Adding Dollar Signs to our Cost of Living Equation

One of the FAQs we get asked is how much it actually costs to live in Costa Rica. We’re no experts by any means, being here only a month, but we’ve done our homework and have attempted to work out some numbers for our readers.

A single person can live for about $1000 USD a month, and including accommodation in one of the least expensive rental units in Potrero. A couple would run about $1200-1500.


Eating mostly fresh local foods, walking, busing and/or relying on the goodness of friends/neighbours with other modes of transportation, and by limiting how often and how much is spent when going out to eat/drink – this is the clincher. It’s very easy to spend $50-100 in just one evening – same as in Canada.

But this type of living is a learned behaviour! It would be hard – but not impossible – to have a budget of $1000-1500 for the first few months…double it, even triple it easily. It takes time to learn how to be a local ex-pat, not a tourist. Our version of ex-pat living is our own, certainly not many of the ex-pats here. It’s quite normal for others to spend $1500+ a month for rent, plus eat out several nights a week, PLUS frequent much of the evening activities – on any given day at least one local hangout has something going on, which means more “out” food and drinks.

And even though we are “living” here, not “vacationing” here, we’re still not settled into how we’d be truly living if we’d leave Canada in the dust (or snow!).

We have not yet found a way to earn an income here. Yes, we’ve done some talking and searching, but to be honest, since we know we’re only here for 3 months this time, we haven’t been desperate to find work.

If someone expects to live here full time – or even for a few months – without $$ in savings or wealthy friends/family to foot the bills, finding an income would be a pretty high priority.

And laws here are quite strict regarding foreigners working jobs that locals could do, so unless one comes here with a specialty that most locals wouldn’t have, the job market can be a challenge.

We’ve been told that the best ways to earn an income here are:
– Buy property that can create income, such as a long-term vacation rental home or a complex like where we’re living.
– Create, purchase, or own a business of some kind. Find a niche that the community is lacking – but be studious and RESEARCH. What does the community actually need or want? Versus what you think you can do for, with, or in the community.
– Teach English as a second/additional language, but most jobs are in the Central Valley, require certification and some experience, and ask for a 6-12 month commitment…and pay about $10 an hour.
– Already be working for a company elsewhere (North America, Europe, etc.) that allows you to work remotely.
– Not work but live off of existing savings or investments.

(There is much written about earning an income in CR. Google can help with that!)

So this is where we’re at with “earning an income.” No decisions made yet, but asking and learning more about this real-life realm every day.

Let’s get on to the costs – in approximate conversions from Costa Rican colones to USA dollars:

Some things are about the same as in Canada:
– Milk: $1.20 for 1 litre
– Butter: $1.60 for ½ pound
– Fresh chicken breasts: 9 for $22
– Freshly-made multigrain bread: $3-4
– Snickers bar: $1
– Cream cheese: $2.80 for 220 gram tub
– One red pepper: 50 cents to $1
– One large mango: $1.40…will be FREE once they’re ripe on the trees in our complex!
– Medium-sized watermelon: $4-5
– Can of Red Bull: $2.80
– Ziploc sandwich bags: 50 for $3
– Can of Pringles or Lays chips: $2.80
– Box of granola: 450 grams for $4.50

Some are more:
– Lean ground beef: $5 a pound
– Farm eggs: 15 for $4-5
– Snack food: varies, but a large bag of guacamole-flavoured tortilla chips is $11…a small bag of CR corn tortilla chips is $2
– Cheese: $6 for 400 grams of “Rico” cheese (mild white cheese, similar to mozzarella)
– Pop: upwards of $5 for 2 litres of name-brand soda (Coke, diet-Coke, etc.) but we can find it for about $3
– Nature Valley granola bars: box of 6 for $5-6
– Bag of Lays chips: $5
– Betty Crocker cake mix: $3.60
– Betty Crocker tub of icing: $4.60
– Prego tomato sauce: 24oz for $5
– Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup: $2.50 a can
And for our furry friends:
– Purina Dog Chow: 7.5kg for $37
– Purina Cat Chow: 1.5kg for $10

Some are less:
Such as fresh produce:
– Small white onion: 10-20 cents
– Large red tomato: 80 cents
– Large pineapple: $2-3
– Bananas: 10-20 cents each
And certain types of alcohol:
– Nicaraguan Flor de Cana rum: 1.75 litres for $45
– CR coconut rum (Malibu knock-off): 750mL for $12
– CR Imperial/Pilsen beer: just over $1 a bottle/can

It’s clear to us that if we choose to eat as little processed food as possible, not only are our bodies happier, but so is our bank account.

Toiletry costs vary:
– Sunscreen: the most expensive we’ve seen is 200 mL of SPF 80 for $35…SPF 20-30 is typically around $15 a bottle
– Colgate toothpaste: $2.50-3.50 for a small 75mL tube
– Dove soap: $2 a bar
– Laundry detergent: Tide brand is $50+ for 7.2kg (180 loads)…generic brand is $18 for 5kg
– Medication – one that Corissa needs every so often from the pharmacy: $3.50 a pill (in Canada? $18-20)
– Toilet Paper: 6 double rolls of double ply for $7
– Pantene shampoo: 400mL for $8-9

We’re glad we brought enough of most toiletries to last our full 3 months. If we need to purchase any, we’ll be checking out the CR brands before we succumb to North American brands.

Going out to eat/drink:
– Piña coladas and other cocktails: $7-9
– CR beer: $2-4 a bottle
– Buffalo wings: $6-10 for 6-8…quality and quantity vary by establishment
– Homemade cheeseburger & fresh-cut fries: $7-13
– Thin-crust pizza, about 12-inches: $8-12
– Casado – typical CR dish with meat, rice, beans, plantain, and salad: $6-9
– Pop: $2-3 for a glass bottle – no free refills as in North America
– Bottled water: 500mL for $2-4
– Batidos – fruit smoothie made with water: $3-4 (add another $1 for milk)

Transportation costs vary – and since we don’t have a vehicle, we won’t write about the cost of owning and maintaining one:
– One-way taxi ride to Tamarindo (45 min drive): $25
– One bus ticket to Playa Flamingo (10 min bus ride): 70 cents
– Regular gasoline: 95 cents a litre
– Walking: $0 plus +++sweat 😉

OUR accommodation (remember we’re living in one of the least-expensive units in the area):
– Base: $350 a month for a small, bachelor-sized apartment
– Add: $12.50 a month credit card fee
– Add: $40 a month for self-serve laundry, which we have to pay no matter how often we use it
– Add: approximately $50-75 a month for electricity…we use air conditioning every night – otherwise it would be less than $20 a month

Cell service? So far, we’ve spent about $1.50 a week, and we use it whenever we don’t have access to wifi – and sometimes even when we do.

What GREATLY adds to the costs for us as Canadians is the exchange rate between US and Canadian dollars; the prices above are in USD – so add 20-25% for what we would approximately pay in Canadian dollars. OUCH!

The bottom line: yes, we CAN live more simply and less expensively here in CR than in Canada…but only if we’re conscious of our choices and redefine our needs and wants. We know the $$ lessons learned here will serve us well no matter where in the world we live.

(The pic is of one the “supers” in Playa Potrero…the owners know us already as we frequent it almost daily.)

Next up? Answers to more FAQs! Keep them coming 🙂