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Gasoline Prices in Costa Rica – Just Stupid

June 19th, 2011

Warning:  Rant coming!

Before we begin, the graphic left shows three sets of letters. Most of my readers know all three, but for those who do not, LOL = Laugh Out Loud.  OMG = Oh My God, and WTF= ummmm, well best to ask your kids or grand kids about WTF.

Very handy though!

In Costa Rica, we only have two types of gas, Regular (OMG) and Super (WTF).

Prices in Costa Rica have been sliding up for some time.  Food, of course is one, but that seems to be a world wide issue. I have already ranted about the transit laws and how much a parking ticket can cost, but the thing that really frosts my twinkle is the ridiculous price of gasoline and the seemingly never ending increases.

We just had another increase a few days ago, and now I am paying about $85.00 to fill my tank (Nissan Xtrail, a small SUV).

It has been a while since I actually calculated the price per gallon in dollars. As we use liters here and pay in colones, it takes a couple of calculations to convert to dollars but I have done so here as many of my readers are from North America and are more accustomed to price per gallon.

Below is a little chart showing the prices. If this topic interests you… read on!

Costa Rica

Colones Dollars
Current Price per liter super = 740 $1.48
Current Price per liter regular = 726 $1.45
Current Price per liter diesel = 627 $1.26
Current Price per gallon super = $5.61
Current Price per gallon regular = $5.51
Current Price per gallon diesel = $4.76
Panama Super $4.07
Regular $3.96
Diesel $3.72


$5.61 per gallon for super is attention getting as is $5.51 for regular.  Sheesh!

Now take a look at the prices in Panama. Twenty percent less. In fact, I have been told that gasoline prices in Costa Rica are higher than all of Central and South America. Why?


I have asked a fair number of Ticos exactly why they think gas prices here are so high and the answers I get are generally the same.  Someone is getting very, very rich.  Taxes are part of it, of course, but where is THAT money going? Nobody seems to know. Certainly not to maintain the roads as they should be maintained.

Nobody seems to even know for sure where the government buys their oil for refining.  Some are not sure if we even refine the oil we buy (I think we do). The most logical place would seem to be from Venezuela where gasoline per gallon is about $.15 per gallon.

Now I am reasonable sure that Costa Rica buys its oil at world spot prices. I doubt they can get a discount from Hugo, but the price of oil on the world market is DOWN… around $93.00 per barrel as I recall, so again, why is it so much more here? And, Why is it going UP? How are other countries doing it?

I guess what just makes me a bit nuts is that it seems the government of Costa Rica simply does not seem to grasp that ridiculously and artificially high gas prices have an enormously negative effect on the economy of the country.

The biggest effect is inflation because the price of anything that is produced using petroleum products (read that as just about everything) or transported to market by any form of vehicle that uses gasoline or diesel, is immediately going to reflect how much those producers and shippers are paying for fuel. That cost is then passed on to the Ticos who can least afford it. It is the worst kind of regressive taxation as even those who own no car are getting the brunt of these costs.

This has a staggering effect on Costa Ricans, many of whom simply cannot keep up with these rising costs.  It affects tourism as the simple costs of renting and driving here are far more than other countries looking to attract tourists.

I am not fond of those foreigners who live here trying to tell the government how to run the show, but I do hope at some point the Ticos become more aggressive in their demands for explanations as to why they must pay so much for so little.

It is harming every Costa Rica.  It is holding back development and investment and is causing much needless human suffering.

I’d especially encourage intelligent comments from Costa Ricans on this topic as frankly, other than bitching at the prices… I just don’t get it.

39 Responses to “Gasoline Prices in Costa Rica – Just Stupid”

  1. goinglikesixty on June 19, 2011 2:32 pm

    Yeah, gas prices, the world-wide phenomenon that just defies explanations. At least CR has this going for it: no DAILY fluctuations of 15-30 cents/gallon as in the U.S. However, it does have this advantage: it forces the development of mass-transit and down-sizing of cars.

  2. Brett on June 20, 2011 2:57 am

    A large portion of the fuel tax in Costa Rica goes toward funding the country’s famous Pagos por Servicios Ambientales program, and it is the reason Costa Rica has been able to reverse a trend of deforestation in the last decade, and actually begin to increase forest cover. The biggest failure of the government is that most people aren’t aware of that fact.

