The most important factor which will determines the cost of living for foreigners in Costa Rica is their lifestyle. If you are used to an opulent lifestyle, you'll spend more than someone accustomed to living frugally. But either way, you will still find Costa Rica to be a bargain.
Despite having one of the highest standards of living and being one of the most expensive countries in Latin America, purchasing power is greater in Costa Rica than in the United States or Canada. The country is really a bargain compared to most places. I will explain all of the factors which make this statement true.
San José's prices are the second lowest of any city's in the Americas; the cost of goods and services is among the lowest of any city's in the world. Corporate Resource Consulting firm that compares costs of goods and services rates San José among the least expensive cost-of -living cities in the world and second to Quito, Ecuador in the Americas. San Jose's cost of living, ranks close to the middle when compared to 118 cities worldwide. The cost of living in Guatemala City or Pamama City is about 14% higher than in San José.
Housing in middle-class Costa Rican neighborhoodsis substantially less than what it does in the U. S. Hired help is a bargain with a full-time maid costing only a couple of hundred dollars per month. Utilities-telephone service, electricity, and water- cost about 30% of what they do in North America. Bills for heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer can cost hundreds of dollars in the States. You never need to heat your home or apartment because of Costa Rica's warm climate. You need not cook with gas, since most stoves are electric. Public transportation is also very reasonable. San José and its surrounding suburbs occupy a very small area. A bus ride across town or to the suburbs usually costs from 25 -50¢. Bus fares to the provinces cost no more than $10 to the farthest part in the country. Taxi travel around San José is also inexpensive.
A gallon of regular gasoline of gas costs about $1.75, making Costa Rica's gasoline prices among the lowest in the Latin America. Only oil-exporting countries like Mexico and Venezuela have cheaper gasoline. However, you don't really need a car because public transportation is so inexpensive here. If you must have a new car, remember that new cars can be very expensive due to high import duties. Because of this, Costa Ricans keep their cars for a long time and take good care of them. We recommend buying used cars since they are usually in good mechanical condition and their resale value is excellent. Food, continuing education, entertainment (movies cost a little over $3.00) and, above all, health care, are surprisingly affordable. Both new and second-hand furniture are priced very low. You'll find more about these benefits later on.
When you have lived in Costa Rica a while, learned the ins-and- outs and made friends and contacts, you can cut your living costs more by sharing a house or apartment, house-sitting in exchange for free rent, investing in high-interest yielding accounts in one of Costa Rica's many banks or private finance companies (many pay over 30% annually in dollars), working full or part-time (if you can find legal work), starting a small business or bartering within the expatriate community, doing without packaged and canned imported brand-name foods and buying local products, eating in small cafes or sodas instead of expensive restaurants, or buying fresh foods in bulk at the Central Market like Costa Ricans do. You can also save money by learning Spanish so you can bargain and get lower prices when shopping.If you take lessons from the locals and live a modest tico lifestyle, you can save a lot of money and still enjoy yourself. By not following a U.S.-"shop-till-you-drop" mentality you can live reasonably.
Taking all of the aforementioned and personal life-styles into consideration, the minimum needed for a decent standard of living for a single person ranges from $900 to $1200 monthly. You can indeed live for as little as $30 a day excluding housing. Some single people scrape by on considerably less and others spend hundreds of dollars more, again depending to what one is accustomed.
A couple can live well on $1200 per month, and live in luxury for $2000. Couples with husband and wife both receiving good pensions can live even better. Remember, two in Costa Rica, can often live as cheaply as one. Any way you look at it, you will enjoy a higher standard of living in Costa Rica and get more for your money. Consider that the average Costa Rican earns only $300-$450 a month. Costa Ricans earning under $500 monthly are considered to be lower class; those earning from $500 to $2000 are part of the middle class with anyone making more than $2,000 being upper class. So, you can see a foreigners with a decent income can have confortable lifestyle if they so desire.
You should not be alarmed by high real estate prices you may hear about or see advertised in the Tico Times or Central America Weekly. This recent rise in land prices results from the current land boom and increasing popularity of Costa Rica. Inflated real estate prices do not reflect the real cost of living in Costa Rica, which is still relatively low when compared to Canada, Europe and the U.S. Even more important, the Costa Rican government must keep the cost of goods and services affordable for the Costa Rican people in order to avoid the social problems found in most other Latin American Countries.
Don't let yourself be fooled by what you hear or read about the cost of living being lower in neighboring countries like Honduras, Belize and Nicaragua. True, you can live less expensively in said places but the quality of life can't compare with that of Costa Rica. The lack of infrastructure in Nicaragua; the rampant poverty, squalor and violence which permeate Honduras; and a rising cost of living in Belize make Costa Rica the only logical choice. Too many people tend to think a lower cost of living is synonymous with a high quality of life. You really get what you pay for when it comes to choosing between Costa Rica and its neighbors.
When all of the above is taken into accountalong with such intangibles as: good year-round weather, the friendly Costa Rican people, the lack of political strife and serious violent crime (no society is crime free), and a more peaceful way of life-no price is raelly too high to pay for living in a unique, tropical paradise like Costa Rica.