We want to give a huge thank you to Diego Xavier who did some amazing research on the food prices in Costa Rice vs the USA. The results may shock some of you!
Over and over I hear people complain about how much higher groceries are here than “back home.” They quote anything from 50% higher to double or triple. But I just don’t see it.
Anecdotal stories are fun, but facts and actual numbers are the real deal. So, I did a big comparison so I would know the truth of it. (I started to say “an exhaustive comparison,” but the only thing exhausted was me after all the calculations.) I did it for me, because, well…because I’m a nerd about these things sometimes. I share it here for you simply because I have the information and because a few people asked me to.
I am certain that there are going to be the folks who want to argue and find fault with what I’m about to present. So let me lay the ground rules that I used to make the comparison:
*I chose to use Publix grocery story as the USA base for comparison—because I was in Florida, because it is a middle of the road store, and because it is a very popular store (and I know many expats who go on and on about how they miss shopping there.
*Not everything is always available in every store here, so I did go to three main places in order to get a price for all the items. They were Walmart, Pricesmart, and Automercado. The meat prices for here are from a meat market I use regularly because of the high quality of their beef—it rivals and often surpasses USA beef quality.
*I only compared regular price to regular price. It would be unfair to use sales prices in either country to unfairly bias the results.
*I had a list of items that I often and/or routinely buy in Costa Rica that I used for the shopping list. As you will see, the list is comprised of things that I use for cooking large meals of high standards, as well as some things for quick or junkier meals. It is in NO WAY “eating rice and beans like a Tico everyday.”
*Many things were exact matches. Where there were differences in size availability, or Imperial measurements versus Metric, I calculated the price per unit (ounces, gram, pound, etc) and made the appropriate relative cost adjustment so everything would be on the up and up.
When I had to choose a different brand, it is noted.
*The exchange rate for the colon has been up and down for buying dollars—anywhere from 595 to 605 recently. So I chose to use the rate that was given on the day that I did the bulk of the of cost comparisons, which was 601.5 to 1.
Now I can already hear some of the Devil’s advocates’ arguments against what they may not like:
“But I would never spend that much to begin with.”—That’s fine, but it doesn’t change the relative costs, just the total amounts.
“But you only went to one store in the States and you went to several here, so you probably picked the best prices here.”—The prices weren’t that much different overall from one place to another. And in order to GET prices for everything that’s what I needed to do.
“But you went to a ‘real’ grocery store in Florida; you should have gone to Walmart in both places.” Maybe, but Walmart is, in my opinion on the scale of things here, on par with shopping at Publix in Florida.
“But we don’t have a Walmart or Pricesmart or Automercado near us, so it isn’t a fair comparison.”—Three quarters of the the population of Costa Rica lives in the Central Valley where access to these stores is relatively easy.
“But we live on the beach, and it’s more expensive here.”—That was your choice…I guess you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
“But Florida is more expensive than where I came from.”—Could be, but it’s also less expensive than were other people came from. I was just trying to get some basic idea of whether groceries actually cost double or not.
“But you had some expensive things that were outliers, and that unduly affected the total cost.”—There were outliers on both sides so I decided to leave it all, since I buy it all.
“But those prices you listed just are not correct. I’ve never seen those prices here.”—I took pictures of every price tag in both the States and in Costa Rica to have a record. It’s just way too much to have to post 142 pictures to prove every price, so you’ll just have to take my word on it. “But….But….But…..”
Bottom line is this: We spend significantly less on groceries in Costa Rica than we did in in the States. About 30% LESS. Not 50% more. And certainly not double. Maybe you don’t. We do.
I think there are several reasons people say that the costs are so much higher here.
Maybe they’ve lived here for a number of years and remember what prices were when they left the States, but they haven’t kept up with what prices have done in the interim.
Or, maybe they were like us and just never really paid much attention to prices there when income was more disposable. But here we pay better attention to the price and it just seems a lot higher because we never really thought we paid that much before.
Or, maybe people don’t do the actual calculations to be sure of the differences.
Or, maybe people are just repeating what they’ve heard and have never really even thought about it themselves.
Or, maybe they are making a blanket statement for all of Costa Rica based on limited experience in a single area.
Could it be that’s it’s all of those things? Probably.