We’ve mentioned in the past about how it can be difficult to find certain items in Costa Rica. Up until this point, this has been fine. With just the two of us, we’ve made it work with what is available locally or if we really needed something, we’ve had friends or family visiting from the United States bring it. Having a baby, however, has presented a whole new set of challenges. Although we don’t want a house cluttered with baby stuff and are trying to be as minimalist as possible, the fact is that babies need certain things and you can’t do much to get around it. Here are our tips for buying baby items in Costa Rica.
Where You Live Matters
One thing to keep in mind is that where you live in Costa Rica makes all the difference with how easy it is to find baby things. Around San Jose, there are thousands of stores and even a handful that specialize in baby items. In other areas of the country, you’ll find stores of course, but they might be far from home and probably won’t have exactly what you’re looking for. Where we live in the Southern Zone, for example, the nearest store that sells baby stuff is 45 minutes away. We could probably find a lot of what we need there, but many of the items won’t be what we want. Maxi Pali (a Walmart-owned big box store found all around the country) has the basics like diapers, tubs, formula, some clothing, etc. but the selection is slim and quality often not great. The same is true for smaller stores in our area. In Quepos and San Isidro del General, we were able to find smaller places with a couple of Pack n’ Plays and car seats, but weren’t happy with the quality.
Buying Second Hand
Another big factor for us was money. Not only did the stores around us not have what we were looking for, but they were still fairly pricey. We weren’t going to pay an outrageous amount for something of subpar quality so we needed another plan. At this point, it was early on in our pregnancy and we knew we still had plenty of time to gather what we needed. We weren’t ruling out going to San Jose to shop around, but thought we would see how we did buying second hand first.
For several months, we scoured Craigslist. We ended up scoring big with a set of practically new cloth diapers (Costa Rica’s Bebe Confortable brand) that we bought from a woman who decided cloth diapering wasn’t for her. We also found a barely used Pack n’ Play that we bought from a couple that was moving back to the US. Both of these items were located near San Jose (this is very common as many expat families live in the Central Valley), about four hours from us, but we were able to get them delivered through the bus. The Encomiendra system, where you can ship things on the local buses, is a very easy and inexpensive way to get things in Costa Rica. It cost less than $6 for the seller to send the heavy Pack n’ Play all the way from San Jose to Quepos. So just because an item is a bit far away, don’t rule it out. Both sellers that we dealt with were happy to get the item to the bus station if it meant getting rid of it for a decent price.
There definitely aren’t as many used baby items for sale online in Costa Rica as in the US but you can still find stuff. In addition to Craigslist, people often post in the Costa Rica Facebook expat groups, especially Families with Children in the Central Valley. You can also find used strollers, bath tubs, toys, clothing, etc. in the Ropa Americanas and other used clothing stores found throughout the country.
We were really hoping to find a used crib but weren’t able to. Interestingly, several were posted online over the six or so months we were looking, but they were expensive. The problem was that many of the cribs had been custom made with really nice wood or purchased at the pricey Bebemundo in San Jose for upwards of $600. A used price of $400 might have been a good deal relative to that but it was a lot more than we wanted to spend.
After doing some research, we found that Price Smart in San Jose, a big box membership store ($30/year) similar to Costco, sold cribs for a much more reasonable price of around $250. Although as we’ve mentioned San Jose is a bit far for us, the trip ended up being worth it. Price Smart also sells disposable diapers, which are very expensive in Costa Rica, for a reasonable price in bulk. So we stocked up on those for the first month or so before we start using cloth ones, and also got some wipes and cloth-diaper-safe laundry detergent while we were there.
Price Smart has six locations in the San Jose area, including Escazu, Alajuela, and Heredia. Keep in mind that they don’t carry everything at the clubs, especially larger items like furniture. You have to order things like that online, then they import it and you can pick it up a few weeks later. This is what we did for the crib. Here’s a link to their website.
