How to Live in Costa Rica on a Budget

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    An adventurous, beautiful reality is possible for less than what many people are paying in the States.

    When people see photos from our new life in Costa Rica, they always ask us how we can possibly afford such a luxurious life. We don’t have a killer income, but we are able to rent a new, spacious home with an incredible view of Grecia, live in a year-round Spring-like climate, and enjoy outings to the tropical beaches and parks around us quite comfortably.

    When I think of our days grinding away in Maryland from work-to-home and home-to-work, I can’t help but wish to open they eyes of our friends and family to the absolute possibility of enjoying life in this manner. One might wonder, “What exactly does it cost to live in Costa Rica?” Let’s specifically explore the out of pocket expenses, using my own experience as a resource. The heaviest costs to be prepared for are housing, transportation, eating and entertainment.

    Where to live?

    In the Central Valley, the “hub” of Costa Rica, there are several towns ranging in size and technology. There are modern places like Escazu, which even has a huge mall and movie theater. If you’re more interested in a quiet town, there is Atenas, where everyone feels like family and life is a tad slower. I like to think we live in a healthy balance of the two in Grecia.

    To budget for a one-level, “villa-style” two to three bedroom home, plan to spend less than $1,000 per month. Some friends of ours say the going rate in Grecia is $300 per month, but this is without furniture or machines like washers and dryers, refrigerators or ovens. While these items can be purchased used, it may take a few months to find good deals. You could possibly rent a furnished home short term while you fix up your $300 per month home, in an effort to live as cheaply as possible in the long term.


    People are surprised to know that cars are very expensive in Costa Rica. This is due to ridiculous import taxes on vehicles, or on anything, really. We were considering having our small SUV shipped to us in Costa Rica. A little research revealed that we would be paying more than $10,000 in taxes to import it! This is the reason why cars are so pricey here. If you hold off for a desperate sale, you might find a car that runs for less than $5,000.

    [quote_box_left]Good News! Costa Rica Car Ownership Could be Getting Cheaper in 2015[/quote_box_left]

    Thankfully, we are finding that having a car is not necessary here, however! The public transportation system of buses will get you anywhere in the country cheaply and somewhat comfortably (unless there is only standing-room). The buses pass through each neighborhood almost every hour, and cost less than $1 in general to get to town. With such affordable means of getting around, we are saving a fortune on insurance, gas, and car maintenance. This fortune can be put into other things, like our food budget.

    What’s that about food?

    While some things are much less expensive in Central America, like housing and public transportation, food at the grocery store is not. Our landlord told us that two years ago, he could fill up a wheelbarrow will groceries for less than $10, but the economy has flourished since then. Prices are similar to those in the States, so don’t expect to save on food. To keep your food expenses down, you can shop at the weekly outdoor farmers market, held in each town. We load up on fruits, vegetables, chicken, bread and coffee for the entire week for around 20,000 colones, or $40. With a few meals out, we keep our food expenditure below $60 weekly.

    Eating out is our general form of entertainment. We get amusement out of finding an authentic Tico restaurant, and sharing a casado while watching the locals interact. A casado, which means “marriage,” is a common dish of rice and beans with chicken, fish, or beef, with a small salad and tortilla. Every restaurant has their own unique preparation of this meal, and they are all delicious, in my opinion. With a typical dish running around $5, eating out is an affordable way to spend the evening.


    [quote_box_right]Save even more! Free Admission: The Best Places to Go in San Jose Without Having to Pay a Colón[/quote_box_right]

    During the day, there are small towns to explore, neighborhoods to hike around, and little shops and markets to find. If you’d like to visit the beach, an hour bus ride from the San Jose area will deliver you for less than $5 a ticket. There are more natural wonders to visit in the Central Valley, like Poás Volcano, Zoo Ave, and the La Paz Waterfalls to name a few. All of these are in protected parks with entrance fees ranging from $8-$30. To keep our entertainment spending on a budget, we schedule a weekend exploration or day trip once or twice a month.

    It is Possible!

    Living on a budget in Costa Rica can be easily managed, for less than an average monthly home mortgage in the States. Many people say you can live on about $1,000 per month in this socially warm and climatically diverse country. In our experience, we are comfortably keeping our expenses around $1,500 per month with a family of four. If you decide to take the plunge and live life abroad, Costa Rica is a pool of wonder and excitement, offering an escape from the endless hustle and bustle of the modern Western World. From spending your final decades in leisure, to finding adventure and exhilaration in your everyday existence, the “Average Joe” here can live in luxury.

    [quote_box_center]She’s a mother, blogger, and world traveler. Now Emily R-P Shea is the first columnist of our new section “The Great Escape” featuring articles written by a small handful of US expats who have some amazing stories to tell. From why they chose to live in Costa Rica to how to raise a more eco-friendly baby, The Great Escape will be a great reference as well as fascinating entertainment for all travelers who find themselves in paradise.[/quote_box_center]

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