Expats moving to Costa Rica have a wide variety of options to consider when choosing a town or city, and they all have their pros and cons. However, there's much more to moving to Costa Rica! Expats will find that there is a lot to learn about how to successfully move to the Central American country, knowledge that will prevent unnecessary and costly mistakes.
Costa Rica Visas
Moving to Costa Rica will involve a great deal of paperwork. Here are Costa Rica's Visa applications in English (scroll to bottom of page where it reads "Visa Instructions in English").
Expats in Costa Rica point out that it's important to start the visa process in the United States, and to bring all of your critical documents with you. Obtaining new ones from Costa Rica is expensive and time consuming.
It is important to carefully research what you would need if you plan to do business in Costa Rica.
An expat married to a Tico (Costa Rican Man) asked about filing for residency in Costa Rica. She was advised that "you and your children would be required to apply for residency based on marriage to a Tico [Costa Rican citizen], unless the children are already registered in [Costa Rico]. There are government fees for this, but under this status no additional financial information is required. Your application could still take up to a year or more and during this time you will not be covered under the CAJA health system."
Regarding permanent residency, one expat advised that when expats apply for permanent residency in Costa Rica, one expat advises not to be afraid of the interview by Costa Rican immigrant officials.
Another expat wrote that "A few years ago, permanent residency was automatically given to the immigrant spouse but due to many getting 'married only for convenience' this was cancelled. And they now have to wait 3 years and then apply like 'regular' temporary status applicants."
Planning a Move to Costa Rica
An expat who moved to San Jose advised expats to go to Costa Rica first, "travel around the country and find a place/local people that suit your tastes. Everyone in the country is generally friendly."
The U.S. embassy offers a list of lawyers in Costa Rica that may be helpful, though they do not officially endorse any one.
He made a comment on someone who had made comments about moving to Costa Rica:
"I don't know why the other guy seemed to have problems making friends with Costa Ricans. Perhaps he is the type of foreigner who has difficulty adjusting to different cultures/places and ways of life. Costa Ricans are not 'in your face' friendly or over the top outgoing by any means. They are, however, genuinely friendly if you're respectful and considerate of their space, culture, customs, etc."
As for financial considerations, the expat wrote that Costa Rica is "cheaper, undoubtedly. Unless you want to live in the most expensive/foreign-overrun areas of the country or unless you insist on staying in the same level of housing that you stay in back in the states. Costa Rica is not the USA. It's Costa Rica. Learn to live more simply, you probably won't miss it in the long run!"
Another expat advised that: "Costa Rica is an expensive country. You will in any case be fleeced as a foreigner, but if you haggle (use as much as 2-3 weeks if necessary) you might reach an almost fair level. There are far too many houses for rent, so be patient."
This is a personal decision for every expat. The areas near the coast and other expats will tend to be more expensive, and may not have as "authentic" an expat experience as areas away from the coast near fewer expats. It's an important part of the planning process and should not be ignored. Careful research and consideration is critical. Remember the obvious - an expat experience that is affordable for one expat might not be so for others!
Health Care in Costa Rica
Here is Expat Exchange's Costa Rica Health Care Guide, which includes tips such as:
National health care may not provide a sufficient safety net - it may require a long wait for medical procedures. Private health care [coverage] is recommended, but coverage for "pre-existing conditions" is generally not available except through national health care.
Expats in Costa Rica can use International health insurance, such as what is offered by Cigna Global Health.
The U.S. embassy also offers Travel Health tips.
Where to Live in Costa Rica
Expats researching where to move to in Costa Rica should carefully consider why they want to live in Costa Rica. If you want to live close to the beach, then expect to pay more. If you want to live in less popular (among expat) areas, it will probably be cheaper. Understand the trade offs!
An expat in San Jose Costa Rica wrote: "I just wanted to clear up some of the bad reviews of the other guy who posted before me about San Jose, Costa Rica. First of all, if you are planning on moving to Costa Rica for whatever expat experience, if possible, avoid San Jose. It is a very crowded, dense little city that is not all that interesting. Also, foreigners are more susceptible to theft here. That being said, get out of San Jose and live in any of the other great towns all throughout this beautiful country. True, transportation can be mediocre, but it definitely suffices. It's a small country and traveling from the Pacific to the Carribean can be done in one long day even on the slowest, cheapest [bus] routes available.
Another expat said, "stay away from Santa Ana and Escazu which are both referred to as 'little Americas,' and their prices are comperable to Bethesda, MD or San Francisco, CA. Besides the rest of the country is even more beautiful!"
However, another expat had a different opinion: "I was basically told in what area to live. Most expats live in Escazu, Santa Ana or Rohrmoser. Then I went with several agents to look at possible apartments. After that you start haggling!!! (Hagglig is essential. I have seen houses come down from 4500 USD a month to 2500.)"
So, again, expats who have moved to Costa Rica will have differing opinions on where to live. This should drive home the point that a trip to investigate the country and what might work for you individually is critical.
What to Bring to Costa Rica
Expats who have moved to Costa Rica have offered advice on what to bring there, and what to leave at home.
One expat wished she had brought "more Sage, more Cayanne pepper, and valid phone cards (ICE which is the phone company is a monopoly here).
Another expat who moved to San Jose wrote, "I'll give the tip that it's always a good idea to bring at least one professional/business attire type of outfit and perhaps formal wear. Costa Ricans ('Ticos') take a bit of pride on appearance and do not appreciate the fresh off the beach, 'dirty gringo' look of most tourists if you are applying for a job, etc."
Yet another expat who moved to Costa Rica wrote, I "should have brought more: tennis shoes - lots of walking on lots of dirt/rock roads. Contact Solution - very expensive here. Electronics - cameras & laptops here cost double the US price. Should have left all formal clothes in the US."
Moving to Costa Rica with a Pet
The U.S. embassy provides information about bringing cats and dogs to Costa Rica.
It states that "the dog or cat must be accompanied by a health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian, and endorsed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Veterinary Services (VS) veterinarian. That endorsement needs to be done by the APHIS Veterinary Services Area Office in your home state."
Some expats in Costa Rica share information with each about bringing pets to Costa Rica on our Costa Rica Expat Forum. While you should read the entire thread, here are some comments:
"Actually I just got some updated information on birds. There isn't an embargo bringing birds in, but's it a very complicated process. For dogs, United has petSmart program that will take dogs; you don't need a broker from the US."
Read the full thread for more information.
Finding International Schools in Costa Rica
International Schools in Costa Rica will be first and foremost on the minds of expats with children.
There is a long-running discussion on our Costa Rica forum about international schools in Costa Rica
An expat moving to Costa Rica asked about private schools near the beach in Costa Rica, and found that the costs were higher than she anticipated: "Just wondering now about towns that are close to the beach with affordable private schools. Some schools are 4-8,000 per year and that is way more than I would want to spend."
Another expat advised that "I don't think you will find less expensive private schools, especially near the beaches, that are bilingual." Adding a word of caution, she continued: "I wouldn't suggest your start residency proceeding until you check out the country."
A third expat advised: "I agree that those school fees seem reasonable. Have you checked out Uvita? It seems popular with families. I don't know of any specific schools there though."
Other school options include American International School of Costa Rica and Lakeside International School.
Advice For Corporate Expats Moving to Costa Rica
An expat who was transferred to Costa Rica: "Demand that your company arranges everything! Costa Rica is a highly bureacratic country so you will not want to get involved in any of that. Your company should give you some alternatives and you should do nothing more than approving their selection. Trying to do things on your own will only give you stomach ulcer."