Costa Rica

Cost of Living in Costa Rica?

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Costs of Healthcare, Transportation, and More

Some expats, particularly those about to prepare their move to Central America, might be somewhat surprised by the cost of living in Costa Rica. Anyone who imagined the country to be a veritable bargain might have to rethink. Our guide offers an overview on the topic.
The Colon is the currency of Costa Rica.

In Safe Hands for a Fair Price

One thing that expats in Costa Rica will not have to worry about when planning their budget is healthcare. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) provides public healthcare and health insurance to all citizens and residents of Costa Rica. While the services provided by the Caja, particularly those available in the Central Valley, are of very high quality, waiting times can be quite long, particularly if what you suffer from is non-life threatening. Nevertheless, the United Nations has placed Costa Rica’s healthcare system as number one in Latin America.

Costs for medication or visits to the doctor (particularly if you use the neighborhood clinics known as EBAIS) are fairly low, even for house calls. Major surgeries and other procedures, for example dental work, are priced tremendously low for their quality standards, which are well up to those of developed, “first world” countries. It is not hard to see why medical tourism to Costa Rica enjoys such a high level of popularity.

However, particularly if you would like to cut waiting times or visit English-speaking doctors (most of which are private) you might want to look into buying additional private health insurance. The only alternative to the Caja that is available in Costa Rica is the INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros). You can buy insurance from the INS for some 50 USD per month — just like the Caja, many expats will find this very inexpensive.

You also have the option of buying international health insurance with coverage in Costa Rica before relocating (you will not be able to buy it locally). Furthermore, you should discuss any options for group and company health insurance with your employer

Driving: An Expensive Undertaking

As we have pointed out in our article on living in Costa Rica, road infrastructure unfortunately is not one of the nation’s proudest features. Potholes, lack of street signs, rather adventurous driving styles, and lots of unforeseeable obstacles (think animals) will surely not make for the most relaxed driving experience of your lifetime.

Adding to that, gasoline is comparatively expensive in Costa Rica, as the nation imports all of its gas. While the price of 1.05 USD per liter in February 2016 might make some European car enthusiasts scoff a little, it is still steep when keeping the average wages in mind.

And there’s still more. If you had planned to import your vehicle from your home country, you will face hefty duties of up to 79% of its retail value in Costa Rica, depending on the age of the car. To determine the import duty due on your vehicle, please use this database provided by the Ministry of Finance. Also keep in mind that no matter whether you buy a car locally or import one, you will have to pay for technical inspections, license plates, registration, and insurance.    

Unfortunately, there are not too many alternatives to driving. Getting around in Costa Rica by bus is probably more of a backpacker’s game than an acceptable means of transportation to and from work. However, if you’d like to get to see some of the country on your days off without paying a small fortune in gas, traveling by bus might be for you. The Costa Rica Tourism Board offers a comprehensive pdf overview of all intercity bus lines.

Expensive Gadgets

It might appear somewhat paradoxical to find that despite Costa Rica’s relatively advanced technological sector, prices for high-tech gadgets can be fairly steep. If you are an audiophile who cannot live without a high-end stereo, or have fairly elevated standards when it comes to computers or other consumer electronics, you might want to bring your tech items with you when you move to Costa Rica. Buying them locally might mean digging deep!

To give you one example: at the time of writing (February 2016), buying a new iPhone 6S in Costa Rica set you back some 1,000 USD. This compares to 880 USD in Singapore and 650 USD in the US. Other consumer electronics, including laptops and video games, among others, come with a similarly harsh markup to what you might be used to from your home country.


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