How to Move to Tamarindo, Costa Rica on $30/Day

How the two of us moved to Tamarindo, Costa Rica for three months and lived comfortably on $30/day.

As many of you might know, Jake and I are on a mission to visit all the great surf towns around the world. And what surfing pilgrimage would be complete without the Costa Rican town surf legend Robert August calls home? Unfortunately, all the reasons that make this town a great tourist destination have also made it an expensive one! On a $30/day budget, we didn’t live in luxury, but didn’t end up in a tent on the beach either. Here’s how we did it!

The Numbers:

Ongoing Expenses:

Rent: $791 (our rent is in U.S. dollars)
Utilities: ~$174 ($57 Utilities + $92 TV/Internet + $25 Water)
Groceries: ~$845*
Average Monthly Cost: $1,810
Average Daily Cost: ~$60/day for 2 people or $30/day per person

*We included the occasional restaurant meal for simplicity sake.

Extras/One-Off Expenses:

Supplies from Home: $36
Day Trips: $260 (Car rentals, gas, park admissions, etc.)
Used Surfboards: $480 ($250 and $230, respectively)*
Total: $776
Effect on Average Cost over 90 days: +$4/day per person

*We ended up selling our boards back for about half price, with $200 in cash and $40 store credit at the surf shop so the net effect was even lower!

A couple notes:

  • Our utilities usage didn’t change much over 3 months, so those are just from the first full month.
  • We put all our groceries on credit card, so that was easy to average out over 3 months just using bank statements.
  • This doesn’t include flights. We paid about $400/person RT from JFK-LIR, but I’ve seen the same flights for $300 or $500 depending on the season.
  • Our apartment was actually a 2-bedroom duplex. The second bedroom had a 3-person bunk bed (the bottom bunk was a double) so our rent could have been even lower with roommates!

What We Did To Spend Less:

Haggled Down Our Rent

Finding a cheap apartment in Tamarindo isn’t always easy. However, planning our trip over the “wet season” when it’s less crowded definitely gave us some haggling room. We came in with an original budget of $900-1,000/month between us. By holding out for the lowest price we could find and agreeing to pay utilities, we got a 2-bedroom duplex 10-15 minutes from the center of town for $791/month.

(New to haggling? Read our guide to haggling respectfully in poor countries!)

Cooked Our Own Meals

Since we decided not to rent a car (which can add $30+/day to your expenses), our only options for getting to the bigger stores out of town was a cab (or an extremely long bike ride). Since the taxi fare would have wiped out any savings on groceries, we really just had the stores around town.

Unfortunately, nothing at the grocery store is cheap except local staples like rice and black beans. Cooking at home is still cheaper than eating out in restaurants, but the gap closes a lot because of how much things cost.

Ate Canned Goods

We were really surprised that the produce sold in stores and out of trucks by locals around town weren’t better. I’m not just talking about cosmetic dings. Most of the vegetables we saw looked battered, shriveled up, or just plain unappetizing. We’ve had especially bad luck with avocados. We’d take them home to ripen, and the outside would get soft and mushy even as the inside was almost raw! So we got most of our vegetables from cans. I’d never eat canned food back home, but it’s not that bad mixed into rice or a pasta sauce!

Got Used to Being Hot

We heard before moving here that electricity was expensive in Costa Rica, and would probably make up the bulk of our utilities bill. Since the temperature hovers around 90° on the average day in Tamarindo, we needed a plan to stay cool that didn’t rely on the air-conditioner.

  • We only used the AC in our bedroom at night when we went to bed. It may have helped that this coincided with what’s considered off-peak electricity hours.
  • Shades were always drawn to keep the house as naturally cool as possible.
  • Jake brought a personal fan from home which sits on his desk facing him all day long. I handle heat better, and am usually OK doing my work in the living room with just the ceiling fan.
  • We brought an ice pack from home, which I’d use as a compress to bring my temperature down.
  • I kept a pitcher of ordinary tap water in the fridge at all times so I always had cold water to drink instead of lukewarm tap.

Brought Supplies from Home

We knew from previous trips to Costa Rica that many basic necessities like bug spray and sunscreen were extremely expensive in town. (e.g. $16 for a tube of Banana Boat we could get on Amazon.com for $10!) We did the math and it actually made more sense to check an extra bag on our flight and just bring everything we needed from home.

What We Used in 3 Months:
– 2 bottles of 40% DEET bug spray (only $10 on Amazon!)
– 20oz. total of sunscreen ($17)
– 1 tube of Zinc nosecoat ($9)

How to Move to Tamarindo, Costa Rica on $30/Day.

We know it can be done because we did it!

Where We Could’ve Spent Less:

Ate More Like A Local

This one’s my fault. While Jake is happy to eat rice and beans every day (in tacos, fried rice, stir-frys, etc), I get bored. There’s just no substitute for Triscuits as a vessel of cheddar cheese—even if it’s imported and cost $6 a box. That, my potato chip habit, and the occasional croissant empanada from La Princesa bakery probably added at least $3/day to a our daily food budget!

Drank Less

Shockingly, Jake and I have not spent a single night out partying. Blame it on work, and that we like to wake up early to surf more than we like to mingle! We’ve saved a lot of money getting our drink on at home with grocery store beers (most are about $2/can). However, the nightly post-work cerveza or two (or three!) can quickly add up to the tune of $2-6/day per person!

Are you planning a move to Costa Rica or just curious how much it would cost? Let us know your questions in the comment section and we’ll do our best to help!