Central America is not as cheap as South America or Mexico (which we have also written about) but definitely more affordable when compared to the United States or Europe. Expats from different parts of Central America have contributed to this post and shared their experiences from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama. This way you can get a better idea of what these countries are like before you move or visit. These countries are not ranked by just listed geographically.
For each city, I have tried to provide the closest cost of living from Numbeo. The way the cost of living standard is measured is by using New York as the base of 100. This means that any country with a cost of living figure above is more expensive however those with a lower figure are cheaper. In the case of these Central American countries, the cost of living is a lot lower.
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Table of Contents
1. Belize – Placencia
Recommended by: Rosanna
Cost of living index: none
Belize is more expensive than the cities of Mexico, but still very low cost compared to the USA. In Placencia there is a wide range of accommodation from luxury hotels to modest Airbnbs but all with charming Belizean hospitality.
The currency is the Belize dollar.
You can grab a beer and some amazing fresh fish tacos for under US$5. Even at a beachside restaurant with the best view in the world, the sparkling Caribbean.
The main mode of transportation in Placencia is car. Traffic levels are low, however there is only one road in and out, so sometimes it can build up at busy times. You can also get around by boat as Placencia is bordered on both sides by the Caribbean and a lagoon.
The weather in Placencia is generally hot and sunny throughout the year with a highs of about 29°C (85°F) and lows of 23°C (74°F). The dry season lasts from November to May. And Between June and October, it is the rainy season. At this time, it can be very hot and humid with risk of tropical storms.
Placencia is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a slower pace of life. There are beautiful bars, restaurants, and hotels and lots of activities close by.
As for payments, most shops accept cards. But make sure to carry some Belizean or US dollars as street sellers usually only take cash. And of course, you don’t want to miss out on their beautiful handmade food and products. For your next trip to Belize, there are lots of activities for you to do.
2. Costa Rica – Guanacaste
Cost of living index (San Jose): 48
Known as a tropical paradise, Guanacaste is a province located in the Costa Rica’s northwest. Thanks to its geographical characteristics, you can enjoy beautiful beaches, natural parks, mountains and volcanoes. Guanacaste is most visited by national and international tourists, full of small tourist towns and with a lot of charm.
The currency is the Costa Rican colón.
The cost of living in Costa Rica is higher than 69% of Latin American countries, so comparatively, it is expensive. But in many ways, it is much more affordable when compared to the United States, Canada, and some European countries.
In Guanacaste, rent can range from $320 to $750 per month depending on the area and the number of rooms. If you want to live near a 100% tourist area it can be more expensive. The overall cost of living is between US$1,200 and US$1,700 a month.
It is easy and cheap to get around by bus. However, most locals mobilize with their own vehicle within the province. Travelling from San José (Costa Rican capital), can take from 5 to 7 hours depending on which area of Guanacaste you are going. However you do not need to go to the country’s capital to get to Guanacaste as the Daniel Oduber International Airport is located in this province.
The temperature throughout the year is pretty consistent, with a high of 30°C to 35°C. It is therefore generally warm from November to April. You can feel quite hot with these beautiful sunny days. While from May to October you usually have sunny mornings with rainy afternoons.
Guanacaste is a rich in culture region and with very own traditions, where you also can live surrounded by nature. This leads to a more active and healthier lifestyle.
Contributed by Kattya Villegas
3. Costa Rica – Heredia
Cost of living index (San Jose): 48
Located within the Gran Área Metropolitana (GAM), the province of Heredia is an ideal area to settle in Costa Rica. And fun fact, Costa Rica is one of the top 20 happiest countries on the planet!
Known as the Ciudad de las Flores (city of flowers), Heredia is par excellence a family area that offers great accessibility to schools, universities, parks, safe neighborhoods, shopping centers and large multinational companies. It provides everything for living in the city life while surrounded by nature.
Living in Heredia can be both expensive and cheap, this will depend on the area. Renting a 1-bedroom apartment in the center can cost around $450, while a 3-bedroom can cost around $750 per month. Rental prices are cheaper if you look for options in the surroundings. The overall monthly cost of living is between US$1,200 to US$1,700.
One of the disadvantages that Heredia has, and in general the GAM, is the terrible traffic. Getting around by bus or taxi is easy and affordable, but distances and times must be taken into account.
With an equatorial climate, it is usually hot, humid, and rainy throughout the year. The average temperature is 24°C. The climate is roughly divided into two seasons, a dry season, and a rainy season.
Heredia is the smallest province in Costa Rica, appreciated for its colonial tradition, its architecture of yesteryear and for being the coffee capital of Costa Rica. Among the main activities to do in Heredia: take a tour of a coffee plantation, visit the Bosque de la Hoja, and walk along its trails, visit the La Paz Waterfall Gardens Wildlife Refuge and Natural Park, or tour the Center Historical.
Contributed by: Kattya Villegas
4. Honduras – San Pedro Sula
Cost of living index: none
Honduras is filled with rich natural resources and biodiversity. San Pedro Sula is one of the largest cities in Central America. It is locally known as the Industrial Capital as most industries are located here. The city is also called “Ciudad de los Zorzales”. This is because it is surrounded by singing birds and the majestic Merendon mountain range.
