Ok, now that I have your attention with that titillating title, I want to discuss a viewpoint born out of last weeks blog post – Costa Rica Cost of Living: Apples to Pineapples. That article mentioned how, when you consider expat stories of living on a smaller budget here, compared with the States, one must take into consideration all factors.

I also mentioned the lack of online content regarding expats who are not on as thin a budget – let’s say those above $2,000. Enter Mike. Mike wanted to provide some fair and balanced reporting – an example of a couple living in the Southern Zone with a budget of $6,000 a month.

One of the problems with the Internet in regards to cost of living is that there is no shelf life for articles or blog posts. In other words, that article that claims you can live like a king on $2,000 a month, the one that is at the top of your search query, could be ten years old and no longer valid. But because it ranks well with the Google…

What I would like to do with this article is to provide an alternative to the “living on Social Security” or small income/nest egg scenario that is typically covered by Costa Rican expat blogs and articles. To do that, I will tell a bit of Mike and his wife’s story, their plans for living here and then detail his budget overlaid with my budget so you can see where the cost differences are.

Let’s go.

Mike and his wife are in their early 50’s, Mike, most recently, was an executive with a couple of start-ups in the tech industry. They were considering both Mexico and Italy to retire to when they found Costa Rica about three years ago. They took four trips covering the country from Guanacaste to Uvita. By the second trip, it was determined the couple would start their retirement in Costa Rica… I say start, as other countries were still on the radar should Costa Rica not be a long-term fit.

Once it was determined to retire to Costa Rica Mike and Julie sold everything except 10 suitcases worth of stuff, and moved to Costa Rica with their dog. They chose the Southern Zone as their home and the couple has determined to spend time in each of several towns in rental homes to determine if purchasing a home or land to build on makes sense.

They have applied for residency and when they moved here they purchased two vehicles. The “city” car – a 4 wheel drive SUV with the luxury of air-conditioning, and a second vehicle an old Land Cruiser that is both a project and a daily driver. It needs to be stated that even though Mike and Julie budget $6,000 they typically only spend around $5,000, under spending in a couple of their budget categories.

Here is their budget and my and Jen’s equivalent:

Housing and Utilities

Mike and Julie
$1,500 a month. This amount gets them a 2-bedroom ocean view villa with a pool. Mike states it is certainly possible to rent a place for much less money here and also much more money. With networking, a place could possibly be found for next to nothing by doing house sitting.

Electricity – $300, Gas – $20, Internet $30, Sky TV – $60, and cell phone service – $30.

Total: $1,940

Greg and Jen
$625 a month. This amount gets us a 3-bedroom, 2-bath, 1200 sq ft chalet style home with a great view of the mountains of the central valley. Networking and a long-term commitment allowed us to secure, what to us is, a great deal. Rent includes Internet service, lawn maintenance, and cable TV.

Electricity – $40 we have year around ideal temps and do not require heating or cooling nor do we have a pool pump to run. Also, we are cognizant of our energy usage and we “manage” it wisely. Water – $10, Gas – $10. Cell phone service $20 a month – we rarely use even half of this.

Total: $705


Mike and Julie
$700 – Sometimes under, sometimes above. Getting the Land Cruiser in good shape has required increased maintenance and repairs.

1) Gas/diesel
2) Riteve – Mandatory annual inspection
3) Marchamo/Private Insurance
4) Maintenance & repairs

Greg and Jen
I want a Land Cruiser to pour money into… really, I do. But until that time comes we are busing it. So, we really don’t have expenses to itemize. We rarely take a cab – so infrequently that it is not a budget item. We go into town maybe 3 times a week at $0.80 each person, each way. Then maybe 2 trips to San Jose or Alajuela a month at $2 each person, each way. $50 leaves us with money left over.

Health Care

Mike and Julie
This is a category that they consistently come under budget.  This is budgeted at $550/mth and includes:

1) Private health insuring
2) Out of pocket healthcare
3) Pharmacy
4) Dental

Greg and Jen
Not a budget item… yet.

We currently “fly by the seat of our pants” as far as catastrophic illness goes. We are looking at options for supplemental private insurance and will be covered under Costa Rica’s healthcare program, caja, soon. We estimate (because of our age and residency type) that once our residency is approved our compulsory caja payment will be around $400 a month – causing us to increase our budget from $1,500 to $1,900 – a significant increase.

As it is, we are relatively young and healthy and other than some dental work, which we paid for out of pocket, we have not been sick nor incurred any medical costs in the 20 months we have lived here. After losing 40#’s and changing my lifestyle I was able to eliminate my blood pressure medication, the only prescription either one of us had.

Living Expenses

Mike and Julie

1) Personal care
2) Groceries & Alcohol
3) Dining out
4) Shopping
5) Household items

Greg and Jen
This covers groceries, house supplies, alcohol, dining out, and house cleaning services. If we ever go over a budgeted item it is here.

Pet Care

Mike and Julie
$170 a month Includes: veterinary, medications, food, and boarding.

Greg and Jen
We do not have a pet at this time.

And the last category:


Mike and Julie
Like the Health category the discretionary budget for Mike and Julie is almost always under budget. The total for this category is $1,500 and it includes:

1) Charity
2) Golf
3) Entertainment
4) Travel

Greg and Jen
This budgeted item does not always get spent but includes things such as gifts for a party, unexpected travel expenses, or other unknowns.

Totals for the two budgets:

Mike and Julie – $6,000 (typically spend ~$5,000)
Greg and Jen Seymour $1,500

There is no right or wrong way to budget your move here – it all is dependent on what your goals are, reasons for living here and comfort level is. Mike and I agree neither one of our budgets is necessarily correct. Budgets are based on desires and circumstances.

Clearly there is a difference in cost for adding air-conditioning and a pool, as well as choosing to have a vehicle, and proximity to San Jose – should you need to go to the big city. These are some of the reasons we chose to live in the Central Valley without a car.

For us having time to pursue our passions is more important than convenience so we modified our lifestyle to fit the budget that would support that goal.

Thanks Mike for reaching out and sharing your budget with us.

What do you think? Do you have a different perspective or an idea you would like to share? Leave a comment below.

Until next time,

Greg Seymour
Author of:
Living in and Visiting Costa Rica
100 Tips, Tricks, Traps, and Facts




A Dental Experience in Costa Rica
Costa Rica Cost of Living – Apples to Pineapples