Cost of Living in Costa Rica

What is the overall cost of living in Costa Rica?

Cost of Living costa ricaYou have heard (or read) me talk about costs in Costa Rica. I’ve talked about shopping in Costa Rica, healthcare in Costa Rica, and even did a comparison of cost of living between Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, and Panama’s major cities. That’s all great but what about the overall cost of living in Costa Rica?

I’ve talked to quite a few expats that say the old, cheap days are over.  And from our own experience visiting in March that certainly seemed to be the case.  Costa Rica did not appear to be cheap, see our post on actual costs of our trip.

But to be fair and judge it with by the same standards, I thought it would be useful do a comparison of cost of living in three towns of Costa Rica. All three of them we would consider as a possible home. And so I went to my trusted Numbeo to get the numbers.

So, in this post you will find:

  • Numbeo data comparing cost of living in 3 towns in Costa Rica to a city in US
  • Conclusions and my interpretations for cost of living in Costa Rica
  • Our pick of town in Costa Rica

Note: There are still as many opinions out there as there are expats. And they range from Costa Rica is way too expensive to Costa Rica is dirt cheap. It again depends on who you ask, where they live, and what “cheap” means to them.

Blow is a cost of living comparison between a city in Michigan and Heredia, Puntarenas, Arenal in Costa Rica. As previously in my post on Cost of living in Mexico, I obtained the numbers from Numbeo and have highlighted problem areas in red.

 

  Ann Arbor, MI

Heredia

Puntarenas

Arenal

Restaurants
Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant

9.50 $

    6.00 $

    6.50 $

    6.50 $

Meal for 2, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course

32.50 $

    35.00 $

    27.50 $

    40.00 $

Combo Meal at McDonalds or Similar

6.50 $

    7.98 $

    7.00 $

    ?

Domestic Beer (0.5 liter draught)

3.50 $

    1.79 $

    2.00 $

    2.50 $

Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle)

4.25 $

    3.00 $

    2.75 $

    3.50 $

Cappuccino (regular)

3.75 $

    2.00 $

    1.80 $

    2.12 $

Coke/Pepsi (0.33 liter bottle)

1.52 $

    2.00 $

    1.18 $

    1.70 $

Water (0.33 liter bottle)

1.29 $

    1.20 $

    0.85 $

    2.00 $

Markets
Milk (regular), 1 gallon

2.69 $

    5.47 $

    3.79 $

    7.78 $

Loaf of Fresh White Bread (1 lb)

1.66 $

    1.49 $

    1.81 $

    2.60 $

Rice (1 lb)

0.95 $

    1.20 $

    0.68 $

    0.70 $

Eggs (12)

1.50 $

    2.16 $

    2.50 $

    2.69 $

Local Cheese (1 lb)

4.00 $

    2.72 $

    1.36 $

    4.21 $

Chicken Breasts (Boneless, Skinless), (1 lb)

2.24 $

    1.97 $

    3.63 $

    4.02 $

Apples (1 lb)

1.29 $

    1.53 $

    1.13 $

    2.16 $

Oranges (1 lb)

2.00 $

    0.73 $

    0.23 $

    ?

Tomato (1 lb)

?

    0.79 $

    0.27 $

    0.85 $

Potato (1 lb)

?

    0.45 $

    0.27 $

    ?

Lettuce (1 head)

1.50 $

    1.20 $

    0.50 $

    1.17 $

Water (1.5 liter bottle)

2.00 $

    1.00 $

    1.00 $

    1.83 $

Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)

12.00 $

    9.48 $

    13.00 $

    7.20 $

Domestic Beer (0.5 liter bottle)

1.60 $

    1.59 $

    2.50 $

    3.00 $

Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle)

1.35 $

    2.50 $

    2.50 $

    2.64 $

Pack of Cigarettes (Marlboro)

5.95 $

    1.80 $

    2.00 $

    2.98 $

Transportation
One-way Ticket (Local Transport)

1.50 $

    0.82 $

    1.00 $

    1.29 $

Monthly Pass (Regular Price)

58.00 $

    39.87 $

    ?

    ?

Taxi Start (Normal Tariff)

3.00 $

    1.29 $

    1.00 $

    ?

Taxi 1 mile (Normal Tariff)

1.71 $

    1.60 $

    1.29 $

    4.00 $

Taxi 1hour Waiting (Normal Tariff)

19.80 $

    29.90 $

    10.00 $

    ?

Gasoline (1 gallon)

3.62 $

    5.13 $

    4.92 $

    5.55 $

Volkswagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline (Or Equivalent New Car)

20,000.00 $

    28,500.00 $

    28,000.00 $

    40,000.00

Utilities (Monthly)
Basic (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage) for 915 sq ft Apartment

150.00 $

    41.36 $

    135.00 $

    27.25 $

1 min. of Prepaid Mobile Tariff Local (No Discounts or Plans)

0.35 $

    0.07 $

    0.08 $

    0.07 $

Internet (6 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)

49.98 $

    37.90 $

    65.00 $

    52.24 $

Clothing And Shoes
1 Pair of Jeans (Levis 501 Or Similar)

44.50 $

    54.90 $

    85.00 $

    63.48 $

1 Summer Dress in a Chain Store (Zara, H&M, …)

45.00 $

    34.95 $

    50.00 $

    ?

