How To Live In Costa Rica On A Budget

TIP #1 on How To Live In Costa Rica on a Budget

Buy a property so you don't have to pay rent.

Property in Costa Rica is cheap enough that you should be able to sell your house and buy something really nice and have money in the bank leftover. This way you can live on a low budget and have the security of having money in the bank for emergencies as well, on top of your social security or other monthly income.

Paying no rent leaves you with only utilities (and whatever home repairs you may need) to pay.

Our utilities run around $20 a month for water and $20-40 a month for electricity.

Internet can run anywhere between $20 and $100 a month depending on where you live and what service is available and how fast of a connection you buy.

Tip #2 on Living On a Budget In Costa Rica

Live in an area where you don't need air conditioning Obviously if you live at the beach or near the beach (i.e. sea level)  you are most likely going to need a.c.. Some areas of the beach that get a lot of breeze, maybe not, but many yes.

But if you live in the mountains you can avoid the high cost of air conditioning, and in fact may not even need a fan most of the time!

A.C. is one of the most expensive bills people who move to Costa Rica have.

Tip #3 on How To Live In Costa Rica on a Budget

Do not buy packaged food or food that is imported from the USofA.

One of the ways you will improve your health by living in Costa Rica AND lower your budget at the same time, is to eat fresh food. Veges, fruit, rice, beans, fish, chicken - all of these are grown locally and sold at a lower price than other food you might be accustomed to.

If you were like me you at a lot of food in cans and boxes from the freezer in the USA. Those kinds of foods are expensive here. Also things like peanut butter and almonds, any nut product except peanuts, are all very expensive here. If you buy what is grown locally and attend your local farmers' market, you will save a lot of money and eat healthier!

How To Live In Costa Rica on a Budget

TIP #4 on Living In Costa Rica on a Budget

It might go without saying but don't buy a gas guzzling car or truck!

Operating a vehicle is probably the most expensive monthly expense you will have if you own your own home.

"Operating a car" includes:

  • cost of gasoline or diesel fuel
  • insurance
  • tires
  • tune-ups
  • repairs

These things above can vary depending on where you live but no matter where you live, if you get good mileage on your car you will save a bundle. Everyone I know who owns a "gas hog" is sorry they bought it.

If you live in an area where the road is bad things like tires and repairs will eat up a good portion of your money on a yearly basis. Living on a bumpy road will cost you in terms of more car repairs, more braking, and more new tires.

By the same token, having an OLD car will cost you a lot more than having a newer car. The older your car is, the more it is likely to break down, so buy the newest car you can possibly afford!

Remember that cars cost A LOT MORE in Costa Rica than in the USA! Import taxes cause the cost of both used and new vehicles to go way up in Costa Rica so a car that might cost $7,000 in the U.S. will cost more like $10,000 or more in Costa Rica.

In the U.S. you might be able to get by on an old car that costs $2,000. But here in Costa Rica you won't find a buyable car for that price and if you did it would be severely damaged and likely to cost you a ton of money in repairs.

We were on a tight budget when we arrived here so we could only spend $8k on a car. Unfortunately this leaves you with very little options and unless you are very lucky you will likely get a car like ours for that price and if you read some of my blog posts on our car you will see that we are spending a lot on repairs.

Luck does play a part when buying a used car so you could get lucky. But I wouldn't count on it.

That's why I offer this advice:


If you can buy a new one, do it! (or at least almost new)

If you can spend $12k on a car, do it! And shop around to get the best car you can for that price. Look at my posts on what to look for when buying a used car and what to check for and how to find a good mechanic.

If we couldn't spent another $3k on a car we'd probably have gotten a much better car and had less problems and spent a lot less on repairs and spent a lot less time going back and forth to the mechanic!

Another Tip on Living On A Budget In Costa Rica

When you have someone do something for you - such as sewing, shoe repair, carpentry - always pin them down to a price before they start.

This seems simple enough but what I have noted is that Ticos, when asked how much their service is going to cost, tend to say "Barrato" which means cheap or inexpensive. My experience is that "barrato" is often not cheap at all to my thinking. In fact it's surprising to me how sometimes a Tico who makes much less money than I do will tell me this or that is "barrato" when I don't see it as barrato at all. I guess that's because many things are more expensive here than in the U.S. (and also many things are cheaper).

Example: We had someone do some sewing for us and they refused to give us a price and would only say "barrato".  My wife and I figured that it would take no more than an hour or two to do the sewing and since laborers work their ass off for $2.75/hour, "barrato" would mean she would sew this stuff for no more than $10 - that would be good Tico wages for even 2 hours of work.

Well we got the stuff back and it turned out she charged us $20.

