Doing Costa Rica on the Cheap


People come to Costa Rica for many different reasons and with many different budgets.  Costa Rica offers all levels of living from basic to ultra-luxurious.  If you are coming to retire in luxury and have unlimited funds, this blog post is not for you.  But, many people ask me how they can do Costa Rica on a strict budget, so that is the focus here.  Costa Rica is not the cheapest place to live, but most of the locals live on salaries ranging between $500 to $1000 per month, so if they can do it, why can’t you?  This is the most common question I get.  How can I live in Costa Rica on a minimum amount of money?  So, here is your answer.  Live like a local.

If you think you will come down and rent an American style home with three bedrooms, a pool, and a view on a minimum budget, think again.  If you truly have a strict budget, you have to be willing to give some things up.  How do the locals do it?

They own.  They don’t rent.  Most Costa Ricans own their land and have built a house on it which has been handed down for generations.  That eliminates the cost of housing which is a huge part of a budget.  When Costa Ricans do have to take out a mortgage in order to buy, you are looking at interest rates of over 10%, typically closer to 15%.  What that means is that the monthly payments are very high and if you happen to rent, you shouldn’t expect to pay less than what that mortgage payment would be.  Of course, unfurnished, basic Costa Rican homes will rent for far less than American-style homes, but you will give up hot water, gated residential areas, and the pool. 

So, what can you do?  If you have to rent, you can select older Costa Rican style homes, but you will have to buy some furniture.  You can often buy some used pieces from others in town or used furniture stores.  Also, get used to the “suicide showers” which are the nickname we use for the instant hot water showerheads.  The good thing about them is that you will never run out of hot water. 

Most Costa Ricans use minimal electricity.  Gas stoves are common and dryers are not, so the main electricity uses are the washer, lights, and refrigerator which should add up to no more than $30-40 per month.  Forget using an air conditioner, pool pump, or hot water tank which will quickly take your electricity bill up over $200.

Cook at home.  Food is expensive whether you go to out to eat or buy at the grocery store, but you can lower your costs by limiting meats and choosing local fruits and vegetables.

If you have the savings and plan on staying long-term, buy a home.  You can buy a local home and make improvements.  Many people will advise not buying if you are wanting to flip it quickly and that would be true.  But, if you will be here for a while and have enough saved up, invest it in a small home, make improvements, and let go of the luxuries.  You will save an immense amount on rent.  Make sure that you use a legitimate real estate agent who can advise you on the local prices and values so that you don’t overpay and can make sure that the home is legally owned and can be put into your name.  This will easily eliminate $1000 or more from your monthly bills, and if you are looking into luxury homes, it will save between $2000-$4000 per month.  That is huge.

I would never tell you to try to survive on $1000 per month.  Costa Ricans often live with multiple incomes under the same roof, so there might be two or three incomes chipping in.  But, if you are willing to give up a few luxuries, you can do it on a limited budget.

And if you have no budget, but kept reading anyway?  We have a lot of luxurious homes that will let you relax in splendor, whether you decide to rent or buy.

Tina Newton has lived in Atenas, Costa Rica for over 19 years and was a licensed Realtor in the States with Weigand and Sons.  Her business partner Cecilia Tristan is a bilingual lawyer and was one of the forming members of the Chamber of Real Estate of Costa Rica.    Their commitment to honesty and full service is their promise. You can contact Tina at, check out the website at and see the newest listings on Facebook.


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