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8 Aspects of the Cost of Living in Costa Rica vs USA

When you decide whether to live in Costa Rica or the US, there's more to think about than whether you prefer rain forests or amber waves of grain. Costa Rico is a Latin American country with coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific, and it's a popular destination for American retirees because of its natural beauty and low cost of living. 

However, don't pack your bags and grab your passport until you dig deeper into what you'll spend on living in each country. This list covers eight different points that affect how much you would spend while living in Costa Rica or the US. 

Cost of Living in Costa Rica vs the US

The average cost of living in Costa Rica is around 30% lower than in the United States, but that doesn't tell you much about what costs more money in the US. That's why this list goes into detail about differences in prices for food, utilities, and other essential expenses. 

8. Wages and Salaries 

  • Average monthly salary in Costa Rica: $500 to $1000 
  • Average monthly salary in the US: $4,952
  • National minimum wage in Costa Rica: None 
  • National minimum wage in the US: $7.25 per hour

At first glance, the difference in monthly income in Costa Rica compared to the US is shocking. A worker in Costa Rica earns an average salary between $500 and $1000 a month. In the US, that amount of money would make it difficult for most people to get by for a few weeks, let alone a month. 

Employees in America earn much more, with an average annual salary of over $55,000 and a mandatory minimum wage of $7.25. Although there's no national minimum wage, Costa Rica offers assistance to residents, including healthcare, and also requires businesses to provide benefits such as paid leave, public holidays, and accident insurance. 

However, before you close the book on Costa Rica and decide it's impractical, remember that the cost of products there is generally lower. As a result, many families can stretch their dollars to cover all their monthly bills. 

7. Groceries and Dining Out

  • Average monthly grocery bill in Costa Rica: $400
  • Average weekly grocery bill in the US: $1080
  • Spending at restaurants in Costa Rica: $9.70 to $25 per person
  • Spending at restaurants in the US: $11 to $40 per person

Depending on your preferences, you might find it easy to save money on food in Costa Rica. You can find an abundance of local produce at smaller markets for a lower cost than at big stores. However, grocery prices for imported products, such as peanut butter, are extremely high when compared to the US. The most expensive items in Costa Rica include typically meat, wine, and cheese, all of which are heavily imported. 

Although some of these products are also costly in the US, they're generally significantly cheaper than in Costa Rica. With that said, the average American spends an average of $270 a week at grocery stores, compared to a mere $100 in Costa Rica. 

If you want to take a break from cooking, you can head to a local restaurant. Costa Ricans and Americans both have a wide array of dining options, including inexpensive restaurants with filling but affordable items. Restaurant prices at fancier establishments in the US are expensive, while an elegant Costa Rican meal can cost $25 or more per person. 

6. Entertainment

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  • Average cost of a cinema ticket in Costa Rica: $6.00
  • Average cost of a cinema ticket in the US: $11.75
  • Average cost of a concert ticket in Costa Rica: $40 to $100
  • Average cost of a concert ticket in the US: $252

One of the easiest ways to see the difference in living costs between America and Costa Rica is by looking at the cost of entertainment. A ticket to see a movie, for example, is nearly double the price in the US. Likewise, most people pay dearly to attend an American concert, whereas performances by major artists in Costa Rica typically cost about half what you'll pay in America. 

If spending money on fun activities is overwhelming your monthly budget, the US and Costa Rica both have popular tourist destinations and outdoor activities that won't break your budget. The entire country of Costa Rica is filled with breathtaking landscapes, from the mountains and volcanoes surrounding the Central Valley to the beautiful beaches of the Central Pacific. Visitors and residents alike can go sightseeing and enjoy nature for free or at a low price. Admission to national parks in Costa Rica usually costs between $7 and $15 per person. 

Similarly, the US has many beautiful parks spread across the country, ranging from stunning redwood forests in California to the glittering waters of the Florida coast. State and national parks usually have low admission rates, ranging from $5 per person to $35 per vehicle. 

5. Utilities

  • Average electricity bill in Costa Rica: $30
  • Average electricity bill in the US: $149
  • Average water bill in Costa Rica: $10 to $15
  • Average water bill in the US: $73

When it comes to paying for utilities, the cost of living in Costa Rica is far below that of the US. Americans spend, on average, more than $200 a month on their water and electricity bills. Costa Ricans, on the other hand, generally pay $50 or less for these basic utilities.  

The demand for energy in each country also affects how much you'll spend. For example, residents of Michigan in the US spend a lot on heating in the winter, while Texans face high air conditioning expenses in the summer.

Costa Rica, like many countries in Central America, has high temperatures year-round. As a result, you won't need to worry about heating your home. Some residents have air conditioning, while others rely on cool breezes and open windows. Costa Rica's rainy season, which runs from May through November, also makes the climate more comfortable and reduces the need to spend money on cooling your home. 

