When you think of Costa Rica, what comes to mind are images of white-sand beaches and monkey-laden jungles, turquoise oceans and coffee-blanketed mountains, active volcanoes and class II-V whitewater rivers.
Correct, on all accounts. Costa Rica is a natural paradise.
So, while you’re thinking green, we’re going to talk green. But not that kind of green. We’re about to talk money. Specifically, how much. Yep – we’re talking about the cost of living in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica Cost of Living: How Much Do I Need?
As you might expect, there’s no one answer to the question, how much does it cost to live in Costa Rica?
After all, could you answer that same generic question for your own country? Or even your city or town? Probably not.
What we can tell you: It’s almost certainly cheaper than back home.
We can also say the absolute minimum is about $1,500 per month. Realistically, most expats need at least $2,000-$3,000 for a comfortable lifestyle – think a nice home, air-conditioning, a decent food budget (with imported foods and great restaurant meals), a car, and other basics.
If you have school-age children, add an additional $500-$1,000 per child, for schooling, extracurricular activities, and kid-specific expenditures. If you like to eat out (a lot), bump up the budget by $300+ per month. If you like fine wines, artisan beer, or mixed drinks, double your alcohol budget from home.
In other words, Costa Rica’s cost of living depends on you. But, here are the basics:
Housing: Like everywhere else in the world, housing costs depend on many factors, including home location, size, and quality of construction. For example, ocean views, private swimming pools, and modern architecture are premium features that command higher prices. That said, rents generally fall in the $600-$3,000 range, and home prices can climb from a very affordable $200,000 to a cool $1+ million.
Transportation: Even if you use public transportation (including taxis), you’ll probably want a car in Costa Rica. A car is helpful for monthly Pricesmart (=Costa Rican Costco) runs, not to mention for exploring deserted beaches and rural roads. What you should know is cars cost about double their U.S. cost. Gasoline is also pricey, usually around $4-$5 per gallon.
Food: Like housing, food costs depend on you. Vegetarians and vegans, you’ll be thrilled: fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other fresh produce (including farm-fresh eggs, homemade cheese, and other dairy) are very inexpensive; you can easily purchase produce to feed a family for under $75/week. Meat costs are on par, or perhaps a bit higher than in the U.S. Restaurant meals can cost as little as $3.50 for a typical casado (choice of meat with rice, beans, salad, and fried plantains) or $50 per plate at a fine dining restaurant.
Utilities: As you would expect, utility costs are also a function of how you live. For example, electricity costs are typically lower at higher elevations, where air-conditioning isn’t required. (Beach-lovers, consider solar! Especially on the northwest coast, the sunniest part of the country.) Your monthly water (~$10-$30), cell phone (as low as $5), and cable/internet ($50-$75) will likely be less than back home.
Household Help: You’ll be shocked at how affordable household help can be in Costa Rica. The minimum wage for a housekeeper, gardener, handyman, and other help is around $2-$4/hour, depending on your location. Live-in help can be contracted for as little as $500/month.
Schooling: Like anywhere in the world, quality education in Costa Rica has a price. While public schools are some of the best in Central America, most expats choose to send their children to private schools, if only for the bilingual education and international degrees that private schools offer. Typical costs are $400-$900 per month, plus the cost of annual matriculation, monthly buses, and materials.
The bottom line: Cost of living in Costa Rica depends on you. Completely. Your personal minimum may be $1,500, or it may be $5,000. Assess your monthly needs, then compare it to our breakdown, and you should be able to determine a fairly accurate monthly budget.