It’s a question we hear often: “Is Costa Rica cheap?” We also get its inverse, “is Costa Rica expensive?” And the truth is, we could answer “yes” to both of those questions. We could also answer “no.”
Cheap or expensive, surprisingly affordable or not – the answer comes down to you and your lifestyle. We’ve already covered a lot of these it-depends factors in our post on the cost of living in Costa Rica – long story short, you can spend anywhere from $1,000 to a cool $7,500+ per month, depending on your lifestyle and needs – so we thought we’d approach it from a glass-half-full angle this time.
Because, while there is no one right answer to the question, “is Costa Rica cheap?” there are many answers to “what’s cheaper in Costa Rica?” Here are a few of our favorite surprise bargains:
Bargain #1: Local Tourism
One of the best things about moving to Costa Rica? Getting to know your new home country. And one of the best things about becoming a legal resident of your new home country? Being able to say “yes!” (sometimes, at least) when your friends ask, “is Costa Rica cheap?”
Because, when you’re a resident, that becomes a little truer: You now have access to citizen/resident prices (“precios para nacionales”), which are valid at most public attractions – national parks now cost <$2, instead of $10+ and museums are anything from free to about $5 – and at many hotels and tourist attractions. Talk about cheap things to do in Costa Rica…
To unlock these savings, learn to ask “¿hay alguna tarifa especial para nacionales?” (Is there a special rate for residents?) Often, the answer will be “yes!”
Bargain #2: Healthcare
If you’re from the U.S., Costa Rican healthcare is going to be relatively inexpensive. (If you’re from another country, your mileage will vary!)
In a nutshell, you have three primary options for healthcare: public healthcare (CCSS, a.k.a. la Caja), private healthcare (out-of-pocket), and mixed medicine (a blend of public and private healthcare to get the most bang for your buck).
There are a lot of ifs, ands, and provisos that accompany these options. For example, there are many options for private health insurance, at many varying levels of coverage and cost. There are also medical network memberships, which provide anywhere from 10-80% off your out-of-pocket costs. And then there’s mixed medicine, which blends lower-cost (and shorter-wait) private care with higher-cost procedures through your CCSS insurance.
All this to say, even private healthcare can be termed “cheap,” depending on what you’re used to paying. After all, there’s a reason why Costa Rica is so popular as a medical tourism destination: For the quality of service (very high) you receive, the cost (low to moderate) is balanced firmly in the patient’s favor.
Learn more about Costa Rican healthcare costs.
Bargain #3: Private Dental Care
Like standard healthcare, Costa Rican dental care can be deemed “cheap,” depending on where you’re originally from. Compared to U.S. dental costs, for example, Costa Rican dental care is very well priced – typically, 25% to 50% what you’d pay in the U.S., for equal or higher quality.
Bargain #4: Costa Rican Arabica Coffee
Here’s where we start to veer into the really fun territory: Costa Rican coffee! Not only is Costa Rican coffee some of the best in the world, but it can be a serious bargain, to boot.
Let’s start with the great news: Costa Rica grows only Arabica (not Robusta) coffee, which typically makes for a smoother (although slightly less caffeinated) cup. Even better, the best beans come from the country’s interior, where high altitudes, rich volcanic soils, and sustainable practices create ideal conditions for high-altitude, shade-grown, hard-bean coffee that has complex flavors and excellent acidity (a great thing, when it comes to coffee).
Best of all, you’ll have a chance to sip, sample, and savor your way through beans from around the country. Find your favorite! Unless you’re buying the export-only stuff, you’re likely to pay in the $8-$12/kilo ($3.50-$5.50/lb.) range for high-quality beans.
Bargain #5: Public Transportation
Technically, this one is open to anyone who’s willing to take it. That said, as a resident, you’re more likely to be familiar enough with your environment, route, and destination to actually board the bus or hail a taxi.
So, let’s start with those: Long-distance bus trips are one of Costa Rica’s best bargains, hands down. For example, the bus from Tamarindo to San José – over 250 kilometers/113 miles – costs less than $10 per person on comfortable buses. What’s more, seniors often ride free on local routes and receive hefty discounts on longer trips. (Senior discounts are available only with a resident DIMEX card or citizen cédula.)
Buses aren’t the only bargain, either. Depending on where you live, how often you leave home, and how far you have to travel, you may find that a combination of walking, buses, and taxis/Uber is cheaper than the cost of car ownership. (By point of comparison and as of this post’s publication, Uber usually costs around ¢400/km, while taxis average around ¢650/km.)
Bargain #6: Traditional Restaurants
One of the joys of life anywhere is poking your head into small mom-and-pop restaurants and finding your new favorite. In Costa Rica, your favorite bargain will likely go by the name of soda – but not that kind of soda!
In Costa Rica, a soda is a small diner or traditional restaurant, often run out of a small shopfront or even a home. Inside, you’ll find just a handful of traditional dishes – everything from arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) and maduros (fried ripe plantains) to empanadas arregladas (meat/bean/cheese empanadas stuffed with cabbage salad) and casados (a huge mixed plate with meat, rice, beans, salad, and a small dessert, usually fried plantains) – at incredible prices.
Find the right place (a.k.a. not a soda that caters exclusively to tourists) and you can eat your fill (and perhaps have leftovers) for about $5, including a fresh fruit drink.
So, Is Costa Rica Cheap? That’ll Depend on You!
There really is no easy answer to how affordable or extravagant life in Costa Rica can be. As it is back home, the cost of living is dependent on a few big factors (ex. do you prefer an ocean view in a popular town or the middle of a forest on a secluded mountain?) and your lifestyle.
And that just happens to be one of our fortes. At Blue Water Properties of Costa Rica, we are happy to help you in any way we can. We can talk about locations and costs of living, schools and lifestyle. We can refer you to residency attorneys or other sources of information, and share our own experiences and lessons learned.
As a company and as people, we thrive on relationships and promise the fastest communication and best services in the industry. And that begins with lots of information. We are happy to answer your questions and point you in the right direction, even if you do just want to ask is, “but is Costa Rica cheap for you?”
We’re proud to offer some of the best Costa Rica real estate, from condos and homes to land and businesses for sale. So, go ahead – try us. Give us a chance to show off our expertise – and wow you with the possibilities! We look forward to it.