The currency is the Honduran lempira.
San Pedro Sula is an hour drive from the Caribbean coast. With mountain adventures and beach days, this is an amazing location for expats.
San Pedro Sula has tropical weather of about 32°C daily. There are two seasons: very hot (December to May) and hot with rain (June – November).
For nature-lovers, there are beautiful national parks like Cerro Azul Meambar, Pico Bonito or El Cusuco, the Pulhapanzak Waterfalls, Yojoa Lake, and the Botanical Garden Lancetilla.
If you are craving the Caribbean beaches, there is Puerto Cortés and Tela. There is also the beautiful Mayan site, Ruinas de Copán. Expats love living in this city because of the kindness, simplicity, and loyalty of a true “Catracho” friend. And with good friends comes good food. Simple but delicious food such as baleadas and sopa de caracol (and if you’ve ever heard this song, the band is from Honduras).
The cost of living in San Pedro Sula for a person for one month is about US$850. The main form of transport is buses although it is not very safe. Therefore, the middle to upper class generally gets around by car which is easy since traffic is not very bad.
San Pedro Sula is a beautiful city, however as with any big city, there are smart ways to stay safe. Be aware of the different types of areas and where you should be more cautious of your belongings. Also, for certain areas, it’s best to travel with others when going out, especially at night.
Within Honduras there are also the islands of Roatán, Utila and Guanaja to do ziplining, snorkelling and scuba diving.
Contributed by Michelle
5. Guatemala – Antigua
Cost of living index (Guatemala City): 45
As a major backpacking hub, and one of the most aesthetically pleasing colonial cities in Central America, Antigua in Guatemala is a place you can’t afford to miss out on when looking for places to reside in Central America.
The currency is the Guatemalan quetzal.
Home to a strong arm of coffee shops, boutique accommodation, bars, restaurants, and established co-working space on offer, what more could you ask for? There are many things to do in Antigua and it makes it easy for you to set up a home base, plug in your laptop, and with great internet speeds you can work or make calls back to your family with no issues.
In Antigua, you can expect a spring-like climate with a mixture of sun, clouds, and rain all year round averaging about 25°C.
Walking around the streets is a great way to enjoy the morning or afternoon. However, getting around is also a breeze with an Uber taxi, tuk-tuks, or even the local chicken buses. In general, public transport is super cheap.
With all the pleasantries and many US companies and restaurants residing here, it makes it easy for foreigners to settle. All in all, the low cost of living makes Antigua an enjoyable place to live for an extended period and you can spend money without feeling uncomfortable with the prices.
Contributed by Dan of Layer Culture
6. Guatemala – San Pedro la Laguna
Cost of living index (Guatemala City): 45
(We found San Pedro to be cheaper than Guatemala City and Antigua)
There are several towns around the famous Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. The pace of living is slow and the towns are chill and affordable. San Pedro la Laguna might be a good option if you like small towns that are local and multicultural at the same time.
The currency is Guatemalan quetzal.
Since it is a small town, it is pretty much possible to walk everywhere. Within San Pedro la Laguna and other towns in Lake Atitlan, the main form of transport is tuk-tuk. It is also possible to take the boat to go to the towns that are further away.
On average, the weather in San Pedro la Laguna is pretty consistent throughout the year, with highs of 28°C (82°F) and lows of 15°C (59°F). The lowest in the winter months being around 9°C (48°F) so it is possible to swim in the lake all year long.
San Pedro la Laguna is a great place for people who are looking for an affordable and safe city. Although it is mostly the locals that live there, there is an international community and many international restaurants as well. It is even possible to get a full meal with homemade tortillas for US$3.
The food, the coffee and the quality of life are amazing. It is also a great place to learn Spanish as there are many language schools and practising your Spanish will be fairly easy – not many people speak English and their Spanish is pretty easy to understand in comparison to other cities.
Contributed by Yaren and Antoine from Bug In Our Bag
7. Panama – Panama City
Cost of living index: 56
Panama City is the capital, and largest city of Panama with around 1 million inhabitants. It is located at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. The official currency is Balboa but US dollars are used everywhere while the exchange rate is one balboa per one dollar.
The people here are pleasant, the weather is warm, and everybody speaks English. The economy here is influenced by the United States because of the Panama Canal. This means that there are many opportunities for expats.
Panama City is warm all year round, temperatures are between 24°C to 32°C (75°F to 90°F). The best months to stay in the city are between December and March when it is not too humid.
Renting an apartment can be costly depending on the neighbourhoods. In the city center, you will pay for a one-bedroom apartment with costs around US$1,000. Otherwise, costs of living are not that high. You can get a decent meal for US$10, a box of cigarettes for US$5, and beer for US$2.50. But if you go somewhere fancy, these prices can be multiplied several times.
Moving around the city by car can be stressful, I suggest using the metro (one line, 14 stations, 10 miles, 0.35 cents US per ride). Or you can get around by taxi (US$2 per kilometer). And of course, for short distances even walking is a good option. The nightlife here is vivid but as anywhere else be careful at night in dodgy places.
Contributed by Džangir from Dr Jam Travels