Living in Costa Rica gives you the freedom to spend almost as little or much as you choose; while many things are inexpensive, North American-style luxuries can add up. Despite this fact, life in Costa Rica is generally less expensive than an equivalent lifestyle in the United States, Canada or Europe, as many expatriates will happily attest.
Those expats interested in simple living should budget $1500 or less monthly. Rents in rural areas and select urban areas hover around $300-$600 for a well-furnished apartment or small home. At this price, renters can expect Costa Rican-style amenities, which may include line-drying laundry and bathrooms equipped with electric shower heads. Generally, this budget allows for bus rides and the occasional taxi, big trips to the farmer’s market and a few restaurant meals each month.
Others choose to retire or live in relative luxury, employing full-time housekeepers, commuting by car, enjoying exquisite homes and consuming imported goods. In the Central Valley, such lifestyles can easily amount to $3000 or more monthly. A lavish three-bedroom home near San Jose – complete with granite countertops, Jacuzzi bathtubs and hot water heater – starts at approximately $1500 monthly, and can cost much more.
Food costs in Costa Rica largely depend on personal preferences. At a moderately-priced sit-down restaurant, a salad, main course and glass of wine will cost $15-20 per person. At sodas, the Costa Rican version of the neighborhood mom-and-pop, a full meal plus natural fruit drink will only run you $2-4. For those that enjoy cooking at home, groceries run the price gamut, and depend heavily on whether you consume imported or local goods.
Remember that as a general rule, services and labor are inexpensive, but many goods are more expensive than back home. In other words, a housekeeper may charge $2 per hour, but a new car can cost almost twice as much as in the United States. (Used cars can be bought for only slightly more than their North American equivalents.) Gas and diesel are expensive here, usually costing $1-$2 more per gallon than in the U.S.
The extra money spent on transportation is easily recouped in entertainment costs – trips to museums, outdoor concerts and street fairs generally run less than $5 per person. Most concerts and traveling shows cost the same as in other countries. For outdoor entertainment, Costa Rica’s extensive park system, wildlife adventures and gardens will satisfy any nature enthusiast.
Medical care in Costa Rica is of high quality, and very inexpensive. Currently, residents have three options: private insurance, subscription to the CCSS (Costa Rican Social Security) or a combination of the two. Through INS (the National Insurance Institute), private medical insurance costs about $50-$100/month per person. Through the Caja’s public service, insurance for a family (two adults and their under-18 dependents) will cost $30-$50/month. Please note that for those under age 55, Caja payments include a mandatory pension payment, which will be paid out beginning at age 65.