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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.