green hills overlooking san jose in valley

Monthly Cost of Living in San Jose Costa Rica [2023]

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The monthly cost of living in San Jose Costa Rica makes it possible to live comfortably for between USD $1,500 and $2,000. Read on to see a breakdown of the monthly living costs!

We started this series on the ‘monthly cost of living in’ various cities and countries around the world because as fulltime travellers, we like to slow down our travels by staying at least one month or more in each place we visit. However, we found it a challenge when researching to find up-to-date and thorough guides on the monthly cost of living for $2,500 to $3,000 USD per month, to ensure we could live there within our budget.

This post on the Cost of Living San Jose Costa Rica has been contributed by Sarah at Costa Rica Vibes. She is originally from the United States but now lives in with her husband in San Jose, Costa Rica, so has all the most up-to-date info related to living costs.

Compared to other countries in the region, San Jose cost of living for the month is relatively affordable, but it is definitely not as cheap as the following places:

But, it is comparable in costs to:

So, what is the monthly cost of living Costa Rica San Jose? Read on to see a detailed guide written by someone that lives in San Jose, and has first-hand experience of all aspects related to living costs and expenses. 

Please Note: All prices are quoted in USD (US Dollars). To easily convert prices to your currency, we use xe Currency Converter.

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Living in San Jose Costa Rica

San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica. The downtown area of the city is very condensed and contains some taller buildings. However, in general, the city consists of a lot of neighbourhoods with houses, apartment buildings, and businesses built close together.

My husband and I moved to San Jose in 2016 after he was offered a job here. It’s strange because San Jose is not a place I recommend spending much time in if you visit Costa Rica, but I really like living here.

There are two main reasons for that:

  1. The city is very centrally located. It is possible to drive to either the Pacific coast or the Caribbean coast in about two hours. As foreigners, this is great! It makes it possible to explore so many different places on short weekend trips.
  2. One of our worries when moving was the weather in Costa Rica. My husband is from Northern Germany and I am from Boston, so as much as we like warm weather, we just aren’t used to it. Due to San Jose’s location in the Central Valley, the city is surrounded by hills and mountains. This means that the temperature is steady at around 75 degrees F / 24 degrees Celsius during the day almost all year round.

The downside of living in San Jose is that it is not a very popular place for other foreigners. Most people who move to the country move to the beach towns. It’s been difficult for us to make friends outside of my husband’s colleagues.

The other downside of Costa Rica in general is earthquakes. It doesn’t matter how long we live here, the frequent earthquakes still freak me out, even if they are usually very mild.

When we moved here we had no idea how much we could expect to spend each month on living costs. I created this complete breakdown of our monthly spending to give you a better idea of what the cost of living in San Jose, Costa Rica might be like for you.

looking down on rooftops in san jose where the cost of living in San Jose Costa Rica is under 00 usd per month

Overall Monthly Cost of Living in San Jose, Costa Rica

We can easily survive comfortably on about $2,000 USD a month for two people. I would say that we are somewhat conservative with our spending because we typically don’t go to restaurants or splurge on luxuries. That being said, we go to the beach or mountains for at least one weekend per month and don’t hold back on certain food and drink luxuries that bring us joy.

Living in San Jose is very affordable, especially by Northern American city standards.

Using the Cost of Living Index Comparison Calculator on the Expatistan website:

  • Cost to live in Costa Rica is 34% cheaper than in Sydney, Australia
  • Costa Rica living cost is 38% cheaper than in Chicago, United States
  • Costa Rica cost of living is 46% cheaper than in London, United Kingdom

N.B. The Cost of Living Index shows the difference in living costs between cities. The cost of living in the base city is always expressed as 100. The cost of living in the destination is then indexed against this number.

Cost of living is vital information if you are looking to move to or live for a longer period of time in another country. Overall costs will vary according to the individual, their personal circumstances, and their lifestyle but the basic necessities such as accommodation, utilities, transportation, food and entertainment, will be very similar. On this basis, this article will determine approximately how much a person needs to earn or spend, to live comfortably in Costa Rica.

QUICK OVERVIEW – How Much We Spend in San José City Costa Rica Per Month?

So, here is a quick overview of our living costs in San Jose, Costa Rica.

  • Accommodation: $1,000 a month
  • Utilities: $130
  • Transportation: $200
  • Food/ Drinks: $300 (That is factoring in groceries at $60 a week and one dinner out at $60)
  • Entertainment: $100
  • Affordable Splurging: $200 for a weekend away
  • Health Insurance: $180 per month for two people

Total: $2,110 for two people or $1,055 per person

Of course, if you are living alone, that rate will be a bit higher because you won’t be sharing the cost of an apartment with somebody.

