Mar 07 2019

Our January 2019 Costa Rica Cost of Living

In January, our spending was lower than our monthly average, with no big, out-of-the-ordinary expenses. Here’s the breakdown:

Transportation – $63.31

No big trips, no car repairs, just one fill-up, a few tolls and parking for a trip into San Jose, and one cab ride here in town. Grand total: $63.31. Living in town has drastically reduced our transportation spending as we can walk most places in town

Groceries – $444.06

While our January spending for groceries is much less than it was in December, it is still over $400 for the month. It will be interesting to see how the average for the year shakes out over past averages. In January, our spending on groceries came to 26% of our total spending for the month.

Generally, it seems to me that grocery prices have risen, though the statistics show otherwise. “Cost of food in Costa Rica decreased 0.69 percent in January of 2019 over the same month in the previous year. Food Inflation in Costa Rica averaged 5.91 percent from 2007 until 2019, reaching an all time high of 27.74 percent in September of 2008 and a record low of -2.30 percent in November of 2016.” Source: Trading Economics)


One thing to keep in mind is that, over the years, taxes on “luxury” products have increased — things like olive oil, aged cheeses, and wine. It’s not a coincidence that these products are also imported. We tend to buy groceries locally in our town, with occasional trips to PriceSmart (like Costco) and AutoMercado (an upscale grocery chain with more imported products) for items not available here. I still cook most of our meals from scratch and we eat lots of local fruits and vegetables with few processed foods. Yet our monthly food expenses continue to rise. So, not a scientific, provable fact, just more of an on-the-ground observation.

I recently read a 2013 USDA report about retail foods in Costa Rica and thought that some of the information it contained would be interesting to our readers. Here’s an excerpt. If anyone is interested in reading the whole report, send me an email and I will be happy to forward the pdf to you.

The Costa Rican retail food market landscape consists principally of five major grocery store chains contributing to over 350 supermarkets, and some 13,000 traditional mom-and- pop/neighborhood stores. In the middle are a few popular, new, and evolving convenience stores and gas marts…Known for its beach and mountain resorts, the country adds more than 2 million tourists and thousands of affluent retirees to its base of retail food consumers every year…The retail sector is one of the most versatile, since much depends on the economic situation of the country. During the recent economic crisis, consumption in independent grocery stores and small suppliers increased because people preferred to buy small quantities, while in times of recovery and economic boom revenues from large chains increase.”

Costa Ricans spend about 30% of their income on food products. The local food industry (comprised of about 20% large companies and 80% small and medium-sized enterprises) has been steadily growing and incorporating technological advances to increase exports and offers a wide variety of products for local consumption: fresh and processed tropical fruits and vegetables, bakery products (bread/cookies), pasta, sauces, snacks, juices, and of course, dairy products, red meat, poultry and fish/seafood

In 2012 total imports of U.S. consumer oriented products reached $183.8 million, a record year. Imports from neighboring countries (Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, and Nicaragua) include a large variety of products such as fresh fruit and vegetables, liquor, cereals and beans. Other major suppliers that seek to increase their exports to Costa Rica include Canada, Chile and, most recently, China.”


Meals Out – $54.12

One lunch and two dinners out for two people came to $54.12. One of the restaurants we went to was our favorite, Savory a la Thai, in Piedades Norte de San Ramon. Addie’s food is consistently good, fresh, and made from scratch. Her Thai red curry paste is so good I asked to buy some. Because of its out-of-the-way location, it’s a bit of a destination restaurant, but well worth the trip! We also had dinner with friends at Octubre 29 Gastrobar, at it’s new location overlooking the park. What a fun restaurant with really creative decor. Food was good too. 

Healthcare – $163.57

January’s spending was MUCH better than last month’s record-breaking total for healthcare! Our normal monthly expenses were our monthly Caja payment ($44.47) and our monthly MediSmart payment. 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.

We also bought some supplements from Amazon which a friend brought down for us from the States for a total of $52.46. Our only other healthcare expense for the month was a dental appointment for Paul. He had an old filling replaced for 30,000 colones ($50.25). Quality dental care in Costa Rica is a bargain. In fact, dental tourism is the #1 type of medical tourism in this country.

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $772.22

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

Because of the strength of the US dollar (about 603 colones/$1 USD), our Internet (22,775 per month through TIGO for 8 mps) went down a bit when converted to dollars.  We didn’t need to buy propane in January, nor do we pay for our water. Our phone expense includes both of our pay-as-you-go (“prepaid”) cell phones as well as our Vonage phone line ($18.13/month). The one expense that is a little higher than normal is our housecleaning since there were five Wednesdays in January (our regular cleaning day) instead of the usual four. 

Personal Care and Clothing – $83.62

Since we had a friend willing to “mule down” some purchases for us from the States, we ordered some personal care products from Amazon that we can’t buy in Costa Rica, things like replacement toothbrush heads for our Braun Oral B toothbrush, totaling $81.97.

For the remaining $1.65, Paul bought a beautiful “new” shirt at one of San Ramon’s many Ropa Americanas (used “American” clothing stores).

Pet Supplies – $62.58

While veterinary care is a bargain in Costa Rica, buying imported cat food and litter is certainly not. In January, we bought one bag of Science Diet’s Urinary Care formula at a cost of $23.99 for a 4 pound bag. We also bought two 42 lb. bags of Fresh Step kitty litter at a cost of just under $20 each. 

We can buy the Science Diet in pet stores locally, but we always buy the Fresh Step in the large bags at PriceSmart. Local stores have just started carrying smaller boxes of the clumping litter but the cost is way too expensive.

Entertainment – $14.67

January was a busy tour month for us so during our off-time, we stayed close to home. We watched a lot of Netflix ($11.65 for our monthly subscription) and Paul read the Baltimore Sun online ($2 for his monthly subscription). I also bought a Kindle Book for 99¢.

Miscellaneous – $19.97

The bulk of spending in this category was to renew our yearly membership in the Community Action Alliance of Costa Rica (CAA). The “CAA  is an organization of expats and Costa Ricans who work together to enrich our community and the individuals in it.” Based in our town of San Ramon de Alajuela, the “CAA has more than 100 members who contribute their talents to the community.” Dues for the whole year are only 5,000 colones per person ($16.61 USD for both of us). You can learn more about the CAA at their Facebook page.

Services – $9.23

Generally, services in Costa Rica are inexpensive. In January, Paul had three shirts ironed for $2.52 (500 colones each) and a pair of shoes repaired for $6.71 (4,000 colones). 

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


Related Articles:



Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.