  3. Robine on June 20, 2011 3:43 am

    Hey, overhere in the Netherlands is the same thing going on… It’s rediculous how much gasoline costs at the moment and it has been increasing since a year (extremely) and there’s no sign of decreasing unfortunately….

    I think gasoline is just very rare for all of us at the moment! haha


  4. Raymond Poplar on June 20, 2011 5:59 am

    I read your blog on a regular basis and have for several years since we began considering retiring in Costa Rica. Over the last year or so Costa Rica seems, at least for us, to have priced itself out of the market. So much the pity as it had been our favorite among all the central and south American choices. Even with its many drawbacks Panama is beginning to look like the place. We just came back from there and yes the gasoline prices are less than in the US. Sorry Costa Rica….

  5. peter trombetta on June 20, 2011 6:11 am

    Gas prices and everything else. Now you know why there is so much poverty here. I been here for about two years now and can honestly say that Costa Rica is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Every where you turn there is a constant grab of monies. Its correct that no one knows where the monies are going. not to the people that’s for sure. No need to say more. As they say here in Costa Rica, asi es la cosa. That’s the way it is. Pura Vida, for whom?

  6. Janie from Santo Domingo, CR on June 20, 2011 7:35 am

    I thought that Costa Rica’s gasoline had to be piped in from Mexico which is one reason it’s more expensive than in the states. In all honesty, we spend very little on food here as long as we stick mostly to food grown and produced in Costa Rica. Since we live in the Central Valley we don’t have far to drive for most things and usually take a bus or cab when going into San Jose.; we only need to fill our gas tank about once per month and we are actually spending quite a bit “less” on gas here than we did in the U.S.

    Also, I find that the lifestyle here does not inspire buying and collecting “stuff” which causes a lot less spending. No heat and air conditioning and incredibly cheap phone service is also a big plus when it’s time to pay the bills. We live much more simply than in the burbs of Dallas. All of this is not to mention how affordable labor is and we can hire someone to paint a room or clean our windows without breaking the bank.

    Now, if I could just find smoked paprika here life would be perfect!

    PS… I’m not rejecting Tim’s points, just adding my own!


  7. John Collins on June 20, 2011 9:39 am

    Reading your comments on the cost of gas in CR, maybe your readers would like to know that gasoline is certainly not cheap here in Canada. I live in Alberta, where oil is extracted and processed, and the cost of a gallon of gas here..(we sell in litres)is equivilent to $5.40 per gallon. In other parts of Canada, especially in the Eastern Provinces, gasoline is even more expensive. How long will the driving public accept theses prices is anyone’s guess, but there WILL come a time when the ‘two-car’ family will disappear, the ‘smart car’ will come into its own, and then the Gas Companies will have to sit up and take notice !!

  8. TrueINK on June 20, 2011 9:51 am

    The ship is going down down down and it’s taking us ALL with it….Gringo’s & Tico’s. The only ones that will be left floating on the top are the corrupt ones taking ALL the money. The reason they (government) never fixes anything is because they are ALL taking from the very top to the bottom.

  9. Micoloco on June 20, 2011 12:16 pm

    I’m a french canadian living in the countyside in the province of Québec Canada. I own a land in CR. There are scums in every part of the world. Here, government fraud scandals are by hundreds of millions of dollars in CR are …? For a third world counry they have a bus service a lot more developed than here and at what price? Extremely cheap (around $2.50 Turrialba-San Jose) and at the end using it = less polution. And they deserve fairly far in the countryside. If a part of the gas taxes are going in this bus service bravo! I think the worst is for the Ticos who will have to pay more for living, I’m not worry for the Gringos they don’t have to work at $2.00 an hour to servive. If they can’t afford to pay the gas for their cars, THERE IS A BUS SERVICE. Here in Quebec we don’t have that option.

  10. Sergio on June 20, 2011 2:27 pm

    So, gas is about 30% more expensive in CR than in the US (at least here in DC). I leave you here with two pieces of info for you to do the homework.
    1. The refinery in CR does not refine. We do import finished product (makes it more expensive)
    2. We do have a tax on gas that dosen’t exist in Panama or the US. Don’t know the exact %, but it’s used to finance the FONAFIFO, which is a paymet for environmental services. A little program that does work.
    3. Have you ever wondered why Diesel is cheaper in CR than gas?

