"Costa Rica offers a surprisingly agreeable quality of life. I moved to Costa Rica 14 years ago and haven't looked back. I read that half of expats leave within their first year, and that may be true. (Others stay and complain.) What works for some people doesn't work for others. However, I guess Costa Rica works for me," shared one expat in our 2021 Expat Exchange survey.
Key Facts about Costa Rica
|Population: approximately 5,151,140 (July 2021 est.)
Climate: tropical and subtropical; dry season (December to April); rainy season (May to November); cooler in highlands
Language: Spanish (official), English
Cost of Living: Moderate (Info)
Are Residents Taxed on Worldwide Income? No
Can Foreigners Own Property? Yes. (Info)
Healthcare System: Public & Private, Health Insurance Recommended, Better Hospitals in Developed Areas vs. Rural Areas (Info)
Visa & Residency: Pensionado Visa & Friendly Nations Visa most popular residency programs (Info)
Work Visas: Work Permits Strictly Managed (Info)
Best Places to Live: Guanacaste (Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco, Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo, others), Puntarenas (Playa Jaco, Costa Ballena) and the Central Valley (San Ramon, Atenas) (Info)
COVID-19: Current information about COVID-19 in Costa Rica (Entry & Exit Requirements, Testing, Vaccines, Restrictions)
Religion: Roman Catholic 71.8%, Evangelical and Pentecostal 12.3%, other Protestant 2.6%, Jehovah's Witness 0.5%, other 2.4%, none 10.4% (2016 est.)
Urbanization: 80.8% of population living in urban areas
Type of Government: presidential republic
Capital City: San Jose
Economy: Strong and stable economic growth since 2010- 3.8% in 2017. Exports of bananas, coffee, sugar, beef, various industrial and processed agricultural products, high value-added goods (medical devices). Key destination for ecotourism. Foreign investors remain attracted by the Costa Rica's political stability and relatively high education levels.
Literacy Rate: 97.9%
Crime: Moderate Crime Rate, Expats Sometimes Victims of Petty Crime. More serious crimes such as sexual assault and murder have occurred.
While San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica, it is generally not the first choice for expats to live. Most expats prefer to live on the coast or in other parts of the Central Valley, which is a plateau in Central Costa Rica that includes San Jose and is home to nearly 75% of Costa Ricans. San Ramon,
The Guanacaste Region, which contains the northern coast of Costa Rica, is quite popular among expats. One who lives in Tamarindo shared that "the beaches are beautiful and the nightlife during tourist season is terrific with live music, fiestas and great restaurants if you avoid the tourist traps. We have traveled extensively and I am constantly amazed at the beauty of this country." Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco, Playa Flamingo, Brasilito and Potrero Area, Nosara, and Lake Arenal are other popular considerations.
Next up is Puntarenas, which comprises most of the Costa Rican Pacific Coastline, and is home to beautiful beaches and a large contingent of U.S. and other expats. Puntarenas includes Jaco Beach, a stretch of coastline in Puntarenas Province called Costa Ballena that encompasses the towns of Dominical, Uvita, and Ojochal.
If you are intent to live on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, you should consider the differences between Guanacaste and Puntarenas.
It's important for people interested in living in Costa Rica to understand the cost of living. Monthly living expenses are very subjective - location, lifestyle and medical insurance costs are among the many factors that influence your monthly expenses. If you want to live frugally without a car, eating at home and with limited travel, your monthly expenses can be very low. If you want to enjoy dining out, drinks, traveling and entertaining, the expenses will obviously go up.
An expat in Playa Hermosa de Jaco offered: "Our housing costs are lower than in the states. Taxes are very inexpensive in CR and the taxes in the states substantially higher. Private home insurance is less expensive in Costa Rica from our experience. It is very hard to determine the average cost of housing. In this area, the closer the location to the beach, the higher the price. Direct waterfront may cost well over $500,000 to the millions depending on amenities. However in a lower profile condo building with less amenities, you can absolutely find something at half that price. Knowing the market is really key here and return on investment must be weighed in if you plan to rent the unit, seasonally or long term."
Once an expat becomes a legal resident of Costa Rica, you must register with and pay into the social security system, Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (abbreviated as CCSS but commonly referred to as "CAJA"). This does entitle you to coverage under the public system, which covers most prescription drugs and pre-existing conditions. However, the public system is crowded and delays are widely reported, particularly for anything that requires specialist care.
For that reason, most expats elect to have private international health insurance. With access to private health care in Costa Rica, expats typically report that getting appointments to see specialists is easy and convenient. As with anywhere else, where you choose to live will have impact on the care you are able to receive, so you'll want to carefully consider your individual situation and needs are.
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Our Healthcare in Costa Rica guide covers public vs. private healthcare, health insurance for expats and global nomads in Costa Rica, hospitals, vaccinations, availability of prescription medications in more.
"If you choose to be a resident, you will need to qualify under one of five different categories. As an approved resident, you will not be required to leave the country every 90 days. Five of the categories to qualify for residency is as follows: Family relationship to a Costa Rican, pensioner, small investor, investor, or company work visa," wrote one expat living in Playa Hermosa.
