How Much Does It Cost to Live in Costa Rica?

The Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, release their global Prosperity Index annually. The survey ranks the most prosperous countries in the world. Many assume prosperity is used in reference to the financial standing of a country and, while this is included, the Legatum Institute considers more factors in its ranking.

Ranking in 64th place in their most recent study (out of 149 countries) was Costa Rica. This puts Costa Rica in the top 50%, with its ranking for Personal Freedom (20th) helping the country secure a place in the top half. Whilst Costa Rica’s other rankings fell within the 30s and 40s, it was let down by Safety & Security (61st) and Economic Quality (64th).

Whilst Costa Rica is championed by expats, particularly retirees, what is the true costs of living in the verdant Central American country?

Costa Rica’s Economy

Whilst Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in the world it is still Third World country and there are far more people living in poverty compared to middle and upper-class populations. Whilst the economy of the country has been stable and its GDP has seen growth, the unemployment rate hit a high 10.3% in 2018. Along with this concern, growing debt and budget deficit are also worries for the country.

Despite these issues, the country has successfully moved away from an economy that was dependant on agriculture. Now Costa Rica has diversified and added tourism, electronics, medical component exports, medical manufacturing and IT services to their portfolio.


The colón is the official currency of Costa Rica and represented as ₡ or CRC. Sometimes 500 colones (the plural form of colón) is colloquially called a dollar in some Costa Rican locations.

The colón is available in the following denominations:

Notes: 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 colones

Coins: 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones

Expat Accommodation in Costa Rica

Expats are spoilt for choice in Costa Rica due to a wide variety of property styles and the ability to rent to buy as they please. Foreigners have exactly the same land and property rights in Costa Rica as the locals do.

Buying in Costa Rica as an expat is a straightforward and transparent process if you do your due diligence and utilise professional help. Whilst expats are welcome to buy a property in their own name, most form a corporation with the help of a lawyer and then purchase a home through the corporation. This is to avoid complicated estate planning and avoid property transfer taxes if you sell.

Expats will notice that Costa Rica has a vast amount of short-term rental opportunities aimed at holidaymakers and travellers. When searching expats should make sure to specify there seek a long-term let. Whether a private let or through a real estate agency don’t be afraid to haggle down rental prices in Costa Rica – it is the norm.

Expat Healthcare in Costa Rica

Expats in Costa Rica will undoubtedly need expat insurance. Whilst the country offers some of the best healthcare in Latin America both the public and private sectors are different to facilities in the likes of Europe and the USA. Most expats utilise private healthcare facilities and have private cover for costs whilst living in Costa Rica.

Expat Education in Costa Rica

Education is compulsory for children aged between 6 and 13 and the Costa Rican education system is considered both robust and high quality. Thanks to the widespread use of English in the country – particularly in schools – expats may choose to enrol their children in local state-run schools. Realistically though many expats opt to send their children to one of the many high-quality privately-run schools instead, where English is the primary language.

Jobs in Costa Rica for Expats

Costa Rica’s population is made up of a lot of expats, many who have been relocated from the USA by their employer to take up a position in the country. But for those not benefitting from a current employer relocation package, there are certainly jobs available to expats despite the high unemployment rate.

Expats should remember that Costa Rica gives priority to locals before foreigners when it comes to jobs. Also, being able to understand and speak the country’s official language, Spanish, is a great asset.

Expats fluent in English often take up positions teaching English or working in call centres. However, other fields include tourism, information and communication technology, marketing, advertising and real estate. Many expats also choose the entrepreneurial life and set up their own business in Costa Rica.

Comparison to UK

The world’s largest database, Numbeo, has a vast selection of user contributed data in regard to Costa Rica.

The tables below provide an over view of the differences in costs between Costa Rica and the UK. Please note that all Costa Rican prices have been converted into British pounds.

Groceries UK Price (£) Costa Rican Price (£) Cheaper Country?
Milk (1l) £0.91 £1 UK
White bread (500g) £0.95 £1.39 UK
Eggs (12) £2.19 £1.96 Costa Rica
Local Cheese (1kg) £6.04 £4.87 Costa Rica
Banana (1kg) £0.99 £0.85 Costa Rica
Water (0.33l) £0.88 £0.99 UK
Transport UK Price (£) Costa Rican Price (£) Cheaper Country?
Petrol (1l) £1.13 £0.81 Costa Rica
One-way ticket £2.50 £0.55 Costa Rica
Monthly pass £60 £30.61 Costa Rica
Taxi (1km) £1.55 £0.86 Costa Rica
Utilities (Monthly) UK Price (£) Costa Rican Price (£) Cheaper Country?
Electricity/Heating/Water for 85m2 apartment £150.49 £61.56 Costa Rica
1 minute of PAYG talk time £0.07 £0.05 Costa Rica
Internet (10 Mbps, unlimited data, cable/ADSL) £24.39 £41.78 UK


Clothing UK Price (£) Costa Rican Price (£) Cheaper Country?
Jeans (Levi or similar) £56.61 £47.84 Costa Rica
Dress (chain store) £29.07 £37.88 UK
Nike running shoe £55.00 £74.88 UK
Leather business shoes £76.64 £69.91 Costa Rica
Eating Out UK Price (£) Costa Rican Price (£) Cheaper Country?
Fast food meal £5.00 £5.24 UK
Inexpensive restaurant £15.00 £5.32 Costa Rica
3 course, mid-range, 2 people £55.00 £26.61 Costa Rica
Cappuccino £2.53 £1.85 Costa Rica
Coke/Pepsi £1.14 £1.10 Costa Rica
Imported beer £3.50 £2.66 Costa Rica

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