  11. Jill on June 21, 2011 7:12 am

    Wow. I didn’t really notice how high gas is until I saw your conversion chart to gallons. I am looking at purchasing a Land Rover Discovery that also runs on LP gas. I have no idea what the advantages/disadvantages to this are, other than I know it is supposed to be better for the environment (less emissions?) and better for an engine. With gasoline prices so high, maybe it is cheaper as well? I don’t know the prices for LP, any thoughts on this?

  12. beverly Kronquest on June 21, 2011 11:18 am

    Obviously, Panama has the canal to support the country, keep taxes low.

  13. Mario on June 24, 2011 7:08 am

    Gas prices depend on 3 variables: international oil price measured by Standard & Poor’s, exchange rate, and refinery margin. Those 3 are set by ARESEP every 30 days.

    Which means if oil prices drop, you don’t see it until a couple months later (30 days for the study + the time it takes to approve the new price calculation). That’s why many times oil prices are on the down, but gas prices are going up, you’re simply seeing last month’s effect come into play.

    Why are gas prices so high? Let’s take a look at your example for Super Unleaded. Current base price at wholesale is $3,71. That’s high to begin with, mainly due as I said to international prices. On top of that, you pay around 42% in taxes, which adds $1,58 to the price. And finally, the gas station that sells you the gas gets about 8% margin, $0,32 per gallon.

    That gives you a final price of $5,61 per gallon. As you can see, it’s both things: high oil prices, and high taxes. Gas station margin isn’t that significant, so nobody (at least in the private sector) is getting a super high cut in this deal. And in the public sector, not really, since by law RECOPE can’t have any utility margin: whatever is left at the end of the year, ARESEP makes them give it back by lowering prices.

    As to your comment on refining or not, no. We don’t refine here. RECOPE (state refinery) buys refined product from wherever. Then they simply store and distribute. We haven’t refined anything in decades. But, RECOPE and it’s refineries that don’t refine is a whole other story for another day.

  14. rhode side bed and breakfast on June 27, 2011 12:32 pm

    I thought that Costa Rica’s gasoline prices were some of the lowest in the Latin America. Is that incorrect?

  15. Lisa on June 27, 2011 12:41 pm

    Does anyone feel like corporate corruption is the new face of oppression. Its like a bad joke, how can gas companies can have record profits in this economy?

    You know they are making decisions daily that negatively effect millions of people lives all of the sake of the bottom line… not even Costa Rica is safe 🙂

  16. Randolf Seibold on June 27, 2011 5:00 pm

    Hm very informative, thank you. Good comments too. Also in Canada, and currently we are at about 1.30 per litre where I am, so fairly close.

    This subject is of interest to me, as I help investors obtain land parcels planted with biofuel trees in Buenas Aires Canton. Because of the country’s 10% blend mandate by 2012, Recope is required to buy every litre of biofuel and bio-oil produced in Costa Rica, which is a good arrangement for us. This of course, may be translated into higher costs at the pump, OR may actually help counter price hikes (somewhat), much like US-grown ethanol has done in the United States.

    The comment re: high corruption (compared to where?) is interesting, and would like to see more evidence on this.

  17. Sergio on June 30, 2011 8:01 am

    hey dude, why my comment is still awaiting moderation!?

  18. Tobias on July 1, 2011 9:05 am

    Invest in electro vehicles. That they wouldn’t have sufficient power to climb the Cerro de la Muerte is campaign induced conditioned thinking. Two days ago I watched something about the EV1. This powerful electric car of the 90s disappeared for some “unlogical” lobby driven reason from the market. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_EV1

  19. Roy Lent on July 7, 2011 1:44 am

    I agree with your rant on gasoline prices in Costa Rica. What turns me off is your use of a silly grammatical error. The plural of colon in Spanish is “colones”, in English it is colons. The use of “colones” in English text leads to the use of a new word that does not exist in either language, “colone”. As in “I have a “colone” account in the bank”. With a blog about Costa Rica you should try to correct this.