You'll also need a Cedula for day-to-day activities in Costa Rica. The Cedula, or cédula de identidad, is the identity card that residents of Costa Rica receive. It is about the size of the credit card and includes the resident's photo, personal identification number, expediente number, nationality, the resident's DIMEX number (if they have one), other personal information and the resident's signature. DIMEX, Documento de Identificación Migratorio para Extranjeros, is the number used by the immigration and banking system in Costa Rica to keep track of the flow of money. If you have a DIMEX number, it is printed on the bottom right of your Cedula.
Our Visa & Residency guide covers requirements for entry to Costa Rica (including COVID-19 requirements), tourist and residency visas, including the popular Pensionado Visa, the Cedula, work permits and much more.
Costa Ricas's Pensionado Visa - Costa Rica's retirement visa for people moving to Costa Rica who are 55 years of age and over. It requires that you show proof of U.S. $1,000 income for life. Those who can't or prefer not to show the monthly income often can obtain residency as either rentistas or investors.
Can Foreigners Buy Real Estate in Costa Rica?
"The only restrictions on foreigners purchasing property in Costa Rica are in the Maritime zone within 200 meters of the ocean. This area is not for sale though you can get a concession to build things like tourism projects on a leasehold type basis. Expats typically can't get concessions although some grandfathered properties are still privately owned. Expats otherwise have the same rights to property ownership in Costa Rica as a Costa Rican would have. Property ownership is deeded and fee simple and over 95% of the entire country's properties are registered in a national property registry," according to Steve Linder of Pacific Lots and Homes.
Expat and global nomad life is not for the faint of heart. You are not a tourist, but navigating the day-to-day in a place where the language is often not your native tongue, the sights and smells do not remind you of home. If you're considering a move to Costa Rica, take off the rose-colored glasses and get a realistic view of what life in Costa Rica will be like - both the good, the bad and the in between. Read through the articles referenced here and use our Costa Rica Forum to talk with expats on the ground.
"One of the hugest draws for expats to Costa Rica is the stunning natural beauty. Fans of Michael Crichton will remember his passage in "Jurassic Park" that described the range of 'Ecological Diversity' there:
"Only seventy-five miles wide at its narrowest point, the country was smaller than the state of Maine. Yet, within its limited space, Costa Rica had a remarkable diversity of biological habitats: seacoasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific; four separate mountain ranges, including twelve-thousand-foot peaks and active volcanoes; rain forests, cloud forests, temperate zones, swampy marshes and arid deserts."
"Having access to so many impressive ecological features in such proximity to one another is all some expats need to know that Costa Rica is where they want to be."
One of the cons most often noted by expats in Costa Rica is that, "In Costa Rica 'Tico Time' is a reality - wherein work expected to take a few hours to complete in the states, may require twice as much time here. An employee required to show up for the job may be an hour or up to many hours late."
Our Pros & Cons of Living in Costa Rica article offers a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of living in Costa Rica. As with other places, one expat warned: "While you may have access to the public health care system, many expats advocate also having some form of private coverage to ensure you're covered in an acceptable way should disaster strike. Others have had great experiences with the system and then they have a bad experience, or worse."
- Beautiful Beaches and Rain Forests
- Costa Rica Has Astonishing Biodiversity
- Cost of Living in Some Areas Lower
- Expats Have Access to Public Health Care System
- Don't Need a Car in Some Locations
- You Need to Choose Where You Live Carefully in Costa Rica
- Machismo attitude of some Men
- Cost of Living Higher than Expected in Other Areas
- Punctuality not part of Costa Rican culture
- Costa Rican Life - and Business - Often Moves Slowly
One expat advised: "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 in appearance and do not appreciate the fresh off the beach, "dirty gringo" look of most tourists if you are applying for a job, etc."
An expat in Playa Hermosa de Jaco shared: "Our first home in Costa Rica (CR) was strictly by word of mouth. We had lived in the area for a few months and told just as many people we trusted that we were looking. In just a few months time, we looked at many properties. We got to know the area very well by renting so we knew the neighborhoods we liked and knew what a good price was to pay. We were in no hurry as we were renting at the time so we didn't appea anxious or desperate to the seller. The purchasing process was a breeze. After 8 years in that same location and home, we decided we wanted a quieter area and we finally were able to realize our original dream of having a water view property. 17 years total in CR ... it's working for us!"
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"The choice to move abroad was initially based on financial reasons. Our lifestyle in the U.S. was expensive! There was a great deal of pressure to spend, acquire and move further up the financial ladder. We had visited Costa Rica for several years prior to moving abroad. We found the lifestyle to fit our budget with more emphasis on priorities such as friendships, family, environment and simple pleasures. We visited for so many years and several times a year we decided to take the plunge to retire. Why not live our dream instead of working to achieve it someday!?"
The only restrictions on foreigners purchasing property in Costa Rica are in the Maritime zone within 200 meters of the ocean. This area is not for sale though you can get a concession to build things like tourism projects on a leasehold type basis. Expats typically can't get concessions although some grandfathered properties are still privately owned. Expats otherwise have the same rights to property ownership in Costa Rica as a Costa Rican would have.