Many visitors are astounded when they come to Costa Rica and find out just how much more expensive it is than the rest of Central America. As someone who grew up in the States, I’m thinking “What? How is Costa Rica that expensive?!”
Our town, Playas del Coco is probably one of the top 3 most expensive places to live in Costa Rica. When I first moved here, I didn’t know that it was THAT much of a tourist destination and was slightly surprised. But it’s more to the price tag than the tourism industry. The government plays a huge role in determining prices of items here.
When you compare the cost of food, groceries, electronics, cars, etc. to the average monthly salary of a Costa Rican, it doesn’t make much sense. The average Costa Rican makes around $600 – $800 a month and the average high salary is around $4000 to $5000 a month. Granted in most other non-touristic areas, food and groceries are not as expensive as Coco.
I found out the reason is because of all the taxes and fees it takes to get that item inside Costa Rica. Then business owners have to mark up the items to compensate for the fees and to make a profit.
So here’s a list of some things I’ve noticed are noticeably pricier than in the US. Good thing I brought my Wii down!
6 Things More Expensive in Costa Rica
Sunglasses and Clothing
Yeison bought a pair of Oakley Hijinx last year on Amazon for $100 since he needed a good quality pair to protect his eyes, especially since we live at the beach now. We first looked around in Coco at several stores for sunglasses such as Arenas and Optica-Vision but after looking, we knew we could get them cheaper online.
The exact same pair of glasses were being sold at a surf/skate shop for 140,000 colones which is $280! That is over twice as much as Amazon. So instead we ordered them online, sent them to my parent’s house and had them bring it down for us when they came to visit the following month.
If you go to a clothing store, you’ll notice that prices are a bit different than what you might see in the US. Yeison and I rarely buy clothes in Costa Rica, we usually online shop so whoever is visiting us from the States brings it down for us. Clothes are more expensive and not just like a few dollars more, but up to almost twice as much sometimes, especially the American and international brands.
When I moved down here last August, Yeison asked me to bring a new laptop for him as his old one had seen the last of its days. Luckily I had a Best Buy gift card and he was just looking for something simple, not too fancy. I bought as HP Pavilion g4 laptop for $380 after my $40 gift card and it has been working great.
For fun, we checked out what the price would be if he bought the same laptop down here. It took us awhile to find it but we found it with a total price tag of 350,00 colones ($700). Ouch.
It’s a well known fact that electronics are quite expensive down here from cameras to laptops, even Macbooks are more expensive! (And Apple is already very $$$).
One of the reasons why we were so bummed when our Canon Powershot SX 50 HS died was because we bought it in Panama and were left with little options. We definitely didn’t want to pay $600, how much it cost here. Thankfully, one of our friend’s boyfriend brought it down for us from the States.
The price of gas has become a big issue in the US, especially since it has increased quite a bit in the last decade. I still remember how outraged people were when it climbed above $1 back in 2003. The average highest and lowest cost of gas in the States is $3.87 in Hawaii and $2.88 in Oklahoma according to Gasbuddy.com
Gas in Costa Rica is about 650 colones per liter. So 3.78 liters to a gallon equals 2457 colones which is a grand total of $4.91 per gallon. Gas prices here have been continuously increasing the past couple years. Additionally, the price of gas doesn’t change by province so everywhere in the country is around 650 colones per liter.
Now you see why Ticos like having small cars or diesel engines? Diesel is actually cheaper than regular gas here!
Yeison has a PlayStation 3 and I have a Nintendo Wii. When I was still living in the States, I’d bring games down for Yeison and I made sure to get all the games I wanted for my Wii before I moved.
A few months ago, we went to a video game store in Liberia to see if we could trade in some old games. Yeison ended trading a handful of younger good games for just one, Far Cry 3.
This game is already one year old which in technology world is old since they’ve already announced the release date for Far Cry 4. If he didn’t trade, this game would have cost him $60 as a used game. 3 times as much as it’s sold on Amazon right now (new).
Buying a car is a pain here is not the most fun thing to do especially if you are not a Costa Rican. Importing your car is a hassle and buying one, used or new comes with a lot of work.
