What Does it Cost to Live in Costa Rica?

What does it cost to live in Costa Rica? On average, 100 North Americans and some Europeans ask that question each month. They have the dream of a better life in paradise, and they wonder if they can afford it. One way to answer the question is with the average cost of living.

According to data on the website numbeo.com, the average cost of living in Costa Rica, including food, utilities, health care, and transportation, is 24% lower than North America. Rent is factored separately, and it’s 59% less in Costa Rica (if you average all U.S. cities).

Cost to live in Costa Rica

However, averages can be deceiving. You can drown in a lake with an average depth of one foot. So, what are the depths and shallows, financially speaking, of Costa Rica? What does it really cost to live in Costa Rica?
Some aspects of life in Costa Rica are more expensive than in North American, and some are considerably less. Living in Costa Rica on your budget depends on the life style you want to live and are accustomed to.


Playa Del Coco butcher

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite—food. There are plentiful deals to be had, and fortunately, fresh fruits and vegetables are one of them. Many communities have a farmers’ market, known as la feria in Spanish. Each weekend, local farmers display their recently harvested produce as well as eggs and dairy products. The prices are so low that you can fill two big bags for $20-30. And many vendors even offer free samples so you can try before you buy. But you may not want to turn vegan, so there are great butcher shops with very reasonable prices. Just last week I purchased a complete “lomito” or full tenderloin of beef, AKA-filet mignon. The price was $8.75 per pound all cleaned up ready to cut into steaks. Now you can’t beat that!

Playa Hermosa Options

Have a taste for your favorite brand of beer, chips, or other processed food from your home country? You’ll probably pay a premium if you decide to buy them. Such imported goodies, basically any imported product, cost more in Costa Rica because of the additional costs of transportation and importation tax. Having said that many of the local brands are as good if not better than “favorites” from back home. So buying local is one way to reduce the cost to live in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica transportation

Transportation costs are a mixed bag. Bus service is inexpensive and available in most areas, but the schedule may not be to your liking. But you can’t beat the price. A one-hour bus ride is only about $1. Taxis and Uber are another reasonably priced option if the trip isn’t too long. Would you like the convenience and flexibility of owning your own vehicle? You may be shocked to learn that the purchase price can be almost 40% more and possibly higher, than what you would have paid in your home country for a new car.

So how can you reduce the cost to live in Costa Rica? Some choose to drive a vehicle that’s older than what they used to own. Gasoline is also much more expensive in Costa Rica than in North America and Europe but you may not drive nearly as many miles once you switch to the laid-back Costa Rica lifestyle.

Rent can consume a large share of the budget. How much? Once again, it depends on how and where you live. Rents tend to run higher in popular beach areas, especially if the home offers all the amenities you enjoyed before and has an ocean view. On the other hand, simpler homes within a short drive of the beach can be quite affordable. If you own your own home, property taxes are remarkably low, Only .25% of the assessed registered value. Basically $250.00 U.S. dollars per year for every $100,000.00 of registered value. As a real estate agent, I can help you sort out the options and find the one that’s right for your budget.

Electricity is expensive in Costa Rica, it can be as much as twice the amount per kwh than many places in North America.

Costa Rica health care offers great savings compared to costs in the U.S. As an example, when I visit my cardiologist the fee is $120.00 plus tax. Those who become Costa Rican residents are required to enroll in the national health care system called the “caja”. For a relatively low monthly fee, your visits to the clinic, hospital, and some prescriptions will all be free.

So when you add it all up, what does it cost to live in Costa Rica? In very general terms, a single person could live well on $1,500 a month, and a couple on $2,500. But as the aforementioned examples illustrate, your results may vary. Depending on your lifestyle, those estimates could be high or low for you. So come on down and see for yourself. Costa Rica just might be what you’re looking for.Cost of Living Costa Rica

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Costa Rica Turtles Invade the Beach

Picture this: You are walking on Costa Rica’s Ostional Beach on a dark, moonless night in November. As your eyes adjust to the dark, you see an armada of something coming out of the water and starting to approach you.

It is a Turtle Invasion, well not really, it is the female Olive Ridley sea turtle swarming onto the beach in wave after wave.

Costa Rica Turtles

Onshore they are all are in various stages of digging holes in the sand with their back flippers. When the female reaches a depth of about 2 feet, she begins to lay her eggs—around a hundred of them! Fifty days later those eggs will hatch, and the tiny turtles, – only 3 inches long – will scramble toward the waves to begin their own journey. For the females, this journey will bring these turtles right back to this same beach 10-18 years later to lay their own eggs.

