Mexico vs Costa Rica: Which One Fits Your Lifestyle?

We’ll delve into the nuances of Mexico and Costa Rica with an honest comparison of these two beautiful countries, from their food scenes to their safety records. By the end, you’ll have a clearer picture of which destination aligns best with your expat dreams.

Differences between Costa Rica and Mexico:


  • Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America. Nicaragua borders it to the north and Panama to the south.
  • Mexico is a large country located in North America. It borders the United States to the north and Guatemala and Belize to the southeast.


  • Costa Rica has a population of about 5.1 million, most of whom are of European descent.
  • Mexico has a population of about 128.9 million people. Most of the population is of Mestizo descent, a mix of European and Indigenous ancestry.


  • Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish. However, English is also widely spoken, especially in tourist areas and San José.
  • The official language of Mexico is Spanish. However, many Indigenous languages, such as Nahuatl and Maya, are spoken in Mexico.


  • Costa Rica is a democratic republic. The president is the head of state and government.
  • Mexico is a federal republic. The president is the head of state and government.


  • Costa Rican culture is a mix of European and Indigenous influences. The country is known for its rich cultural heritage, beautiful beaches, friendly people, rainforests, and volcanoes.
  • Mexican culture combines European, Indigenous, and African influences. The country is known for its rich history, Maya and Aztec indigenous culture, Mariachi music, and delicious food.


  • Mexico generally experiences higher pollution levels than a green Costa Rica.
  • Mexico City, in particular, faces significant air pollution issues due to industrial emissions, vehicular traffic, and geographical location, leading to smog and health concerns. In contrast, Costa Rica has relatively lower pollution levels, with stricter environmental regulations and a focus on sustainability.

1. What Makes Mexico and Costa Rica Stand Out?

Mexico and Costa Rica are famous for expats seeking adventure, stunning scenery, and a taste of different cultures. Mexico wins about a rich tapestry of history and traditions, while Costa Rica is enticed by its commitment to sustainability and biodiversity.

But when it comes to retirement, Costa Rica offers greater peace of mind, stable community security, first-world medicine at lower prices, and sustainable investing methods that will keep you busy but stress-free.

2. Preference of Expats for retirement

Both Costa Rica and Mexico are popular retirement destinations for foreigners. According to the 2022 Annual Global Retirement Index, Costa Rica is ranked 4th out of 25 countries regarding its appeal to retirees, while Mexico is ranked 17th. This is due to many factors, including the countries’ low cost of living, warm climate, and friendly people.

3. Currency and value of the dollar

The currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). The dollar value in Costa Rica has been relatively stable in recent years.

  • The current exchange rate is about 530 CRC to 1 USD.
  • Costa Rica’s economy is heavily dollarized. This means the US dollar is widely used alongside the Costa Rican colón.
  • The exchange rate between the colón and the dollar is relatively stable. This has helped to keep inflation low and attract foreign investment.
  • However, the dollarization of the economy also makes Costa Rica vulnerable to changes in the dollar’s value. If the dollar appreciates, it can make Costa Rican exports more expensive and imports cheaper, leading to a trade deficit and a decline in economic growth.

Mexico’s economy is less dollarized than Costa Rica’s. However, the dollar is still widely used in Mexico, especially in border areas.

  • One United States dollar (USD) equals 20.28 Mexican pesos (MXN).
  • The exchange rate between the Mexican peso and the dollar is more volatile than between the colón and the dollar. This can make it difficult for Mexican businesses to plan for the future and can lead to inflation.
  • The Mexican government has reduced the country’s reliance on the dollar. However, these measures have had limited success.

4. Level of foreign investment in Costa Rica and México

Costa Rica has a relatively high level of foreign investment. According to the World Bank, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Costa Rica was $1.6 billion in 2020. This is due to several factors, including the country’s political stability, strong economy, and skilled workforce.

Costa Rica has attracted foreign investment across various sectors, particularly in digital technology, tourism, and manufacturing. The country’s stable political environment, skilled workforce, and strategic location have made it an attractive destination for foreign investors.

One notable area of foreign investment in Costa Rica is the technology sector. The country has become known as a hub for technology and innovation, the new “Silicon Valley of Latin America,” with multinational corporations establishing operations there to take advantage of its educated workforce and supportive business environment.

Additionally, Costa Rica’s tourism industry attracts significant foreign investment, with investors drawn to the country’s natural beauty, ecotourism opportunities, and stable economy. The government has implemented policies encouraging sustainable tourism development, enticing foreign investors to contribute to the sector.

Mexico is one of Latin America’s most significant recipients of foreign direct investment (FDI), with investments flowing into various sectors, including automotive, manufacturing, energy, and telecommunications.

The automotive industry, in particular, has been a significant recipient of foreign investment in Mexico. The country’s proximity to the United States, its skilled labor force, and free trade agreements have made it an ideal location for automakers to establish production facilities.

Mexico’s manufacturing sector has also attracted significant foreign investment, with many multinational corporations establishing maquiladora operations along the U.S.-Mexico border to take advantage of lower labor costs and favorable trade agreements.

5. Safety and Security

  • Safety in Mexico: Dispelling Myths

Living in Mexico often gets a bad rap regarding safety, but the reality is more nuanced. While certain regions may have higher crime rates, many expats feel safe living in popular expat hubs like Puerto Vallarta or San Miguel de Allende. As with any destination, exercising caution and staying informed are crucial to staying safe in Mexico.

