Cost of Living in Costa Rica 2023: Expat and Retiree Essentials

Costa Rica has increasingly become a popular destination for expatriates and retirees due to its idyllic landscapes, friendly locals, and favorable tax system.

Costa Rica has increasingly become a popular destination for expatriates and retirees due to its idyllic landscapes, friendly locals, and favorable tax system. Often referred to as the Switzerland of Latin America, this stable and democratic country is nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, with a strong focus on social development and nature preservation [1]. As the year 2023 unfolds, potential expats and retirees planning to reside in this beautiful land may find themselves curious about the cost of living before making the final move.

In 2023, Costa Rica ranks as the 56th most expensive country out of 140, making it more affordable than many developed countries while remaining pricier than various developing nations [2]. The country offers a diverse set of climates, from lush rainforests to sandy beaches, giving expats and retirees a wide range of lifestyle choices to suit their preferences [3]. However, it’s crucial to dive into the specifics of the cost of living in Costa Rica, as this will help expats and retirees budget accordingly and make informed decisions about their new home.

In this essential guide, we will cover the various aspects of living in Costa Rica, such as housing, transportation, and healthcare, to provide a comprehensive understanding of the expenses associated with calling this tropical paradise home in 2023. By examining these key factors, potential expats and retirees can confidently weigh the pros and cons of relocating to Costa Rica, armed with the necessary information to make a smooth transition.

Cost of Living Overview

The cost of living in Costa Rica is a crucial factor for expats and retirees to consider when deciding to relocate or retire in this beautiful Central American country. Known as the Switzerland of Latin America, Costa Rica offers a high quality of life, stable democracy, and a favorable tax system for expats. However, it is essential to understand the various aspects that contribute to the cost of living in this diverse country.

On average, the estimated monthly cost of living for a single person in Costa Rica is around $1,444, making it the 4th most expensive country in Latin America. However, the cost of living can vary widely depending on the area you choose to settle in. For instance, living in more popular or urban areas can be more expensive than settling in smaller towns or rural regions.

Housing costs are a significant factor in the overall cost of living in Costa Rica. These costs can range from affordable rentals to luxury properties depending on the area and your lifestyle preferences. Utilities, transportation, and communication are other essential factors influencing the cost of living. As with housing, these costs can differ depending on where you reside and your lifestyle choices.

Additionally, healthcare in Costa Rica is considered of high quality and can be more affordable than in many developed countries. Expats and retirees can choose between private and public healthcare systems, with both options offering reliable services at reasonable prices.

Another critical aspect of the cost of living in Costa Rica is the cost of groceries and dining out. While local produce and cuisine can be quite affordable, imported goods and dining at high-end restaurants can significantly increase your monthly expenses. To enjoy a comfortable lifestyle without breaking the bank, it’s essential to strike a balance between local and imported foods or opting for budget-friendly dining options.

In conclusion, while the cost of living in Costa Rica can be higher than in many other Latin American countries, it remains an attractive destination for expats and retirees looking for a high-quality life in an idyllic setting. By carefully considering your lifestyle preferences, area of residence, and budget, you can make informed decisions to enjoy a comfortable and fulfilling life in Costa Rica.

Housing and Real Estate

When considering a move to Costa Rica, housing and real estate are important factors to consider. This section will explore rental and housing prices, popular regions and cities for expats and retirees, and the pros and cons of buying versus renting.

Rent and Housing Prices

In Costa Rica, rental prices vary depending on the location and type of housing. In general, apartments and houses in urban areas or popular tourist destinations tend to have higher prices than those in rural areas or smaller towns. Here are estimated monthly rent prices for different types of accommodations:

  • 1-bedroom apartment in city center: $500–$800
  • 1-bedroom apartment outside city center: $400–$600
  • 3-bedroom apartment in city center: $800–$1,200
  • 3-bedroom apartment outside city center: $600–$900

Regions and Cities

Costa Rica has a diverse range of regions and cities, each offering unique experiences and environments for expats and retirees. Some of the most popular areas include:

  • Escazú: An upscale suburb of San José, Escazú offers a high standard of living, with luxurious homes, top-notch amenities, and high-end shopping centers.
  • Atenas: Known for its pleasant weather and small-town charm, Atenas provides a more laid-back lifestyle. The town is close to cultural and natural attractions, such as the Poás Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Garden.
  • Pacific Coast: This region stretches from the northern Guanacaste province down to the southern Puntarenas and is renowned for its beautiful beaches, fascinating wildlife, and vibrant expat communities in towns like Tamarindo, Nosara, and Dominical.
  • Caribbean Coast: The Caribbean coast, specifically areas like Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, offers lush rainforests, diverse wildlife, and a mix of Afro-Caribbean and indigenous cultures. The region has a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere compared to the Pacific coast.

