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Posted by on Mar 16, 2015 in Cost of Living, Costa Rica, Retirement | 40 comments

Costa Rica Cost of Living – Apples to Pineapples

Costa Rica Cost of Living – Apples to Pineapples

Last year I tackled the Costa Rica Cost of Living question with this blog post using how far $7 would go in various food situations as my barometer. I used that post to demonstrate how difficult it is to answer the question “how much does it cost to live in Costa Rica?” It is such a big and oft-asked question that I thought I would take another crack at it from a different angle.

One of the most important considerations for most people considering moving to a foreign country is cost of living. Not only whether or not you can live there within a certain budget, more importantly, would you like the life you can live on that budget.

There are multiple reasons we chose to live in Costa Rica. Unfortunately cost and inexpensive medical coverage were two of them. I won’t discuss the medical situation yet as we are still not sure what that landscape is going to look like – just that it will be more expensive than what our initial research indicated (we are still several months from getting our cedulas). This post will have to do with the cost of things – which overall has also been more (in certain areas) than we expected.

I have mentioned to people in conversations and email communications that we live on a third to a quarter of the amount of money than we lived on in the States. The statement is true but may be misleading. We live a different life style than we did in the U.S. so the comparison is not a great one – it is apples to pineapples.

Let me explain:

The majority of people who write about CR write from a “retirement” or “on a budget” point of view. You rarely see a blog from someone who is living on, say, $6,000 a month. Granted, they too are on a budget but their concerns are different from those on the lower end of the spectrum.

The real question is what would the life you lead in Costa Rica cost if you lived the same way you lived in the U.S. The answer is, it would cost more here.

We were seeking a different lifestyle and part of that was moving out of a consumeristic life. We chose to simplify. We chose to live healthier; have less junk and a primary motivator for us was time. While we lived very well in Dallas we had no time. We had a huge house, but we just slept there. We had 2 cars but we just drove them from our garage to the garage where we worked each day. We ate out multiple times each week and took vacations where we would lay on a beach and not move for the week. Work monopolized our time; anything outside of work had to be convenient.

I am not judging anyone who loves that life – it is right for some, it was right for us for a long time. If it had not been for some factors in my career and health, Jen and I would probably still be living that way. Instead, there were factors and we did seek a change, and we are living differently. I wouldn’t change a thing – past or present.

Changes we have made

So, what changes did we make that allow us to live on the budget we do, ~$1,500 a month?

Big house vs Not so big of a house

Our house in Dallas fit two people. It was 2-stories tall, 2700 square feet, and was 3 bedroom 2 bath on a zero lot line lot – it cost about $300,000 to buy.

Our house today is about 1200 sq feet, 3 bedroom 2 bath with a small yard and a million dollar view (the picture at the top of this blogpost was take from my backyard). Our rent is $625/month.

Before after Kitchen

Our entertainment in Dallas was dining out several times a week (many times fine dining), concerts, sporting events, and enjoying “the arts.”

In Costa Rica entertainment is a nice long hike, practicing photography, attending a party at a friend’s house, or the occasional trip to a national park or beach.

In our working life we owned 2 late model vehicles, Jen a Mini-Cooper and me a Honda Accord. Despite my best efforts we never purchased the ubiquitous Dallas BMW or Mercedes.

In Costa Rica we take public transportation almost everywhere. We occasionally get a ride from a friend going the same way, and on rare occasions we take a taxi. If we have guests in town and are doing touristy things we hire a driver for the day. Otherwise, it’s the bus.

Buses are not only reliable, but inexpensive. We took a bus recently from San Jose to Playas del Coco (about a 5 hour trip) and the cost was only $8 each.

Benefits of These Changes

I had mentioned we chose this path because of time and that is the main benefit to our new lifestyle. We now have time to pursue our passions. For me that is photography, hiking, learning about the flora and fauna of Costa Rica, exploring the country, and writing.

Because I now have time to pursue my passions I have lost 40 pounds through hiking – I would love to say I did it by hiking AND diet, but I really can’t. My diet, while better than in Dallas, isn’t wonderful here.

