Costa Rica has long established itself as one of the prime destinations in Central America among expats and retirees from all over the world, and enjoys particular popularity with people hailing from North America.
Reasons for the country’s popularity with the international crowd are quickly identified — the relative ease of getting a residence permit, the favorable conditions for multinational companies, and, of course, Costa Rica’s natural beauty and year-round pleasant climate are just a few examples.
While the comparatively low cost of living is certainly also a factor, expats should keep in mind that Costa Rica is not exactly a cheap country, and living comfortably on a shoestring is neither a feasible nor realistic goal. However, those willing to make a few lifestyle adjustments here and there and ready to adapt to the locals will not only be rewarded with a much more immersive expat experience, but can also make their money go further.
As is the case anywhere in the world, how much you pay for housing depends on the level of luxury you feel you need. In the posh, upscale, and expensive neighborhoods and cities in the Central Valley (most famously probably the expat hotspot Escazú) and a number of tourist-heavy cities along the coast, you will have no problem paying upwards of 2,000 USD per month for a 3-bedroom apartment or 1,100 USD for a furnished loft. You will almost certainly get to enjoy living in a secure, gated community with many additional amenities (e.g. pools or tennis courts) for that price, though.
However, it is entirely possible to enjoy a decent standard of living for a lot less — you will not be living in the lap of luxury, but your money will obviously go much further. As a rule of thumb, you can expect costs for rental accommodation to decline the farther you are from San José, and being able to rent a comfortable little house about an hour from the capital for 700 USD is not unheard of.
In any case, you should make sure to get to know the neighborhood (and ideally your way to and from work) before you sign a lease. Also, although they will not be a huge burden for your budget in Costa Rica, you should check in advance whether or not utilities are included.
Fresh produce and meats as well as prepared foods are readily available. Meals, even at upscale restaurants, will not be priced extortionately high — however, you can get satisfying and delicious meals from ubiquitous small fast food joints known as sodas. You should not have a problem finding one no matter where you might be in Costa Rica. Typically, a dish from a soda will cost some 3–7 USD.
If you enjoy home-cooked meals, the best deals on fresh produce can obviously be found at the local farmer’s markets. Supermarkets are widely popular, but also more pricy. Maxi Bodega, a chain operated by Walmart, is one of the more easily found supermarkets in Costa Rica.
In 1948, Costa Rica made the bold step of abolishing its military and channeling parts of the money needed to fund the standing army into funding its public education system. The results have been nothing but success stories: Free compulsory public schooling has helped Costa Rica achieve a 96% literacy rate and one of the best-trained workforces in Central America.
Costa Rica’s education system is one of the most advanced in the region, and its public schools are of excellent quality. However, many an expat family might still consider sending their children to an international school. There is a wide range of private international schools of various cultural and linguistic backgrounds available throughout the country. Some have a strong religious focus, while others will only admit either boys or girls.
Many of these schools are designed to cater to expat children of all ages, starting from kindergarten and preschool groups and continuing through grade 12, in which students can acquire their diploma. Most international schools offer bi- or trilingual classes.
If you should opt to send your child to one of these institutions, please be aware of the fact that it will not exactly come cheap. Apart from the standard matriculation fee, which will set you back a couple hundred dollars, tuition fees can range from some 300 USD to well over 1,000 USD per month. Costs of bus services and boarding (if applicable) are extra.
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