The majority of Ticos and expats buy used cars because the price tag on new ones are a little through the roof due to all the taxes and fees.
Take this Toyota Landcruiser for example.
The starting price for the basic model is around $78,000 in the United States. Take a close look at the price tag in the picture and the starting price is $128,000!
Sunscreen and mosquito repellent
Unfortunately, as necessary as those items are they are not as cheap as we hope them to be. Luckily, they aren’t outrageously more expensive but even $5 more adds up when you have to buy them fairly often.
A bottle of Hawaiian Tropic SPF 50 is around 8,109 (~$16) colones at the little store by our place where online it is $8. Some other brands and lower SPF count is cheaper, around 5000 colones.
You can read a list of the different sunscreens you can find in Costa Rica and the ones we recommend. But as always, we recommend buying it well, not in Costa Rica because of the price.
As for mosquito repellent, a bottle of Off! Family care Smooth and Dry costs around 4000 colones ($8) which you can find for …$1.40 on Amazon. Granted, shipping is $4 but you can find this at your local Walgreens for $4.99 To see which mosquito repellents you should bring, check out our post about the best repellents we tested ourselves.
So there you have it, a few items that are more expensive in Costa Rica than the States. This list is just to give you an idea of what the cost of living here is like and help you figure out what to pack.
Of course there are things that are cheaper such as tropical fruits, rice, beans, eating at a restaurant, beer, coffee, some home items and more (see what else is cheaper in Costa Rica). It makes sense, depending on if you import the product or produce it here yourself.
If you’re thinking about moving to Costa Rica, these are a few things to think about bringing down. You can’t do anything about the gas or the cars but it is possible for electronics or clothing.
Prices also vary depending on where you are in the country. All these prices are pertaining to Playas del Coco/Guanacaste region and could be cheaper in San Jose or other places.
If you’re curious to see what our monthly budget is like, we have a cost breakdown of how we live in Costa Rica for $1500 a month.
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Montwella M Stewart says
We live in Atenas which in the Central Valley and really love it. We live like the Ticos on less than $1000 per month. We pay $320 a month for rent which includes all utilities except cooking gas. I shop at the local market for fruits, veggies, and meats. For other products like paper products, coffee, shampoo ect. I shop at Pali or Maxi Pali, I rarely buy imported items so for the 2 of us I spend about $300-$400 a month for groceries. I pay $8.00 a month for cooking gas. We eat out a couple of times a month at a soda or local restaurant which cost about 6,000 to 8,000 colones that’s $12-14 usd. So it depends on how you want to live, we wash and hang up clothes no dryer, no air conditioner but the temp is always nice. I brought my electronics and small appliances from the states. For transportation we use an Uber to town which cost about $1.80 each way, when going to bigger cities like Alajuana or San Jose we take the Tico bus for under $2. The weather is always good because we are in the mountains in the Central Valley. I would say decide how you want to live and do your homework. It can be expensive if you want to live like you are in the US with a lot of modern conviences, avoid touristy areas. The beach is 2 hours away by bus. Personally I love it, waiting on residency which can take so over a year.
Tabra Tunoa says
I am an American living in Bali and in the process of moving to Costa Rica. I have lived a total of some 4 to 5 years in Costa Rica and have chosen it to retire. I love Costa Rica and know it has problems, but it doesn’t have Trump as a president and I love the fresh organic fruits that we are growing on our property, and I like most of the people just fine – not all of course. No way I would live in Nicaragua – not safe. Panama is fine, but I personally like Costa Rica the best.