I have spent time learning to use my camera and have taken some incredible photos of wildlife, landscapes, and sunsets. I started this blog, and my writing is getting better – just look at my first few posts – and I just recently published Living in and Visiting Costa Rica – 100 Tips, Tricks, Traps, and Facts on Amazon.

All of this because I have time that I did not have when I was working 50 or 60 hours a week and being available to my staff and clients 24/7.

A tale of 2 anniversaries

To finish up this comparison of old life to new life let’s talk about some of the things that are cheaper and more expensive here. This is from a Dallas, Texas to Central Valley, Costa Rica perspective. Obviously, costs are different in different states in the U.S. and different areas in Costa Rica.

What is Cheaper in Costa Rica?

Fruits and Vegetables
Bought in season, fruits and vegetables are much cheaper in Costa Rica than in the states. Even if you insist on buying organic your food bill here will be less expensive than buying organic in the U.S.

In Dallas we had maid service every 2 weeks to our home. We paid $90 for two people to clean for 3 hours. So we paid $15 per hour. Maid service here typically is around $4 per hour.

It is just not maid and gardening services, auto repair will be cheaper because of labor as well. There is a very reputable mechanic on my street and he charges $10 per hour.

Rent (maybe)
Rent can be much cheaper than the U.S. if you are able to network to find the deal yourself (as opposed of going through a realtor), are able to commit to at least a 6 month timeframe, and are willing to live with less.

Property Tax
The amount I paid in property taxes for our home in Dallas is enough to pay an entire year’s worth of rent for my home in Costa Rica. In the U.S., property taxes, as well as many other taxes, are oppressive.

Not true in Costa Rica, at least for real-estate. Property is one area with extremely low taxes. A couple of hundred dollars on a moderately priced home is all you will pay. At a certain level a luxury tax comes into play, but it is still nowhere near what many homes up North require.

What Costs More

Anything Imported
Which is basically everything that is not a fruit, vegetable, or coffee. Ok, that might be oversimplifying things… but just barely. If you like to consume, and like consumer goods, and still want to hold on to the throw-away mentality – Costa Rica is going to be a very expensive home.

Anything Having to do with a Vehicle
Except for labor being cheap, as mentioned above, EVERYTHING involving a vehicle is more expensive here than in the States. Parts are expensive, because they are imported (bring them in yourself to save some cash). Vehicles are expensive (everyone together now) because they are imported. The import tax on a vehicle that is new up to 6 years old is… wait for it… 52%! And it goes up from there for older vehicles. That’s right, the import duty for older cars is even more expensive than a newer car. Add to that: $5  a gallon gas, mandatory insurance, supplemental insurance (you will want this too as a foreigner), yearly inspections, tires and other parts that don’t last as long because of the poor road conditions, and you can see that owning a car can be expensive. The cost of freedom, I suppose.

(don’t tell Jen, but I would still like to have a car here)

One thing I don’t get… Beer. The national beers, Imperial, Bavaria  etc… are not imported. But they cost the same as a craft brew in the U.S. Over $8 for a six-pack of beer of the quality of a Miller Light.

That being said, I can get a beer at a local restaurant for $2 – the same beer at a restaurant in the states would be $4 or $5.

Electricity is expensive here, more-so than in the states. It is a tiered system, so the more you use, the more expensive the rate. Electrical costs are one of the reasons we chose to live in the eternal Spring of the Central Valley – no heating or cooling necessary. Since our usage is so different from the constant heating or cooling needed in Texas, our bill is significantly lower here. Once again, apples to pineapples. The same usage here that we had in Dallas would be more expensive here.

There are of course many other things that are more expensive (and a few that are cheaper), but I think the examples I provided give you a pretty good idea.

So you might ask me, do I miss anything from my old lifestyle? Well yes, I miss readily available craft beer, I miss live music, and I miss a great steak now and then. I might even miss driving a bit. However, I wouldn’t trade what I have now to get those things back. More important than stuff, I have time… in a beautiful country. And while Costa Rica might not be our home forever, we are loving it and have no plans to leave.