  20. Tim on July 26, 2011 7:47 am

    Yup…. I think you are correct.

    Sadly, I write for an audience that is mostly North American and the words colones, while a Spanish word, has now been accepted into English for better or worse.

    I do not like it any more than all the other crappola words that are being added to our language… Example: “He disrespected me” which now passes most spell checkers. I have a list of 200 others and each year more are added. So ARE required… just ask if anybody Tweeted me on this topic 🙂

    The language has suffered as North Americans have “dumbed down” another word that should not exist, but does.

    However… in any case Roy, you are correct.

  21. Tim on July 26, 2011 8:04 am

    The gas companies make huge profits because they sell huge quantities of something everyone wants and has to buy. Just that simple.

    Before over-reacting though, remember who OWNS the oil companies. It is not one person, or a hundred. It is MILLIONS of people in their mutual and retirement funds or stock portfolios. In fact, odds are that YOU are an owner in several oil or related companies if you have ANY retirement fund, 401k, etc.

  22. Tim on July 26, 2011 8:05 am

    They are the HIGHEST in Central and South America

  23. olaf on August 6, 2011 11:08 pm

    Please…. an Oil company is an Oil company. What do you expect, pendejo!?
    Best look to those in Gov’t. who allow it to occur.

    Never mind.

  24. Edy on August 22, 2011 4:26 pm

    I am very disappointed to read that the gas prices are so high. It seems that it is more expensive to live in CR than I originally thought. Have we, the Gringos caused this? We have flocked to Central America in hopes of a more peaceful and less stressful life for ourselves, but what have we done to the Costa Rican people? I no longer know what to think!

  25. Tim on September 29, 2011 8:21 am

    “Have we, the Gringos caused this?”

    Of course not…

  26. Texas Brown on November 18, 2011 10:17 am

    I am one who will be retiring in CR. Fortunately for me, I married a beautiful CR woman whom I met here in the USA, 12 yrs ago.

    I too was surprised to find out, during my research, the gas price we look forward to paying.

    As someone already mentioned, you may only have to gas up once a month!!! The country, like you said, is comaparable in size to W Virginia. As opposed to our current consumption of 25 gallons every week driving to work every day at 65-75 mph. You’ll be lucky to drive more than 40 mph in CR.

    I can’t hardly wait for the day we move. BTW, i have visited here (with my wife’s relatives) several times.

  27. Scott on December 20, 2011 5:40 am

    Gas here in Kelowna, BC, Canada is sitting at $1.20 per reg liter, But its winter now so prices drop. In the summer its not uncommon to see gas prices here hover around $1.40 and shoot up as high as $1.60 for long weekends. Which is total price gouging. On the Thursday before a long weekend this past summer, gas jumped 28 cents a liter!!!!!! just to go back down about 20 cents the following Tuesday. Does that happen on holiday weekends in Costa Rica as well?

  28. Dree on March 9, 2012 9:11 pm

    Will be leaving for CR soon and was dismayed at the cost of a rental. Apparently $1200 for a week. Ultimately I really prefer to catch buses or take cabs or hire a driver as traveling using public transport is part of living like a local. Some may think I am crazy but I say that we all wean ourselves off “gas dependancy” and start walking, running, car pooling, trotting, taxing to help our planet to recover from fossil fuel pollution. Amen … the more gas costs chances are people will look for other options hopefully ones that do not pollute our planet.

  29. Tim on March 26, 2012 1:32 pm

    That is a ridiculous price. Contact me via email and I can get you a better deal (so long as you are not renting a tank)

  30. andrej on June 13, 2012 10:44 am

    price of gasoline is almost as odd as here in slovenia where we had to pay 1,5€/l. consider that average monthly payment is round 900€.

  31. Warren on June 17, 2012 4:31 am

    All I can say is that I find the right amount of balanced information in this SITE that Tim has created.

    IF!! you go to other ones’ you will read about $400,000.00 to $2,000,000.00 real estate transactions.

    This SITE is the “REAL” one to get information about Costa Rica and I know because my wife, first born are from CR and I have a house in Desamparados which is waiting for me until I retire which should be very soon.

