For the years leading up
to our retirement, pretty much all our research touted Costa Rica as
being this unbelievable paradise where one could live like royalty for
next to nothing. And on first blush, a cursory investigation will
bear that out.
But truth be told,
once you plant your ass in country and begin your new life here, you
come face to face with reality...
it may not be so cheap to live in Costa
Don't get me wrong, our cost of living has
dropped by over 50% since moving here. Initially, it was closer to
a 66%, but recent changes in lifestyle and location drove our costs
up a bit.
However, with a little effort we could
possibly get back to that magical two thirds number but it will require
some changes that Fran and I may not be willing to make.
here, we have been tracking ALL of our expenses and have a
good handle on where our money is going.
confident reporting on those areas which are higher than,
equal to or lower than our relative costs in the United
PLACE LIKE HOME...
Home and property ownership is
significantly lower in Costa Rica than it is back in North
America. While you may pay (out of pocket) the same cash
or even more for a place to live, you will generally receive
much more here than you will receive back in North America.
With the real estate economy still in
the ability to bargain (especially with gringos who are
upside down back in the U.S.) is stronger than ever. For
example, we live in a 2 bed 2 bath, fully furnished house, only 400
meters from the beach, with a pool and a fenced in yard.
We pay $1000 a month in rent. We pay electric and the
landlord covers water and pool/yard maintenance. Where can you
get something like that in the U.S.?
Add to that savings, Property
Taxes and Insurance. For a median priced house in the
$200-400,000 range, depending on where you live in North
America, you will spend $4,000 to 8,000 per year. In Costa
Rica, you will spend around $500 per year.
It should be noted that Fran and I
are permanent renters. We have no intention of buying
property or houses. However, for those with the cash, the
time is right and getting better by the day. But
remember...Buying is very easy. Selling is hard
as hell. If you have any doubts about the purchase,
DON'T! Rent before buying!
YOU WOULD BUY IN A GROCERY STORE...
Food Is A Good
If I can make a blanket statement
it will be, "your food
budget will be the same in Costa Rica as it was back in North
that said, there are items here that cost way less while the
price of some items will make your sphincter pucker!
It's all up to you.
If your grocery list includes lots
of processed foods from the U.S., expect to pay (up to twice)
what you would pay back home. However, fresh fruits and
vegetables can be had at a fraction of what you would pay in the
If your decision is to live
healthy, your food budget will be about the same as it was
before moving to Costa Rica.
Smoke 'em if ya
To all you smokers out there... if
you are tired of paying $6-12 a pack for your cancer
accelerators, you'll be pleased to know that you can contribute
to your early demise for much less money here.
Cigarettes in Costa Rica cost about $1.00 a pack!
if you still have the need to feed that "monkey," you'll be
happy to know you can do it for a lot less in Costa Rica.
Happy Hour Can
The national beer in Costa Rica is
Imperial. It's regarded as Costa Rica's Budweiser. One would expect it to be fairly inexpensive.
WRONG! At the grocery store, expect to pay about $1.25-1.50 per
can or $6-7.00 for a 6 pack as opposed to a can of Bud setting
you back (in the States) about $0.75 a can. In a bar,
you'll pay $2.50-3.50 for a 12 oz bottle.
Hard liquor is also
more expensive here by a factor of at least 40%. If your
tastes extend to higher quality stuff (as do mine)... availability may be
unlikely. But if you enjoy vodka drinks, you can find
suitable (non-martini quality) stuff for about $5.00 a liter.
Ya want the good stuff.. be prepared to pay!
GIVE ME THE NEWS...
Our single biggest reason we moved
to Costa Rica was the high cost of healthcare in the United
States. Even with the promises of "Obama Care" looming on
the horizon, I have little faith that the United States will
ever dig themselves out of this horrendous black hole of a law.
But be that as it may, this is
what we are experiencing.
Back in the
In the States we were paying
$1,800/month ($22,000 a year) for excellent coverage under
COBRA (a federal program which guarantees the continuation of
healthcare benefits following an involuntary loss of employment). On top of that we still had co-pays for doctor
hospitalizations and prescription medications. That came to another
$8-10,000 per year. So, just to maintain our current
health, it was costing us between $30,000 and $32,000 a year.
Here in Costa
We are members of the CAJA, Costa
Rica's nationalized healthcare program. Our monthly
premiums cost a two-person total of $48 a month or $576 a year. For that,
we pay zero for doctors, hospitals or medications. WOW...
isn't that friggin awesome!
most, if not all nationalized healthcare systems, expect long
lines, inefficient processes, adequate medical care and
performed in a Spanish language dominated environment.
Wait times for routine diagnostic tests and procedures can be
measured in months. Elective procedures can be scheduled
even farther out. And by the way, an elective procedures
is any procedure that will not kill you today!