I would love to hear your perspective or answer any questions. Just leave a comment below.

Hasta pronto,

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Greg Seymour is a quitter. At 41 Greg and his wife Jen quit their jobs, sold damn near everything they owned and became Intentionally Unemployed and retired early to Costa Rica.
In addition to writing on this blog, Greg has written for other online publications and has written two popular books about living in Costa Rica:
Greg Seymour Amazon Author Page

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  1. Thank you, Greg for a very well written blog post. I am moving to Costa Rica in June and in the process of unloading things accumulated over the course of my working years. As each item sells, I feel lighter, and closer to my goal of simplifying my life. Probably the last thing I will sell is my car, as I want to adopt a different lifestyle (as in walking not driving to the store 4 blocks away) and avoid the high cost of car ownership. I am regarding taking the bus as part of the adventure, and you can’t beat the price. If I need wheels for some reason, I can always rent a car for the day. The whole move will be a great adventure since I have never lived outside of the Chicago area in my 62 years. I consider this the bonus round, and want to make the most of it. Keep up the great posts!

    • Congrats on your pending move Nancy. I hope everything goes smoothly and you enjoy Costa Rica. It was very freeing for us to rid ourselves of most things we accumulated over our marriage. I really thought that there would be a sense of loss – with my work, stuff we had, and lifestyle. There really wasn’t a gap. We enjoy our new life, and while I know this type of move is not for everyone it was perfect for us.

      Best of luck with everything.

  2. EXCELLENT ARTICLE, very well written and superb analysis. It also reinforces my idea of an eventual move there.
    Crazy….I feel like I’m on your path or something. My wife and I lived and worked in Dallas for nearly 20 years and now celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary this weekend.

    Keep up the fantastic work.

    • Thanks so much Kenneth. Congrats on your 20th anniversary… you are a rarity these days. Sounds like we are definitely on a similar path. Best of luck figuring it out – lol. If I can be of help let me know.


  3. Hi Greg, very interesting reading. M wife and I are coming to CR in April as a first visit to see whether it might be the place to retire. I had sent you an email earlier – thanks for the advice. One comment in particular struck a real note – no live music! I think I would really miss live music. Is there nothing at all?

    • Hey Joe,

      Well, of course there is live music. With that said, it pales in comparison to the talent that comes through Dallas or any large city. I had access to 20 or so small venues, 10 or so medium, and 3 or 5 arena size venues in Dallas. Here, some expats throw together a band and play a few gigs. Might be different in more touristy areas or at some of the beaches, but here in the Central Valley live music is sparse and not of the variety I enjoy most – Indy Rock, Folk Rock, and Classic Rock.

      There are more options in the big city, San José, but I don’t care to live there.

      Have fun on your trip in April. Shoot me another email if I can help further.


  4. Greg, this is a really thorough way to look at comparing costs in US vs. CR. You put it in a way that’s very easy to understand–great examples, very helpful information! Enjoyed this post very much, as I’m sure many will.

    • Thanks Linda. Like I mention, it’s a big question. There are so many ways to approach the “cost of living” issue. Hopefully being transparent is helpful for those researching a move here.

      Look forward to seeing you soon.


  5. You’re right, your writing is superb. This might be the best article I’ve ever read about the transition that I am chomping at the bit to begin. We’ll be coming your way soon, mae!

    • Well superb is a bit of a stretch, but thanks! I am glad you enjoyed it. It has been percolating for some time now I just didn’t know how to address it. But it seems, from feedback, that I picked a good way to discuss the subject.

  6. Great post, Greg. There’s a lot of rhetoric around this issue but you really cut to the chase in this post and came as close as one can to comparing apples to apples.

    • Thanks Ken. I don’t necessarily want to promote moving to CR – nor discourage it. I do want people who are considering a move here to be fully aware. We got blindsided by a couple of things in our move. Mainly because others chose not to write about “that” part and partly because we had our rose colored glasses on.

      Thanks for reading… see you guys soon.