Costa Rica…I lived there for a year in 2007-8. Way overpriced. Don’t waste your time or money. First, the food is really really boring. Actually pretty lousy. What this article says about taxes is true. There is like a 50% tax duty on all import items…..which is virtually all consumer goods. Costa Rica is poorly run governmental country and is unable to collect taxes the normal way at point of purchase, because everybody scams and fudges revenue…..so they have to do this lame and ineffective system of high taxing imports at point of entry. It makes all consumer goods more expensive there than here in the USA. Also, Costa Rica’s litter like crazy. Trash and paper everywhere…..kinda pathetic. They drive like crazy. There is a lot of petty theft and stealing. They have open sewers that go into the sea and pollute waters people swim in. You pay American prices and higher, and don’t get American quality. Stay away. Better options and a real bang for your buck in Central America are Nicaragua or Panama. Costa Rica really does screw tourist and overcharges them on everything….including local flights……locals get a cheaper price. Can you imagine that he in the USA if we had higher priced airfares for tourists or foreign born individuals. Who operates like that? Wow! Though Nic is having some civil unrest at the moment. I’m sure it will subside.
A lot of these posts were in 2013 & 2014. There were some pretty serious predictions about where the economy was headed and impending social upheaval.
So, what is it like in 2018? Did things get better or worse?
After reading some of the comments here, I’m leaning toward not visiting CR at all, much less choosing it as a new home, and going elsewhere like Nicaragua or Equador.
Went to Costa in July 2018, going back in March. it’s cleaner than Nica and way more stable, the cost of things is high in some places but extremely cheap if you know where to look. beach towns are going to be pricey in any american looking stores. Fact is, plan, and know before you go, and it’s a great place, there no more theft there than in some big american cities, and depending on your build and how you allow yourself to be perceived, you wont have any trouble.
cinthia morales says
Its not Costa Rica family that imported items are so expensive, How much do you think they have to pay for the stuff, I am sure it wasnt cheap. Besides Costa Rica life should be lived simple, just nature and you. If you are living there Why wouldnt you use the time to find yourself In nature.
Paul Brainerd says
I lived in Costa Rica for a year in 2007-08. What a ripoff place. If I had to do it over again, knowing what I know now, I would have chosen Nicaragua or Panama. Costa Rica has an archaic system of 100 percent import tax, and import almost all goods, so everything doubles in price. They tax this way because they don’t have a reliable tax system in place to collect excise tax like here in the US. The locals would scam and do sales under the table or in all cash without documentation.The double the price import tax, is a doomed system that punishes the local people and and makes autos, electronic merchandise and durable goods out of reach for most of them. Turns off tourist too. Restaurants (non local Tico food) are more expensive that US, and the quality of preparation, service, and food is poor. (meat is tough, whole chickens are boney with no meat, desserts are served two and three days old…..not freshly made). I say this……Costa Rica will have a rude awakening in the near future….tourism will decline, GDP will go negative and the economy will crash. Ticos also litter everywhere and dump sewage into the beaches we swim in. So Costa Rica…….good luck……..you’ll need it.
I definitely agree with some points there sadly the taxes here are just absurd. Absolutely ridiculous. It’s crazy how expensive cars are here due to taxes, and it makes absolutely no sense when you compare it to how much the average salary is here. And it’s not just locals, lots of foreigners who own businesses don’t pay taxes or do only cash to avoid paying taxes :/ Even though their tourism is still very strong, I fear it will run into deep trouble now that more people are discovering Nicaragua as a tourist destination and Nicaragua’s infrastructure and natural landmarks are actually greater than Costa Rica’s.
Casey @ A Cruising Couple says
Great post guys! We just paid $8,500 for our Jeep Wrangler, and I don’t even want to know what it would have cost us in the States. It’s an automatic, but still…it’s crazy! Also super expensive: good quality wine 😉 We are bringing back about 30 bottles of wine from Italy and Greece because it’s almost a third of the price of what you would pay in Costa Rica…if you could even find it! You’ll have to come visit us at our new house so we can work on the wine project together.
You guys got a car! Awesome. Yea it is expensive when it comes to cars but it’s definitely the best way to get around when you’re living here
Haha yes!! The wine project. Dang 30 bottles… you should set aside a few for our wine project lol. Good wine is definitely really expensive/doesn’t exist in Costa Rica, we usually get the cheap box wine for like $7 haha.
After reading all these comments, I have a couple of questions, Why are you people living here if you think it is so expensive and so horrible. We are living in Playas Del Coco and totally love it, no stress, don’t worry about gas prices, we have a golf cart. We have an awesome contractor who can do anything and very inexpensive.