4. Clothing

  • Average cost of Levi's jeans in Costa Rica: $73.89
  • Average cost of Levi's jeans in the US: $50 to $70
  • Average cost of Nike shoes in Costa Rica: $112.94
  • Average cost of Nike shoes in the US: $66.75

If you'd rather wear name-brand clothes, staying well-dressed will put a bigger strain on your bank account in Costa Rica than in the US. Shoes from companies such as Nike, Adidas, and Skechers have higher prices for Costa Ricans because they aren't made locally.  Consumer prices for other fashion items, such as sunglasses, are also higher in Costa Rica. The difference in the overall cost of these products comes down to import duties. As a result, many local Costa Ricans shop at second-hand stores where prices are significantly lower.

Another reason you might spend more on everyday products while living in Costa Rica is sales tax. The standard rate for the country is 13%, which is significantly higher than the rates in the United States. While some states charge sales tax of 5% or more, others are minimal. For example, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon have no sales tax whatsoever. 

Keep in mind that, regardless of which country you're in, prices are almost always higher in tourist areas. In addition, although you'll have to spend more buying clothes in Costa Rica, you won't need a seasonal wardrobe. The items you buy will be equally comfortable in both the wet and dry seasons, whereas most Americans have to purchase clothes of different weights to live comfortably throughout the year. 

3. Healthcare

  • Public health coverage in Costa Rica: 100% of the population
  • Public health coverage in the US: None 
  • Average cost of private insurance in Costa Rica: $40 to $250 per month
  • Average cost of private insurance in US: $450 per month

For many people living in America, healthcare costs are a heavy burden. Because the country doesn't have a public health insurance option, many people have to pay for services out of pocket or spend money on private insurance plans. The price of insurance for a single person could be anywhere from $400 to $1000 per month, based on their health, age, gender, and employment status. Employers often contribute to the insurance premiums for their workers, which helps keep costs down. In addition, some low-income families and seniors are eligible for Medicaid and Medicare. 

Unlike the US, where healthcare costs vary depending on personal characteristics, Costa Rica has public health services with 100% coverage for necessary medical expenses. This medical card covers doctor's appointments, surgeries, hospital visits, and prescription drugs at little or no cost. However, the services only extend to citizens and permanent residents. As a result, many expats choose to purchase private healthcare coverage, which is usually no more than $250 a month. 

Because of the disparate cost of healthcare in the US and Latin America, many people travel to Costa Rica and surrounding countries to receive treatment. Even uninsured patients pay a fraction of the cost for health services of the same quality as in the United States. 

2. Transportation

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  • Cost to run a family car in Costa Rica: $130 per month
  • Cost to run a family car in the US: $894 per month
  • Monthly public transportation in Costa Rica: $0.35 to $10 per bus ticket
  • Monthly bus pass in the US: $100 or more

From insurance to repairs to property taxes, owning and operating a car is expensive no matter where you live. However, the costs in Costa Rica tend to be much lower. While Americans spend almost $11,000 per year maintaining their vehicles, Costa Ricans only spend around $130 per month. This is in spite of the difference in gas prices. A gallon of fuel in the US costs almost $2 less, on average, than gas in Costa Rica. 

Even though it's cheaper, people in Costa Rica haven't embraced car ownership like Americans. Currently, about half of all households in the country have at least one car, compared to more than 90% of American households. Some people in Costa Rica choose not to purchase a car because they don't want to get caught in massive traffic jams, while others simply find it more affordable and efficient to use public transport systems. 

Visitors and residents can travel practically anywhere in Costa Rica on a bus, as long as they don't need to get there too quickly. Buses are common in San José, the capital city, and you can also take a bus between smaller towns. The country doesn't have a monthly pass, so instead you'll need to plan to pay a fare, which could be as little as $0.35. 

Transportation expenses in the US are more complex. Unless you're in a large city, you may not have access to public transportation as many smaller communities don't have buses or subways. When you visit a larger city, such as New York City, you can get a 30-day MetroCard will cost around $132. 

1. Housing

  • Average mortgage interest rate in Costa Rica: 9.22%
  • Average mortgage interest rate in the US: 6.94%
  • Average rent for two-bedroom apartment in Costa Rica: $800
  • Average rent for two-bedroom apartment in the US: $1,317

To make a fair cost of living comparison between the US and Costa Rica, it's essential to take housing costs into account. Prospective home buyers in Costa Rica may struggle to find a home they can afford. Real estate isn't as readily available as it is in America, and interest rates for mortgages are substantially higher. 

Rent prices, on the other hand, are much more affordable in Costa Rica, particularly when comparing major cities like San José and Los Angeles. Residents of San José pay an average rent of around $800 versus $2,700 in Los Angeles. The difference in the housing prices is one of the reasons that the overall cost of living in Costa Rica is so much lower than in the US. 

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Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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