like to open that business when I move there and would like to know if I can do this?

My other option of course was to buy a property with 1 or 2 extra suites to rent out as vacation properties.

What are your thoughts?

Thank you. :)

puravidatravel profile image

puravidatravel 2 years ago from Playa Potrero, Costa Rica Author

Hi Shirley RMT - Both of your business ideas are great ones and very common down here in Costa Rica! I have friends who own rental properties and I also have friends who work as massage therapists. I do not know all of the ins and outs of business ownership here but I know there are lawyers who are available to help you with all the licensing and paperwork that is required.

Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and for commenting. If there are any other questions you may have, please let me know!

adreana 2 years ago

Have really enjoyed your articles and you have been able to put into words my thoughts completely with regards to everything...and I agree with you completely. But there is one thing you left out with regards to cost of living...or do you and your children never get sick or injured? You need to add the cost of health insurance, medicine and doctor visits as you need to travel from Avellanas to do so. Also important to mention that it is a hundred times harder to earn a living in Costa Rica then in the U. S. Even if you are in the rental business or tourism or whatever because it is now flooded with B&B's, everyone has a tour or whatever to sell or buy so unless you are selling these things or teaching English on your not go to Costa Rica to make a living! To retire and do volunteer work is ideal and the savings are great. Also those that speak Spanish or willing to learn will enjoy and immerse themselves more. I see a lot of ex pats excluded from activities like Bingo, parties, etc because the locals just can't communicate with them. Other than these things I agree with Ms Redman who knows how to value life for herself and her children and has embraced The Pura Vida lifestyle that many who go to Costa Rica for a visit get upset by...but it IS truly the way to live and not the rat race of supposed civilized countries who have lost the true meaning of life.

puravidatravel profile image

puravidatravel 2 years ago from Playa Potrero, Costa Rica Author

Hi Adreana, thank you for taking the time to read my articles and for your comments!

Fortunately for my family, we have not gotten sick or needed to see a doctor during our time here in Cost Rica - however, accidents do happen! I agree with you that medical insurance and doctors visits would be a part of the cost of living here.

I also agree with you on "do not move to Costa Rica to make a living!" By far, that has been the biggest challenge we have faced here. I have built online businesses to support my family and that would be my recommendation to those who would like to live here but do not already have some kind of income to rely on.

I also agree the learning the language is a great benefit for expats as it allows us to get to know all of the beautiful people in our communities. My children are both fluent and I'm studying, practicing and learning more and more Spanish each day.

JABR 2 years ago

Sooooo, what income are you living on? Did I miss something?

Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

Hello "Pure Vida"

I really enjoyed your article. Tell me, did you consider other countries as well? I am looking at Belize and Ecuador. I too would have to work so that is a big consideration. Although I am only one person so I don't know how difficult that would be.

puravidatravel profile image

puravidatravel 2 years ago from Playa Potrero, Costa Rica Author

hi Brie, thank you for taking the time to read the article. I did consider other countries and Ecuador was one of the top contenders. I have heard many good things and know some people who live there and they love it.

Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

Why did you rule it out?

puravidatravel profile image

puravidatravel 2 years ago from Playa Potrero, Costa Rica Author

Hi Brie, I haven't ruled Ecuador out as of yet! We are very happy now in Costa Rica and after four years we have started to put down roots and make great friendships. We started here first and since we really love it - we just decided to stay. Maybe one day :)

Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

Ok, thanks.

Renata1970 profile image

Renata1970 2 years ago

Hola Pura Vida! Because of my own desire to truly "live life" with a purpose, I've found and been enjoying your articles about your experiences in Costa Rica. As a mother of 2 boys myself, I was wondering about the cost of a US accredited private school. Do you still have your girls in an English speaking private school? If so, what is the average yearly cost per child? Thank you for sharing! :)

Alyssa 22 months ago

Hello, I was wondering. What affordable area you would recommend for a family with children who do not speak very good Spanish yet? We like the Nicoya peninsula but it seems very pricey. We also have a dog which I hope won't hinder us in finding a rental. Thank you

Becky 21 months ago

I want to leave the US for political and lifestyle reasons. I am a single mom and have a grown daughter and a young daughter as well as a teenage son. I haven't been fortunate here jobwise and so have just gotten a receptionist job. I'm afraid of being without an income but really want to do this for my children.

TRAVELING20s profile image

TRAVELING20s 21 months ago

Thank you for this Hub! Great information and writing!

Naju60 9 months ago

We plan i and my husband to move to costa rico for retirement but me i want continue my professional activity is possible to find a job there

uknow 3 months ago

Hi , , let me tell something important to you , actually , here in Costa Rica , despite how cheap it would appears ,comparing whith States . Thre is the sense of being stolen by the goverment , because of the taxes . For example the gas price get up thougt international oil price get down. Just do some press reviuw.

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