Buying vs Renting

When deciding whether to buy or rent a property in Costa Rica, there are several factors to consider:

  • Flexibility: Renting provides more flexibility, as it makes it easier to move if there’s a change in circumstances or location preferences.
  • Upfront Costs: Buying a property requires a higher initial investment than renting. The buyer will need to cover costs such as the down payment, legal fees, and transfer taxes.
  • Maintenance: Homeowners are responsible for maintaining and repairing their properties, while most landlords cover these expenses for renters.
  • Appreciation: Real estate in Costa Rica has been known to appreciate over time, which might provide a longer-term return on investment for those who decide to buy.

In summary, housing and real estate options in Costa Rica are diverse, and prices vary depending on location and type of property. Consider your personal circumstances, preferences, and budget when choosing between renting or buying in this beautiful, diverse country.


Public Transport

Costa Rica offers a variety of public transportation options for expats and retirees. Buses are the most common and affordable mode of transport in the country, connecting major cities as well as remote areas. The standard bus fare for a short distance trip within the city is around $1, while a longer journey could cost up to $51.

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For those who prefer to travel by train, the Incofer railway system connects the capital city, San Jose, to nearby Cartago, Pavas, and other surrounding areas2. The train fare is slightly higher than the bus fare but still affordable at around $2 per trip3.

Expats and retirees can also take advantage of the numerous registered taxi services available in Costa Rica. The initial fare for a taxi ride starts at $2, with an additional $1 per kilometer4. It is important to note that Uber is also available in the country, providing a convenient alternative to traditional taxi services.

Car Expenses

If expats or retirees decide to own a car in Costa Rica, they should be aware of the related costs. The price of gasoline fluctuates, but as of 2023, the average cost is around $1.10 per liter5. This is slightly higher than the average gas prices in North America but lower than European prices6.

Car insurance is also mandatory in Costa Rica and can vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle and the coverage required. On average, basic coverage for a compact car is around $400 annually7.

When purchasing a vehicle, expats should be prepared to pay import taxes which can be quite high. The import tax rate ranges from 52% to 79% of the vehicle’s value, depending on the age and type of car8. Costa Rica also requires annual vehicle inspections, known as Riteve, which cost around $209. Furthermore, maintenance costs can be higher due to the rugged terrain and varying weather conditions, which can take a toll on vehicles. In general, owning a car in Costa Rica can be expensive, but for those who prioritize independence and flexibility, it may be worth the investment.


  1. Cost of Living in Costa Rica – A Little Adrift Travel Blog
  2. Incofer Railway System – Official Site
  3. Cost of Living in Costa Rica: Public Transportation – Senderos
  4. Cost of Living in Costa Rica – 2023 prices – Expatistan
  5. Gas Prices in Costa Rica – Numbeo
  6. World Gas Prices –
  7. Car Insurance in Costa Rica – Expat Exchange
  8. Importing a Vehicle to Costa Rica – Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce
  9. Riteve Vehicle Inspection – Official Site

Food and Groceries

Local vs Imported Products

In Costa Rica, you can find a wide variety of food options at the local markets and grocery stores. Locally sourced products like rice, eggs, vegetables, and fruit are usually more affordable than imported products. For example, staple foods such as rice and beans can be found at significantly lower prices compared to imported alternatives. Shopping at local markets and farmers’ markets, while also buying in-season fruits and vegetables, can help reduce costs even more.

However, bear in mind that certain imported products, such as bread, may be more expensive. Consider purchasing local alternatives if you’re looking to save money on your groceries. When it comes to vegetables, local options like tomatoes and potatoes are generally lower-priced than their imported counterparts.

