What’s the cost of living in Costa Rica?
When considering moving to Costa Rica, you must look beyond the beaches, rainforests, and exotic climate. Take a look at the cost of living, day-to-day, from housing to healthcare and taxation.
Costa Rica is an increasingly popular country for those seeking a new lifestyle—and lower living costs. It’s not hard to see why.
But naturally, you need to look closely at real-world costs and cultural differences before making life-changing decisions.
Living there gives you the freedom to spend almost as little or as much as you want because although things are generally less expensive, certain North American luxuries can quickly add up.
The average cost of living in Costa Rica overall
Considering everything, the average cost of living in Costa Rica is around 30 percent lower than in the United States. So, your budget will go significantly further.
Housing costs in Costa Rica
Rentals for an apartment or modest house are between $300 and $600 monthly. For this budget, you would expect good furnishings and decent amenities. However, if you want a more prestigious home with a high-quality kitchen, Jacuzzi, and other luxury trappings—say on San José's outskirts—figure out budgeting at least $1,500 a month and possibly way more.
For comparison, a three-bed, two-bathroom house will cost between $500 and $1,200 in Costa Rica but between $1,000 and $3,000 in the United States.
Utility costs in Costa Rica
Utility costs are much lower in Costa Rica than in the United States, particularly for electricity, water, and internet.
The average monthly electricity bill in Costa Rica is about $30; in the United States, it’s $120. There are exceptions to watch out for. Gas prices are significantly higher in Costa Rica than in the United States.
The table below shows a selection of average utility costs for comparison between Costa Rica and the United States.
|Utility||United States average||Costa Rica average|
|Electricity [cost per kWh]||$0.1063||$0.11|
|Water [per unit m3]||$0.61||$0.48|
|Gasoline [per gallon of regular]||$3||$5|
Groceries and food costs in Costa Rica
The cost of food and groceries is significantly lower in Costa Rica than in the United States—provided you shop for local produce. Imported products such as meats and wine can be pretty expensive. Grocery prices are, on average, 28.5 percent lower in Costa Rica. The story is much the same when you want to eat out. Restaurant prices are 38.2 percent lower.
You can see some revealing cost of living statistics below, comparing basic food items.
|Food item||United States||Costa Rica|
|Loaf of bread||$3.17||$1.87|
|Local cheese [8oz]||$5.93||$4.15|
|Milk [1 gallon]||$3.83||$6.45|
|Eggs [1 dozen]||$4.01||$2.63|
Transportation costs in Costa Rica
When it comes to transportation, Costa Rica is not a low-cost alternative to the United States. One big reason for this is the price of gas, which is around 50 percent higher in Costa Rica.
New car prices are also higher, although the used market is a different story—prices are much more reasonable.
Public transport is better value in Costa Rica, whether investing in a monthly transit pass or grabbing a cab to get downtown. The table below shows some differences.
|Transportation cost||United States||Costa Rica||Percentage difference|
|Gasoline per liter||$0.98||$1.48||+49.9 percent|
|Monthly public transit pass||$63.08||$44.09||-30.1 percent|
|New VW Golf 1.4||$25,096.27||$26,829.98||+2.9 percent|
|Urban taxi trip [8km approx.]||$18.64||$13.39||-19.6 percent|
|Average difference||-||+0.8 percent|
Healthcare costs in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a high-quality healthcare system that is also great value for money. There are 30 state hospitals and 250 clinics, plus some world-class private hospitals. As a resident, you have three options:
Private health insurance
Subscription to Costa Rican Social Security [CRSS]
A combination of both the above
Private insurance costs between $60 and $130 per month per person with the National Insurance Institute. Through the public service, insurance for a family of two adults and their under-18 dependents costs between $30 and $50 per month, and all legal residents must pay membership to this scheme.
Private healthcare is, on average, better value in Costa Rica, as the figures show:
|Private health care||United States average||Costa Rica average|
|Individual plan for a male aged 55 – 59||$3,695||$1,300|
Childcare costs in Costa Rica
Many families moving from the United States with children choose international schools. A year at primary school will cost $7,000 on average. There are also Montessori schools and a full-day program will cost around $340 per month.
Taxes in Costa Rica
As a permanent Costa Rican resident, you benefit from a relatively low-income tax rate on a scale from 0 percent (exemption) to 25 percent. However, there are different rates for corporate income tax, individuals engaged in profitable activities, and people on salaries.
|Income of companies with annual gross income less than $175,383||Tax rate|
|Up to $8,272||5 percent|
|$8,272 to $12,410||10 percent|
|$12,410 to $16,546||15 percent|
|Over $16,546||20 percent|
Companies with an annual gross income over $175,383 are taxed at 30 percent
|Individual income from profitable activities||Tax rate|
|Up to $6,000||Exempt|
|$6,003 to $8,965||10 percent|
|$8,965 to $14,953||15 percent|
|$14,953 to $29,968||20 percent|
|Over $29,968||25 percent|
So how much money do you need to live comfortably in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a very attractive and very affordable place to live. It should be on your list if you’re looking for somewhere to make your dollars go further. A clear example of this affordability is rent. It will cost you around 71 percent less in Costa Rica than in the United States.
In terms of monthly income, you could get by on $1,000 or even less if you were frugal but reckon on spending between $1,500 and $2,000 for a more comfortable life.
The bottom line
Overall, Costa Rica is a very affordable country to live in compared with the United States. There are some exceptions to this rule, of course, such as the high price of imported luxuries and gas, but on the whole, the cost of living is low.
There are cheaper Central American countries to live in, but few can offer that ideal balance of scenery, culture, weather, political stability, and a stress-free pace of life.
Moving home to a new country is a big step, with plenty to consider—especially when it comes to your finances. Talking to a financial advisor is the best first step. Contact Unbiased, and we’ll find the right professional support for you.
Senior Content Writer
Rachel is a Senior Content Writer at Unbiased. She has nearly a decade of experience writing and producing content across a range of different sectors.