Cost of Accommodation in Costa Rica San José

If you don’t know how long you plan to stay in San Jose, I suggest renting an apartment or house, rather than buying a place.

We currently live in a quiet neighbourhood next to a nice park with outdoor exercise equipment and pay $800 a month in rent. We have a 3 bedroom / 4 bathroom apartment with a nice private grassy courtyard with a large banana and avocado tree.

But, I know we got really lucky with that deal.

When looking for an apartment you will usually have the best luck by driving around the neighbourhoods you are considering. Look for large signs on the sides of buildings that say “Se Alquila” followed by a phone number. Se alquila means “for rent.”

In our experience, after calling the phone number on the sign the landlord will typically say, “I can be there in 10 minutes to show you the place.”

It is hit or miss on what you might find inside. We have seen some really beautiful places and some places that seemed like complete nightmare situations. It can be defeating and exhausting, but after doing this for a few days you should be able to find a place within your budget that is decent.

If not, Encuentra24 is the best website for finding more apartment rental options.

Typically, the average rent for 1 bedroom apartment in San Jose, that is about 80 square meters with one bathroom, is under $1,000 USD a month. You can probably find something larger than that for under $1,000, but it will take you a bit more time to find the gems.

About half of the places you will see will likely come furnished. This is a great way to save some money if you don’t plan to stay in Costa Rica for the long term. 

Monthly Cost of Utilities in San Jose, Costa Rica

Before I get into the cost of utilities, I need to give you a little warning. Dealing with utilities or anything bureaucratic in Costa Rica is a challenge.

Nothing is done online. You will have to physically go to all relevant offices. Unfortunately, most offices are only open between 9 am and 5 pm. That means you may have to take time off of work to set up your internet, electricity, etc.

Typically you will be given a number when you enter the office and then you might wait several hours until your number is called. I know that sounds insane, but I am not exaggerating. So, bring snacks and a good book to every office you need to go to.


We pay about $55 USD a month for Wi-Fi with Kolbi as our provider. This is for 200Mbit/s of fiber optic Wi-Fi.


One nice thing about being in Costa Rica is that I feel as though we use very little electricity. The temperature is so moderate in San Jose you never need heat or A/C.

Our hot water heater has the option of running on a timer so we just run it for about 30 minutes a day in the morning when we want to shower.

Other than that, we use electricity for things like cooking and charging devices. By 6 pm the sun will set and then we turn the lights on.

In total, we spend on average $45 a month for electricity.


We pay on average $10 a month for water. Sometimes it can get up to $15 or $20 a month during the dry season if we are watering the yard frequently.

Mobile Phone Plan

I pay about $10 a month for a prepaid phone card from the provider Kolbi. These prepaid cards can be purchased at most mini markets once you get a SIM card from the Kolbi store.

Top Tip: It is typically best to buy any technology such as a new cellphone in your home country. Because of the import taxes, all technology is more expensive in Costa Rica.

So, in total for two people we pay for utilities in one month:

  • Internet: $55 USD
  • Electricity: $45 USD
  • Water: $10 USD
  • Phone Plan: $20 ($10 each)

Total: $130 USD

street with taxis and cars ln san jose where the cost of living in San Jose Costa Rica is under 00 usd per month

How to Get Around San Jose / Cost of Transportation in Costa Rica San Jose City

There are multiple ways to get around in San Jose depending on your budget and how often you need transportation.

Public Buses

There is a decent public bus system that runs throughout the city and the entire country. The public buses are very affordable (only a few dollars per way).

I take the public bus a few times a month, but in general, I try to avoid it. The buses are always super full, really warm, and rarely on time. I use them if I need to get to the centre of the downtown area and I am under no time pressure.


There is a train in San Jose, but I’ve never been on it. I’ve heard it is constantly broken down and not running.


Uber operates illegally here, so I suggest avoiding that. Taxis in Costa Rica are generally the best option for getting places easily. For a taxi across the city, you can expect to pay about $20.


Having a car is by far the best way to get around outside of the city. Driving in the city is a bit scary and crazy. 

A car will also give you much more flexibility for weekend trips to other parts of the country.

You can buy a used car for a few thousand dollars.

We pay about $100 a month in gas, but we drive a lot and take weekend trips.

So, I would say that on average we spend about $200 a month for transportation. That is for gas, occasionally taxi rides, public buses, and car insurance.

Cost of Food and Drinks in San Jose, Costa Rica

Costa Rica has grocery stores and food options for all budgets.

I often go grocery shopping at my local mini-market. At the mini markets, it is possible to get basics such as rice, beans, pasta, and some meats. If I only did my grocery shopping at the mini grocery stores, my husband and I could easily live off of $30 a week in groceries.