Eating Out

Eating out in Costa Rica offers a range of options, from local sodas (small, family-run restaurants) to upscale dining. Prices at local sodas are often relatively low, making them an attractive choice for regular meals. A typical Costa Rican dish, like the “casado,” which consists of rice, beans, salad, and a choice of protein, can be found at affordable prices at these establishments.

Alternatively, dining out at more upscale restaurants can be more expensive. In cities and tourist areas, there are a variety of international cuisines available, but the costs might be higher than what you would pay for a meal at a local soda.

In conclusion, the cost of food and groceries in Costa Rica varies depending on whether you choose local or imported products and where you decide to eat out. By opting for local products and eating at local sodas, expats and retirees can manage their food expenses more affordably.

Utilities and Services

Costa Rica offers a variety of essential utilities and services that expats need to consider, from Internet and mobile phone providers to healthcare and educational institutions. This section covers these areas to provide an essential guide for expats and retirees as they plan to live in Costa Rica in 2023.

Internet and Mobile Phone

The internet connectivity in Costa Rica has improved significantly over the years, with more reliable and faster services available. For a typical broadband internet connection, expect to pay around $47 per month1. Mobile phone carriers offer various packages for calls, texts, and data. With several providers to choose from, expats can easily find one that suits their needs and budget.

Water, Electricity, and Gas

Utility costs, such as water, electricity, and gas, vary depending on the location but are generally affordable. Most households receive water and electricity via the national utility company, known for its reliable service. Gas for cooking is usually purchased in propane tanks from local suppliers. To help conserve Costa Rica’s natural resources, it’s wise to use energy-efficient appliances and be mindful of water usage.


Costa Rica’s healthcare system, known as the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), offers high-quality public healthcare services to residents and is funded through payroll taxes. Expats who contribute to the CCSS have access to hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare services across the country. Private health insurance is also an option for those who want faster access to care or specific facilities. Tamarindo, a popular destination for expats, has its own healthcare facilities nearby, including private clinics and a hospital.


The education system in Costa Rica is well-regarded and provides free public schooling for all children, including expats. With a strong emphasis on both academics and cultural learning, Costa Rican schools offer a well-rounded education experience. There are also a growing number of private and international schools in popular expat areas, providing options for those seeking English-language education or an alternative curriculum.

Finding the right school for your children in Costa Rica can depend on factors such as location, language, and personal preferences, but with a variety of schools to choose from, you can feel confident that your child will receive a quality education.

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  1. Cost of Living in Costa Rica: Your 2023 Guide – Beyond Borders

Lifestyle and Entertainment

Outdoor Activities and Nature

Costa Rica is a paradise for those who love outdoor activities and nature. With its beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and national parks, there is plenty to explore and enjoy. The country’s diverse landscape offers a wide range of outdoor pursuits, from hiking and birdwatching in the cloud forests to surfing and scuba diving along the coast.

For expats and retirees with a budget, many of these activities can be enjoyed at little or no cost. Costa Rica’s national parks charge affordable entrance fees, making it easy for nature enthusiasts to unwind in the breathtaking surroundings.

In addition to its natural beauty, Costa Rica is also home to an abundance of wildlife. This makes the country an excellent destination for eco-tourism and for those who appreciate the opportunity to observe exotic animals in their native habitats.

Entertainment and Leisure

Costa Rica offers a wide variety of entertainment options, from cultural experiences like visiting museums and attending local theater performances, to engaging in leisure activities such as dining at diverse restaurants and exploring vibrant nightlife scenes.

Expats and retirees will find that Costa Rica’s entertainment scene caters to various budgets, with many venues and events accessible to those who are budget conscious. A vast selection of local festivals, art galleries, and community gatherings can be enjoyed free of charge or for a nominal fee.

Luxury experiences and services are also available for those who prefer a more exclusive lifestyle. High-end resorts, fine dining restaurants, and opulent spas can be found throughout Costa Rica, offering an enhanced quality of life for those willing to indulge.

In summary, Costa Rica offers a wealth of lifestyle and entertainment opportunities that cater to expats and retirees of varying budgets and interests, making it an ideal destination for those seeking to enjoy an enriched quality of life.

