Costa Rica Cost of Living

One of the main things people want to know about when considering retiring in Costa Rica is what is the Costa Rica cost of living? The cost of living in Costa Rica varies a lot and that depends on how you decide to live. Let me explain.

If you decide you have to have all the same stuff you had in the USA - 42" tv, swimming pool, central air conditioning, a huge meat freezer, your favorite organic raw almond butter and so on - then it is going to cost you the same or more to live in Costa Rica than in the USA. (If you are from Canada or some other "western" country, this same principle applies to you. I am using "USA" because that is what I am most familiar with.)

costa rica cost of living

The Costa Rica cost of living is shockingly high in some ways, as many products are much higher here than in the USA. For example, electronics like smart phones, computers, and tv's - all cost 50-75% more than in the U.S.. Some other things like shoes or backpacks, refrigerators and so on also cost more in Costa Rica.

Simple things like plastic baggies for food or a plastic wastebasket cost more in Costa Rica. If you have a "99 cent" or "Dollar" store in your area of the U.S., you will not find those here and all those things that cost a dollar in the U.S. will almost certainly cost 2-3 times more in Costa Rica.

That's the bad news.

Now the good news re the Costa Rica Cost of Living

Other things in Costa Rica are much lower priced than in the USA.

The Costa Rica cost of living is much cheaper for all of the following:

  • most car repairs (unless you have a car that is not widely used in Costa Rica and is hard to get parts for; but the Labor mechanics charge is much cheaper here!)
  • maids
  • gardeners
  • security guards
  • cooks
  • most any other laborer
  • dentistry
  • most real estate including houses
  • construction costs
  • most fruit and vegetables
  • major hospital stays
  • most operations done inpatient or outpatient

So, the thing is, when you AVERAGE it out, the cost of living in Costa Rica is much cheaper.

Let me create an example:

Joe buys an ocean view lot of 2 acres for $70,000. It has full title, electricity and water available, year round access and no neighbors within view!

cost of living is cheaper in costa rica due to real estate value

Where in the USA can you buy such a lot for anywhere near this price? Please do tell me if you know of one, I will buy it as a 2nd home!

Joe builds a small home for $50k and pays no rent as a result.  (After buying the lot and building his home he has $176k left over in his bank account from the sale of his small house in upstate New York.)

His electricity cost is about $20 a month and his cooking gas costs about $5/month. He has no need for a.c. nor for heat so no expenses there!

His food bill is about $350 a month - a bit high but he does not scrimp - he buys what he wants to eat - but does not buy imported American food. He buys Tico food like whole beans and rice, fresh local coffee beans, papayas, avocados, mangoes, pineapples, brocolli, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, spinach and other fresh fruits and veges, all at the local "feria" or farmers market.

His gasoline bill is also fairly high - about $150 a month - but he doesn't need to drive far, he lives in an ideal location with great views, great weather, great friends, and so he just goes to town a couple times a week to buy groceries or watch a movie.

The movie is only about $6 U.S., about half what he was used to paying. There are free concerts in the park, and he occasionally has a few beers at a nearby bar/restaurant for about $3-4 a beer. Not as cheap as, say, Mexico, but cheaper than the USA.

Health care? He gets a cavity filled at the local dentist - they all charge about the same price - for $45. He is a legal resident now, so his health care insurance - called CAJA - is about $90 a month and that covers both him and his wife for Everything, no co-pays, but he may occasionally have to buy a prescription at the local farmacia, depending on what it is. Usually his prescription is included in the price of the CAJA monthly payment. his Obamacare was $459 a month the previous year and then he had to pay $45  to $65 co-pays and $15 prescriptions.

He had to put a new differential in his car. The cost? About $250. Try getting that done in the USA! Probably $600-800 in the USA.

His washing machine broke down, so the technician came out 4 times under warranty - for free - even though he lives way out of town on a dirt road. After the 4th time the company agreed to give him a new machine. Cost to Joe: Zero.

He has a caretaker for his property who does pretty much ANYthing he needs whether it's planting or fertilizing trees, cleaning out weeds, building a cement porch, building some wood shelves, or chopping the high weeds down below on his 2 acres. Cost: $4 an hour.

He has been thinking of getting a maid/cook to come in and wash dishes and mop the floor a few times a week. About the same cost!

Where can you get a maid and gardener in the USA for $3-4/hour?