Playa Hermosa Turtles

The next morning you head out at dawn to the same beach for your morning walk – remembering the miracle you witnessed the night before – and you are shocked to see local residents digging up the eggs and carrying them away by the hundreds in sacks! What?! You look around for the local authorities to stop them. You want to lecture them on conservation and ethics. Can they do that??

Costa Rica Egg harvest

Yes, they can. But it may not do you any good to try and stop them. Frankly, poachers have been illegally harvesting Costa Rica turtle eggs for years and selling them on the black market, but now it is legal. To be fair to those that harvest the eggs, they should not be called “poachers” any longer.

Why is egg harvesting legal? Isn’t the Olive Ridley turtle an endangered species? Yes, it is. But let me explain why this contradictory situation exists and how concerned citizens have worked to resolve it.

Most sea turtles nest individually and sporadically so that their young hatch at unpredictable times and places, thereby outsmarting predators. But the Olive Ridley turtles’ strategy is to outnumber and overwhelm the enemy by mass nesting. This is called by the Spanish word “arribada”, meaning “arrival.” By instinctively synchronizing their egg-laying, so many hatchlings are produced that predators cannot consume them all.

Playa del Coco TurtlesIt is an excellent strategy, except the beach becomes so crowded with thousands of nesting turtles during the five-day arribada that it is estimated that about 30 percent of the eggs laid are destroyed by subsequent turtles digging them up. Further losses to the amount of eggs left are taken by people and local dogs. The eggs are sold to bars to be consumed raw as aphrodisiacs. The dogs likely have their own reasons.

The market for turtle eggs in Costa Rica has attracted dangerous and even murderous poachers over the years, many of whom have violently threatened and attacked environmentalists and locals who “have gotten in the way.”

Playa Hermosa Turtle

The unique nesting behavior, or “turtle invasion”, of the Olive Ridleys, coupled with bad elements who were taking control of Ostional beach, catalyzed support for sustainable egg harvesting in the late 1980s. Why wasn’t all egg harvesting simply outlawed and the beaches patrolled by police? Because egg harvesting and sale by the locals (not criminals) is Ostional’s most important economic activity.

In recognition of this very human factor, the Ostional Integral Development Association (ADIO) was created in collaboration with the Costa Rican government to formulate a plan that allows for the collection of eggs that would have been destroyed by the next round of nesting turtles anyway. ADIO is run by local women, and harvesting is only legal during arribadas and only by a member of the association. Now more than a decade later studies suggest that Ostional’s egg harvesting program is one of the few successful conservation and development programs. According to one study the “current egg harvest levels do not negatively impact hatchling production”. Benefits have been equitably distributed and many community members feel that their standard of living has improved because of the egg harvesting program.

Ridley Turtle

As Gaia Vince of The Guardian states, “What makes Ostional beach so extraordinary is that residents have found a way to make use of their natural resource but also to protect it.  And that is the key: we cannot protect the world’s wildlife unless we also protect the needs of the humans that rely on it.”

Today, Ostional remains the only place in the world where people can legally harvest sea turtle eggs.  These kinds of natural wonders, and the opportunity to help protect endangered species, are why I love living in the northern beaches of Costa Rica.

How can you help? Well, why not retire in Costa Rica and live near Ostional beach?  If you can’t move here you can always visit Ostional during the turtle invasion and help shoo away the dogs that dig up the eggs and the vultures who snatch them. Even if you are a culinary adventurer, you can choose to not eat the eggs since you cannot be sure they were harvested legally.

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Introduction to Me and my Blog

Hello, my name is Joseph. I’ve had this website for a while but I wanted to welcome new visitors to my blog about living in Costa Rica.

Sunset in Costa RicaI’m a 12+ year full permanent resident of Costa Rica (transplanted native New Yorker) and originally came to Costa Rica in 1999 for the first time.  I started this blog many years ago because so many people were asking me about what it’s like to live in Costa Rica. Personally, I love living here, and by far the majority of people who choose to move to Costa Rica are very happy. I compare it to living in a postcard. It is a laid back place where life can be relaxing and beautiful. The weather is amazing, the people are friendly and your lifestyle doesn’t have to change that much to get acclimatized.

Having said that, Costa Rica is not for everyone. That’s why I created this blog. Here is an example of the many questions I get about living in Costa Rica:

…and many more.

I’ve lived here long enough to know the answers to most questions people ask about living here.  And if I don’t know the answer chances are I know someone who does.

I hope my Costa Rica blog will help you (or someone you love) to make the right decision about whether to live in this beautiful country. If you have any questions just drop a comment below one of my posts and I’ll do my best to help out.

Pura Vida!

If you want to keep up with what is happening in Costa Rica sign up for my monthly email. I never spam and will never pass on your email to any other party.