Cost of Living Differences between Areas

In Costa Rica, the cost of living can vary greatly between different areas. This is an important consideration for expats and retirees planning to settle in this beautiful Central American country, known for its rich biodiversity and phenomenal nature.

San Jose, the capital and largest city, tends to have a higher cost of living when compared to smaller towns and more rural areas. According to Expatistan, San Jose’s cost of living is 69% more expensive than in Bogotá and 20% more expensive than in Mexico City. This can be attributed to higher housing costs, transportation, and entertainment options. Expats choosing to live in San Jose can expect a dynamic urban environment with a wide range of services, amenities, and employment opportunities available.

The Central Valley region, which includes San Jose and its surrounding cities such as Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago, is the most densely populated area of Costa Rica. Due to its location in the heart of the country, the Central Valley boasts a mild climate, fertile land, and easy access to the nature that Costa Rica is famous for. The cost of living in the cities surrounding San Jose is often more affordable than in the capital itself, while still offering good infrastructure, healthcare, and access to most services expats would need.

Moving towards the coastal areas, one popular destination for expats and retirees is Jaco, a beach town located on the Pacific Coast. While Jaco is known for its vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches, and oceanfront properties, the cost of living here can also be quite high, especially for those seeking a beachfront lifestyle. However, it is worth noting that prices tend to decrease as you move away from the beach and into the more residential neighborhoods.

In general, more rural areas and smaller towns in Costa Rica will have a lower cost of living than major cities and tourist destinations. This is often due to lower housing costs and less expensive day-to-day expenses such as groceries and transportation. Expats and retirees who prioritize nature and a relaxed way of life may find these more rural areas to be the perfect fit.

In summary, Costa Rica offers a variety of living options with different costs of living, depending on the region and type of lifestyle an expat or retiree is seeking. From the bustling city life of San Jose to the tranquility of rural towns, those considering relocation to Costa Rica have a wide range of choices.

Visa and Residency

Requirements for Expats and Retirees

If you’re planning to move to Costa Rica as an expat or retiree, it’s essential to understand the visa and residency requirements. Costa Rica offers various visa options to accommodate different needs and preferences. To qualify for permanent residency after five years, you only need to visit Costa Rica once a year every four years. This requires you to invest a minimum amount of $150,000 in active business, real estate, projects of national interest, stocks or securities, or forest plantations (required investment of $100,000) 1.

Holders of temporary residency permits are typically granted permits for periods of three to six months, after which they may apply for an extension2.

Visa Options

Several visa options are available for expats and retirees looking to move to Costa Rica. These include:

  • Tourist visa: This visa allows you to visit the country for a short period, usually up to 90 days. It’s ideal for those wanting to explore Costa Rica before deciding to move there permanently. Tourist visas can be renewed by leaving the country and re-entering after a short period.
  • Temporary residency: This type of residency is suitable for those who plan to live in Costa Rica for a more extended period but do not yet qualify for or desire permanent residency. Temporary residency permits are renewable and can be obtained based on various criteria, such as retirement, family ties, or investment.
  • Permanent residency: As mentioned earlier, permanent residency can be obtained after five years of temporary residency or by making a qualifying investment. Permanent residents enjoy many benefits, such as seamless travel in and out of the country, access to national healthcare, and the ability to work legally in Costa Rica.

It is important to note that the process of obtaining residency in Costa Rica could take between 4-5 years, from the initial application2. Therefore, starting the process early and preparing all necessary documentation is crucial for a smooth transition.

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  1. Nomad Capitalist
  2. Expat Exchange 2

Advantages and Disadvantages of Living in Costa Rica

Prospective Retirees

Living in Costa Rica offers several advantages for retirees. One of the main benefits is the country’s affordable healthcare system. While not free, healthcare costs in Costa Rica range from $60 to $250 USD per month, depending on factors such as age, gender, and personal condition. Many expenses are covered by the National Insurance Institute (INS), and expats can also opt for private insurance.

Along with affordable healthcare, Costa Rica offers a lower cost of living compared to the United States. Housing is 63% cheaper, and an individual retiree can expect to live comfortably on about $600 per month, excluding rent. Costa Rica’s tax system is also favorable to expats, reducing financial burdens for those who choose to settle there.

