Can You Shop at Costco without a Membership? Yes! Here is How (Updated for 2024)

If you are not one to compromise food quality, but still seek out a good deal – the odds are strong that you have a Costco membership. And, if you don’t have a Costco membership, you should consider it (even if you need to learn how to shop at Costco without a membership from this article first). Just check out some of the Costco prices that I highlighted in my best warehouse deals article in comparison to the reasonably priced Trader Joe’s, for example:

  • Kirkland Signature organic quinoa: 4.5 lb., $8.99, $1.99/lb. (compared to $3.99/lb. at Trader Joe’s)
  • Kirkland Signature walnuts: 3 lb. bag, $7.49, $2.50/lb. (compared to $6.99/lb. at Trader Joe’s)
  • Chicken of the Sea canned tuna: 12 – 7 oz. cans, $16.99, $0.20/oz (compared to $0.33/oz at Trader Joe’s)

I wrote an entire article comparing Costco’s Kirkland dog food & cat food to similar products from other brands, and found prices to be one-third to one-half the price of comparable brands, per pound. Costco gasoline (which cannot be bought without a membership unless you have a Costco Shop Card), is usually about 10% lower than most popular gas stations nearby, in my experience. These are just a few examples of the great value that Costco can provide.

Costco prices can commonly be anywhere from 15-50% lower than prices found at Trader Joe’s per volume – with even larger savings in comparison to most grocery stores. It’s not an apples to apples comparison – Costco does have limited SKUs and the items you purchase are often in bulk volume. Nevertheless, there are some great deals to be had.

shop at Costco without a membership

The Cost of a Costco Membership

To get access to that kind of pricing – there’s a cost. Costco memberships range from $60 (Standard “Gold Star”) to $120 (for “Executive”, which comes with a 2% cashback rebate each year). Those fees are not insignificant. And they just so happen to be how Costco makes a good share of its profits. In fact, Costco’s 2023 annual report indicates that 73% of Costco’s net income comes from its membership fee revenue from nearly 128 million members worldwide. Costco’s markups on food pricing are razor thin, which benefits its members. The more food essentials you buy and eat from Costco, the more you benefit (just stay away from most of the other stuff).

What if you don’t want to commit to a $60 membership and just want to see if a membership will be worth your while? It turns out there are a few under-the-radar ways to shop and buy from Costco, without a membership. Also, for those interested, I since have published a list of ways you can shop at Sam’s Club without a membership too (also, see my Costco versus Sam’s Club review to compare the 2 popular membership clubs).

Is there a Free Costco Membership, Guest Pass, or Trial Membership?

There is no free Costco membership, shopping pass, day pass, trial pass, guest pass, trial membership, or other trial period where you can walk up to the door, walk in, and buy whatever you’d like.

However, if you’d simply like to see what the store has to offer, you are welcome to enter and walk around and look. I have rarely been asked for my membership card when I enter a Costco, even though they do have greeters who seemingly are there to encourage you to show it. If you’re overly concerned about going in to Costco without a membership card, but know someone who is a member, Costco’s guest policy states:

Anyone with a card can bring up to two guests to the Warehouse during each visit. Keep in mind that purchasing items is exclusive to Costco members.

That’s not entirely true. To buy most goods, you must be a member (with a few big exceptions that I’ll cover) or have a member make the purchase on your behalf. Of course, you might not be comfortable asking for that and it could get old quick for the member. There is another way…

The Costco return policy states on membership fee refunds:

Risk-Free 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. On Membership: We will cancel and refund your membership fee at any time if you are dissatisfied.

So, you could pay your membership fee, give it a trial run, and if you feel you are not getting the value from it that you’d like – ask for a refund. You can do so at a Costco membership desk any time.

But, what if you just want to get in the door and walk around to see what Costco has to offer, pricing, and all that good stuff – but you don’t know a member you are comfortable tagging along with? If you are asked for a Costco membership card, just inform the Costco team member at the door that you are there to buy one of the below items or services and they should let you in. Once through the front door, you will have access to the rest of the store.

You Can Buy Alcohol at Costco without a Membership (Some States)

I was not able to find any official Costco messaging on this, but it appears from my research that Costco allows alcohol sales to non-members (of legal drinking age). This policy may vary by state, as it has been reported that alcohol sales cannot legally be limited to only members in 14 states.

Update: find out more on this policy in my Costco alcohol price list post. If you’re at a Costco in one of these states and do not have a membership, you can just state that you are there to buy alcohol to one of the door greeters and they should let you in, per state law. Leniency around alcohol sales at Costco could be an unofficial national policy and not limited to the states listed above. I would not count on it, but it’s worth a shot.

Having bought alcohol at Costco – I can vouch for the deals to be had. A 24-pack case of pint-size Guinness cans for $23.99? You bet. 1.75 liters of Kirkland Signature Canadian whiskey for $27? Yes, please.

buy Costco alcohol without membership

You Can Buy Prescriptions & Immunizations at Costco Pharmacy without a Membership

Prescription drug sales, like alcohol, are highly regulated. And Costco and other membership stores must offer equal access and pricing for prescriptions to all consumers, regardless of membership status. Simply let the door attendant know that you are a non-member who is picking up a prescription. That should get you in the door.

In fact, Costco officially confirms this on their website:

You don’t need to be a Costco member to purchase Costco Pharmacy prescriptions online or at our warehouses. Our Pharmacy counter will accept several different forms of payment, including cash, debit/ATM cards, Costco Shop Cards, and Visa®.