This is not an isolated case. We have been told "barrato" numerous times and each case, we have felt it was most decidedly not cheap.

So now if we hire someone to do something and they say the price is "barrato", I come back with, "No, por favor decirme mas o menos cuanto me va a cobrar..." English translation: "No, please tell me more or less how much you are going to charge for this."


  • Shop around. Here prices vary widely on many things, I'd say more so than in the U.S. Everything from tires, to groceries, to pharmaceuticals or otc medicines vary from place to place. If you pay attention you can learn which stores have which things cheaper.

    For example we buy certain things at one grocery store and certain things at another. We found the lowest price pharmacy based on a recommendation from a friend. So ask your friends or people you meet!
    When buying big appliances, tv's and things like that, it really pays to shop around - you can save hundreds of dollars. Also, unlike many stores in the U.S., here you can ask for a discount and probably get one. Often there is 10% off for "cash" which usually includes paying with a debit card. But you can do even better by haggling and being ready to walk away to look for that tv or clothes dryer at the next store.

    Learn where the cheapest store is for "most things". In San Ramon there is a store called The Rey which has almost everything in the world you might need at a discount. Now, most of the stuff is made in China and so some of it is pure junk, but again you have to learn what is and what isn't junk.

    In our town there are many hardware stores and one has stuff the others don't and it's the most expensive. The others vary depending on what you buy so if you really want to save the most money on stuff you just have to ask the prices at 3-4 hardware stores and go back to the cheapest. Prices vary enough to make it worth it if you're on a tight budget.

So there are many ways to live on less in Costa Rica and most of it is just common sense. Be frugal, shop for prices, and don't insist on buying all the same stuff you bought in the USA or else you will have to pay dearly for it.

If you have any tips please write them in the Comments area but these are my top tips for HOW TO LIVE IN COSTA RICA ON A BUDGET!


  1. miguelbgood on September 2, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    I wanted to add here that sometimes it is hard to follow the advice “always pin them down to a price before they start” the work you want done!

    Here is a case in point:
    I went to my Tico friend to get someone trustworthy to come to my house to clean up our yard which had a bunch of old tree trunks and limbs in it from ICE cutting a bunch of trees they considered threatening to our/their power line. (This will be an upcoming post about how ICE are like AT&T of old or a mafia – they just do what they want and there is almost Nothing you can do about anything they do or don’t do.)

    So anyway my Tico friend couldn’t get the guy to commit to a price so I didn’t push for one. I had used the guy a couple times before and his price for his work was reasonable so I assumed (NEVER ASSUME!) he would be fair again in this case.

    For 4 hours work and using his truck just on my property in the driveway, both me and my Tico friend assumed his price would be around 20 mil or $35. But when the work was done he said “35 mil” which is close to $65. For 4 hours work, that is pretty much U.S. pricing. In this case I’m sure it was “gringo pricing”. That means the Tico figures you’re rich so he charges way more than he would charge any Tico for the same work.

    I said to him, “That seems very expensive!” to which he gave me a sheepish look (knowing that I knew I was given a “gringo price”) and sheepishly said “I worked HARD!” My friend worked hard on it too and he got $12 for his work (minus the truck but…)

    I, not wanting to create a hassle and make an enemy by telling the guy I felt he was abusing me because I’m a gringo, just said “Okay” and handed him the money. He smiled and said “Gracias”.

    My friend sent me a text message stating “He abused you with the price!”
    I wrote back “Yes, I know, that’s why I asked him about it. I’ll never hire him again.”
    My friend replied back, “He was stupid to do that. I won’t recommend him any more.”
    I said, “Nor will I. He just lost this client and others as well.”

    So it cost me about an extra 15 mil or $25 today to re-learn my advice from my own post:

    From now on if they say they “can’t” give me a price on the job I’ll push them to give me an hourly price instead and if they can’t give me a price I’ll say “I’m sorry, then I can’t use you. I have a limited income and have to know how much money this is going to cost me or else I might not be able to pay you.”

    They will often reply “It will be cheap”. “Barrata!” To which the reply should be:

  2. Richard and Lynda on August 22, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    Good evening,

    My husband and I are looking at Costa Rica for retirement in a few years but we want to purchase a 2/1 or 1/1 condo soon. We just do not know what area/region of Costa Rica to search especially since we are looking for a cheaper unit but hopefully in an decent area to live. Can you tell us anything of pricing for a condo/apartment and the area?

    • miguelbgood on January 8, 2020 at 8:17 pm

      No, sorry I would not know where to live in a condo. If you like city live then near San Jose would be the best as it offers the most conveniences. If you want a smaller town then I don’t really know. Maybe Heredia area?

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