Our December 2018 Costa Rica Cost of Living

It’s been a couple of months since we published our Costa Rica Cost of Living breakdown. Since we spent the months of October and November in Oaxaca, Mexico, there were no Costa Rica expenses for those months. We arrived back home on December 1st so this is our spending for the full month ($4,187.55). It’s a bit of a mind-blower for us as we had some medical expenses which we will tell you about in the Healthcare section. To put things into perspective, the total cost of this extra expense came to $2159.41. Subtracting that from our actual spending for the month of December, the balance would have been $2,028.14, which is a normal amount for us for the month. 

Transportation – $257.16

Our expenses for gasoline, parking, and tolls were low, totaling $76.52. We had zero expense for public transportation in December. But we did have one big expense in the transportation category.

December is the month when everyone who owns a car must pay the Marchamo. The Marchamo is a combination of yearly registration, taxes, and mandatory basic liability insurance. For our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner, our cost was $180.64 (107,159 colones), a 12% decrease over last year. You can see our annual Marchamo costs in the graphic below.

Groceries – $620.90


This was our highest spending month ever for groceries. There are three reasons for the jump in spending. Probably the biggest reason is that we needed to restock after being out of the country for two months.

Part of that restocking was reason number two, a trip to PriceSmart. It seems when go, we can never leave without spending at least $100 on groceries. I noticed on our December visit that prices of several of our normal items had increased dramatically. Specifically, I noticed that price for the block feta cheese we buy had gone up about 40%. Another item with a huge price increase was the 16 ounce bottle of McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract which I chose NOT to buy at the price of about $40 USD (23,595 colones). This is one item you probably want to “mule in” from the States or Canada. 

The third reason for the excess spending in December was, of course, Christmas. Though we spent a quiet holiday at home this year, I did do some of my traditional baking.

To be honest, only $507.45 of our grocery total (82%) was for food. The other 18% ($113.45) was for non-food items which included household products, paper products, and personal care products.

Meals Out – $84.30

For $84.30, we were able to eat breakfast out once (after Paul’s early morning blood tests), lunch out three times, and dinner out twice. We tend to choose casual restaurants, not fancy ones, except for maybe on special occasions. In general, eating out is more expensive in Costa Rica than it is when we are in Mexico. I will admit that when we are in Mexico, we eat out much more often. But when we are home, my tendency is to cook meals most days in my own kitchen where I can control the ingredients and add lots more vegetables to our menu.

Healthcare – $2,324.90

This is the WOW category of the month. If you read our newsletter last month, you know that we opted to pay out-of-pocket to get a PET/CT for Paul. I won’t go over all the details but we were concerned that the results of his kidney biopsy weren’t ready and also that the cancer may have spread. While we were still in Mexico, I did some online research and learned that the only PET scan machine in Central America was located right here in San Jose, Costa Rica, about an hour from our home. The regular cost of the PET/CT was $2,500 but when we asked about discounts (NOTE: always ask about discounts!) we were offered a 15% Senior Citizen discount, so the scan ended up costing us $2,125 instead of $2,500. (Note: The self-pay cost for a PET scan in the U.S. appears to be about $6,000 and would only be available with a doctor’s referral.) The morning of the procedure, Paul first needed some bloodwork done. We had it done at Laboratorio Paez in Grecia, at a discount through our MediSmart plan. Total cost for the labs was 20,500 colones ($34.41 USD).

We also renewed our MediSmart membership in December, this time adding their “OncoSmart” coverage. OncoSmart is their “plan for the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.” It is an add-on to the MediSmart Plan, offering oncology consultations for people who have a history of family cancer, for cancer patients and survivors. It includes an annual oncological preventive check (at an 80% discount) and discounted prices for oncology services at Hospital Metropolitano’s Cancer Center (located in San Jose) ranging from 50% to 70% less than the regular fees. The cost of the plan is an additional $2 per person added to the monthly MediSmart plan fee. For us, it was a no-brainer. Though we pay for the entire year in advance (in order to get the lowest price), we show the expense on a monthly basis, pro-rated over 12 months. Our monthly MediSmart fee is, therefore, $16.39.

In addition to our regular Caja payment and the cost of supplements, we also both had massages on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. It was a great way to close out a difficult year for us. The cost each was 12,000 colones for deep tissue massage and a bit of chiropractic adjustment. Total cost in US dollars for both of us was $40.40 (24,000 colones).

To put things into perspective, the total cost of the PET/CT and necessary blood tests came to $2159.41. Subtracting that from our total healthcare expenses for the month of December, the balance is $165.49, a much more “normal” expenditure for healthcare. 

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $772.93

Our expenses in this category were normal for the month of December :

The cost for electricity was about half what we normally pay per month. The reason is that we were in Mexico during this billing period and our friend who was living in our house the previous month used less electricity than Paul and I use.

The one expense that was higher than normal was housecleaning. As you may know, employees in Costa Rica get a 13th month Christmas bonus called the aguinaldo.  Basically, the aguinaldo is an additional month of wages that employers are required by law to pay between December 1st and the 20th. The amount due is calculated by adding the total wages for the year (December 1st of the previous year through November 30th of the current year) and then dividing by 12. Our housekeeper’s aguinaldo came to $67.34 (40,000 colones). Our total cost for housekeeping for the month was $134.68, which includes her aguinaldo and payment for cleaning our house four times for four hours each time. Though we were in Mexico for two months last year, our housekeeper still cleaned our apartment each week for our friend who was living here. For that reason, we included that period when calculating her aguinaldo for the year.

Personal Care and Clothing – $56.85

I had my hair done (cut and color) in December (10,000 colones) and Paul got his hair cut as well (2,500 colones). We each gave our stylist a 5,000 colones “tip” for a Christmas bonus. Tipping isn’t common here but Paul and I make sure we tip all of our regular service people at holiday time and their birthdays.

Also falling in this category are the seven pairs of earrings I bought from a local expat who brought back hundreds of pairs from her recent trip to India.

Vet/Pet Supplies – $26.24

Since we were stocked with kitty litter, our only expense was for cat food and treats for Tori and Laura. We upgraded to Science Diet’s Urinary Care formula several months back on the advice of our vet. Cost was $23.99 for a 4 pound bag.

Entertainment – $13.65

September was another quiet month for us as we recovered from our two month trip to Mexico. We watched a lot of Netflix ($11.65 for our monthly subscription) and Paul read the Baltimore Sun online ($2 for his monthly subscription). A quick note about Netflix — though we subscribed to Netflix while in the States, while in Latin America we only have access to Netflix out of Mexico. Not all of the programming available in the States is available in Costa Rica or Mexico. It used to be that we could access U.S. Netflix with a VPN connection but after continued problems with the VPN, we discontinued it and just watch Mexican Netflix. It’s more than enough for us as we are extremely out of touch with current movies and television coming from the States since we have lived in Costa Rica for the last 10 years.

Services – $13.47

Generally, services in Costa Rica are inexpensive. In December, we had six shirts and a pair of pants ironed for Paul on two occasions at a total cost of 8,000 colones (2 times $6.73, or a total of $13.47 ).

As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months. If you want more information about a particular month, just click on the graphic for that month below:

Related Articles:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *