What is the REAL cost of living in Costa Rica?

By David Bolaños on Jun 03, 2022

Costa Rica: land of the sloth, the surf and of course the tan (or burn, in my case). Just a short five-hour flight from most US cities, it provides a tropical getaway without the nasty time zone changes. More importantly, this means zero jetlag.

We’re seeing a huge trend in the numbers of people swapping breezy, cool America for the lush vegetation and sweltering heat. With a cheaper cost of living in Costa Rica vs US, it’s no wonder that tourists are seriously making the most of a three-month visa on arrival.

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All of this and more means that Costa Rica is one of the top destinations in Latin America, (and the world) for longer-term stays. If you’re considering a trip to the country, you’re probably trying to plan around the cost of living in Costa Rica. With over 1 million tourists entering the country last year in 2021, we’ve got plenty of data and information to help.

Where is Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is located pretty centrally in Latin America and has land borders with the countries of Panama (to the South) and Nicaragua (to the North). Most people tend to look at it vertically on a map- with the Pacific coastline on the left side from North to South, and the Caribbean coastline on the right.

The country, whose name translates to “Rich Coast”, is incredibly accessible by air. Its two major airports, San Jose and Liberia cater to millions of visitors each year (and are only a few hours away from the States). With a central standard timezone, it’s one of the most US-friendly destinations in the world.

The Costa Rica cost of living speaks towards its popularity, but the reason why so many people choose to see the sights is actually because of the climate, friendly locals and variation in things to do in Costa Rica. While it’s land mass is small and mimics an island in nature, Costa Rica actually shelters 5% of the world’s biodiversity. It’s easily one of the premier destinations in the world.

Costa Rica Map

See it for yourself, here is Costa Rica on the map.

As mentioned, we’re splitting the country up by its coastlines, with the pacific side to the left, and the Caribbean side to the right. This comes in handy later when we are talking about the cost of living; Costa Rica’s varying regions do range in their everyday prices depending on where you visit.

San Jose

Let’s start in the Capital city of San Jose. It’s located almost central in the country and is a highly developed city with all the amenities that a tourist or long stay visitor could require. Plus, the cost of living in San Jose Costa Rica is some of the cheapest in the entire country. However, the draw of this beautiful place lies elsewhere.

Nicoya Peninsula

To the North West, the Nicoya Peninsula contains the destinations of:

  • Tamarindo
  • Nosara
  • Samara
  • Santa Teresa

This area is incredibly popular among surfers and beach-lovers. With an average of 2485 hours of sunlight per year, this region experiences a less intense rainy season than elsewhere places within the country.


Moving south and inland, the Arenal region contains the two high-altitude towns of Monteverde and La Fortuna. The terrain in these places is rougher, with volcanoes and mountains. Due to its altitude, the temperature is often much colder here, and, in places, the large and packed vegetation growth can make it feel like you’re submerged inside a rainforest. The cost of living in Costa Rica is higher in areas like this, where tourism is so heavily relied upon.

Central pacific

Moving further south and back towards the coastline are the towns of Jaco and Manuel Antonio. These are incredibly different from one another, with Jaco being a highly built-up city with many American-style amenities. Alternatively, Manuel Antonio is less developed but offers mirrored views of the ocean and the jungle at once. It’s not uncommon for tourists to see monkeys and other wildlife here.

Caribbean South

Finally, the town of Puerto Viejo is found by moving across to the very southeast corner of the country. More remote and less developed than many of the other popular tourist destinations, it’s a little slice of Caribbean heaven. Also known for its surf, most people cycle around the incredibly laid-back town.

What is the cost of living in Costa Rica?

The average cost of living in Costa Rica for a single tourist is between $1,600 and $2,000 per month, which equates to approximately $60 per day. Of course, there are ways to live more frugally and spend less, or more luxuriously and spend more. Plus, those in couples or families might be able to share some of their expenses to bring the living costs down.

We’ve calculated this number by taking a look at four main categories of expenses:

  1. Accommodation
  2. Transportation
  3. Food and Drinks
  4. Activities and Entertainment

Let’s break it down.


The price of accommodation is highly dependent on what level of comfort you are looking for, alongside its vicinity to the attractions. On average, a night in a shared dorm room will cost between $15- $30 per night in low season and can run up to around $50 per night in high season.