1 Pair of Nike Shoes

65.00 $

    99.87 $

    200.00 $

    77.37 $

1 Pair of Men Leather Shoes

89.00 $

    69.87 $

    85.00 $

    69.43 $

Rent Per Month
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre

950.00 $

    400.00 $

    350.00 $

    150.00 $

Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre

700.00 $

    159.81 $

    425.00 $

    150.00 $

Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre

1,525.00 $

    934.41 $

    500.00 $

    543.41 $

Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre

1,200.00 $

    549.52 $

    400.00 $

    593.21 $

Salaries And Financing
Median Monthly Disposable Salary (After Tax)

2,750.00 $

    658.85 $

    650.00 $

    476.10 $

Mortgage Interest Rate in Percentages (%), Yearly

3.25

    9.00

    ?

    8.80

Last update

September, 2013

August, 2013

September, 2013

September, 2013

Contributors (past 18 months)

26

13

2

4

 

Conclusions and Interpretations of Cost of Living in Costa Rica:

According to Numbeo, cost of living in Ann Arbor MI is more expenses than all of the Costa Rican towns I’ve compared; rent prices being cheaper anywhere from 50-67%. This is good news. You can see my posts about grocery shopping, eating out, and healthcare to get an idea for these costs as well. I have to admit I’m a bit surprised how affordable this data shows Costa Rica to be. Granted when we visited we were not staying in an apartment but Costa Rica certainly felt expensive – especially food. So, I will take some of this with a grain of salt. Numbeo’s data is only as reliable as the folks that enter it. In some of the towns the data inputs are few, which doesn’t make them as dependable. All in all though, cost of living in Costa Rica does seem to be cheaper than I originally thought. I suppose that is why it is good to compare everything with the same basic criteria. Some things to note are the much lower utility costs in the non-coastal towns and the big difference in cost of some of the foods.

Pick of Town:

At this point, we are considering our extended stays. And if I were to pick at town in Costa Rica today, it would need to be one with a low cost of living, close proximity to San Jose where all the great medical facilities exist, and one that is just the right size for us (around 25-50K people). As you may remember, from our post on technology, modern amenities are important to us. So, our pick would likely be Heredia – a college town with colonial charm, reasonable cost of living, and spring like temperatures year round. Not to mention only 70 miles from the beaches!

I hope you find this helpful.

You may also like our posts on eating in Costa Rica with IBS and interview with an ex-expat.

 

Joanna-

 

Written by Joanna Rolston -
is a Polish American living in mid-western USA with her husband Tim. She is an IT Director for a major public university and she is proud to be a professional geek. She dreams of living abroad. Joanna and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to help solidify and plan their dream of moving abroad.

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3 thoughts on “Cost of Living in Costa Rica

  1. Arden Brink

    Hi, Joanna,

    I know that the Numbeo thingy seems like it should be “accurate” since, as I understand it, real people post their own “real” numbers, but I want to suggest that the “apartment price” comparison, for instance, just has almost nothing to do with real life. You will find very few gringos living in apartments (whether in the “city center” or not) and any expectation at all that you would find something livable in Heredia for $160 a month just as an example is, I believe, way off.

    Have you actually spent any time in Heredia? We, too, when researching only from books and such thought — as it seems like you have — gee, close to San Jose, “college town”, etc. sounds good…but that is just the very problem of that kind of research.

    First, the term “college town” doesn’t end up meaning the same kind of atmosphere or ethos *at all* the way you expect based on North American “college towns.” Nor will you find any meaningful “colonial charm.” It is incredibly crowded, much “denser” feeling than almost all the other towns where more expats choose to live (yes, there is a reason they choose to live elsewhere), narrower streets, terrible traffic, and basically unpleasant. I’m sure there are *some* expats who live there and will likely disagree, but of the hundreds of expats I’ve known over the years, most avoid Heredia whenever possible. Just sayin’.

    Your electricity “average bills” too from Numbeo are way off — you will virtually assuredly NOT have electricity bills in the $27 to $40 range, regardless of what town you live in. And internet costs the same almost everywhere — plan on around $50 to $60/month for any time of “high speed” (cable/wimax/DSL) and know that the “highest” speeds will still probably be much less than you’re used to, but probably acceptable.

    The food prices you’re getting from Numbeo are WAY off, by and large. Since you are adept at the internet and like to analyze, you might very well really enjoy checking out the grocery ads online. I just checked and Mas x Menos and AutoMercado both have either their sale brochures or their general inventory online and while those stores are somewhat higher priced, not so much as to dramatically skew things. (They’re mostly “more expensive” because they have much broader offerings and imported goods, not because their prices on the “same” item as another store are particularly higher.)

