Can you really live in Costa Rica for $1,500 per month?
Sometimes, I feel like I’m spending way too much money living in Costa Rica. There was always something extra or unexpected that strains the budget – a few big nights out with friends, an extra trip to San José, or a couple of charitable donations around town. Surely, I can’t afford this extravagance and I’ll go broke soon!
But then, I look up my bank balance and realize that things are actually just fine. How is that possible? When I lived in the United States, I grew accustomed to stressing about every dollar and always coming up short, so this feels almost too good to be true. How am I managing to live by the beach in beautiful and exotic Costa Rica and still spend way less than I would in the U.S.?
People often ask me how I can afford to live abroad in some of the most beautiful places on earth, so I’d like to share the financial aspect of traveling, to show you that it’s obtainable.
The good news is that it is possible to live a very modest lifestyle for about $1,500 a month in Costa Rica, or $50 a day!
But here's the bad news: While that $1,500 per month goal is obtainable, Costa Rica shouldn’t be considered a “cheap” country to live in. In fact, that number becomes more and more of a stretch with each passing month. But I'm happy to report that it is still possible, IF you budget, sacrifice, live simply, and often like a local "Taco."
First off, there is a HUGE difference between being on vacation and living abroad. That image you have of sitting around on a beach chair all day with a coconut drink in your hand at a luxurious resort? Get that out of your head, because I live as simply and humbly, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy all the benefits of my new home.
Next, you should realize that it's MUCH harder to live inexpensively in popular tourist destination, where vacationers and international residents drive up prices. But remember that if it's possible for a local to do it (and most Ticos do), then you can, too!
Last thing, everyone shouldn’t expect to spend only $1,500 a month or less in Costa Rica. This is just a baseline, or standard of what’s possible if you make the appropriate lifestyle choices and sacrifices. The whole point is that your money will go much further in Costa Rica, offering a better quality of life. But everyone’s budget will differ.
Speaking of which, how much do you spend every month in the United States? If you add up mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance, your car and gas, food and clothing, etc., the average budget for one person comes to around $3,200. But for a family, you could easily increase that by 150% or more.
In fact, I just read an article that said 76% of the U.S. population lives paycheck-to-paycheck, despite the fact that the median take-home pay is $51,100. That means most of us spend approximately $4,000 per month per household, and still, we don’t feel like we’re getting ahead or enjoying life enough.
Now, let’s look at my budget in Costa Rica:
One of the biggest advantages of living abroad, not just vacationing, is the savings you get when you rent an apartment. Hotels are expensive, but simple, clean, safe (nothing fancy) accommodations might run $350-$600 a month for one person. Many times, utilities are included (except electric), or it still lands within that price range. It definitely saves to get a two-bedroom place or bigger and get a roommate(s).
If you’re eating out at tourist restaurants most meals, your food budget could easily add up to more than your rent in Costa Rica. But you can save a ton of money staying out of the tourist trap restaurants, where meals might cost you $10-$12 each. Instead, find out where the locals eat - the food is usually great, and a meal will cost you $3-$5. Even better, hit the local markets and stores and cook for yourself, saving even more.
Medical care: $60/month, $2/day
Of course, the cost of medical care can vary widely depending on your health needs and if you keep a U.S. health insurance policy. But there are plenty of serviceable clinics and good doctors in Costa Rica, and even the occasional trip to get medical care of the flu, a sprained ankle, dental work, etc. will be way cheaper than if you paid monthly insurance with a deductible. But play it safe with health insurance and coverage because you’d rather err on the side of caution.
By the way, I once met a Canadian traveler who jumped into a bullfighting ring in Costa Rica during their fiestas (not a good life choice) and was gored badly in the back. An ambulance ride, overnight stay, painkillers, minor surgery, 25 staples and 50 stitches cost him $110!
Local transportation: $90/month, $3/day
You usually don’t need a car when you’re living most places in Costa Rica. I prefer small towns, so I like walking everywhere (it gives me a chance to take in the sites and meet locals.) Or you can utilize cheap transportation like public buses, motorcycle taxis, etc. the locals use for about $1-$2 a ride. I also rent or buy a mountain bike and cycle around to get some exercise and be more mobile.
What entertainment can you afford for $4 per day? Not much...except NATURE; The best entertainment there is!
$30/month/$1 a day
$120 a month, $4/day
That brings us to a daily budget less than $50 a day!
Of course you might spend more on food, less on entertainment, etc. But for less than $1,500 a month, you should be able to live simply in Costa Rica while still enjoying the best parts of life as an expat: the freedom, the beach, the weather, the nature, and the people!
Do you want more valuable tips, hacks, and info on saving money when you move to Costa Rica?
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