Driving in Costa Rica
Gasoline in Costa Rica can be expensive, but having your own car does give you the freedom to see the country when and how you like. Gas stations are available throughout the country but are hard to find due to poor signage. All gas stations in the country are full-service. Many of the roads are poorly maintained, but the country’s new president has made road maintenance a priority and is working hard to improve the country’s infrastructure.
Other Transportation in Costa Rica
Busses in Costa Rica are an inexpensive alternative to importing or buying your own car. Fares are generally very low, even for long trips. Taxis are less expensive than in other countries, but make sure to ask what the rates will be before you get into the cab. Train service is mainly on the Atlantic side of the country and service is limited. Air travel is a quick and easy way to get around and Costa Rica has dozens of airports. Domestic airlines offer the best rates on travel within the country.
Getting to San Jose
Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO) is located in Alajuela, about 20 minutes by car from the center of San José. There is a local bus stop right outside the airport, but you may have to change buses to get to the city center. The taxis charge around 15 US Dollars to take you into the city. Make sure you take one of the licensed reddish-orange taxis that say “Taxi Aeropuerto.” There are many un-licensed taxi drivers who will charge you double what Taxi Aeropuerto charges. The taxis gladly take dollars, but the local bus only takes Colones. There is an ATM by the entrance to departures that will give you both Colones and Dollars.
Optional health insurance is provided by the state-owned monopoly, the INS (Instituto Nactional de Sequros). Some hospitals will work with U.S. and European insurance providers, particularly for travelers. If you purchase health insurance, it costs between $692 and $1086 a year for $200,000 worth of coverage for a person 40-55 (depending on your age and sex).
Medical Care and Hospitals
The population of San Jose amounts to roughly half of the entire country. The city contains the largest hospitals, both private and public. Costa Rica enjoys universal health care and one of the best health care systems in Latin America. The only real drawback with using this service is the red tape and waiting in lines. But when you receive treatment or medicine, it’s of expert nature and high quality. You’ll find that many doctors have studied abroad in Europe, Canada or the U.S. and speak excellent English. There are three large, private hospitals that most expatriates use
The Cost of Living in Costa Rica
If you are preparing for a move to Costa Rica, you’ll be glad to know that you can expect to have greater purchasing power than in the United States or Canada. Take San Jose for example. Prices there are the second lowest of any city in the Americas and the cost of services are among the lowest of any city in the world. Housing costs in middle-class Costa Rican neighborhoods are substantially less than in the U.S. Many goods and services that you’re used to paying an arm and a leg for are downright bargain basements prices in Costa Rica. For example:
A full-time maid is only a couple of hundred dollars a month.
Utilities such as telephone and water cost 30% less than in North America.
Heating and air conditioning aren’t needed as often in many areas because of Costa Rica’s temperate climate.
A bus ride across town or to the suburbs costs about a quarter.
Bus fares to the various provinces cost no more than $10 to the farthest part of the country.
Movies cost about $5.00.
How Much Can You Reasonably Live On?
The cost of living in Costa Rica truly depends on your own personal preferences. If you prefer to live with locals, away from the larger cities, your costs will be lower. If you prefer to live near larger cities, the beach and other expatriates, your costs will be higher. No matter how you choose to live, the minimum amount a single person needs for a decent standard of living ranges from $900 to $1,200 per month. A couple can live well on $1,200 per month and live in luxury for $2,000. Couples where the husband and wife are both receiving good pensions can live even better because in Costa Rica, two can often live as cheaply as one. To put things in perspective, most Costa Ricans earn $300 – $400 per month. Locals earning $500 to $2,000 a month are considered middle class, and anything above that is considered upper class. No matter how you look at it, you’ll enjoy a higher standard of living and your dollar will stretch farther in Costa Rica.
Where to Live in Costa Rica
Before you make the decision to move to Costa Rica, it is a good idea to make a list of everything you will want in your new hometown. Do you want to live on the beach, in the mountains or somewhere in between? Do you prefer seclusion and contact with the locals, or prefer to mix with expatriates like yourself? Will you be bored without access to the latest movies, entertainment and shopping? And, if you have medical issues, you’ll want to choose a city or town that is close to a hospital or medical center. Costa Rica offers something for everyone, but before you commit, make sure you know what it is you really want. For more information on the different provinces and regions in Costa Rica, visit our Regions page.
Grocery Shopping in Costa Rica
Expats who wish to shop for food and sundries in western style grocery stores will find a few choices in larger cities, like San Jose. You will find many familiar products in these large stores, but be prepared to pay a premium for anything you buy. Residents who choose to immerse themselves in the lifestyle of the natives will find a wide range of local bakeries, shops, pescaderias (fish markets), vegetable stands and outdoor markets offering everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to meat and fish at very reasonable prices. You may not be able to avoid the large stores altogether, but you will save money and meet your neighbors when you choose the local alternatives.
Costa Rican Cuisine
Costa Rican food is similar to Mexican and other Central American cuisine. Tortillas, rice, beans, fruit, eggs, vegetables and some meat are all standard fare. The most local favorite is gallo pinto, a dish made with rice and black beans fried with red bell peppers and cilantro. Other favorites include Empenadas, a savory turnover; salads with Palmitos, hearts of palm; and Arreglados, a type of sandwich.
Taxes and Jobs in Costa Rica
If you are considering retirement in Costa Rica, it may be unwise to expect to earn a living, or to supplement your income with a job. Pensionados and rentistas are allowed to own and operate a business but are not permitted to work for wages for someone else. Businesses income, after expenses, is taxed, and there is a 13% sales tax on goods and services, including restaurants, hotels and entertainment. Property taxes in Costa Rica are generally lower than in the U.S. and other countries and foreign residents are not required to pay income taxes on pensions or income generated outside of the country.