However, there are disadvantages to living in Costa Rica as a retiree. Some rural areas may lack amenities and infrastructure that retirees are accustomed to in their home countries. Additionally, while the country is known for its “Pura Vida” lifestyle, adjusting to this slower pace of life might be challenging for some.

Digital Nomads

Costa Rica is an appealing destination for digital nomads due to its lower cost of living and natural beauty. The country offers high-speed internet in major cities and tourist areas, making remote work feasible. Additionally, the large expat community offers networking opportunities and social support for those who choose to work in Costa Rica.

However, there are some downsides to living in Costa Rica as a digital nomad. Security can be a concern in certain areas, particularly in tourist-heavy locations where petty theft is not uncommon. Additionally, it is important to consider the differences in work culture and communication styles between Costa Rica and your home country, which may take some adjustment.

In summary, living in Costa Rica presents both advantages and disadvantages for retirees and digital nomads alike. While offering affordable healthcare, a lower cost of living, and a supportive expat community, some may face challenges related to infrastructure, security, and adjusting to the local lifestyle.


Costa Rica is a popular destination for expats and retirees due to its stable economy, natural beauty, and favorable tax system. The cost of living varies depending on the location within the country, with some areas offering a surprisingly affordable lifestyle. In general, the cost of living in Costa Rica is considered reasonable compared to other popular expat destinations.

In urban areas like San Jose, living expenses may be higher, while smaller towns and rural regions such as Atenas, Grecia, and San Isidro de El General provide a lower cost of living. It’s essential for potential expats and retirees to research and consider the costs associated with their desired lifestyle in Costa Rica.

Access to nature and various climates offer expats and retirees a diverse range of living options, from lush rainforests to sunny beaches. Many expats living in Costa Rica appreciate the country’s exquisite nature, which provides a peaceful and relaxing environment.

In conclusion, Costa Rica offers a unique experience for expats and retirees who wish to live in a beautiful, stable, and diverse country. Keeping in mind the various factors impacting the cost of living and selecting the right location can help ensure a comfortable and enjoyable life in this Central American paradise.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the monthly living expenses for expats in Costa Rica?

The estimated monthly living expenses for a single person in Costa Rica are around $1,444 (₡ 780,146) according to Expatistan. However, these costs can vary depending on an individual’s lifestyle and location within the country. It is essential to consider that most of the expenses may be different in rural areas compared to the more populated cities.

How do housing costs in Costa Rica compare to the US and UK?

Housing costs in Costa Rica are generally more affordable than in both the US and the UK. Rental prices in Costa Rica may be around 50% lower than those in the US and UK, with more significant savings when purchasing property. However, it is essential to note that lower housing costs may come with trade-offs in terms of available amenities and infrastructure compared to more developed countries.

What is the cost of healthcare for retirees in Costa Rica?

Healthcare costs in Costa Rica are generally more affordable than those in the US, and the public healthcare system, known as Caja, covers most medical services for residents, including retirees. Some retirees may also choose to purchase private healthcare insurance for additional coverage or faster access to medical services. The cost of private healthcare insurance can vary depending on the chosen plan, but it is often more affordable than comparable plans in the US and UK.

How does the cost of groceries and utilities differ in Costa Rica?

Groceries and utilities in Costa Rica are relatively affordable. Food prices may be comparable to or slightly higher than shopping expenses in the US and the UK; however, local produce and goods are generally less expensive. Utilities, such as electricity and water, tend to be more affordable than in the US and UK. However, it is essential to consider that internet and phone services may be more expensive than in more developed countries.

What are the transportation costs for expats living in Costa Rica?

Transportation costs in Costa Rica can vary depending on the chosen method. Public transportation, such as buses and trains, tend to be quite affordable and are widely used by locals and expats alike. Owning a private vehicle may be more expensive due to import taxes and high fuel prices. However, many people choose to own a car for added convenience and flexibility.

Are there any hidden costs or financial challenges for retirees in Costa Rica?

Some hidden costs or financial challenges that retirees may face in Costa Rica include fluctuations in currency exchange rates and potential tax implications. Additionally, while overall living costs are generally lower, some expenses, such as imported goods and services, can be more expensive. It is essential for retirees to factor in these potential hidden costs and conduct thorough research to create a realistic budget and financial plan for their retirement in Costa Rica.

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