Expat In Paradise

What To Know Before Moving To Costa Rica

Moving to Costa Rica is an exciting and life-changing decision, but there are several things you should know and consider before making the move. Here’s a list of key factors to keep in mind:

Visa and Residency Requirements: If Costa Rica is to become your full time home it would be advisable to determine how you will be staying in the country legally. Are you going to be a perpetual tourist, or will you be applying for one of the visas that allow for temporary and long-term residency? If you are going to be a perpetual tourist you need to live close enough to a border to do border runs every 180 days for your visa and every 90 days if you want to use your foreign license. If you are going to apply for residency you will have to arrange for your paperwork and FBI background check in the States. Do your homework before you make your move, you’ll be happy you did. We have a post covering the types of visas you can use to stay in Costa Rica.

Cost of Living: Costa Rica isn’t the cheapest place to live in Central America. There is a lot of disinformation online and on social media that touts Costa Rica as very cheap. I have seen multiple posts and videos online claiming that you can easily live off of less than $1,000 a month here. While that might be technically true but only if you are living in a more remote area and not trying to enjoy creature comforts like air conditioning. If you wish to live with the same amenities you are used to in the US or Canada it is not going to be that cheap. Home costs are definitely cheaper than in most places in the US but if you are renting be prepared to shell out some cash for a place near the beach or in San Jose. The rentals are very competitive, especially in the high season. If you are going to be here long term it is much more economical to purchase a home or condo then to rent. If you stick to local grocery stores and don’t purchase a lot of processed foods or american brands you food costs will be low but if you need to have those American brands you are gonna pay for them. I have found that the internet is going to run close to what you pay in the US but it will likely be slower. I pay about $100 a month for the fastest speed (450MB). Electric and water are definitely cheaper than what we were paying coming from Florida but that may be different depending on where you live now. Car insurance and home insurance are a lot cheaper here in my experience as well.

Healthcare: If you are going to apply for residency you will get national healthcare, commonly known as Caja, once you complete the process. Until then or if you are living as a perpetual tourist you can use private healthcare and pay out of pocket or use an international healthcare plan. Paying out of pocket for most things in Costa Rica is likely to be cheaper than in the States but do your homework and check out some healthcare plans to see your options. People with very specific healthcare needs should make sure that the healthcare facilities they will need are within a distance they are comfortable with before settling on a location.

Language: Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. While many locals speak some English, particularly in tourist areas, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of Spanish. With that said there are lots of expats and snowbirds that live and stay here with no Spanish at all. Day to day is not a big issue but when it comes to working with locals from less touristy areas, opening bank accounts, and dealing with local government agencies and utilities, Spanish comes in very handy. 

Climate and Geography: The country offers diverse climates and landscapes. Coastal areas tend to be hot and humid, while the Central Valley can be cooler and more temperate. The pacific coast tends to only have rain from May through October but the Caribbean side can be completely different.  Research the specific climate of the region you plan to move to and pack accordingly.

Culture and Lifestyle: Costa Rica is known for its pura vida (pure life) culture, emphasizing a laid-back and friendly lifestyle. Be prepared for a slower pace of life, which may take some adjustment if you’re coming from a fast-paced environment.

Do not expect people to work like they do in the United States. Family, relaxation, and social time takes priority over work for most people in Costa Rica. It is common for people to wrap up their work day much earlier than you would expect in the US.

Christmas and Easter are a big deal in Costa Rica but not in a commercial sense. People take off work to spend time with family, travel, go to the beach, and relax.

When you live in Costa Rica you always have to remember that “tomorrow is another day”. If it doesn’t happen today, maybe it’ll happen tomorrow.

Legal and Financial Matters: It is important to have a good Costa Rican lawyer when moving to Costa Rica. You need a trusted partner when doing your immigration process, buying property, managing your property, and engaging in any business venture. Use a trusted lawyer that has helped other expats that you can speak to for reference.

Education: The Costa Rican constitution requires the government to spend 8% of the national budget on education. This is great for the children of Costa Rica. As a non-permanent resident you will likely need to send your kids to private school or to an international school. These range in price but are located in most areas with expat populations. Home schooling is not allowed in Costa Rica so if that is your plan with your children make sure to seek legal counsel with a trusted Costa Rican attorney. 

Real Estate: In the long run it is much more affordable to buy than to rent. If you do buy you need to make sure you have a trusted attorney to handle your side of the transaction. You also need to beware of real estate agents that have no knowledge or experience. In the US you need to have a license to sell real estate but that is not the case in Costa Rica. Do your research and use a trusted agent and lawyer! Expect some delays with your real estate transaction.

 It is very normal for the proper process to drag out and extensions are commonplace. Just remember it’s part of the pura vida life.

Transportation: While Costa Rica has a growing transportation infrastructure, including highways and public transportation, be prepared for traffic congestion in urban areas and rugged roads in more remote regions. Dirt roads are more common than paved in areas outside of the city. During the rainy season road closures, washouts, and high water on the road are common. A 40 mile drive may take three and a half hours on bumpy, muddy roads.

There are public buses that go pretty much everywhere in the Country. It may take some research to find which bus goes where and when but with patiences you can get anywhere you need to go.

Cabs are readily available in the cities and tourist towns. In more remote areas you may need to ask around for someone who provides rides in a less official capacity. Remember to only do what you feel comfortable and safe doing.

Uber is in the country but it is not very reliable. Be ready with a plan b if you are trying to use uber for a ride.

Safety and Security: Costa Rica is generally safe, but like any place, it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions against petty theft. Research the safety conditions of the specific area you plan to move to.

Environmental Awareness: Costa Rica is famous for its commitment to environmental conservation. Be respectful of the country’s natural beauty and adhere to eco-friendly practices.

Patience: This is the thing you need to bring the most! Moving to a new country comes with its share of challenges. Be patient, adaptable, and willing to learn and embrace the local culture.

Before making the move to Costa Rica, it’s crucial to do thorough research and potentially visit the country multiple times to get a feel for the lifestyle and culture. Consulting with expats who have already made the move can also provide valuable insights and advice. By taking the time to prepare, you can make your transition to Costa Rica a smooth and enjoyable experience.