It is possible to live a comfortable life in Costa Rica on approximately $1,000 a month, although you would probably be a bit more comfortable if you can spend $1,200 to $1,500 a month.
Basic Costs of Living in Costa Rica
Overall, purchasing power is significantly higher in Costa Rica than in the United States. The cost of living in San Jose ranks among the lowest of all cities in the world. Firms that compare the cost of goods and services between various cities consistently rank Costa Rica as having one of the lowest costs of living worldwide.
On top of its affordability, Costa Rica has one of the highest standards of living in Central and South America. There are plenty of Central and South American cities where you could get by on $1,000 a month, but even twice that much couldn't buy a comfortable lifestyle because the necessary goods, services and infrastructure aren't available.
In 2018, the average Costa Rican earns about $440 a month, so you should be able to live in reasonable comfort in Costa Rica on $1,000 a month.
Your largest cost of living expense in Costa Rica is usually housing. The cost of housing in Costa Rica is one of the major points that make living there so affordable. You can rent a two-bedroom apartment in or near San Jose for as little $500 a month. You can even find luxury apartments listed at $900 a month. It costs about $100 to $200 a month more to rent a house that's comparable to a similar apartment. If you want to live a bit more comfortably, and you have more than $1,000 a month to spend, you can rent a very nice three- to four-bedroom house for $1,300 to $1,800 a month.
Many apartments in Costa Rica do not have hot water or air conditioning. Expect to pay more for either one. Apartments with hot water might run $25 to $50 a month higher than comparable apartments without hot water.
One of the least expensive services in Costa Rica is household help. You can hire a maid or a gardener for just a couple of dollars an hour, or as little as $200 a month for full-time help.
Food costs are one of the major areas where you can save money, but it's also one of the places you can easily run over budget. When buying groceries in Costa Rica, try to make adjustments from your buying habits in the U.S.
Costa Rica has plenty of upscale restaurants where an entrée runs more than $20, so dining out definitely increases your monthly expenses. However, there are also a number of small eateries, known as "sodas," where you can purchase a complete meal for less than $6. There are not many fast food restaurants in Costa Rica.
Much of your grocery budget depends on where you shop. Unlike in the U.S., supermarkets are not the recommended venue for purchasing the bulk of your groceries. Prices for meat, poultry, fruits, and vegetables are generally much less expensive at street vendors than at supermarkets. Weekly street fairs are additional opportunities for grocery bargains.
Some supermarkets cater to Americans living in Costa Rica, but the food generally costs 20% to 30% more than at smaller, local Costa Rican stores. A lot of the local versions of staple products such as ketchup may be acceptable, but in some instances, depending on personal tastes, you may choose to pay the markup to obtain familiar U.S. brands.
Poultry prices tend to run about the same as, or a bit less than, in the U.S. Bread and eggs are usually less expensive. Fish is generally less expensive than in the U.S., but less variety is available.
Meat tends to be expensive and of somewhat lower quality. Be prepared to put up with less tasty steaks and hamburgers than you're used to having, or to pay a hefty premium to obtain better-quality meat.
If you shop prudently, it is possible to keep food costs to about $50 per week.
If you must have your own car, it will be a major expense unless you purchase a used car from a local. Import expenses can almost double the price of a new car secured from the U.S. If you have a car, insurance is typically less than one-third what you would pay in the U.S. and gasoline is less expensive in Costa Rica than in just about any non-oil-producing country in Central or South America.
However, public or hired transportation is adequate and inexpensive. Public bus transportation is inexpensive and effective as a mode of travel to almost anywhere in the country. You can hire a taxi for less than $1 a mile, and it's possible to get even better rates by hiring a car and driver for the day.
Costs of Utilities and Other Services
The costs of utilities and other services provide major saving over the cost of living in the U.S. In 2018, electricity costs are similar to those in the least expensive U.S. states. Water bills range from $8 to $15 monthly. Satellite or cable TV subscriptions are commonly under $60 per month. You can get a cell phone and internet service for well below $50 a month each.
Health services in Costa Rica are often ranked at or near the top for Latin American countries, but even so, medical costs are another area that offers substantial savings. A doctor's visit is around $50 without insurance, and surgeries often cost only a third or less of what they might in the U.S. Health insurance for permanent residents typically costs around $1,000 annually.