  • Costa Rica: A Peaceful Oasis

Costa Rica is generally considered to be a safer country than Mexico. According to the 2022 Global Peace Index, Costa Rica is ranked 34th out of 163 countries regarding safety, while Mexico is ranked 140th. This is due to factors like the lower crime rate and more substantial police presence in Costa Rica.

6. Expat Communities in Mexico and Costa Rica:

Mexico Expats Communities:

  • Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum are famous beaches in Mexico. The population is predominantly retired from the USA and Canada. The warm climate and low cost of living attract them.
  • Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas: This city has a diverse community of retirees, families, and professionals. Its vibrant atmosphere, outdoor activities, and LGBT+ community attract expats.
  • San Miguel de Allende is an artistic and intellectual community with residents from the USA, Canada, and Europe. They are attracted by colonial culture, architecture, and cultural events.


  • It has a low cost of living compared to the USA and Europe.
  • Warm and sunny climate.
  • Vibrant culture and rich history.
  • Wide variety of outdoor activities.
  • Large and diverse expat community.


  • Mexico is known for its high crime rate in some areas.
  • Corruption and Drug trafficking organizations.
  • Poor infrastructure in some areas.
  • Language barriers.


  • Learning Spanish is essential to integration.
  • Adapting to Mexican culture, including food, traditions, and customs.
  • Processing visas and residency permits.
  • Obtain health insurance.
  • Becoming familiar with the local transportation in Mexico.

Costa Rica Expats Communities:

  • San Jose, Escazú, Santa Ana: is a diverse community with professionals, retirees, and families from the USA, Canada, and Europe. Attracted by the central location, services, and access to medical care.
  • Tamarindo, Conchal, Coco Beach: Predominantly retirees in Costa Rica from the USA and Canada beach destinations. Attracted by the beaches, nature, and tranquility.
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: In Costa Rica, you can find microclimates within a 30-minute drive; this forest offers a green landscape within the mountains that makes any foreigner dream.
  • Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Nosara: This is an alternative community with artists, yogis, and entrepreneurs who are attracted by the bohemian lifestyle, nature, and relaxed atmosphere.


  • Safe country with a low crime rate.
  • The dry Season is from December to April, and the tropical climate is from May to November.
  • High-quality universal health care system.
  • The Costa Ricans are educated and friendly, with a high level of English.
  • Stable political environment.


  • Costa Rica is known for the High cost of living compared to Mexico.
  • Intense rainy Season.
  • Poor road infrastructure in some areas.
  • Limited labor supply.


  • Learning Spanish is essential for integration.
  • Adapting to Costa Rican culture, the calm and relaxed way of going about the day.
  • Good manners: in Costa Rica, everyone greets each other and says good morning, thank you and see you later, but here’s a tip: you can say “Pura Vida” instead of all that.
  • Apply for visas and residency permits with AG Legal.
  • Obtain medical insurance.
  • Becoming familiar with the local transportation in Costa Rica.

7. Attractions, Activities and Food

Exploring Mexico’s Cultural and Natural Wonders

Attractions in Mexico: From the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza and the stunning beaches of Cancun to the vibrant streets of Oaxaca, many regions of Mexico are brimming with cultural treasures. Nature lovers will delight in exploring the cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula or snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of the Riviera Maya. With its diverse landscapes and rich history, Mexico offers endless opportunities for exploration, and it is a cheaper destination than Costa Rica.

Costa Rica’s Ecotourism Adventures

Attractions in Costa Rica are a haven for eco-conscious travelers, with over 25% of its land protected in national parks and reserves. Visitors can hike through the misty cloud forests of Monteverde or zip-line through the treetops in Arenal. For adrenaline junkies, the country offers plenty of opportunities, world-class surfing, white-water rafting, and volcano trekking experiences for your Costa Rica vacation.

The stunning beaches in Costa Rica, like Manuel Antonio National Park, Tamarindo, and the Caribbean, are popular tourist destinations. Also, the Costa Rican food will make you think Costa Rica can be your second home.

Food in Mexico vs Costa Rica

Eating is also essential, as Mexico is generally the most popular worldwide cuisine. Mexican food is what it is: a cultural show. In the restaurants, you’ll find the food and the cultural environment. But take care of yourself; México City is not good if you are not used to eating on the street, but it is cheaper in Mexico than in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is also known for its cuisine, a tremendous national spoon, better than Mexico for some people. This Central American country offers an incredible variety of traditional and tasty food with fresh products. Also, Americanization is everywhere, making adapting to a global culture easy. Still, if you visit Costa Rica, you have to taste the rice and beans of Puerto Viejo or the “pinto” for breakfast.

Recommendation: Place to Visit Mexico or Costa Rica

Choosing between Costa Rica and Mexico and comparing these beautiful destinations depends on your lifestyle. Costa Rica is an excellent option if you are looking for a safe, affordable, and beautiful place to retire, but if you are looking for a country with a rich culture and history, go to Mexico. Mexico is cheaper than Costa Rica, but living in Costa Rica is considered a safer place. You’d better visit both countries; you will undoubtedly make the best decision according to the lifestyle you dream of.

We hope this information is helpful to you.

If you decide to live in Costa Rica, our advice is indispensable. Contact us at