If you live near the Panama border, it might be worth a trip there to pick up some things as well. The “malls” near the Paso Canoas border carry quite a bit of baby items. They are located in the duty free zone so you don’t need to worry about checking out of Costa Rica and into Panama to visit them.
These sprawling stores carry everything from groceries to electronics and household items, all for a fraction of the price of things in Costa Rica. For baby stuff, we had the best luck at City Mall, the building farthest to the left from the border checkpoint coming from Costa Rica. Although the baby department wasn’t huge, they did have a decent selection of car seats, strollers, clothing, sheets, baby bottles, nursing gear, and toys. We ended up buying a Graco car seat there for $100, about the going rate on Amazon. This was a much better price than anything we could find in Costa Rica for a well-designed car seat that we were comfortable with.
Baby Specialty Stores
The San Jose area also has some baby specialty stores if you’re having trouble finding something. These stores usually have everything that you need but are higher end so more expensive. One larger store that we recently visited is Bebemundo (Baby World). We weren’t sure what to expect going into our visit there. Part of me was picturing a sprawling warehouse full of aisles like at Babies R Us and another part thought it might be some tiny store that didn’t carry much at all. Bebemundo was right in between. It did have all the essentials, from name brand car seats, cribs, changing tables, and high chairs to humidifiers, breast pumps, and a whole aisle of baby bottles. So if there’s something that you desperately need and can’t find anywhere else, they probably carry it. But keep in mind that because this is a very high end store, prices are high end as well. As an example, we saw a manual breast pump for $100 that costs only $30 on Amazon.
We visited the Bebemundo near La Sabana Park. They have two other locations in the San Jose area. You can find more information on their Facebook page.
Other baby specialty stores can be found at the Multiplaza in Escazu. We haven’t been to these yet ourselves, but they’ve been recommended to us. Siman, a department store at the Multiplaza, is also supposed to be a good place to look.
One of our recent big victories has been figuring out an easy way to get packages from Amazon. In the US, we absolutely loved Amazon. There was nothing like being able to find almost anything we wanted and have it at our door in two days with just a few clicks. Although it does take a little longer to receive shipments in Costa Rica, Amazon has been wonderful for helping us get ready for baby. We were able to create an online registry so that family and friends who wanted to send us a little something could easily do so without us having to deal with customs.
The way it works is Amazon takes care of customs and local delivery once the package arrives in Costa Rica. They estimate import duties in advance when something is purchased. This means that if you’re receiving a gift, you don’t have to pay the duty yourself, which is great. If the duties end up being less than the amount estimated, Amazon refunds the difference to the buyer.
There are probably other ways to do it, but the easiest way we’ve found to receive packages from Amazon is through our P.O. Box, called an Apartado in Costa Rica. We simply put our Costa Rica shipping address into Amazon and can search for items eligible for international shipping. Whoever is buying the item still has to pay shipping costs, of course, but it is nice to have this option when things are difficult to find or very expensive in Costa Rica. Some of the things we registered for on Amazon that we had a hard time finding here or were too expensive were good quality crib sheets, towels, and wash clothes, swaddle blankets, a mattress cover, natural baby soaps and lotions, a baby carrier, and bilingual children’s books. We did have a hard time getting the soaps and lotions, however, and needed to file some additional paperwork to prove their contents before they could be delivered. But we did finally get everything we needed with a little extra time.
We hope that this post gives you some insight into what it’s like to get a nursery ready in Costa Rica. There is already so much to learn when you’re having a baby, you shouldn’t have to stress about where to find the gear you need. Like most other things in Costa Rica, many items are more expensive and can be tough be find, but if you focus on the essentials, you shouldn’t have a problem.
Do you have a tip for buying baby gear in Costa Rica or a favorite store that we missed? Share it in the comments below.
Are you planning to start a family in Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
- Having a Baby in Costa Rica – Part 1: Our experience with prenatal care in Costa Rica.
- Having a Baby in Costa Rica – Part 2 (coming soon): What it was like delivering a baby at a small private hospital in Costa Rica.