Those wanting more private living quarters can find a double bedroom for between $650-$900 per month and a studio or one bedroom apartment for upwards of $1200 per month. But there’s a catch: the more populated a city, the more competition and (usually) lower prices). For example, those searching “the cost of living San Jose Costa Rica” will find more variety of options, whereas visitors to Puerto Viejo have a much smaller pool to choose from.

For a comfortable standard of living and amenities like kitchens and cowork spaces (which are essential for long term stays), we recommend staying in a Selina hostel. Offering a great chance to meet and interact with new people, there are rooms to suit high-end travellers alongside backpackers. Plus, with an established global brand and destinations all over the world, there are no nasty surprises!

Selina Tamarindo

Embrace a life without borders! Work, stay, and explore at Selina Tamarindo!


There are several different ways that travellers can get around Costa Rica. After flying into either San Jose or Liberia airport, most will need to get on the roads to reach the next destination. Of course, the mode of transportation can significantly affect the overall cost of living in Costa Rica 2022. The most common forms of transportation include:

  • Hiring a car
  • Riding shuttles
  • Taking the bus
  • Taxi
  • Riding a bike (inside towns only)

Hire Car

Hiring a car in Costa Rica is only recommended to those who really know what they’re doing. Driving is incredibly different in Costa Rica compared to the US, and conditions can be dangerous as some roads are filled with potholes and bumps. However, those who feel confident about driving can usually hire a car for approximately $400 per week (or better rates for long term stays).


Most travellers opt for a door-to-door shuttle service between the stops on their tour de Costa Rica. Not only is this an incredibly efficient and faster way to travel than the standard bus, but it’s pretty convenient and comfortable for those carrying luggage, too. A typical shuttle ride should cost between $50-80 in high season, with most journeys lasting at least 5 hours.


Want to experience Costa Rica the way to locals do? Take the Tico bus. Costa Rican bus rides will take travellers from A to B with quite a few random stops in between, but tourists should be able to see a more authentic side to the country and get a feel for the real culture. Plus, the local bus network is a super cheap way to travel throughout the country, with tickets setting travellers back less than $10 in most cases. Just bear in mind that changes are common and that the bus station may not be in the vicinity of the final destination.


While it’s not the cheapest option, a taxi is the quickest way from origin to destination. Plus, it’s a good choice for those wanting more privacy as they make long journeys between the towns of Costa Rica. The prices of taxis can vary immensely depending on the journey, but expect to pay about $60 per hour, and more for shorter distances.


Many tourists find that once they reach their destination town, a bicycle is the most popular form of transportation. There are no running costs, it should only cost around $80 for a monthly rental. Combining exercise and transport in the same breath? It’s a win-win!

Food and Drinks

The cost of this category will depend on whether travellers are willing to try local options, or stick to a more western-style cuisine.

In Costa Rica, the word ‘Soda’ is on many of the high street restaurants and cafes. This simply indicates that these places are local Costa Rican food places serving traditional dishes.

In Costa Rica, the most common dish is called a Casado. Once ordered, a Casado plate will arrive with a choice of protein, rice, beans, steamed vegetables and sweet fried plantains. They will typically cost between 2000-3000 Costa Rican colones, which (at the time of writing) exchanges to approximately $3-4 USD.

Alternatively, there are a ton of other food options, such as French or Italian-inspired restaurants, American and Chinese or Japanese. A meal at one of these places will likely cost between 6000-12,000 CRC, which equates to approximately $10-18 USD. In more built-up cities, there are more western options. For example, the cost of living in Jaco Costa Rica is going to be higher than a smaller town like Puerto Viejo, since there are a lower number of local food options.

Activities and Entertainment

Obviously, the types of activities and entertainment that interest each tourist will impact the price of their trip. And there are plenty of options because Costa Rica tourism does not hold back!

Let’s go through some examples.

The cost of living in Tamarindo Costa Rica is likely to be dominated by las buenas olas: aka the waves! A surf lesson is likely to be priced at approximately $50 for 2 hours, with rentals costing around $20 per hour instead. In La Fortuna, tours of the hanging bridges and Arenal volcano are around $80-100 USD.