And by the way, prescriptions at the Costco Pharmacy are very cheap. They also include pet prescriptions. Our dog’s insulin was the cheapest at Costco, and we looked at over a dozen alternatives. Costco even has the cheapest flu shots for those without insurance (all insurance plans must now cover flu shots). And, yes, you can buy immunizations at Costco without a membership.

Note that immunization and prescription prices at the Costco Pharmacy may be lower for members than they are for non-members. I called Costco and they quoted me 2 different prices for a flu shot, one lower-priced quote for members and a higher price quote for non-members.

Costco pharmacy non-member

Using Costco Optical Services without a Membership

You can get an eye exam at Costco Optical without a membership. However, to buy glasses and/or contacts, you need a Costco membership, according to Costco.

Yes, you need to be a member to purchase glasses or contacts at Costco Optical centers. However, you do not need to be a member to make an appointment with our in-house optometrist.

Buy Food from the Costco Food Court without a Membership

I’ve seen many sites that give the tip that you can get food from the Costco food court restaurant without a membership, but only if it is an outdoor food court. I’ve also read that a Costco spokesperson stated that as of early 2020, all Costco food courts require membership.

This seems to be misinformation. I called a few local Costcos and they confirmed that you can purchase food from the food court without a membership. Furthermore, I have personally used kiosks for payment at Costco food courts and they have not asked for membership (just a valid form of payment – typically a Visa card, but there are other options).

Additionally, most food courts are accessible without walking in the front door – you can usually access them by walking through the exit, where you are not greeted. And if you’re already in the front door for any of the variety of reasons that I highlight in this article, you can access the food court.

The deals at the Costco restaurant are very good, but the options are typically limited to hot dogs/sausages, soda, pizza, sundaes, and frozen yogurt. It’s not a health spa.

Costco food court without membership

You Can Buy Items at without a Membership (with a 5% Surcharge)

Non-members can purchase from Costco’s website,, at any time. There is a downside, however:

If you are not a member, you will be charged a 5% surcharge over posted prices for members (except for prescription drugs). This is because our ability to offer low prices on brand-name items is due in large part to our membership program, which is designed to reward members for their loyalty.

This excludes Costco “member-only” items, which require a membership to purchase.

The food offering on is limited as well, compared to the warehouse. And, I can confirm that I have seen lower prices on a number of items in the warehouse, versus on It seems as though Costco builds in some of the cost of Shipping to their online prices.

The Costco Shop Card (Gift Card) Can be Used at Costco by Non-Members to Shop at Costco

Costco also has a cash card (fancy name for a gift card) that they call the “Costco Shop Card“. With a Costco Shop Card, any non-member can show the card to get in the door and use it to make a purchase. You can also use a Costco Shop Card to buy gas at Costco, but you may need the attendant’s help to authorize the pump.

The trick with the Costco cash card is that it can be purchased by a member only. Again, you’ll have to rely on a member, which makes you a bit of a moocher, and it raises costs for every membership-buying member. And, once the card is depleted, you’ll have to get another fresh one from a member, or a reload by a member. The cards can be loaded up to $500 (and as low as $25).

If you know someone who is game, one or two cards wouldn’t hurt. I have heard (not confirmed), that the entire purchase does not have to be made with the card. In other words, if you only had $10 left on a card and had $150 worth of purchases, you could use the card for $10 and then use another form of payment for the remainder.

Costco Shop card without a membership

Buying Costco Items on Instacart Without a Costco Membership (aka “Costco Same Day” Delivery)

Instacart users can purchase Costco items on Instacart without a Costco membership. Please be aware that Costco prices on Instacart are higher than they are in a Costco Warehouse (they’re going to get those membership fees one way or another!), so you may not save any money over the long-term if you buy more than a few items from Costco on Instacart.

Costco has even started a joint website with Instacart on a domain called “Costco Same Day“. The website is run by Instacart (the website states “All orders are facilitated by Instacart”) and if you log in, you are actually using an Instacart account login and not a login. The pricing policy specifically states:

Item prices are marked up higher than your local Costco warehouse. Instacart uses the markup to pay for their delivery services.

I actually decided to run the numbers on Costco warehouse versus Costco Same Day versus Costco on prices, and found:

  • a 17% markup on Costco Same Day prices versus Costco warehouse prices.
  • a 17% to 26% markup on Costco items on versus Costco warehouse prices.

Costco Same Day and Instacart may save you some time versus going to the store, but it likely won’t save you money.

Valid Forms of Payment at Costco

While you may get in the door and even be able to purchase items, note that Costco stores do not accept Discover, American Express, or MasterCard credit cards as payment. Accepted forms of payment include: cash, check, debit cards, the previously mentioned Costco Shop Cards, and Visa credit cards (including, but not limited to, the Costco branded Costco Anywhere Visa Card, which gets 2% cash back on Costco purchases).

Shopping at Costco With and Without a Membership Discussion:

I’ve run the numbers on if a Costco membership and upgrade is worth the cost. For me, the standard membership is worth the cost, though I did ask Costco for a membership fee refund after a rebate check fell short of my Executive membership fee one year. But, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

  • Is the Costco membership fee worth it to you?
  • What are your favorite Costco shopping hacks?
  • Have you found other ways to shop at Costco or stuff you can buy at Costco without a membership?
  • What are your favorite items at Costco?

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