Unfortunately, I love cheese and wine too much. This means I often find myself at Automercado (one of the nicest grocery store chains in the country). At Automercado it is possible to buy a lot of products that are imported from the United States and Europe. Import taxes are high here, so the mark-up on prices is also high.

If I do all of our grocery shopping at Automercado I tend to spend about $60 a week in groceries.

One of my favourite things to do is to go to the local farmers’ market. In my neighbourhood, there is a market every Saturday morning which stretches the whole length of one street. At the farmers’ market, I can typically buy all the vegetables, coffee, some meats, and eggs I want for the week for about $15. The market is also a lot of fun because I often come across strange fruit that I’ve never tried before.

So, in total, we spend about $60 a week on groceries for two people. This is with buying basics at the mini market, vegetables, and fruit at the farmers market, and specialty items at Automercado.

Restaurants in Costa Rica are typically priced similar to what you would find in the United States. A main dish at a decent place will be about $15.

For two people we typically spend about $60 for a nice dinner out with a main course, wine, and a dessert.

For a more affordable dining experience, you can always go to a “soda”. A soda is a small local restaurant that serves “casados”. A casado consists of rice, beans, meat, and usually a salad. Typically this costs about $7 for a full plate of delicious authentic food.

Cost of Entertainment in San Jose, Costa Rica

There are plenty of entertainment options in San Jose!

On rainy days we like to go to the movie theatre. Most movies here are in English with Spanish subtitles. A ticket usually costs about $8 USD.

There is a beautiful national theatre located downtown. We have gone a few times to see a ballet or opera. Tickets are typically about $20 USD.

There are also museums, city tours, and the national stadium for soccer games.

Costa Ricans are also great at finding cheap or free ways to entertain themselves. The parks are always full of fun family gatherings. It is also not unusual to see a bunch of cars just pulled over on the side of a river with big groups relaxing in the water.

Usually, we spend about $100 a month on entertainment for two people.

typical costs rican market

Miscellaneous Costs / Affordable Splurging

Our splurging is mostly weekend trips out of the city rather than things in the city.

Because we have a car we only need to pay for gas, hotel, activities, and food while travelling.

Typically we can go away for a weekend for less than $200. It breaks down to about:

  • Hotel or Airbnb: $60 a night
  • Food: $80 (maybe one night at a restaurant and cooking the rest of our meals ourselves)
  • Activities: $40. Usually, we take a lot of hikes or visit the beaches. All beaches in Costa Rica need to have free public access by law. All National Parks have a much cheaper rate for residents versus tourists. If you are living in Costa Rica you can save money this way.

If you would like to get a gym membership you can expect to pay about $60USD per month. For a manicure, you can expect to pay about $15 USD.

For a maid, you can expect to pay about $5.50 USD per hour. This rate goes down if you hire a full-time live-in maid. In that case, their room and board are considered part of their salary.

Cost of Health Insurance / Medical Costs in San Jose, Costa Rica

Ugh! Private health insurance is expensive. We pay about $80 per month per person for health insurance.

A lot of foreigners just don’t bother and pay out of pocket for the medical treatments they need, but I am married to a very organized German who would never dream of not having health insurance.

Visa Maintenance in Costa Rica

I am not the most helpful when it comes to visa maintenance because my husband’s company takes care of that for us.

A lot of foreigners in Costa Rica have visas based on owning property in Costa Rica, proving they receive a certain amount a month as a retiree, or by applying for a digital nomad visa.

The visa process is complicated and it is usually best to have a lawyer to handle everything for you. If you opt to try everything on your own, the visa fee is about $ 50 USD.

Alternatively, some people stay in Costa Rica as perpetual tourists. This means that they spend the maximum allowed on a Tourist Visa – 90 days within the country, take a border run to Nicaragua or Panama for 72 hours, and then return.

I did this for about 9 months while waiting for my visa, and let me tell you, it was stressful! I don’t suggest it. Plus, it gets expensive to have to leave the country every 90 days.

street in san jose city centre

Top Tips for Living in San Jose City Costa Rica

  1. San Jose is not known for being the safest place. We have never had anything happen to us, but it is always best to use caution here. Don’t walk around after dark on your own. Don’t wear fancy jewellery or clothing that makes you look like a target.
  2. It is helpful to know Spanish, especially in San Jose. In the beach towns, you can usually get by with English because there are so many tourists.
  3. The motto for life in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida”. This means “everything is great.” And Costa Ricans take this to heart. It takes some time to get used to, but things rarely get done in an efficient manner or at a speed you may be familiar with. You need to just go with the flow and trust that everything will work out.
  4. Rainy season runs from late April until early December. This doesn’t mean there is rain every day. Usually, there will be an afternoon storm for an hour or two. From September until November, there can be heavier rains with some crazy thunderstorms.

