As we checked our backpacks at the airline counter, the agent asked us, “How long will you be in Costa Rica?”
“Three months,” I responded.
“Oh, you’re trust-fund kids, huh?”
Um, what? Where did that come from?
I responded, “Nope. My wife is starting graduate school this fall and we realized that it would be cheaper for us to spend the summer in Costa Rica than to continue renting our apartment. Because my work is remote, we can go to where the cost of living is lower. Yes, it’s an adventure — but one that’s saving us money.”
As with many Americans that I’ve met stateside, this guy assumed that traveling and living abroad was a luxury for the wealthy. But that’s not the case. There are thousands of Americans living abroad because it’s actually more affordable.
Yes, a short-term luxury vacation is expensive. However, a well-planned extended trip can save you money.
Why We Chose to Spend Our Summer in Costa Rica
After considering several locations around the world, we settled on Costa Rica for a few reasons. First, my wife wanted to improve her Spanish, and that would be hard to do in, say, Thailand or Croatia. Second, remaining in a U.S. timezone made it easier for me to connect with clients. Finally, because it’s easy to find cheap flights to Costa Rica (we used credit card points), multiple friends and family members would be able to visit us throughout the summer.
Costa Rica isn’t the cheapest place to live, but it’s a great place for Americans. Everyone is friendly, many people speak English and their healthcare system is on par with the United States’.
Our Cost of Living in Costa Rica
As with many parts of the world, if you want to live like an American, life can get expensive. However, if you’re willing to live like a local, your money goes pretty far. We chose a middle-of-the-road approach.
We spent most of the summer in a very unique two-room house with a private pool, overlooking the ocean, for $800/month. This included utilities and internet. It was pretty awesome but we also had limited air conditioning, a lot of insects and our water was hit-or-miss. We could have lived in a cheaper place for about $400/month or found a more Americanized house for $1,500-2,000 a month.
Because we were on the Nicoya Peninsula, food prices were only slightly less than at home. We enjoyed fresh mango, papaya and pineapple daily, and were able to eat meals out for $5-15 per person.
Lastly, public transportation is incredibly affordable in Costa Rica. A bus ride into town, 15 minutes away, was $0.50 each way.
In total, for the three months we were in Costa Rica, our expenses averaged $1,200/month, including a $50/month storage container for our belongings back in the U.S. If you ask me, that’s pretty frugal for two “trust-fund kids.”
More on Living Abroad: 50 Cheapest Countries to Live In
Are You Ready to Live Abroad?
Today, many careers can be pursued remotely, so living abroad has never been easier. Costa Rica was actually my fourth extended trip outside of the U.S. For me, living and working in other countries is an amazing adventure and a great way to save money. My experiences abroad are the foundation for some of my most enjoyable memories and richest relationships. Spending time abroad has given me the freedom to launch new businesses and transition careers without the level of financial stress I would have had if I made these moves in the U.S.
If you’re thinking about living abroad yourself, here are a few questions to ask yourself first.
- How much will my required standard of living cost? Just because you can live somewhere on $10 a day, it doesn’t mean it will be enjoyable.
- Will I be able to establish a strong social network? Moving somewhere new can be very lonely. Have a strategy for your social life before taking the leap.
- Can I separate work from pleasure? Living abroad means it’s not a vacation. You still have to work. You just get to enjoy somewhere new on your evenings and weekends.
- What is my backup plan? When will I return to the U.S.? Regardless of how long you plan to live abroad, it’s a good idea to know how to return when you’re ready.
- What do I hope to gain from this experience? You can’t run away from your problems by leaving the country, but you can grow as a person and save money to start a new business. Know your “whys” before taking the leap.
Are you thinking about starting a business, going back to school or writing a novel? If the financial burden seems overwhelming, do a little research — living abroad may give you the monetary flexibility you need to take the leap.
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