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Getting TEFL Certified in Costa Rica | Updated: 10/05/2022

Budgeting in Costa Rica

Written by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica

A common concern from those thinking of teaching English in Costa Rica is: can I, or How do I make enough money to live? People see the average salary for teachers, and mistakenly think that only those living in poverty or those using up all their savings can make it down here. Added to this conception is the famous friend of a friend’s cousin’s sister who says that it is impossible because she didn’t make it and came back home with horror stories. These factors are legitimate and should motivate students to get informed and figure out a budget, but they should not make you panic or drop your plans. Your friend’s cousin’s sister might very well be right, because yes, there have been people come down here and not make it. However, there have been thousands of teachers in Costa Rica who have had a fantastic time and have not had to use up all their savings or eat mud to survive.

Here are some points to help you make a budget for living in Costa Rica.

Teachers average salary around $900-$1000 per month. (Based on 20-25 hours per week at $10/hour)

Salary is spent on basically 3 equal parts.

Part 1 -Rent

Teachers should be spending around $250/month rent. (Probably living with roommates)

Part 2 – Groceries 

Weekly groceries should be around $60.


Tomatoes            $2/kilo                                  potatoes               $2/kilo

Watermelon       $1/kilo                                  Pineapple              $1.50

Tuna                      $2/can                                  Rice                      $2/kilo

Pasta                     $2/kilo                                  Beer                      $1 per can

Coke                      80cents/can                       Eggs                       $2/dozen

Bread                    $3/loaf                                  Milk                       $1/liter

Ground beef       $8/kilo                                  Chicken                 $8/kilo (breasts)

Part 3- Other      

Whatever you have after rent and groceries is your “other money”.  $250/month in “other money” is definitely enough to enjoy yourself and live comfortably.

Drinking out ($2/beer in bars)

Eating out ($5-$10 meals in restaurants)

Movies ($3 in cinema)

Travel ($5 bus ticket to the beach)


Tips to stretch that salary:

1) Live like a Tico: Ticos live on the same salary that you will receive, which means you can live on it too. The trick is to try to imitate them.  Do what they do.  Eat like they eat, drink like they drink, and play like they play. Keeping what you love about your native country is great, and somewhat necessary, however, if you cling too much to your old lifestyle, you will find it difficult to stick to your budget.

2) Live like a teacher:  Teachers don’t get paid like celebrities. Therefore you can’t live like a celebrity. Have fun, but be disciplined in your spending. If you live like a celebrity the first 2 or 3 weeks of the month, then be aware that you will be living like a  poor college student for your last week.

2) Learn to cook: Many teachers say they don’t know how to cook and therefore spend a huge portion of their salary on restaurants. These same teachers will spend hours studying Spanish or Salsa dancing, but won’t learn how to make rice. You can’t eat out 5 times per week and expect to have money at the end of the month. Ticos can’t do it, so neither can you. (See  tip number 1) Eating in Costa Rica is very cheap and delicious if you cook it yourself and try to eat like a Tico.


3) Watch out for the imported gringo food in your grocery cart: That cheap Kraft macaroni and cheese that got you through college because it was 25 cents a box, is $2 a box in Costa Rica. That cheap peanut butter that got you through some lean times when you were between jobs is now an imported luxury at billion dollars per gram.  Cheese and cereal is another league all together. Watch out for those foods that you simply “cannot live without”. You came to a new country to experience a new culture. You will have plenty of time to reunite with your favourite foods when you get back home.

4) Watch your rent: Most people prefer to live alone rather than with a roommate, but if you choose to live alone, or in a really nice house, you probably will put too much strain on your budget. Spending $350-$400 on your rent means a lot less “other money” which means a lot less fun and more stress.  You don’t have to live in the slums, but it does you no good to sit in your beautiful house and stress out on your beautiful sofa about how you are going to make ends meet that month.

Costa Rica is a great place to live a laid back relaxed lifestyle. Teacher salaries do allow for this lifestyle.  Watching you budget and following these tips will put you well on your way to having the fun affordable time that thousands of teachers have experienced, and will keep you from going back home with a bad experience.  Contact us to save your seat in one of our TESOL courses!  

Pura Vida.

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