Lately there’s been lots of online buzz about the Costco gift card hack, which lets you shop at Costco without a membership, but the real question is: can you shop at Costco without a membership legally?
The short answer: yes. But why would you want to? Maybe you’re not a regular shopper and don’t want to pay the $60 a year fee, or maybe you’re just curious about what nonmembers can and can’t do at the store, including what you can buy (or eat).
Now, I’m not recommending you totally avoid paying the fee because in many cases it’ll save you money if you choose to go the membership route (particularly if you want to shop online at Costco.com and avoid the 5% nonmember markup). Plus, my personal experience is that the Costco membership fee is solidly in the “worth it” category. Especially when you follow our tips for the best time to shop at Costco.
Nevertheless, here’s how you can shop at Costco without a membership:
For more smart shopping tips and savings hacks, text HACKS to 57299.
1. Use a Costco Shop Card to get in the doors and shop till you drop.
… Or until your Costco Shop Card balance is gone.
A Costco Shop Card, which is just another name for a Costco gift card, is the only way to shop at Costco like the regulars do — all without an actual membership. But there’s a catch. You’ll need a member to purchase a Shop Card for you, but they can easily do that online. Have them send it to your email for the fastest turnaround time. You’ll get a digital Shop Card if you opt for delivery that way, but just know that a digital Shop Card can’t be used at the gas pumps or food courts.
Venmo them back whatever you denomination you asked for (Shop Cards come in $25, $50, $100, $250, and $500 increments), and voila! You’re a stealthy Costco shopper.
Can I walk around Costco without a membership?
You’re still going to need a Costco Shop Card to get inside the door — even if you say you just want to browse. Costco employees stand guard at the entrance doors, checking to see whether you have a valid Costco membership card or a Shop Card (and to make sure you’re not sharing a membership inappropriately).
TIP: If you want to see what a membership club is like, BJ’s offers a One-Day Pass that’s good for 24 hours.
2. You can fill up at Costco gas stations using a Costco Shop Card.
Can you buy Costco gas without a membership? Yep, and here’s the trick — get your hands on a physical Costco Shop Card and pre-load it with some funds. This is all you need to buy gas at Costco without a membership card. But a current Costco member will need to buy the Shop Card for you. (Just Venmo them and you’re all set.)
Remember: a digital Shop Card won’t work at the pumps (only a physical one will).
3. Some states will always let you buy alcohol at Costco without a membership.
It’s actually illegal to require a membership for alcohol purchases in select states, so if you live in one of the states we list below, you can buy alcohol at Costco even if you don’t have a membership.
To do this, you’ll just mention to the employee at the entrance that you’re there to buy alcohol. Some employees may not know that you can buy alcohol without a membership, so expect them to check with their manager first. Remember, you’re going to need to pay with cash, debit, a Costco Shop Card, or a Visa card.
These 14 states will let you legally buy alcohol at Costco without a membership:
- Colorado *some locations are beer/wine only (no liquor)
- New York
- Texas *beer/wine only (no liquor)
Related: To decide if getting a Costco membership may be worth it for you, here’s a peek at all the current Costco deals happening now.
4. Buy food at a Costco food court without a membership at some locations.
It’s true — non-Costco members can eat at the Costco food court at some locations.
We found several Costco warehouses in Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York that said yes, nonmembers can eat at the food court. But before you go, call your local Costco and ask.
All of the locations we spoke with said you’d have to stop by the member’s service desk first and let them know you’d like to eat at the food court. A location in Jacksonville, Florida, told us they would give you a free day pass so you could order what you wanted from the food court, including Costco’s famous $1.50 hot dog combos or pizza.
TIP: If your local Costco’s food court is outdoors, it won’t require a membership.
5. Use the Costco pharmacy to fill prescriptions without a membership.
You absolutely can get your prescriptions filled at the Costco pharmacy without being a member.
Whenever you need a prescription filled, just have your doctor send it to the Costco pharmacy near you, and then you can pick it up like you would at any other pharmacy. Just mention at the door that you’re picking up a prescription. You can pay at the pharmacy counter with cash, debit/ATM cards, Costco Shop Cards, or Visa cards. Even an HSA/FSA card will work.
TIP: Costco can also fill pet medications that regular pharmacies might not carry.
Check out these cost comparisons for the Costco pharmacy:
Retail prices quoted below are from GoodRx.com.
Costco: Simvastatin, generic for Zocor, 10mg. 90 count, $13.79
Costco: Lisinopril, generic for Prinivil and Zestril, 20mg. 90 count $11.99
Costco: Metformin, generic for Glucophage, 500mg. 180 count, $11.99
6. Schedule your eye exam at Costco Optical without a membership, but you can’t buy their glasses or contacts.
7. Shop online at Costco.com without a membership (but with a 5% markup).
- You can’t get “member exclusive” deals as a nonmember.
- You’ll pay more than you’d pay in-store because there’s a 5% surcharge for nonmembers.
This tip works best if you’re a buy-a-couple-things-a-year-at-Costco type of person. Otherwise, shelling out $60 for the membership will save you more money in the long run.
TIP: In the battle of Sam’s Club vs. Costco, it’s actually cheaper to shop at Costco online as a nonmember. Compared to Costco’s 5% markup, Sam’s Club has a nonmember surcharge of 10% for online orders.
8. Get same-day grocery delivery through Instacart, but you’ll pay their fees.
If you’re a nonmember, you can shop at Costco.com and order same-day delivery through Instacart, but you’ll pay extra fees (Instacart is all about the fees). When members order same-day delivery directly through CostcoGrocery, they don’t pay these fees — even though the delivery is still done through, you guessed it, Instacart.
But the answer to the basic question “Can I get Costco delivery without a membership?” is yes. You’ll just pay extra for it.
9. Order perishables with two-day delivery at Costco.com.
You can order perishables at Costco.com and enjoy two-day delivery as a nonmember. But yes, you’re gonna pay that 5% surcharge you have to pay when you buy other items online without a membership.
However, unlike the $75 threshold for standard two-day delivery, the threshold for frozen and cold items is $100. Below that and they’ll tack on an extra $10 fee. Here are the select items you can get for two-day delivery:
Related: So which stores offer same-day delivery in 2023? Check out our full store list.
Bonus: Get a Costco price match at Kohl’s, Target, and other stores — even without a membership.
It’s true. Who needs a Costco membership when you can claim Costco’s lower price on the exact same item at another store?
There are quite a few retailers who price match Costco, and all you need to do is show them proof of price — not your membership card. The Costco Coupon Book from the mail or the website usually works as proof of price. The trick is finding the exact same item in the exact same quantity. With electronics, it’s easy. With grocery items, it’s not so easy.
Here are a few stores that price match Costco: