What's more expensive in Costa Rica?

Helping to plan your Costa Rica packing list.

Happy Free Talk Friday! At the end of the week, we answer your questions about Costa Rica. To submit yours for next week, email us at crcdaily@gmail.com, or click the button below.

Submit your questions

One quick update: The Costa Rica Space Agency we told you about has passed a second debate and will soon be a reality.


Visitors to Costa Rica are often surprised the country isn’t cheap. While you can feasibly get by on a lot less than in the United States, first-world comforts often mean first-world prices. And, in some cases, you can expect to pay more in Costa Rica than you would in the U.S. (or Canada, or Europe).

A handy rule of thumb: Anything that’s made outside of Costa Rica will be expensive when it’s sold in Costa Rica.

Here are items that are more expensive in Costa Rica than you might expect:

Electronics

A steep selective consumption tax, importing fees, and the store’s profit margin mean everything from cell phones to computers to WiFi routers is significantly more expensive in Costa Rica.

Examples: A new MacBook Air laptop is $999 in the U.S., and $1,349 here. An iPhone 12 mini is $699 in the U.S. and $999 here.

Cars and gasoline

Nearly all vehicles are taxed heavily when they’re imported, and the Costa Rican government sets the value at which they are taxed. While a mechanic might charge less for labor, genuine replacements are often costly.

The same goes for gas — currently at $3.66/gallon. The price is the same throughout Costa Rica and is set by Recope, which is in charge of imports and distribution.

Example: The 2021 Toyota Corolla’s MSRP is $19,825 in the U.S. and $26,900 here.

Beauty and hygiene products

Better to pack these items in your checked luggage. This goes for most beauty and hygiene products, like makeup, shampoo and facial soaps.

But it’s especially true for sunscreen and insect repellant. My theory: Not only are these products pricey because they’re imported, but stores add additional markups since tourists are the buyers.

Example: Hawaiian Tropic 50 FPS sunscreen is $8 in the U.S. and $20 here.

Imported food and supplements

You can find a wide variety of U.S. and other international brands here. The AutoMercado grocery chain, for example, is known for its wide selection … but also for its high prices. You’ll pay a premium for things like peanut butter, pills*, pumpkins, packaged foods (e.g. cereal, crackers) and premium cheeses.

Example: Crystal Farms 8 oz cheddar cheese is $3 in the U.S. and $5 here.

*This applies to vitamins and other supplements. Prescription drugs are typically much cheaper here.

Electricity

The cost of electricity in Costa Rica varies depending on the time of day and, on average, is slightly more expensive than the United States. If you’re a big fan of air conditioning, that can quickly add up! That’s why many long-term rentals pass the electric costs on to their tenants.

One perk is Costa Rica’s electric grid is powered almost entirely by renewable resources, unlike that of most other countries.

Quality home goods

If you’re particular about bedding, cookware, kitchen appliances, or power tools, better to bring those from abroad, too. You can certainly find equivalents in Costa Rica, but high quality means a high price.

One example: An Instant Pot pressure cooker is $100 in the U.S. and $150 here.

Things that are cheaper

On the other hand, many things are cheaper in Costa Rica than they might be in your home country. Some examples:

  • Local fruit and coffee, especially if purchased at a farmer’s market or roadside kiosk that has marked prices.

  • Rent, depending on the amenities you need and where/when you’re looking.

  • Healthcare and dental care, which has led to a health tourism boom.

  • Labor, in general. Many middle-class families hire housekeepers, for example.

  • Cell phone plans. One day of unlimited data with Kolbi is 85 cents.

— Thanks to Pete W. for this question! You can support us by subscribing & sharing this post:

Share

Support The Costa Rica Daily

Something else that’s cheap is The Costa Rica Daily. In fact, it’s free — and 100% ad free! We can only survive through your donations: 

Support CRC Daily