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Friday, July 12, 2024

Debunking the Myth of Costa Rica’s Exorbitant Cost of Living

I just read an article in an online business-related website, that quotes at length from a US American expat, lamenting the cost of living in Costa Rica. Among the claims were that prices for daily expenses can be double what he paid in the US. Anyone who has lived here long knows we pay more- a lot more– for certain luxury items such as vehicles. But daily expenses?

I just spent almost a month in the states, did plenty of shopping, and unless this guy was living off the grid, growing his own food, repairing his own car, and mixing his own medicine, color me skeptical.

One important detail mentioned in the article was that he had never learned enough Spanish to get around on a basic level. He even complained that not enough people spoke sufficient English to communicate, adding that if you are lucky enough to understand Spanish as a general rule, you’re still going to have issues because they drop syllables and speak very fast.

This is from a person who has now lived over ten years in Costa Rica. He sounded like me my first few months here– ‘disculpe, no entiendo, habla despacio por favor’ . except he is now on his second decade. I wondered if he could even say that he had lived here for 10 years, ie: Yo he vivido 10 años en Costa Rica, or Tengo 10 años a vivir en Costa Rica.

Some people have a hard time with new languages. Every set of sounds that make up a statement in the new language seem odd, otherworldly. You translate in your head and seek refuge in your native tongue. Total immersion is the best way to learn the language, but not everyone can bombard themselves by keeping all the dials, channels and streams tuned only to Spanish speaking stations.

When it came time to choose a place to live, he gravitated toward areas with large expat communities such as Santa Ana and Cariari, before choosing the latter, close to the golf course. His current apartment is $1,500 a month — which he said was a good deal as he already knew the landlord. Good deal? No wonder he finds it expensive here. He has never bought a house, as he claimed the process can ”take years” in Costa Rica. In reality, houses are bought and sold here virtually every day.

As for food prices, he mentions beef, and quotes prices by the pound (and not by the kilo as it is actually sold here). He buys beef imported from Argentina, at $17 per pound (about $37 or 18,ooo colons per kilo). While locally raised good quality beef can be a challenge to find, I get it at around 12,000 colons per kilo, or about $10 per pound.

I checked Sam’s Club in the US online and it does not show any cuts of meat cheaper. He also mentioned that imported fruits and vegetables are expensive. Well of course they are when imported! It’s almost like Costa Rica lacks an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available locally, at any one of the myriad farmer’s markets throughout the country.

Nobody claims that Costa Rica is a bargain hunter’s paradise. We know it is expensive in the region (Mexico to Colombia). The last couple of years have been particularly difficult with worldwide inflation and the dramatic fall of the dollar/colon exchange rate, a double whammy to everybody’s wallet. But the source they used was like talking to the sucker at the table about poker.

At the least they could have balanced it by finding an expat, one more flexible and comfortable in the local culture. One who could actually speak the language. What we got was that species known as gringo delicado, one who wants everything, everywhere he goes, to be as much like home as possible.

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