  7. You pretty much nailed it. one of the biggest factors in cost of living here is “where”. Living in Playa Hermosa is easily 30% higher than the central valley. Eating out here, we rarely walk away without paying $11 for lunch and $45 for dinner. There just aren’t fast food places here that you can grab a quick bite for lunch. That said, I can purchase very high quality fresh fish here for about $7 a pound, and even frozen fish here is excellant from the local fish vendor. I can walk to the beach easily which has improved my health and outlook at lot. There are many more expensive things that I buy here simply because the local stuff just isn’t up to my liking; these being toilet paper, bacon, deodorant, and cold cuts. We have tow cats and they wint eat the local stuff. Worse, I can’t get over the fact that I paid $28 for a jug of clumping kitty litter! These are all some of the many adjustments I’ve made since moving here.

    • Great observations Steve. Cost of living here (like anywhere) is very much based on location, location, location.

  8. If you find yourself near Lindora/SantaAna, try the Tap House for craft beer. Not bad at all.

    • Thanks for the tip Walter. We have one restaurant here in Grecia that rotates 3 of the Trienta y Cinco beers on tap – so I can usually get my fix.

  9. Great Article. You summed it out nicely. What to emphasize one important point, if it is imported, you are going to pay for it. I do not shop at the AutoMercado (The Publix of Costa Rica), buy my fruits and vegetables at the local markets, meats at the butchery, the rest a Pricesmart. Regarding electricity, you can ask for a 3 tired tariff, night, peak and off peak. Can save 30%+ on your electric bill. I have a 5000 sq ft house and my electric bill is $120 a month, do not run the air because I live in Heredia. If you come to CR and go out every night and shop at the automercado, it is much more expensive but there are easy ways to save and maintain the same lifestyle that you had in the USA. This is coming from someone with 20+ years of experience living in CR.

  10. Ok, you convinced me! I am starting to pack!! LOL! It’s great to see you guys look HAPPY!! I can’t tell you how much I dream about making a move like this!! Still taking care of my Dad, so maybe one day. 🙂 Hugs to you both!!

    • Hi Brenda,

      Good to hear from you. Thanks for the comments. Let me know if I can ever answer any questions – or just to catch up.

  11. thanks for this insightful article! My husband and I and our three littles are planning a 6 week visit this summer to “check” things out. I have a few questions! Could I get your email??

  12. A great article Greg. As you know we try to live on $2000/mo.It’s the car expenses that sometimes brings it over $2000. Our monthly SS income just went over $1000 after 6 years in Costa Rica. The rest we make with our tours which is one reason we bought the Toyota 4 runner in the first place. Sometimes I think we’re supporting the car w/ our tours. In our case, we could not have survived w/o it. In 6 years we haven’t touched our savings because of our tours. If you can do without a car, it is better because a car (and money) can be a barrier between you and the locals.

    • Thanks Paul. It is true – riding the bus and walking everywhere we get to know our neighbors well.

  13. Totally enjoyed your post, thank you! I will be visiting CR in June with my friend Linda who is also your friend. While I have no intention of moving there, it has been a bucket list item to visit and enjoy the beauty and tranquility that you so well describe.
    I think you are providing a wonderful account/comparison (as appropriate) of the differences and as such your title of apples to pineapples is perfect! I enjoyed your pictures too as they help illustrate.
    Congrats on your weight loss! I’m sure that is an awesome bonus to your good life. I look forward to meeting you and Jen in June.

    • Hi Irma. Thanks for reading. I look forward to meeting you in June. I think you are going to love Costa Rica.

  14. Great blog post! Thank you for writing about some of the “real” cost comparisons. I keep telling my husband how much cheaper the cost of living is in Costa Rica and now I’m going to have to revise my information. He is not going to be happy about your beer report! lol We are making our first trip in April (from Dallas) for a vacation and to get an idea of how Costa Rica is in person verses all of the internet information, Facebook pages, books, etc. I just purchased yours and your wife’s books and I can’t wait to read them both! Thanks again, Melissa… Another Dallas person ready to make the move!

    • Hi Melissa,

      Glad I could help. It really is tough to get an accurate picture based on internet research alone. It is not that people are dishonest, there are just too many variables that have to be taken into consideration.