Joe is living on about $1100. U.S. a month, which is his social security benefit. And he is saving $200 a month for emergencies or an occasional trip to a place Americans travel all the way to Costa Rica for once every few years to enjoy a few days of relaxation. For example Joe likes to go to Arenal Volcano and hot springs for a few days to soak in the natural thermal waters and check out the monkeys, waterfall, and lake, or over to Montezuma or Tamarindo beach. Joe's cost is little as he can drive or take a bus from his Costa Rica home.

So if you can tell me, after reading this, as some people try to do, that the "Costa Rica cost of living is higher than the United States!", all I can say is "Show me where you can buy a property like Joe's, enjoy ocean views, have a part time caretaker and eat like a king, on $1100 a month in the USA?"

Cost of Grocery Items in Costa Rica

Here are some every day food prices to give you a good idea of the Cost Of Living in Costa Rica:

(As of 02-10-18:
Current conversion rate = 1 U.S. Dollar is worth 575 colones.

So when you buy something with 1,000 colones it will cost you about $1.75 U.S.
5 mil colones = $8.75 U.S.
10 mil colones = $17.50 U.S. etc)

Click here to get the CURRENT CONVERSION RATE FOR COSTA RICA from dollars to colones. See the "$US. Compra" value at the top right of the page to see how many colones the Bank of Costa Rica will give you for $1 U.S. right now.

  • Low fat milk - 1 liter 575 c
  • Whole milk - 1 liter 615 c
  • Box of wine - 1 liter 2,925 c (yes in a box; this is the best cheap wine you can get; bottles cost 2-3 times for the same wine in the USA)
  • Real butter - 1 stick 870 c
  • Potatoes, yellow - 1470 c per kilo
  • Potatoes, red - 1550 c per kilo
  • Papayas - 500 - 750 c a kilo (price goes up and down)
  • whole wheat Big burrito tortillas - 1,075 c
  • Peanuts -  1,150 c for 1 lb.
  • Organic sugar - 1,025 for 900 grams
  • Bag delicious Joma tortilla chips  1015 c
  • 9 trash bags - big for trash 645 c
  • 9 trash bags - medium for garbage 497 c
  • mostly whole wheat bread - long loaf 1,800 c
  • fresh baked "French" style bread - 950c
  • regular size can of black beans - 740 c
  • small bag of curly pasta - 635 c
  • leaf lettuce - 300-400 c
  • cauliflower - big or small same price - 1,000-1350 c

cost of living costa rica grocery list

Prices of course vary from place to place but usually not by a lot. Like any place, there are often sales, and sometimes the more "expensive chain store" ("Mas Por Menos" here) has some things cheaper than the local Tico store. It pays to shop around if you want to pinch pennies.

One very odd thing here regarding food prices is that often it costs you more to buy in a larger bag/container/box.
Example: It may be cheaper to buy four 1/4 kilo bags of coffee than to buy 1 kilo. So you do not always save money by buying more. Strange but true!

The Costa Rica cost of living is less for some things and more for others. All things considered, it is a little cheaper to live in Costa Rica, especially if you can afford to buy land and or buy a house so you don't have to pay rent.

Other Prices To Consider re the Costa Rica Cost of Living:


We pay anywhere between 6,000 c to 15,000 colones per month on electricity.
It goes up during some weeks when for me it gets a little too cool at night and so I use a small electric space heater for an hour or two on those nights. My wife is not cold at these times, so whether you will feel cold at 2,850 feet on some cooler nights is unknown.

We use all LED lighting too so that keeps our electricity down. And no need for a.c. - there's almost always a breeze, and our SIP Panel home is very well insulated. We also have extra insulation under the roof so our house stays pretty cool on hot days with just a fan or two running.


We pay less than $5  month for propane which we use for cooking.  We don't cook a lot with gas - just steam veges, fry some eggs, cook beans maybe once a week (we make a big pot each time and freeze them) and so on.
We use our Toaster Oven a lot to make quesadillas, sandwiches, nachos, burritos, and so on.
A medium sized propane tank costs us about $11 plus the deposit and we only need to get a new tank about every 2-3 months.


We have a county "cooperative" water system, not city water, though it's basically the same. Our water runs us about $7 a month in the rainy season and about twice that in the dry season when we have to water our yard and trees and plants.


Right now (as of 02-10-18) the cost of regular gas in Costa Rica is about 612 colones per liter. So that's about $4.05 U.S. per gallon. Like most places it goes up and down based on the phases of the moon. ;-D

Watch this page for more info on the Costa Rica cost of living.