We at Retire for Less in Costa Rica would advise everyone to rent for one year, six months, or even just one month before buying any property. We know it’s tempting to buy when you are on a tour, or just going around the country looking for places to live. It’s so alluring, this beautiful land. One gets all hyped up; you feel you are losing out and that you need to get your piece of heaven. Believe me, we have felt this way ourselves. I guess it’s alright to buy quickly if a piece of land calls to you — it is difficult to resist. But rent if you can; it is better to slow down the process to give you time to experience this country and decide what you really want.
Rental houses in most parts of the Central Valley run about $250 to $600 per month. Many include some furniture and some utilities, though sometimes they don’t include appliances. Of course, you can pay more in Escazu or Santa Ana which are more upscale areas, attractive to many Gringos. In these locales, rents are usually well over $600 and go into the $1,000s monthly and home prices are higher as well. Personally, we wouldn’t want to settle there. They remind us of the States, with lots of fast food, malls, and expensive cars. Still, rich Americans go there in droves, hell bent on making Costa Rica like the United States. Even in outlying areas, you may find high rents, but less so than in those American enclaves.
Actually, one could rent forever and never buy. Many Americans don’t have a lot of money, have small 401Ks, and may not own their homes outright. Heck, they may live in an apartment and basically just have a monthly retirement check to live on. But this group can live the dream too. Armed with $1,500 a month of ongoing income, one could live quite well in Costa Rica. Remember, the average Costa Rican makes between $500 and $1,000 monthly and the minimum wage is just under $450 monthly. Costa Rican college grads are making more, but rarely reach the stratosphere of $20K yearly. So you see, your $1,500 can go a long way. Just bring your monthly check, suitcases, and a sense of adventure, and plan to rent. You’ll be able to pay for everything (rent, food, utilities, etc.) and should you decide to become a resident of paradise, enough for health insurance and to have something left over for lunches out and a monthly excursion or two, just to get to know Costa Rica better. You could even afford a language school.
Regarding food costs, I’ve looked at a lot of price comparisons on the Internet regarding food. Generally these links tout savings of 30% on your weekly food shopping. We think you can do much better. Though some items cost more since they are imported, if you shop in the ferias (farmers’ markets), you can save, save, save. Vegetables and fruits fresh from the farms are sold by the kilo or ½ kilo, and this weekly experience can be fun, fun, fun. You can always go to a regular food market to get those things not available at the local feria.
Utilities should run a lot less too. $150 to $250 monthly should cover everything – water, electricity, propane, Internet, telephone – as you probably won’t have a heating or air conditioning bill.
Remember, slow down the process, and discover paradise without spending a fortune.