San Jose Living Cost: FAQs

Where is San Jose in Costa Rica?

San Jose is capital of Costa Rica and is located in the central region of the country. It is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, which provide a beautiful backdrop to the city. To get to San Jose, you can fly into Juan Santamaria International Airport, which is located about 20 minutes from the city centre. Alternatively, you can also take a bus or drive from other parts of the country.

What is San Jose Costa Rica Know For?

San Jose in Costa Rica is known for its lively cultural scene, delicious cuisine, and historical significance. The city boasts a wide variety of museums, galleries, and theatres that showcase the country’s rich history and thriving arts community. Some of the most popular attractions in San Jose include the National Theatre of Costa Rica, the Gold Museum, and the Mercado Central.

Additionally, San Jose is home to many excellent restaurants serving up traditional Costa Rican dishes such as gallo pinto (rice and beans), ceviche (raw seafood marinated in lime juice), and casado (a dish consisting of rice, beans, plantains, salad, and meat or fish).

Can I Live in Costa Rica for $1,500 a Month?

Yes, you can! The average cost of living in Costa Rica is USD$1,500 to $2,000 per month for a single person to live comfortably on.

Is San Jose Costa Rica Expensive to Live?

The answer is, it depends on your lifestyle and spending habits. Compared to other countries in the region, San Jose is relatively affordable, but it is more expensive than other cities in Costa Rica. The cost of living in San Jose is influenced by factors such as housing, transportation, food, and entertainment. Overall, it is possible to live comfortably in San Jose without breaking the bank, as long as you are mindful of your expenses.

How Much Does it Cost to Live in San Jose per Month?

On average, the cost of living in San Jose Costa Rica is from USD$1,500 to $2,000 per month for a single, to USD$2,000 plus for a couple. This includes expenses such as rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, and healthcare. However, it is worth noting that the cost of living in San Jose can vary depending on factors such as location, lifestyle, and personal preferences.

green hills overlooking san jose in valley

Where is the Cheapest Place to Live in San Jose?

The cheapest neighbourhoods in San Jose are often those that are located on the outskirts of the city. Areas such as Pavas, Hatillo, and Tibas are popular choices for those seeking a lower cost of living. Additionally, there are several suburbs outside of San Jose, such as Heredia and Alajuela, that offer more affordable living options. It’s important to note that while these areas may be less expensive, they may also be farther away from the city centre and have less access to amenities. 

Where is the Cheapest Place to Live in Costa Rica?

If you’re looking to live in Costa Rica on a budget, you’ll be pleased to know that there are several affordable places in the country that offer a high quality of life. One of the cheapest places to live in Costa Rica is the city of San Ramon. Located in the Central Valley region, San Ramon has a mild climate and scenic views of the surrounding mountains. The cost of living in San Ramon is relatively low, with affordable housing options and a range of amenities such as supermarkets, restaurants and healthcare facilities.

Another affordable option is the town of Atenas, which is known for its year-round spring-like weather and friendly community. Atenas is also home to a variety of expats, making it a popular destination for those looking to retire or relocate to Costa Rica.

What is the Downside to Living in Costa Rica?

If you’re considering moving to Costa Rica, it’s important to know that, like any place, there are downsides to living there. One of the biggest drawbacks is the cost of living, especially for those wanting to live near the coast. While it’s true that some things are cheaper in Costa Rica, such as fresh produce, housing and healthcare costs can be quite high.

Another potential downside is the language barrier. While many Costa Ricans speak English, Spanish is the official language and it’s important to be able to communicate effectively if you want to live there long-term.

Additionally, while the pace of life may be slower and more relaxed than in some other countries, this can also lead to frustration with bureaucracy, delays, and inefficiency. Finally, as with any tropical location, there are natural hazards to be aware of, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic activity.

In Summary – Cost of Living in San Jose, Costa Rica

Compared to other countries in the region, San Jose cost of living for the month is relatively affordable, but it is definitely not as cheap as the following places:

But, it is comparable in costs to:

The living costs in San Jose is influenced by factors such as housing, transportation, food, and entertainment.

Overall, it is possible to live comfortably in San Jose without breaking the bank, as long as you are mindful of your expenses.

Is the San Jose Costa Rica cost of living higher or lower than you expected? What do you think?

<<<Author Bio>>>

Sarah is originally from the United States but now lives abroad with her husband in Costa Rica.

She runs a website called Costa Rica Vibes which focuses on bringing people the most authentic information on Costa Rica travel. In her free time, she is usually traveling, reading three books at once, and organizing dinner parties so she can cook for multiple people.

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