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Expat Exchange - 10 Things to Know Before Moving to Costa Rica
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Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica


10 Things to Know Before Moving to Costa Rica

By Joshua Wood, LPC

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Summary: If you're planning a move to Costa Rica, here are 10 things expats living there wish they had known before moving to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica, a tropical paradise nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, is a popular destination for expats from around the world. With its lush rainforests, stunning beaches, and friendly locals, it's no wonder why so many people are considering making the move. However, before you pack your bags, there are a few things you should know about life in Costa Rica. Here are the top 10 things to know before moving to this Central American gem.

1. Understanding the Pura Vida Lifestyle

The phrase "Pura Vida" is a ubiquitous part of Costa Rican culture. It translates to "pure life" and is used to express a way of life that is relaxed, simple, and happy. Costa Ricans are known for their laid-back attitude and appreciation for the simple things in life. As an expat, embracing the Pura Vida lifestyle can help you integrate into the local culture and enjoy your new home to the fullest.

2. The Importance of Learning Spanish

While English is widely spoken in tourist areas, Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. Learning Spanish will not only make daily life easier but will also open doors to deeper connections with locals. There are plenty of language schools and online resources available to help you learn.

3. The Cost of Living Can Vary

Costa Rica is often touted as a cheap place to live, but the cost of living can vary greatly depending on your lifestyle and where you choose to settle. Cities like San Jose and beach towns popular with tourists can be quite expensive, while rural areas are typically more affordable. It's important to research and budget accordingly.

4. The Healthcare System is Excellent

Costa Rica's healthcare system is highly regarded and is one of the best in Latin America. The country offers both public and private healthcare, both of which are affordable and high-quality. Many doctors are bilingual and have received training abroad.

5. The Climate is Tropical

Costa Rica is located close to the equator, which means it has a tropical climate. There are two main seasons: the dry season (December to April) and the rainy season (May to November). The temperature remains fairly consistent year-round, with averages between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. The Biodiversity is Astounding

Costa Rica is home to an incredible array of flora and fauna. From sloths and monkeys to toucans and jaguars, the country's biodiversity is a major draw for nature lovers. There are numerous national parks and reserves to explore, offering ample opportunities for hiking, bird watching, and wildlife spotting.

7. Public Transportation is Widely Available

While owning a car in Costa Rica can be expensive due to high import taxes, public transportation is widely available and affordable. Buses are the most common form of public transport and service most towns and cities. Taxis and ride-sharing apps are also available in larger cities.

8. The Local Cuisine is Delicious

Costa Rican cuisine is a blend of native, Spanish, and African influences. Staples include rice, beans, plantains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Be sure to try the national dish, gallo pinto, a tasty combination of rice and beans often served for breakfast.

9. The Country is Eco-Friendly

Costa Rica is a world leader in environmental conservation. The country generates more than 98% of its electricity from renewable sources and has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. As an expat, you'll have plenty of opportunities to live a green lifestyle.

10. The Local Culture is Warm and Welcoming

Costa Ricans, or Ticos as they are affectionately known, are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality. The local culture is very welcoming to foreigners, and as an expat, you'll likely feel at home quickly. Making an effort to learn the language and customs will only enhance this experience.

Moving to a new country is a big decision and requires careful consideration and planning. By understanding these aspects of life in Costa Rica, you'll be well-prepared for your new adventure in this beautiful and vibrant country.

Expats talk about Moving to Costa Rica

"It is a good idea to rent before you buy. Talk to the neighbors. There are little pockets of problems that you could avoid by asking folks for their opinion. The neighbors may also know where there is a great house available that you missed in your search. Last piece of advice, get up and move," said one expat living in San Marcos, TarrazĂș.

"Do lots of experiential travel and due diligence. It is easy to get rose colored glasses because Costa Rica is so beautiful and the people are so nice. Gringo's are viewed as wealthy and easy targets for getting taken advantage of, plus the legal system is a jungle as well. Do your work upfront, get lots of advice from others and reference everyone, even if you think they are honorable. If you want to enjoy Costa Rica, don't learn by trial and fire or it will taint your experience and enjoyment," wrote a member in Paquera.