The limitations are completely endless when it comes to activities and events in Costa Rica. But this can seriously affect the weight of the wallet. We suggest choosing one or two excursions in each destination when touring or grabbing a group of friends to spread the cost.

Short vs Long Trips to Costa Rica

The monthly cost of living in Costa Rica per day is likely going to be cheaper than a shorter trip of just one or two weeks. For example, spreading the cost of three shuttle journeys across a 30-day period makes more financial sense than those same three journeys within seven days.

More often than not, accommodation providers will often cheaper rates across a longer stay period, too. So those taking lasting trips can take advantage of the fact that their nightly rate will be cheaper, and the budget is free to be spent elsewhere.

Costa Rica Cost of Living Comparison

In this next section, we’re going to compare the cost of living in Costa Rica in US dollars, compared to other destinations in the same area of the world. This includes the likes of:

  • USA
  • Mexico
  • Belize
  • Panama
  • Nicaragua

The great thing about all of these destinations is that even if Costa Rica does not fit within the budgetary requirements, the other options are still within a short flight of the US and are located within similar time zones. This means that remote working from paradise is still possible.

Cost of Living in Costa Rica vs USA

Overall, the cost of living in Costa Rica is going to be cheaper for the same quality of life when compared with most US locations. This difference is significantly more in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where the cost of living is some of the highest in the world.

Let’s compare the average cost for the four categories of expenses in Costa Rica and USA:

Expense Costa Rica USA
Accommodation Dorm room: $22

Private Bedroom: $45

Suite: $150

Dorm room: $90

Private Bedroom: $120

Suite: $300

Transportation Taxi: $1 per minute

Bus: $3-10 per journey

Shuttle: $60

Taxi: $1 per minute

Bus: $20-40

Shuttle: $100

Food and Drinks Local cuisine: $3-4 Local cuisine:$10-12
Entertainment Average tour: $80-100 Average tour: $80-100

As you can see, there are some categories where Costa Rica is just as expensive as the US. However, for the biggest budgetary costs like accommodation, the Latin American destination is much cheaper, hands down. However, those wanting to stay within the states do have a great choice of US accommodation options.

Costa Rica vs Mexico Cost of Living

When compared to Mexico, Costa Rica is typically more expensive in all categories of expenses. However, visitors will find that more touristic areas in Mexico will have similar prices to that of Costa Rica. Fun fact: there is a huge cultural difference between these countries that many first-time tourists will not discover until they arrive.

Here is a comparison table between the cost of living in Costa Rica vs Mexico in USD:

Expense Costa Rica Mexico
Accommodation Dorm room: $22

Private Bedroom: $45

Suite: $150

Dorm room: $22

Private Bedroom: $45

Suite: $150

Transportation Taxi: $1 per minute

Bus: $3-10 per journey

Shuttle: $60

Taxi: $1 per minute

Bus: $3-5 per journey

Shuttle: $20-40

Food and Drinks Local cuisine: $3-4 Local cuisine:$3-4
Entertainment Average tour: $80-100 Average tour: $60-80

Travellers with a lower budget will likely prefer Mexican destinations, due to wider accessibility of inexpensive options. Alternatively, those looking for a luxury getaway will likely prefer what Costa Rica has to offer.

Cost of Living in Costa Rica vs Belize

Belize is another Latin American country, located just south of Mexico and to the east of Guatemala. It’s famed for its Caribbean beaches, great scuba diving facilities and beautiful white sand. With plenty of coastal locations, those living in Belize will experience a similar cost of living to expats in Costa Rica.

Expense Costa Rica Belize
Accommodation Dorm room: $22

Private Bedroom: $45

Suite: $150

Dorm room: $22

Private Bedroom: $45

Suite: $150

Transportation Taxi: $1 per minute

Bus: $3-10 per journey

Shuttle: $60

Taxi: $1 per minute

Bus: $3-10 per journey

Shuttle: $60+

Food and Drinks Local cuisine: $3-4 Local cuisine:$5
Entertainment Average tour: $80-100 Average tour: $60-80

The typical prices in Belize are very similar to those in Costa Rica. Local cuisine is much more Caribbean in nature, however, with plenty of Mexican influences such as tamales also in the mix.