There are some down sides but not near as many as living in the states. We lived in Oregon and we loved Oregon but not as much as Costa Rica. Maybe you guys are just saying this to discourage people from moving here because it’s so awesome. Whatever, We love it!!!!!!!!!!!
Steve and Karen
Glad you like it have a great time 🙂
Beans and rice are pretty cheap.
Yes they are but compare with all the rest of the countries in Central America Costa Rica has the higher prices 🙁
My Mom is from the US and my Dad is Costa Rican and I have been living in Costa Rica with my tico husband and daughter for the past 20 years. We live in Escazu and yes, its the most expensive place for real estate these days. However, I wanted to be sure we would live securely and I admit to being a city rat because I love to have all the ammenites just a few blocks away. My husband works in Heredia at one of the Industrial Zones and my daughter is studying her last year high school at a private school near the Sabana park area and she is looking into studying at the State University in San Pedro. All these factors kind of force us to live in an urban setting as well. Electricity is going up but I recently bought a nice gas range and oven and changed most of our bulbs to LED and my bill is no more than $10 a month. No need for air conditioning in Escazu since the house keeps cool all year round. We visit the farmers market in town every Saturday morning to buy fresh veggies and fruit and also visit a local butcher. I buy a few imported items at Automercado but at least 97% of what we eat is locally produced. I admit, electronics are SUPER expensive, so are clothing and shoes. I prefer to get online into either JC Penney or Old Navy and buy clothes there and just send them to relatives or to the company HQ where my husband works and wait patiently until someone comes to visit. We just bought a small property at a Carrillo Beach, next to Samara and its less exploited and touristy so the prices are not as high as El Coco. Its also closer, at only 3 hours vs. 5 hours to get to El Coco and the beach is way more beautiful as well.
Costa Rica can be expensive, especially if you are used to the unbridled materialism of the states. But if you are flexible enough to really change your lifestyle, it can be affordable.
First, cost averaging is important. Remember, you are not paying sales taxes, 7-9% in most states. You also get $97,500 of income before paying income tax back in the states. That’s a 20-35% savings.
I do belong to PriceSmart and buy most fruits and veggies at the Farmer’s Market. But I walk right past that $7.00 bottle of A1 sauce at the Mercado.
Golfito is a duty free zone if you need appliances or video and audio electronics. A Whirlpool 25sq ft. refrigerator is the same price as Home Depot. You can it trucked to your home within 3 days for 3% of the purchase price (Tica wife negotiated 2.5%).
Yes, I married a Tica and have learned through her how to navigate the culture. She negotiates and I disappear. The sight of a Gringo doubles the price in many instances, especially labor. Find a trusted Tico to negotiate for you, Even working with the government institutions can be difficult (Riteve) and having a native’s help is invaluable.
I also noticed that most people on this board live at the beach. I tried it for six months, but I can’t justify a $200 a month air conditioning bill. Instead, I chose to live at 3500 feet near Grecia with a view of the Valley. The temps are consistently 65 to 85, so there no need for heating or air. My water bill was $8.00 in June, electric $30, Satellite $22, and Internet $27 for 4KB. Property tax is $36.00 every three months on a $150,000, 900 square meter, 3 bedroom. When I want the beach, Puenta Leona is still only 75 minutes away!
My point is this: Do your homework and learn to live within your means. I walked away from corporate America at 55 and I’m not looking back!
Yikes $200?? The most we’ve ever paid for our electricity bill was $80 and we use AC everyday! That’s too bad, I personally love living at the beach. Instead of a 75 minute drive, I walk 2 minutes to the beach and see beautiful beach sunsets everyday. I don’t know any Ticos who pay that much for electricity! Everything is getting more expensive here though, prices keep going up unfortunately. They soo need to put a Pricemart in Liberia!
Juan Eduardos says
To lease a car in Costa Rica is $700. per month with insurance included, and that’s the smallest car on the road with a standard transmission. In North America I can get a monthly lease agreement for $150. per month, that’s for a small brand new Nissan.