Fran and I have opted to utilize a
"blended" option, whereby we combine the benefits of using CAJA
with that of a private physician. This option allows us to
see our doctor or a specialist, whenever we want. No wait
out of pocket expense for an office visit runs between $40 to
see a family physician to $70 for a specialist. CAJA does
not cover private physicians, however, our private
physician is licensed to write CAJA prescriptions. That
means we see him if we are not feeling well, he'll write the
script, we get it filled at the CAJA Pharmacy and pay zero for
the meds. However, for meds not available through the
CAJA, we pay 100% out of pocket. Example. Fran and I
both take Plavix. In the States we would get a 1 month
supply and our co-pay was only $50. Here, we get a generic
Plavix called Expandia (not available in the States) and pay
only $40. Now what's wrong with this picture?
Here is the
From January 2010 through
September 2010, we spent $900 for various doctor visits and
diagnostic tests. In addition to that, we spent $2,200 on
prescription medications for a grand total of $3,100 in nine
months. That's less than $350 a month or $4200 a year.
Compare that to our obscenely ridiculous U.S costs of $32,000
per year. We are spending 1/8th of what we were spending
back home in North Carolina.
Now assume we never moved.
Even accounting for Medicare (provided it does not go bankrupt),
it would be quite likely that over the course of the next 20
years, we would spend more than $500,000 of our nest egg just
to maintain our current levels of health.
In a nutshell...
that was and is our reason for moving to Costa Rica. Shame
on the United States of America for not providing for its
The essence of life
Electric power throughout
Costa Rica is said to be 100% self-sustainable by way of
wind, hydro and geothermal solutions. Costa Rica
does not rely on third-party oil for it's internal power
demands. In fact, we make so much electricity, it
is sold off to neighboring countries. With that
said, Costa Rican's pay a fortune to use electric.
Our cost per KWH (kilowatt hour) is charged on a
sliding scale, ranging from $0.10-0.30 while the
US averages a mere $0.09 overall.
At our first house, we lived at an altitude of 3700 feet.
We had no need for either A/C or heating but we did need to run
dehumidifiers in order to combat moisture and mold.
Now we live at the beach. We
knew our consumption of electricity would increase due to the
need for A/C and to maintain our 220v pool pump. But when
it's all said and done, our electric bill in Costa Rica is
virtually the same as it was back in the States. As far as
I'm concerned, that's a wash.
Now to be fair... I know people who
spend a lot less on electricity but their needs are greatly
different than ours. Suffice it to say, if one lives in a
Tico style home and lives a Spartan life, it is very possible
that their monthly electric bills can run in the $10-40 range.
But we consume more, therefore we must pay more. The good
news is we can, therefore we do. n the other hand, I have
friends who lived in the western parts of the U.S, ran A/C on a
24/7 basis, had a pool etc. and were spending $700-800 a month
in electric. Today, their electric bills are less than
Water in Costa Rica is (for the
most part) high quality and very plentiful. At our
previous home, we spent (on average) of $7.00 a month for our
While our landlord assumes the water expense at our current
home, the bills are only a fraction of what they would be for a
U.S. home with a swimming pool.
With The World...
As inquisitive human beings, we
are informational sponges. It is in our DNA to be all
knowing, all the time. In order to do that we must be able to send and
receive information at will. Fortunately in Costa Rica the cost to
do that is relatively low. For example... we have two
cellular phones. Each phone comes with 100 minutes of talk
time and unlimited texting. We pay $7.00 per month per
phone for a total of $14.00 a
At home, we have a combined
telephone/DSL Internet line. That service allows for
unlimited voice and internet use with speeds of up to 2MB down
and .5MB up. We pay (on average) $38.00 a month.
And as for cable TV, we have a no
frills service that gives us 99 channels with quite a few being
from the U.S. or other English speaking providers. For that
we pay $22.00 a month.
All totaled, for cell phone, land
line, internet and cable TV we are paying about $75.00 a
month. Compare that to our Cadillac plan with
Roadrunner in the States where we received TV, Phone and Internet for
$150 a month and two cell phones with Verizon for around
$200 a month. That's a monthly savings
of $275 or $3300 a year.
Now I know what you are going to
say... you're not comparing apples with apples. We'll you
are right to a certain extent. We are paying less and we
are receiving less, but do we really need to be driving a
Mercedes when A Toyota gets you there just as nice?
- General Household Merchandise
This is another of those
categories that just depends on what you buy and where
you buy it. The rule of thumb says, if the product is
American branded, you are likely to pay at least twice as much
for it then you would back in the States.
Paradoxically, buying local
products may save you money but the overall quality may very
well suck! That's true especially for consumer
electronics. I also found that there is no comparison
between products like American branded Scott Paper Towels,
Facial Tissues or toilet paper and their Costa Rican
counterpart. You will pay 50-100% more for the American
branded product but when it comes to blowing your nose or pampering
your nether regions, plush will always win out over triple
grit sand paper.
Getting Around In Costa Rica
Buying or Shipping A
You will be in for a rude awakening when
it comes to getting around in Costa Rica. For starters, be
prepared for sticker shock when buying a car here. Due exclusively
to Costa Rica's Draconian import tariffs, whether you buy a new or used
car or bring one in from North America, be prepared to spend nearly
twice what you would pay for a car in the US.