    Gas prices in CR are not cheap and never will be. Here in Tampa, FL it is $3.21 a gallon and falling every week by .02-.05 cents from $3.51 a month ago. You will NEVER see this happening in CR.

    Whenever I visit CR the mode of transportation is a bus or a taxi and the occasional WALK. Insurance, gas, maintenance of a car in CR is HIGH besides the prices of the auto.

    Keep up the good work TIM!!!!!!

  32. Cynthia on June 25, 2012 10:10 am

    Thanks to all the persons that wrotte about gas prices in Costa Rica. I will give you a screaming secret about the prices for rent a car and gas: pay attention: CR is a very little tiny territory very green ( a lung for the planet) and with excellent system of public transportation, then really is recomendable help the planet by walking and using the trains, buses (nothing as Washington) and taxi (nothing as New Yourk)as everybody does in some European places. You see? Very easy and inexpensive.

  33. Hotel in Costa Rica on August 6, 2012 10:18 am

    I am from Costa Rica and you are absolutely right, we have no clue what the gov does with all the gas taxes, oddly enough they say they spend it on the roads, but go ask at your municipality why the roads are like that and they say, well we have no budget for the roads :$

  34. Ken Collins on October 11, 2012 8:16 pm

    As a general observation over the past 16 years:
    1. Current tax increases are exhorbetant
    2. CR will not be a tourist destination of the many, in the near future and is occuring now, with people opting out of CR and going to other countries.
    3. The conversion of 490 or 492 is not the issue. The 10 – 15 Colonies per dollar won’t stop a tourist
    The 25% tax on top of a ridiculous $300 room does make the difference times x amount of days. Please do not say OH you can get get a cheaper place…I have been here at least 40 times or more. I now stay with friends when here. The hotel cost,gasoline cost, outrageous food (both super mercado and restaraunts is criminal. $6.00 for a medium size chicjen breast at Mc D’s..who is kidding whmo here? The owners are just abusing and the people continue to go because they just do not know how insane it is to contribute to the outrageous costing.
    4. If anyone says it is cheap to live in CR, then they are selling somthing.
    5. I see CR becoming a destintaion only for the super rich and that money trickles down for a short time only i.e., real estate, home construction and ends ther because they will bring in their own house staff for the stay.
    6. Ihave heard and DO believe many expats are in process of selling their homes and moving to Panama or elsewhere and it makes all logical sense.
    7. Gas is only a part of the deeper picture of what is happening and will continue to happen and greed will last just so long because it will collapse as we saw in the US only 4 yers ago.
    I am so sorry for what was only 10 years ago a very,very different plac.

  35. Jenny on October 24, 2012 5:43 pm

    Roy Lent~ Roy, with all due respect, if you really are troubled by a grammactical oversight then you might have way too much time on your hands and might want to volunteer for English classes somewhere.

    The rest of us are too busy taking in all the wonderful information Tim has provided for us out of the goodness in his heart to notice such trivial things.

  36. Joanna Moran on November 8, 2012 8:03 pm

    I had a self-drive vacation in CR in April 2010 and, being on holiday and being quite flush at the time, did not pay attention to the price of gas. Was it much better than now?
    It’s a pity gas so expensive now, only because of its domino effect on the cost of living to the locals with their lower hourly wages. Expats, unless they persist in driving everywhere, would not be so badly affected. Besides, they would normally have some savings to bring into the country with them.

    I have been planning to retire there in the near future. My answer to the high cost of gas: there’s nothing wrong with riding a bicycle, or taking public transport like the locals do, or walk. I believe in living like the locals if I want to live in their country.

  37. Babette on November 15, 2012 4:10 pm

    Do you have a 2012 list of costs of living in Costa Rica? The list on your site (rent, food, etc.) is from 2007, and I am sure that inflation has reared its ugly head and raised all prices in Costa Rica. Thanking you in advance!

  38. John Torres on January 27, 2013 10:50 am

    Gas prices is not a deal breaker, it is what it is! I am thinking of retiring there in about 2yrs, i would like more info about the cost of living there. can anyone help?

  39. Douglasdileo on March 8, 2017 12:13 am

    Here it is 2017 and has is still around $5.60a gallon in c.r. and a barrel of oil is around $52…so where is the 40% reduction on fuel cost….crazy theivery