Cost of Living in Panama vs Costa Rica

The cost of living in Panama is very similar to the types of prices found in Costa Rica, in almost every category. An average month’s worth of expenses in Panama is similar to Costa Rica, it is definitely possible to live on less, although this depends on the location and lifestyle.

Here is a comparison table of the cost of living in Panama vs Costa Rica:

Expense Costa Rica Panama
Accommodation Dorm room: $22

Private Bedroom: $45

Suite: $150

Dorm room: $22

Private Bedroom: $45

Suite: $150

Transportation Taxi: $1 per minute

Bus: $3-10 per journey

Shuttle: $60

Taxi: $1 per minute

Bus: $3-10 per journey

Shuttle: $60

Food and Drinks Local cuisine: $3-4 Local cuisine:$7-10
Entertainment Average tour: $80-100 Average tour: $60-80

Culturally, Panama is much closer to the American experience when compared to Costa Rica. So while the cost of living in these two places are similar, the experience will not be. This is also the reason for a higher local food cost in Panama, where a lot of materials are imported through the Panama Canal. In saying that, those looking to experience what Panama has to offer after their trip to Costa Rica will find accommodation options to suit every budget.

Cost of Living in Nicaragua vs Costa Rica

In general, the cost of living in Nicaragua is much less expensive than in Costa Rica. With less political stability and lower levels of development in many areas, the Nicaraguan tourism experience feels more local and culturally verified. Therefore, those looking for a ‘locals experience’ would likely prefer Nicaragua.

Alternatively head to Costa Rica for a stress-free vacation spot, where worries tend to disappear.

Expense Costa Rica Nicaragua
Accomodation Dorm room: $22

Private Bedroom: $45

Suite: $150

Dorm room: $9

Private Bedroom: $20

Suite: $50

Transportation Taxi: $1 per minute

Bus: $3-10 per journey

Shuttle: $60

Taxi: $0.50 per minute

Bus: $3-10 per journey

Shuttle: $40

Food and Drinks Local cuisine: $3-4 Local cuisine:$2-5
Entertainment Average tour: $80-100 Average tour: $60-80

Therefore, staying in Nicaragua is significantly cheaper than Costa Rica, but there is also less availability of amenities and ‘Western-style’ luxuries. While the cost of living in Costa Rica is higher, it is justified by better facilities and overall being a more developed country in Latin America.

Selina Tamarindo

Embrace a life without borders! Work, stay, and explore at Selina Tamarindo!

Overall, the cost of living in Costa Rica is pretty comparable to that of Panama and cheaper cities in the USA. With Costa Rica being an incredibly attractive vacation destination, so staying in the paradise does not come cheap. But we think its prices are justified through easy accessibility for navigation. Plus, the quality of life is unquestionable, with Costa Rica being home to one of the world’s seven ‘blue zones’, where the inhabitants tend to live longer.

Costa Rica FAQs

  • What is the best accommodation option for long term stays in Costa Rica?

    Sometimes it can be hard to find high-quality accommodation and we’ve all heard those travel horror stories about bedbugs… and worse. Fortunately, Selina has you covered. With rooms to suit every budget and long-term stay options, secure your place today.

  • What is the cost of living for retirees in Costa Rica?

    Those who want to retire to this paradise destination should expect to pay between $1000-$1400 per month. Again though, this depends on your destination, with locations such as Jaco or Tamarindo being on the pricier end. Of course, the San Jose Costa Rica cost of living is much cheaper but facilities like the beach are more than two hours drive away. 

  •  What is the cost of living for expats in Costa Rica?

    The Costa Rica expat cost of living is going to be quite a bit higher than that of the locals. Expats should expect to spend between $1000-$1400 for a fairly basic lifestyle, or more if they plan to eat out often and enjoy a greater sense of luxury.

  • Can you work remotely from Costa Rica?

    Absolutely! Selina offers coworking spaces at the majority of locations, which is ideal for digital nomads who work on the road. Facilities usually include private, sound-proofed call booths, alongside hot desks and dedicated desks, depending on your level of membership. The cost of living Costa Rica for expats is cheaper than the US; why not?

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