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Living in Costa Rica

The Cost of Living in Costa Rica

Is it expensive to live in Costa Rica? Generally: no. The average cost of living in this tropical country is less than 2,000 USD, and most of that is due to housing costs. Expats who want to spend even less should look at studio apartments or places that are away from the main cities and tourist areas.

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At a Glance

  • Everyday costs in Costa Rica are generally low, but you can expect tourist areas to have higher than normal prices.
  • Because of the large number of US American expats in this country, many items will be listed in the local colones currency (CRC) as well as USD.
  • Buses and taxis are the most popular forms of public transportation thanks to their convenience and reasonable rates.
  • Most expats living here say that their greatest amount of savings come from the low grocery prices.
  • Public healthcare services here are free only for those most in need; expats will be expected to pay into the social scheme that supports government provided health services.

Cost of Living

Is it Expensive to Live in Costa Rica?

Although it’s possible to have a lavish lifestyle in this country, most expats find the cost of living to be reasonable. The majority of an expat’s monthly expenses will go towards housing costs. This is true whether you rent or buy in Costa Rica. Other required costs such as utilities, taxes, and healthcare expenses will also add to this total, increasing what an expat can expect to pay by an extra 56,600-84,890 CRC (100-150 USD).

It is the day-to-day costs that help make this country so cheap. While expats may spend 565,900 CRC (1,000 USD) or more per month in necessary living expenses, extra amenities can run just 5,700-14,150 CRC (10-25 USD) per day depending on your lifestyle.

Average Cost of Living for Expats in Costa Rica, Not Including Rent or Utilities (Monthly)

Single expat (tight budget) 283,000 500
Single expat (mid-range budget) 453,000 800
Retired couple (mid-range budget) 565,900 1,000
Four-person expat family (tight budget) 1,301,700 2,300
Four-person expat family (mid-range budget) 1,697,800 3,000

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Living Expenses in Costa Rica

Living expenses in Costa Rica are generally low, even if you choose to eat out at restaurants often and shop at supermarket chains. In this section, we will go over the costs you can expect in your day-to-day life, as well as money saving tips.

Food and Alcohol Prices in Costa Rica

Food and alcohol prices in this country are particularly cheap. Expats note that regular grocery store runs are where they really save costs in day-to-day expenses. Supermarkets are plentiful around the country. You may notice that even within chain stores, the price of items will fluctuate depending on which store you use (for example, stores in more popular areas tend to sell goods at a higher price).

When you arrive in Costa Rica, ask locals for their recommendations on where to shop. Be sure to check out local farmer’s markets and food stands, too, as these are known for fresh produce and reasonable prices.

Grocery Prices

One gallon of milk 3,200 5.70
One loaf of bread 980 1.70
One dozen eggs 1,600 2.80
Water bottle 800 1.40
One pound of potatoes 2,400 4.20

Average Costs for Eating Out at Restaurant

Like groceries, going out to restaurants and bars is also relatively inexpensive. If you frequent places known for tourists, expect to pay nearly double the normal costs.

Meal for two (cheap restaurant) 8,000 14
Meal for two (mid-range restaurant) 30,000 50
Latte at a café 1,600 2.80
Bottled water 775 1.40

Utility Costs (electricity, internet, gas, water/hydro)

The greatest utility costs Costa Rican residents experience is electricity. This is because air conditioning is needed nearly all year-round. Not only do temperatures remain around 12-27°C (70-81°F) year-round, but the average humidity is between 70-90% depending on if you live in the mountains or the coast. Without AC, homes will be hot and wet, which is not only uncomfortable, but can lead to property damage with mildew and mold.

Utility CRC USD
Electricity 28,300-39,600 50-70
Water 5,700-8,500 10-15
WiFi 11,300-28,300 20-50
Basic Cable 17,000-22,600 30-40

Cost of Education

If an expat child speaks Spanish and is able to attend public school, then the only costs parents will face will be for school supplies, books, and uniforms. These costs are low, with books and supplies generally amounting to no more than a combined 11,300 CRC (20 USD), which is the average amount per uniform as well.

Private and international schools, on the other hand, require a tuition fee in addition to purchasing books, supplies, and uniforms. Depending on the school you choose and the student’s age, private schools in this country range anywhere from 84,900 CRC (150 USD) per month to nearly 3,395,600 CRC (6,000 USD) per year. International schools will cost the same, although their pricing typically starts at around 169,800 CRC (300 USD) per month and can go up to nearly 9,620,900 CRC (17,000 USD) per year.