Electricity in Costa Rica is going up another 16% in the near future, Caja rates for Pensionados has increased 45%, and the cost of groceries are about the same as in North America, with the selection being very poor. One Canadian expat couple had their Caja premiums increased to $700. per month, due to the pension income they reported when getting status. They moved back to Canada where health care is free. Due to the very high import taxes Costa Rica has become the most expensive country in Central America “and that will never change”. Some school teachers here in Costa Rica have not been paid for six months, now that’s a bad sign. Homes suitable for Gringo habitation are grossly over priced, tours are expensive, and hotel accommodation prices are insane, especially for the Canadians who can purchase low cost all inclusive vacation packages to Cuba.
Lester Hein says
Costa Rica has amazing natural beauty and fantastic beaches. Pretty much anything that didn’t have to be man-made is great. If you’re coming for a two week vacation, it’s lovely.
Living here, however is a nightmare. I don’t live on the beach, I live in the ‘city’, San Jose.
Overpriced goods, non-existent service and apathy everywhere (Pura Vida, right?). I’ve lived here for 4 years now, and other than my meeting my fiance and having our beautiful daughter here, I can honestly say that I regret it.
There is nothing to love about San Jose if you’re not wealthy.
Oh man I can’t imagine living in San Jose. Every time we visit Yeison’s family in Heredia I am so grateful we don’t live in the city. Granted, the beach is more expensive so in that sense it’s not any better. It’s amazing at how much things cost now in Costa Rica! I know many people have the same sentiment about the beach – it’s no fun unless you got the $$ and a lot of people don’t know that and they move here thinking it’ll be paradise. Sadly they’re in for a real shocker.
Mary Lu says
we are planing to live in Costa Rica deep in the jungle with subistancial life any tips?
Depends of what do you mean with “Jungle” I know places in the jungle where the closest store in 60 miles away and I know communities close to national parks or reserves also what kind of weather are you looking to live in here in Costa Rica we have so many kinds of weathers. People from teh USA and Canada they love to move to Guanacaste because is warm. Let me know what are you looking for and I will try to give you my best answer.
David Castillo says
You can’t. Unless you own like a huge ass piece of land. Most forests are national parks or protected zones. People can’t live there, much less if they plan on living by killing stuff.
Juan Eduardo says
In Costa Rica a few elite families control the government, the operate grocery prices, and even the banks.
The import taxes on many items can be as high as 80%, and the Chinese can sell terrible products here, which are items that cannot be sold in other parts of the world. Costa Rica is no longer a retirement destination as many Gringos cannot even afford the electricity bills “and the new cost of Caja health care coverage”. It’s sad to see Costa Rica in this condition, and it’s unfortunate that the country will never recover. I think there will be a nation wide rebellion soon, some Ticos here are working for as low as $14. per day.
Sadly that is quite true 🙁 I hope with the new government they’ll be able to turn it around since Costa Rica still does have so much potential. Well I do have to say as a college graduate I was making less than $14 a day at my first job so the economy in the States is definitely on the up and up either. Unemployment and high cost of living seems to be the trend in the world.
Juan Eduardo says
Many teachers in Costa Rica have not been paid for six months or more, plus the public has been notified that electricity rates will soon increase by 16%. Many Expats who have residentcy have been informed that their health care premiums will increase by almost 50%. Between not being able to pay the electric bill to run AC, and the higher rates for health care, many Expats are throwing in the towel and moving to either Panama or back to the states. I guess when you are over 65 health care in the US is less expensive?
Anyway! It’s a sad situation in Costa Rica, and it is highly unlikely things will recover in the near future.
The Americans came in an inflated the home prices, many suckers bought these over priced homes, and now they are stuck with them “maybe forever”. They can’t be sold so they’re being rented out to tourists who can afford to pay $500. per month electric bills.
Groceries, gas, the price of cars, the 80% import taxes on imported goods, and the high price of tourist accommodation, it’s all destroying what was once a great country to retire and vacation in.