If there is any good news here is that the
import tax for new cars is based on the wholesale price of the
car while the tax on used and imported cars are based on their retail
Fuel For The Heart:
Hang on gringos... gasoline costs twice
that of the U.S. By the time you convert liters to gallons and
Colones to Dollars, the cost of fuel here runs around $5.00 per gallon.
If it's any consolation, gas stations are
nationalized and all charge the same price. Generally on a monthly
basis, fuel price changes are announced nationally. Remember the
good old days where the gas station attendant checked your oil, tires
and cleaned your windows? That spirit is alive and well in Costa
Rica. So I guess there is a value add.
Every Costa Rican car carries some
level of insurance. This is guaranteed through a special
tax levied each year on every car called the "Marchamo."
It's kind of like a personal property tax decreases as the car
ages. In the Marchamo tariff there is a liability
insurance component. Many other drivers opt to
purchase additional liability insurance.
Minimum insurance will cost (on
average) $100 for 6 months or you can opt for policies that
include a comprehensive plan. These average $100 a month.
However, be advised, crimes against automobile property in Costa
Rica are widespread. Theft of your contents are NOT usually
covered. As for us, we have decided to go with the
cheapest form of coverage. Sure beats the $2,000 a year
premiums we were paying back in the States.
It's amazing when you look at all
the cars that populate the roads here. While you will see
some newer cars, the majority of the vehicles here look to be 10
to 20 years old.
Costa Rican people tend to fix
things rather than toss them aside (like North Americans).
And as a result, they have become very resourceful in keeping
things running. In the time I have owned my car, I have
found that the cost of maintenance and repair is significantly
lower than in the U.S. with one exception... taking your
car to a dealer for repairs.
WHO LET THE
Services and Pet
If your dog or cat gets sick or
needs the services of a qualified vet, prices for vet services
in Costa Rica are a fraction of what they are in the U.S.
We had our two female labs spade at two different clinics.
Both sprayings were single day events and cost only $50 each and
that included take home meds.
One of the dogs went in for her
annual checkup. That required a series of injections
including rabies, Parvo and Distemper and our total out of
pocket for that visit was only $16.00. That's pretty damn
inexpensive. Compare that to what you would pay in the
Now feeding your pet is a
different story. If you are accustomed to serving your
dear mascota (pet) U.S. branded foods, be prepared to pay
out your wazoo. Our Ashka eats Purina Dog Chow (50# bag
for $50.00). Úpe needs Science Diet due to a food allergy
and we pay $50 for a 30# bag. These numbers are at least
twice what they are in the States.
Many of the locals opt to use a
local brand of dog food called Super Perro. But both Úpe
and Ashka turned tail and ran. I have no idea what's in
that crap but they sure did not like it. Úpe actually gave
me a dirty look.
Retirement allows one to shed the
things they hate doing in favor of outsourcing those chores to
others. In Costa Rica, this is accomplished at a fraction
for what one pays back in North America.
The current rate for domestic and
yard work help generally costs about $2.00 to $4.00 per hour.
We have a housekeeper that comes once a week at 8:00 am, works
her butt off until about noon. We feed her lunch and pay
her $14.00. Fran's happy because she doesn't have to do
the floors and crapper. From her perspective, our
housekeeper is well worth what we pay.
Yard work and landscaping work
comes closer to the $2.00 per hour rate. Sometimes I
almost feel a twinge of guilt as I kick back, drink a beer and
watch these guys work their collective butts off. But then
I realize that I'm 60 years old and I'm retired. Pura
The cost of entertainment is all
over the place in Costa Rica. Literally. Much
depends on WHERE you are, WHO you are and WHAT
time of the year it is. Let me explain...
An expat, with North American
expectations, living in areas like San Jose and Escazu will pay
more for things like dining out, bars and clubs. Organized
tours are likely to cost more because of transportation
requirements. And let's face it... if you are a gringo,
you are likely to pay more for everything, just because you're a
The same holds true if you live in
more touristy types of areas along the Pacific coast.
However, friends tell me that entertainment costs along the
Caribbean coast are more forgiving on your budget. Moving
out to less populated areas like smaller towns in the Central
Valley or down in the Osa Peninsula also tend to be less
Always ask for a cash
discount. This phrase may save you 10% or more on most
tener un descuento para pagar en efectivo?"
If items are price marked in
dollars, they generally are marked up for gringos.
Either avoid buying at that store or ask for a greater
Most major attractions
(national parks, organized tours etc.) offer significant
discounts to Costa Rican residents. Whip out that
cedula. Depending on the venue, you may experience
savings of 50-75%. As an example, we went to a well
known national park (associated with a volcano). The
price for admission was $15.00 (USD) per person. I
asked if they had a discount for residents,
"¿Tienes un descuento para los
answer was YES and we paid 1000 colones each (approximately
$2.00) to get in. That was a savings of $26.00!