Can I Live in Costa Rica on $X, XXX?
The answer to that question, in all honesty is, “I don’t know – can you?” One of the frustrating things about quitting our jobs and moving to Costa Rica, was trying to plan our budget; trying to pin down exactly how much certain things cost here was extremely challenging. When we decided to make this move it was with the understanding that we would have to change our lifestyle in order to make it happen.
So, to help you with the Cost of Living in Costa Rica question here is an example of some of the food choices you will have here. For this demonstration I took $7 to 3 different food places; KFC (YES, sorry…see my dedication to you, dear reader?), a Grecia soda (a local small restaurant that serves typical Costa Rican fare) and to our towns weekly Feria (farmers market) – in an attempt to demonstrate how differently $7 can be spent…how far, or little, it can go.
A word of caution – as I found out when I posted some of these pictures on my Costa Rica Curious Face Book page, the costs of these examples can vary significantly based on where you are in the country. For example, the amount of food I was able to buy at the feria in Grecia is much, much more than you would be able to get at a feria, say in a beach area in Guanacaste.
KFC, In Costa RIca?
Yes, even the small coffee farming town I live in, Grecia, has a KFC (and a McDonalds and Burger KIng et. al). So, I went to KFC with my $7 in hand and picked the combo that was 3,500 colones, or right at the $7 I had, and this is what I was able to buy:
So, for $7 I was able to buy the Nugget Combo which was a decent size box of chicken nuggets, small fries and a medium drink. I can truly say that I don’t miss fast-food. I very rarely eat it here, as it can be expensive and they are not on every corner, like they are in the States.
The Costa Rican Soda
The soda is ubiquitous in Costa Rica, much like fast-food joints in the States. Soda’s are small, family owned restaurants and they sell, among other things, typical Costa RIcan dishes like a Casado, which is a dish served with rice, beans, a meat and sometimes fried plantain and/or a fried egg.
The dish below is a Casado and, along with the beer, cost $7. A much bigger bang for your buck than the KFC example both from the amount of food you get (a ridiculous amount which I always seem to be able to finish) and the healthiness of the food.
A side note – if you buy a local beer (Imperial or Bavaria) your beer will cost about the same as a soda. In the case below, the beer cost $2 and Jen’s Coke Light cost $2.50.
The Farmers Market
There is no debate the most frugal (and healthy) way to eat in Costa Rica is to buy fresh produce at the weekly feria. The fruits and vegetables are very fresh and you can, many times, find items that are not available in the grocery stores.
The produce is not only more fresh than buying at the grocery, it is also significantly cheaper and you get the added benefit of supporting the local farmers and meet and chat with them.
Below is how we spent $7 at the feria several weeks ago. We purchased: a pineapple, a bag of lettuce, 5 tomatoes, 5 sweet chili peppers, 4 mangos, 8 bananas, an avocado, a bag of peanuts and fresh parsley, rosemary, cilantro and basil. Enough produce for 3 or 4 days.
Bonus Tip: If you go to the feria on the last day at closing time (for Grecia this is Saturday at noon) the farmers will many times give you extra…instead of the 3 avocados you bought, you will get 4. Your selection will not be as good but your colon will go much further.
Hopefully, this example helps demonstrate just how difficult it is to answer the “Can I Live On $x” question. Are you a vegan that loves fresh produce? Do you want to eat out everyday? In our case, we do a bit of both. We eat out maybe once a week – sometimes a soda, sometimes a more expensive restaurant (yes, there are choices other than soda’s and fast-food) and the rest of the time we (read – Jen) cook.
The same exercise can be used with housing, entertainment, cable and internet needs etc.. We have a budget of $1,500 a month. Sometimes we are closer to $1,200 and sometimes we are a bit over $1,500. The reality is someone could live here on less than $1,000 while someone else would need $3,000. It all depends on your choices – just like in the States.
I am planing a few more posts along the lines of “How Much?” Leave a comment below if there is an item you would like me to write about.