Over the past few months, I have received several e-mails from people concerned about the cost of living in Costa Rica.

It seems there is some confusion about real estate prices and the cost of living. What everyone needs to be aware of is that in Costa Rica we have NOT had the same mortgage/real estate crisis that has occurred in the United States.

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Prices have not plummeted here as they have to our north. If you think you can get a 4 bedroom, 3 bath, 3000 s.f. home in Costa Rica for $150k like you can on Main Street U.S.A these days, then you are sadly mistaken. However, you can still live very comfortably and affordably in Costa Rica, if you know how to do it!

I have been coming to Costa Rica for over 7 years now and living here full time for almost 5 years. Has the cost of living increased? Sure. However, when compared to the U.S., Canada, or Europe, Costa Rica is still a bargain.

We still have family in Florida and travel there to visit at least twice a year, so I still have my fingers on the pulse of what things cost in the States. Our last visit to Florida was in December 2011 and a quick trip to the grocery store put me into SHOCK! I needed a few quick things to put together a meal for family like hamburger, some fresh veggies, bread, tea…you know, the basics.

I walked away with 4 plastic bags, half full, and the bill was $98! The 4.5 lbs of hamburger alone was $23. To add insult to injury, I was at Walmart!

In contrast to food prices in the U.S., here in Atenas, we shop at the local “feria”, or fresh market every Friday. Every town in Costa Rica has a feria once per week where you can find the freshest of fruits, veggies, and other homemade goodies.

Having been in shock with my grocery bill in Florida, upon my return to Costa Rica, I did some comparative shopping based on things we typically buy and this is what I came up with….

Costa Rica Tampa, Florida

Red Leaf Lettuce (bunch) 400 colones/$.80 $ 1.99
Cauliflower (head) 500 colones/$1.00 $ 2.99
Broccoli (head) 400 colones/$.80 $ 1.99
Eggplant (3 units) 1000 colones/$2.00 $ 4.50
Papaya (3 units) 1000 colones/$2.00 $ 5.25 (each)
Pineapple 500 colones/$1.00 $ 4.99
Hamburger (kilo) 2300 colones/$4.60 $11.24 (kilo)
Jumbo Shrimp (kilo) 12,000 colones/$24.00 $37.38 (kilo)
Sea Bass (kilo) 4,000 colones/$8.00 $15.38 (kilo)

Having said that, you can spend a small fortune here if you want all the same foods that you get back home. What you must keep in mind is that those things that are common for us back home, are imported products here in Costa Rica, and you will pay a mint for them.

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Every Thanksgiving, we cook a traditional meal and invite all our friends (Tico and Gringo) to enjoy it with us. I was determined to have sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce. Everything else I could get local, with exception of these two things. I made my way to AutoMercado and found just what I was looking for! Canned cranberry sauce cost 1,275 colones per can, which is the equivalent of $2.55. The same can in the U.S. will cost me $1.29 max.

The canned sweet potato was like buying caviar. I shelled out 1,700 colones per can, which is $3.40. Back home I can easily find the same thing for $.99 per can. But, I paid the price because I wanted them and I accept the fact that these are NOT local goods. These items are all imported. It is the same back in the U.S. If we purchase imported products from Europe for example, things are always more expensive.

During our Florida trek, there were other things that we needed to attend to. My mother still has a small cottage there. It is approximately 700 s.f., with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath on 1/4 acre of land. It has been in the family for almost 100 years now, and has a lot of sentimental value.

We went to pay the property taxes…a whopping $2,300 for the year, and we don’t even live there! Here in Atenas, for the average new construction home with 2,000 s.f., 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and sitting on 1 to 2 acres of land, annual property taxes will run you between $200 – $400 per year.

We were also back in Florida last September to do some business and my mother decided she wanted to check in with her Florida doctors and have a second opinion to the doctors here in Costa Rica (who are top notch). We scheduled all of her appointments, various tests, and x-rays and spent several days getting things taken care of.

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When we returned in December we needed to settle up the bills. My mother has Medicare, but that only covers 80% of the bill, and she covers the remaining 20%. Her remaining balance, after Medicare took care of their part, was just over $2,300 Without pulling the paperwork and giving the exact breakdown, I can’t tell you all of the price comparisons, but the one thing I wanted to compare was the price of a CAT scan.

Here at Clinica Biblica in San José, a CAT scan will cost you 180,000 colones, or $360 The CAT scan in Florida was an outrageous $2,400 I was in total SHOCK!

When we decided to make the move to Costa Rica, it was more about a change of lifestyle as opposed to cost of living. However, the reduced cost of living is a big bonus. For me, the beauty of the country, the friendliness of the people, and the stable government all out weigh the lesser costs.

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On a daily basis we shop like the locals do, we eat in the “sodas” where the locals eat (mind you I eat a great casado with drink included, for only 1,500 colones/$3.00) and we do not spend near the amount of money living here as we would up to our north. We always try and stress to our friends and clients that you can live for much less in Costa Rica, you just have to live more like the locals.

For me, that is fine because I came to this beautiful country to live a different experience. If not, why would I bother leaving home?

Our Low Cost of Living in Atenas, Costa Rica

Article/Property ID Number 3496

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