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Expat Minimalism: The Luxury of Little in Costa Rica

We are willing to bet that those of you still living in Europe or North America who are thinking about retiring elsewhere or trying something different have way too much stuff.  Unless you are from Denmark and practice the art of hygge, we are probably safe to assume that you have far more things than you use regularly. It’s not until you get ready to move and sell these things that you realize how little monetary value these items truly have, leaving you wondering why you work so hard to retain them?

Henry David Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”  How much pleasure do you derive from material objects? It’s fine if you do, but for those of us who have made the move to a simpler, purer life, we find that we don’t really miss having a closet or garage stuffed with gadgets we don’t use.  Not when there is a world of inspirational nature and a close-knit community to keep us plenty entertained.

The value of adventure grows over time and stays forever in our minds.

What’s the point of spending our hard earned money (aka time) on things that we don’t need?  If you need to have McDonalds and Nikes then Costa Rica is not the country for you. But if you want bananas growing by the dozens in your yard (aka free) then this is the place!

Take a look at our graph below, put together with data from Numbeo, the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide. We’ve compared 10 of the most popular expat destinations around the world (including two comparable locations in the United States) that are the most similar to our region of Costa Rica.  From this graph, you can see how much it costs for all of life’s basic necessities. You will see that Costa Rica fare’s pretty well on average, although never taking the least expensive ranking.

OTP-cost-comparative

OTP cost comparative (with data from Numbeo). The ‘CR RANK’ column represents Costa Rica’s position out of 10 with most expensive at position #1.

What the above graph does not take into account is what you can easily get for free (such as produce grown in your own garden) and how much it costs for cheaper alternatives.  It also does not compare the quality of life in each of these locations (a subject of a future article. If you are interested, please subscribe to our newsletter to receive new articles weekly to your inbox).

What you can see from this chart is that Costa Rica is on the less expensive scale when it comes to purchasing property (8th least expensive out of these 10 destinations).  Meat, cheese and things like lettuce are also of good value, and private school education for children is one of the least expensive of the lot (8th). For most other items, Costa Rica’s prices are fairly comparable, especially with things like vehicles, which people tend to think that Costa Rica is very expensive.  If you look at the chart, Costa Rica is right around the median mark, with only Panama and Nicaragua coming out much cheaper. Perhaps it is because they are our closest neighbors in Costa Rica (although ask anyone living in Costa Rica who has visited either, and they are likely to say that they prefer the quality of life in Costa Rica far more).

So, how can expats save money living in Costa Rica?  Below are a few simple steps to follow in order to maximize your fun money in this rich land:

  1. Avoid purchasing imported items – They don’t get cheaper here; they get more expensive than where they are sourced from because of transportation fees and levies.  This is the same anywhere in the world. If you want to buy Skippy Peanut Butter anywhere other than the US, you are going to pay more for it.
  2. Locally produced goods and services are going to be less expensive than imported goods and services.  And because Costa Ricans enjoy a higher quality of life than most comparable tropical nations (think higher pay, more stable government, less crime, better infrastructure, better interest rates, etc), they can afford to pay slightly more for locally produced goods and services than comparable nations.  These numbers are only slightly higher, but the impact on the quality of life here is significant. You get what you pay for!
  3. Look at the price of things that you can’t import – Land is one of these items, which tends to be much higher in North America and Europe because of much higher populations and tourism traffic.  It is also important to look at political stability and what ownership rights you have in each nation (another subject for a future article, although suffice it to say that Costa Rica remains one of the most popular expat destinations, despite being slightly more expensive than comparable nations, because it is a nation with a stable, democratic political system and no military budget, meaning that more money goes into universal education and healthcare, which both contribute to better quality of life).

Get in touch with us if you or someone you know is thinking about moving to a tropical nation and wants to know more about how far their savings or pension will get them in Costa Rica.  Keep in mind that we offer referral fees for anyone who refers a successful buyer to our office.  Contact us to learn more about how referral fees work.