      Beer is definitely a head scratcher here. There are inexpensive choices for wine and rum, just not beer.

      Best of luck,

  15. I love your blog and find it very informative and honest. I have been curious about CR for years now. My husband and I are considering a visit there in October. It is probably too forward to ask, but would you be interested in meeting? You have a wealth of information to share and we, I am sure, would have many questions to ask. Regardless, thank you for sharing your life with us. I love reading.

    • Hi Christine,

      Feel free to shoot me an email as your trip gets closer and dates are finalized – We enjoy meeting new people and helping where we can, when we can. In the meantime I am happy to try and answer any question you send my way. If I don’t know an answer I usually know a resource.

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Chat with you soon,


  16. A general comment, or two. I’m currently in Atenas, for a month. I had just finished your book, one of many read on Costa Rica, prior to my arrival. Good tips, things that have helped already. Everything, well, almost everything, you said in this post, I’ve found to be right on, in my limited exposure. Thanks, so much, to both of you, for your insights. Oh, the one thing not right on, my hosts let me tag along to a nice little bar outside Atenas, on the road to Grecia, where a group of expats met, for an early evening of live music, provided by two of their own. Very entertaining and good for the local economy. Thanks again, Greg, I like your style.

    • Thanks Allan – for reading and commenting. It’s true, we have not totally forsaken live music. We have a couple local bands that are very good and fun to watch. That is one of the tough things about not having a car – if a band is not at a convenient venue we pass.

      I hope you enjoy Atenas and Costa Rica during your month stay.

  17. Wow, your like the ,Google of Costa Rica, and I felt bad asking all the questions I have. You are good people and that is rare these days.

    • Thanks Michael. Keep ’em coming, we are happy to help.

  18. Hi Greg,

    I own & read both your & Jen’s books on Costa Rica. I enjoyed both. They were very informative & entertaining. You probably recognize my name. I am the Colorado librarian that got Jen’s book added to the Longmont Public Library collection last year.

    We will be moving to Costa Rica this fall. We are putting our house up for sale in July. Then the 1st of September we are having an estate sale to sell almost everything we own. We are following your example of moving with only what we can pack in 14 suitcases. Anyway, I have a question of what we should bring with us when we move. Your friend Steven referred me to your blog. My question to you … What, if anything did you wish that you would of brought in those suitcases that you left out & what have you found that you did not need??? Just feeling a little overwhelmed as we try to get ready for our estate sale. It is hard to sell everything but as the same time it makes us feel free. I would appreciate any suggestions you might have.

    • Hi Sharon,

      Thanks for reading our books and blogs. You ask a great question. One thing I kind of regret is selling off our personal library. I had a couple of books that I was very fond of. But because we had read that they would get moldy we decided not to bring any of them. The mold turns out not to be an issue where we are living.

      Otherwise, I was very happy with what we packed. Obviously there are consumables that I loved in Dallas – Jerky, craft beer, etc.. that would have been useless to bring.

      I am really quite simple – as long as I have my computer and Kindle I am a happy camper.

      Good luck with your estate sale and your move. Let us know if we can help with any additional questions.

  19. I discovered your blog by accident. I enjoy how you write and the down-to-earth nature of your observations on your life, choices, realities, etc. I plan to be in Atenas, Central Valley, for ten days this October, step one of a plan to see if I’d want to move to CR at some point in the next 2-4 years. I’m retired, mostly, and definitely have lots of questions about how realistic such a move might be for me, a single woman, approaching 70 in the next several years. I’ll keep coming back to your site to catch more on what you and your wife are up to.

    • Thanks for the comment Susan. Best of luck with your plans.

  20. What is the cost of medical care in Costa Rica

  21. Thanks for a great article. I chuckled a bit because one of the things I’m going to miss is live music and a good steak. Hopefully we can still find decent wine. We are headed back to CR for the 3rd time in the last 18 months in a couple of weeks. Grecia, Atenas, and Uvita just to have some beach time. Hoping to have a visceral reaction to one of the towns and call it home in the near future.


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