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Ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera, Costa Rica

Moving to Costa Rica

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Last updated on Feb 03, 2023

Summary: Many expats and digital nomads move to Costa Rica for its beautiful scenery, warm climate, and low cost of living. Additionally, Costa Rica is known for its friendly people and its commitment to sustainability. People looking for a place to live in Costa Rica can find a variety of options, from renting an apartment to buying a house. The most popular cities for expats and digital nomads in Costa Rica are San Jose, Tamarindo, and Puerto Viejo. These cities offer a variety of amenities, from restaurants and nightlife to beaches and outdoor activities.

What do I need to know before moving to Costa Rica?

When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to Costa Rica, they said:

"Before moving to Costa Rica, it is important to research the country in order to understand the culture, language and customs. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the climate, determine the cost of living, identify job opportunities and secure adequate housing. It is important to ensure you have enough money to support your lifestyle, as well as learn basic Spanish and become knowledgeable about the local laws and regulations. Additionally, be aware of the healthcare system and research ways to obtain health insurance. Find out about the visa requirements for living and working in Costa Rica, as well as what documents must be provided for entry. Lastly, consult with an immigration lawyer or qualified migration specialist," said another expat in Costa Rica.

"Decide if you like the country or the city, what size housing you prefer, what you like to do, what type of climate you prefer, there are 11 different micro climates within a short distance. Most expats I help want to get residency or citizenship, buy a house and start a business. besides enjoying the beaches, the mountains, the rain forest, etc," remarked another expat who made the move to San Jose.

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How do I find a place to live in Costa Rica?

We asked expats how they chose their neighborhood and found a place to live. They answered:

"When looking for a place to live in Costa Rica, consider your budget, location, and preferences. Search online for rental listings near your desired destination. Consider searching on platforms such as Craigslist, Booking.com, Airbnb, and HomeAway. It is also possible to find long-term rental options on some of these sites, as well as through real estate agencies. Additionally, there may be local real estate agents or other local sources to assist with your search. Be aware that the most desirable locations tend to have higher prices and may be more competitive during peak season. If you are traveling to the area, you may also wish to consider a short-term stay in a vacation rental while searching for a long-term place to live," explained one expat living in Costa Rica.

"On one visit, we took a side trip to Costa Rica to explore the beaches of Guanacaste. When we drove into Tamarindo, it felt a California beach town with a nice vibe. Over the next couple of years, we took a few trips to Playa Flamingo and Tamarindo to further explore the area and to look at condos for sale. We bought an ocean view condo in Tamarindo a couple of years before we retired, and then moved there full time after retiring in May 2013 (age 61-62). We liked the beach and the availability of a variety of restaurants and stores in Tamarindo, and easy walking access in town," said another expat in Tamarindo.

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What is a typical expat home or apartment like in Costa Rica?

"Most expats in Costa Rica tend to buy homes near the beach or in the mountains. Many homes in Costa Rica will have a great view, some even with ocean views! Most homes are typically made of cinder block and stucco with a floor of either terrazzo or ceramic tile. They often have large windows for plenty of natural light, and plenty of outdoor living space. Air conditioning is typically not used in buildings in Costa Rica, so homes tend to be well ventilated with large windows and high ceilings. The apartments tend to have bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom, and common areas that often open up to a central courtyard or shared garden area," said another expat in Costa Rica.

"Condo with high security. However we never feel fearful walking at night to our favorite restaurants or store as their are guards everywhere. This is true pretty much everywhere we have been in CR. We have always felt very safe (unlike dealing we the herds of homeless drug addicts in CA)," added another expat who made the move to Escazu.

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What is the average cost of housing in Costa Rica?

If you are thinking about moving to Costa Rica, cost of living in probably a key consideration. Expats commented about the cost of housing:

"The cost of housing in Costa Rica generally varies depending on the size, location, and amenities of the home. Generally, the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in the center of a city, or a three-bedroom house in the suburbs, is around $400-800 USD per month," added another expat who made the move to Costa Rica.

"Lower, the average costs varies according to your lifestyle, so between $1500 to $3500 a month," explained one expat living in San Jose, Costa Rica.

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William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.
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Should I buy or rent a home in Costa Rica?

If you have not spent a lot of time in Costa Rica, you should rent before even thinking about buying. We asked expats there about the buy vs. rent decision:

"Buying a home in Costa Rica is a great way to invest in the future and gain a nice return on your investment. However, depending on your reason for being in Costa Rica and how long you plan to stay, renting may be the more logical choice. If you plan to stay for an extended amount of time, buying a home is definitely the more cost-effective and secure option. Ultimately, the choice should come down to what option is best for you and fits into your lifestyle," said another expat in Costa Rica.

"I am renting an apartment for now. $800/month not including utilities. I would like to buy eventually. The process was done via a friend so that was helpful, but, to pay in cash to avoid taxes is a challenge. I have no idea how I am to pay the bills for electricity, water, cable, etc," remarked another expat who made the move to Grecia.

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What should I pack when moving to Costa Rica?

We asked people living in Costa Rica to list three things they wish they had brought and three they wish they had left behind. They responded:

"Clothing, passport and other important documents, personal hygiene items, medications, comfortable shoes, sunscreen and mosquito repellent, camera, laptop and other electronics, batteries, charger, a converter/adapter, books and hobbies, some cash in local currency, rain gear, a collapsible umbrella, a water bottle, portable luggage locks, a smartphone and international plan, maps and tourist guidebooks, a lockbox, and any remaining items such as first-aid kits, camping and cooking supplies," remarked another expat in Costa Rica.

"I always bring to Costa Rica 1; Irish spring soap 2; electronic gadjets 3; Cherries," said another expat in San Jose.

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What cultural faux pas should I try to avoid making in Costa Rica?

We asked people in Costa Rica if they could share any humorous cultural blunders they commited. For new expats, keep in mind that these incidents are an inevitable part of expat life. Learning to laugh about them is the key!:

"It is important to be aware of your physical and verbal behavior when you are visiting Costa Rica. In general, it is best to address people formally and shake hands when greeting people, regardless of their gender. Avoid public displays of affection or overly casual dress as these are considered inappropriate. Using casual language or slang is also frowned upon. It is important to remember that punctuality is not highly valued in Costa Rica and arriving late to meetings or appointments is considered normal. It is not expected to tip in restaurants and other services in Costa Rica, so it is not necessary to leave a tip. Lastly, it is important to be respectful of the local culture, religions, language and customs," added another expat who made the move to Costa Rica.

"Oh my, embarrassing and humorous blunders! After 17 years in Costa Rica, I am still making such errors. Very lucky for me, Costa Ricans are unfailingly patient and have a quick sense of humor. Most of my blunders are language based. (Remember, learn that Spanish and avoid the embarrassment!) I've ordered aqua con leche (water with milk) instead of coffee with milk.. I've ordered more than one "mystery meat" at the butcher! Some meals at a local soda (Costa Rican local restaurant) resembles nothing of which I thought I'd ordered. I've also tried to master the language and having thought I'd done so, realise that I know nothing! Back to the drawing board and more self-taught Spanish lessons. It is a way of life," explained one expat living in Playa Jaco , Costa Rica.

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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.

Ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera, Costa Rica

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