    Boneless chicken breast, for instance, is right around $5.50 a pound. Apples between $2.50 and $3 a pound. (You probably know this, but for anyone else reading who might not, take the price in colones per kilo, divide by 2.2 to get price per pound, then by some 490 to 500 for the exchange rate and you get a price per pound.) You’ll get a MUCH more “real” view of food costs if you look at actual websites for actual Costa Rican grocery stores.

    Car prices are effectively the same almost everywhere since the government controls all the “import costs” (duty, registration, etc.) so any “local anomaly” like you saw in Arenal is just a typical example of the problems with this kind of “data” — it’s obviously *not* an apples-to-apples comparison and you’re not ever going to buy a “new car” in Costa Rica anyway. Cars there, no matter where you buy them (and you should consider importing one at least your first go-round directly from the states when you move) will cost close to double what they do in the states. Period, doesn’t matter what “town” you live in.

    I know you guys are great “analyzers” and clearly “due diligence” includes doing your best to “analyze” cost differences. But I’ve gotta suggest you avoid putting too much stock in *this type* of analysis because you’re just going to spin your wheels and come up with a lot of “wrong-headed” conclusions. Your decision about where to live in Costa Rica, for instance, given the three “example” towns you gave, would in real-life have almost nothing to do with cost of living.

    Those three places are completely different and which one suited you (and likely none of them do) would really depend on the “feel” of the place; it’s the “type” of town that should guide you. Cost differences just don’t mean that much.

    Do you want the beach (yes, more expensive namely in electricity since you’ll need A/C, and almost everything else is at least *slightly* more expensive simply because it’s been transported further in most cases), then there are lots of beach towns to choose from (Puntarenas NOT being one you would seriously consider. Like ever.) But choosing to live at the beach is a *completely* different decision than either Arenal or the central valley and NOT because of costs.

    Views of the lake or volcano? Warmer temps than the central valley mountains? You *might* consider Arenal, but it’s pretty “far away” from most everything — San Jose and its stores, medical options, etc. is just a WAY further jaunt than from the central valley towns. Lake certainly is beautiful and some folks love it there, for sure.

    Heredia? Well, I’ve already said my piece about that. But you should likely consider the other central valley towns, IF that’s the kind of environment you want. San Ramon, for instance, also has a university (the “west” campus of the University of Costa Rica) and is a vastly more “pleasant” town in which to live — wider streets, still some of the old “coffee town” feel (it *is* still a coffee town), still an assortment of restaurants and shops, spectacular views of the ocean and mountains, pretty easy drive to the major hospitals, has its own local hospital for emergencies, etc.

    Grecia has lots of fans with a very similar “feel” to what I described for San Ramon. Puriscal, too “small” for our tastes but has a strong expat following and nice views too. Atenas, Palmares, Naranjo, etc. etc. Or still mountains, but outside the central valley, like south of San Jose, say someplace like San Isidro?

    Many options, but the cost of living is not different enough really among ANY of them that THAT should be your guiding factor. The “nature” of the place, the qualities you want in your daily life — how many people, access to other expat community, what type of weather, what type of view, how long a trip to San Jose when you need that (which might well not be all that often), beach or mountains, volunteer or similar opportunities, access to things you regularly buy, access to health care, THESE are the things that you’ll want, I suggest, to be your guiding force.

    As your Panama commenter noted above, there ARE some major differences in cost of living between whole countries — Panama is, indeed, WAY cheaper in several areas. So if cost-of-living is to be a determining factor, those are things for sure to consider. But, even then, I would continue to suggest, that those *other* questions about the type of life you want to lead and the type of place you want to live will still have to come first.

    Please understand, I’m not trying to be “critical” of your process, at least not in any kind of negative way, but to encourage you to really change how you’re looking at this. Yes, unless you have unlimited funds, cost of living is likely to play at least some part in your decision. But I would say it’s probably one of the smallest parts. And CERTAINLY not a major factor in deciding which place within a given country.

    Good luck on your research!! I know it’s an exciting time for you and there are some good resources out there — lots of folks willing to email, lots of folks with decent blogs offering things such as their own real costs of living and enough info on their lives to get a feel for how similar (or not) their lifestyle is to something you would want for yourself. But based on what you’ve shared here, I can assure you that using something like Numbeo as a major factor in your deciding… well, no so much.

    all the best,
    –arden–

    1. Joanna Rolston Post author

      Hi Arden,
      Thanks for the good info. I agree that Numbeo is not all that dependable if there are not a lot of inputs. As you can see, in the small towns of Costa Rica, there are not a lot of inputs. And so, as I said we’re taking all this with a grain of salt. Our experience of Costa Rica’s shopping was quite a bit different as well. We’ve only visited the Pacific Coast but based on our own experience, I’m not sure if Costa Rica is going to make it on our final list. Mainly because it seemed expensive.

      Thanks for commenting.
      Joanna-

  2. kevin

    I lived in Costa Rica for a few years, and now I live in Panama. If you haven’t heard that comment 100 times, just wait, you will ! And cost-of-living is just ONE reason. I lived on both coasts of Costa Rica and in the Central Highlands. Struggled, but loved it. For me, the saying is true: “Younger is always stupider.”

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