If you are interested in enrolling in higher education in Costa Rica, the cost for a year in an undergraduate program is typically 1,414,800-1,697,800 CRC (2,500-3,000 USD). For a graduate program, the cost is 226,400 CRC (4,000 USD). Some private universities that are known for attracting international students may range just below 16,978,100 CRC (30,000 USD) for an academic year.

Healthcare Costs

Costa Rica’s healthcare is rated as one of the best in the world for both its quality of care and inexpensive costs. As a foreign resident, you will need to pay into the social tax system, which helps subsidize healthcare costs throughout the country. The amount that you pay will be low: between 7-11% of your monthly income (whether this is a salary, savings, or pension).

Once you are on the public healthcare scheme, you will receive a lot of care for free. Prescription medication may also be covered unless there is a particular international brand that you prefer.

Most expats choose to use private healthcare in addition to the services they receive through the public system. The amount that you pay will depend on the carrier and plan that you choose. If you opt for the government-backed Instituto de Seguro Nacional (INS), you can expect to pay around 34,000-141,500 CRC (60-250 USD) per month.

Travel and Transportation Cost

Whether you have your own car in Costa Rica, or you choose to only travel via the public transportation system, you will find the costs to be reasonable. Buses are the most popular way to traverse throughout the country because of their wide network, frequent stops, and reasonable rates. Taxis and shuttle buses are also popular options. When using either of these, expats can expect to pay more, but receive more personalized attention and the option to be dropped off at a specific location. Taxis will even take you across the country if you require it.

Transport CRC USD
Shuttle bus (one-way) 19,800-51,000 35-90
Public bus (one ride) 570-10,200 1-18
Domestic flight (direct) 28,300-56,600 50-100
Commuter train (San José to Heredia) 400 0.70
Taxi (base fare and per km) 570 1

The Most Expensive and Cheapest Cities

However, unlike other popular expat destinations such as the UAE or Japan, housing costs in this country are relatively low. This may be why so many North American and European retirees choose to spend their Golden Years in this Latin country—a retirement pension can go a lot further here.

The Cost of Living in Costa Rica by Province and City

Determining the most and least expensive cities in Costa Rica is slightly dependent on your lifestyle. As the capital city and home to one-third of the country’s residents, San José is typically seen as the most expensive place. This is likely because of housing costs and the general surge in everyday prices that comes with urban living. However, expats living in the coastal towns can also expect to find steep housing prices as well as everyday costs that are jacked up because of tourists.

Costa Rica is divided into six main regions:

  • the Northern Lowlands;
  • Central Valley;
  • Central Pacific;
  • North Pacific;
  • South Pacific;
  • the Caribbean Coast.

The most expensive region is Central Valley, which is home to some of the country’s biggest cities: San José, Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago. After Central Valley, the next most expensive region is the North Pacific, which is home to the popular Guanacaste province. This province is especially popular among expats looking to live the idealized beachside life.

The Most Expensive and Affordable Cities

The three most expensive cities in Costa Rica are San José, Puntarenas, and Tamarindo.

San José
Single expat 759,410 1,340
Expat family of four 2,187,610 3,900
Single expat 790,000 1,400
Expat family of four 2,081,700 3,700
Single expat 697,500 1,230
Expat family of four 2,595,000 4,600

The cheapest places to live and rent in Costa Rica are typically found outside of the major cities and popular tourist destinations. Expats looking to cut down on expenses typically choose this option because being near major cities and tourist destinations also places them within easy distance of shops, hospitals, schools, and other needs.

Two of the cheapest places to rent in Costa Rica, which are still popular within the expat community, are Liberia and the area known as La Zona de los Santos (The Zone of the Saints), which connects several towns.

Single expat 400,000 700
Expat family of four 1,700,000 3,000
La Zona de los Santos
Single expat 277,040 490
Expat family of four 868,900 1,540

Average Rent Prices

Below is a look at the average rent according to some of the most popular cities for expats in Costa Rica.

San José
Room Type CRC USD
One-Bedroom Apartment 320,600 570
Three-Bedroom Apartment 591,025 1,050
Room Type CRC USD
One-Bedroom Apartment 350,000 620
Three-Bedroom Apartment 485,000 860
Room Type CRC USD
One-Bedroom Apartment 267,500 470
Three-Bedroom Apartment 1,000,000 1,800


Updated on: July 01, 2020
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