Ah yeah, I’ve been watching the news about the strike for the teachers. Electricity here is already quite expensive and it’s insane it’s getting more expensive, along with gas. I met many older people who had bought tons of property in Costa Rica 10 years ago and they’ve been stuck with it ever since cause nobody wants to buy it and they don’t want to build anything because that’s also expensive. It’s a deep hole they’ve dug themselves for sure.
David Castillo says
Esta mal. Pero no tanto. No exagere.
Sun screen and gas are totally cheaper than the UK yay!
Haha load up on the sunscreen for your trip !
When I moved to Costa Rica I was shocked at how much small home appliances cost. I paid $40 for a basic toaster!
When it comes to food, as with most places, if you buy things that are imported, it’s going to cost you. But if you eat like a local, the prices are quite reasonable.
I never had to buy sunglasses while I was there, so it’s good to know!
Oh yes small appliances are more too! I forgot about that as well. We always buy local brands, it’s just too expensive to bu imported! Their sales and import tax is very high in Costa Rica so that makes it more expensive 🙁
Juan Eduardos says
You can buy a brand new Suzuki Alto car in San Jose for approximately $13,000US
if you have a Tico approach the salesman for the price. That was a year ago.
It has 3 cylinders and great on gas, we rented one for two months. There is an operation in San Jose called Mycostaricacontact, they do all the leg work for anything you want to buy.
They even have their own mechanic to do inspections on used cars they find for you.
David Castillo says
You need to go to crautos.com… not to make them publicity. But let me put it this way: All Costa Ricans sell their cars on that site. It’s free market in action. Every time I have changed cars, I have to sell my current one. That’s where I’ve done it.
So true! And the internet cafes…sheesh. I lived there for a couple years when I was younger. I lived in Coco but went to school at Teocali in Liberia….You guys should do something on the education in Costa Rica. Plus, you guys definitely need to visit Tamarindo, Playa Avellanas, and Langosta. I really hope you guys have had granizados with both leches. So darn good. I haven’t been back in like 6 years and I miss it every single day.
Education is actually a good idea, we’ll look into it! We went to Tamarindo for a week last month and had a great time, it’s so different than Coco! hehe, we had the churchills at Puntarenas but man that is too sweet for me but delicious. Hope you make it back here sometime, Coco’s changed a lot the past few years!
David Castillo says
Cafe internets? Those stopped existing in Costa Rica since like 2010. Everybody has internet on the cell so internet cafes no longer exist.
Terry Reid/ Abuelita Pipilacha says
Since I have lived in the area for two different decades in two different centuries & have had to live below the poverty level in the 70s & relatively comfortably pensioned since 2002, I think that it was easier to live with little then because very little was available & many things were only found in San Jose after an 8 hour bus trip. Few imported items ever made it to Guanacaste & there were no phones in small towns, only a telegraph office. The mail came to everyone weeks & sometimes months after it was sent, even within the country, & lots of mail was never delivered, lost along the way. There were few cars, usually old Toyota Land Cruisers that looked & rode like Jeeps. Our town had one, Sardinal a few more & Coco had a few as well. Everyone traveled on the local buses & went to San Jose on a much smaller, slower Pulmitan bus over a very long & winding road. There were no electronics, cars, video games, computers, sunscreen, or Oakley sunglasses. Everything took some effort but we never really felt poor. We were just like our neighbors & friends. Hauling water, chopping weeds, planting something we could eat. Raising children, chickens, turkeys & goats until they ate almost all our young avocado trees.
Things have changed in quantum leaps in some ways, universal electricity & running water, more cars & inexperienced drivers, university education, cleaner work in tourism, availability of all those things you mentioned & more people who earn enough to afford them. I’m glad I lived then & glad to be alive now. Home is where the heart is & my heart is here.
Ruthie Turner says
I really like how you break down the items along with prices. For anyone that is considering moving or visiting Costa Rica, they’ll be able to get great information not only from this post but your awesome website as well!
Thank you for all you do!
Hi Ruthie … I am glad you like the post, thanks for all the kind words, hope to met you in person one day !!! Pura vida