"ESCAZU!!! Even our local Tico friends (who were all educated in the states) and have lived all over CR would agree. CR is booming right now, at least for professionals in law, medicine, computer science/network administration, & architecture/engineering. Our best friend here has to hire software engineers from India because CR workers are so expensive and doing so well here. This is just our opinion of course. For example, one of our son's opinions when he visits us in Escazu is disgust. He thinks why leave the states to just live in an expensive, English speaking, mini-California suburb. He leaves as quickly as he can to stay in the rural & beach areas (he luckily speaks fluent Spanish) to escape our lifestyle. He could never afford to live in Escazu as a musician/artist. Final note and a plug for Outlier Legal and the founder attorney Rafael Valverde who went to law school in the states. Do not make the move without reading his website articles at the very least & he and his team provided enormous support (and still do) in dealing with the puzzling and very unpredictable bureaucracy that is CR," commented one expat who made the move to Escazu.

"Very safe Condominium complexes are everywhere so you have many options that have surrounding walls and 24 hour security. Some have restaurants, pools and gyms. Many are furnished and I recommend reading the contract thoroughly. I also recommend taking a very detailed video showing condition of the unit including close ups of any damage to existing furnishings. Carefully read the fine print and if the furnishings are not adequate stipulate all changes in the contract before signing. If it's a long term lease consider hiring an attorney. It might be worth it," remarked one expat living in Santa Ana.

"Personally, I would advise people to rent for an extended time to make sure the area is what they need it to be, then purchase an existing home, where they can see it finished, the price won't suddenly escalate or leave them with a list of uncompleted tasks, that you will be responsible for," wrote one member in Costa Rica.

"Be ready to live, love and relax. This is a beautiful country and we live in paradise," said one expat living in Playa Hermosa de Jaco.

"hmmmmmm...take a vacation here first, spend a few months and get a feel for the scene here. Also, online research is an option too," wrote a member in Montezuma.

"Montezuma, Puntarenas, Costa Rica is not Anywhere, USA that's a given. Living here is finding a new balance for your lifestyle. It totally has been for me. I see that someone has posted what not to expect. I feel that the best attitude here is not to expect a thing. There is much good that you will find here. Beautiful, fresh, and clean air. Reasonably clean ocean water. Be watchful The water here is drinkable usually. I say this because mineral content can be high. When the sign reads Rip Currents, they mean it. Truth in advertising. Very warm or hot temps with high humidity. Lovely fruits and vegetables at very reasonable prices. Clothing minimal. Tshirts/shorts and sandals most of the time will do nicely. No need to wear expensive anything - it doesn't fit the terrain. Friendly people. There is internet service and cable television depending on where you are in Montezuma. The power will go out and yet, it does come back on. If you don't mind taking the bus from Montezuma to Cobano where Banco Nacional is located along with its outside ATM's, all two of them at the main office, it will only cost 400 colones. There's cost efficiency for you. If you love nature this can be a paradise. Every day is an adventure. You can be negative about things here, you can be positive about things or you can just be. I prefer to be. Pura Vida," commented one expat who made the move to Montezuma.

"My wife and I lived in Tamarindo for 5 years. (We now live in southern Nicaragua near our daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters.) When we first visited Tamarindo, it felt like driving into a California beach town from the 1960's. We liked the beach front road and string of beach restaurants. But it is also very popular for tourists, so the town is often packed with tourists, which can get a bit annoying. However, there are also low tourist seasons when the town is very pleasant. We liked that we could easily walk to many restaurants in town, And we owned a nice condo with a great view of the bay," remarked one expat living in Tamarindo.

"Have lived in Grecia for 7-1/2 yrs. It is a small city and in my opinion the best unless you insist on beach area which is too hot for me. No a/c necessary where I live. Easy to get to know people if you are friendly. I can't walk down the street without people I know honking or waving. I live happily without a car which means not using all my pension on repairs and high gas," wrote one member in Costa Rica.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


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