Update on Costa Rica: Living Expenses as an Expat in a Third World Country

When I contemplated moving to Costa Rica I guessed I would spend between $1,000 – $1,500 a month, hopefully closer to the lower amount. Right now, two months into my trip it feels like I could spend between $500 – $3,000 a month. The type of Costa Rica I decide to experience will be the main factor. This is a decision we make everywhere, but right now it feels more drastic. Here in Costa Rica I can try to live like a Tico, as Costa Ricans call themselves, or as a vacationer looking for a luxury retreat.

Usually people decide their lifestyle given their income and habits. Changes come with raises or changes in family structure, which tend to come in stages. By dropping myself in a different country it’s harder to gauge if I’m being frivolous. In Costa Rica I eat out a lot more often and the costs are lower than back home. This can push me to think I’m doing well, when in fact I’m spending excessively given normal Tico customs.

An area where I’ve struggled a lot is with housing. I pay $15/day for a room with breakfast and dinner. That’s about 260,000 colones a month. I’ve seen rooms for ₡80,000 – ₡160,000 per month. This led me to consider whether it made sense to move out of my current arrangement. I decided against it because I’d loose contact with my host and landlord. She’s been a great guide to Costa Rican culture. Plus it’s nice to be included in family activities and her parents are so sweet. Did I mention her adorable pets? Yes, I’m paying more than the norm in Costa Rica, yet by my US standards the cost of this arrangement is less than half of what I’d pay in the Los Angeles area.

Gatito y Conejo – They have a love-hate relationship and are constantly looking for attention

Now that I’ve been in Costa Rica for a while I have enough info to build myself guidelines. I will spend more than an average Tico who earns $6,000 – $10,000 per year, while still spending considerably less than I did living in LA. I will travel with Tico standards of staying at simple hotels, taking public transportation at under a $1, and eating at sodas for under $5/meal. But unlike Ticos, I will travel every weekend because I’m in an incredibly beautiful country living in it’s congested (and unscenic) megalopolis of a capital.

I base my budget on Elizabeth Warren’s Balanced Money Formula where 50% is for “Needs”/fixed expenses, 20% goes to savings and/or debt management, and 30% goes to “Wants”/variable expenses. Usually the spending recommendations are based on one’s income. I am currently not earning a living so for now this equation will be used to evaluate my outgoing cash flow. By tracking expenses I can clearly project that I have enough for the remainder of my trip without needing to dip into the loan I gave my mom.

A view of Montezuma’s beaches off the Nicoya Peninsula on one of my first trips out of San Jose

Below is a snapshot of my expenses to date in Costa Rica along with my monthly projections.

Here is my monthly balance and the Month over Month changes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *