Expat Exchange
Montezuma, Costa Rica

Living in Costa Rica

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Last updated on Aug 03, 2022

Summary: Expats, digital nomads and retirees discuss what it is like to live in Costa Rica: Cost of living, Finding a home, Meeting People and more.

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What do I need to know about living in Costa Rica?

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

"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," mentioned another expat in Costa Rica.

"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," commented one expat who made the move to Tamarindo.

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How do I meet people in Costa Rica?

When we asked people living in Costa Rica about club and activities where newcomers can meet others, they responded:

"Welcome to San Ramon! Yes, lots of organized and also informal gatherings for philanthropy and recreational activities. Start by googling Community Action Alliance and check out their recent archived newsletters. Also look for Gringo Central which provides info on Central Valley groups and other useful info. And, every Thursday an expat group meets for breakfast at a local restaurant near the downtown park, come and go as you please. The Community Action Alliance has details on where. Finally, a few kilometers west of downtown past Magallanes, there’s a growing expat neighborhood with a very nice recreational center used by many expats, called El Palme (I think it’s called that, anyway). Can be found via Google," remarked another expat living in San Ramon, Costa Rica.

"Escazu also has a large ex-pat English speaking population with many activities to meet others. For example, we watched the Academy Awards at the Invictus restaurant (great food) & lounge/bar just a short walk down our street Sunday night. As an aside they have all the NFL football games in the Fall," added another expat in 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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William Russell Health Insurance

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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What is life like in Costa Rica?

When we asked people living in Costa Rica what life is like and how people spend their time, they said:

"Lots of socializing, soccer, swimming, surfing, fishing, picnics on the beach, hiking, photography. Living life seems to be the priority here. Pura Vida," commented one expat who made the move to Montezuma.

"Life revolves around beach activities, socializing with friends, some volunteer work. Very active community with lots of diving, surfing, hiking and water related activities," remarked another expat living in Playa Potrero, Costa Rica.

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Is there a lot of crime in Costa Rica?

We asked people if there is a lot of crime. They answered:

"Costa Rica has a lot of petty crime so be careful. I even lost money in an ATM that was hacked but most are totally safe," added another expat who made the move to Santa Ana.

"I imagine there is the usual crime, but it isn't obvious. I live in a gated community with roving security so I feel safe," explained one expat living in Grecia, Costa Rica.

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Is there a lot of diversity? Are people in Costa Rica accepting of differences?

"The people here are quite diverse in terms of all the above. Accepting of differences: Yes to an extent. I have noticed racial bias. There often will be a local price and a gringo price. It's not that gringos are treated badly, it's more a double standard," commented one expat who made the move to Montezuma.

"Difficult to answer. If by diverse you mean are there all types of North Americans living here, then yes. Basically, most of the expats seem to enjoy the idea of a very North American community in a semi-exotic local. Not a great deal of integration between the Costa Rican locals and the expats. There are an abundance of expats here who have never learned more Spanish than "Hola" and who insist on shopping for North American stuff at North American type grocery stores and such. On the whole, both expats and locals here seem accepting of differences," remarked another expat living in Playa Potrero, Costa Rica.

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What are the schools in Costa Rica like?

"This school is small, less than 300 students, but the atmosphere is safe and friendly with a focus on student success. Every teacher I have met is enthusiastic and enjoys his/her job. I would also encourage any parent to be prepared to volunteer their time in support of the school because AIS depends on parent-volunteers to serve on various committees. Overall, I am very satisfied with AIS," commented one expat when asked about American International School in Cariari - Heredia.

"If your expat package does not cover the cost of a school- Take advantage of the language and culture and try to get your children to benefit from it by experiencing it. Avoid over paying at the other schools- this school is for kindergarten to high school," explained one expat in Santa Barbara de Heredia, Costa Rica with kids at New Hope.

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Is the cost of living in Costa Rica high?

We asked people how much they someone comfortably live on in Costa Rica, they wrote:

"Depends where you live and how you live. A friend in Palmares lives on $970 a month, including rent, vehicle, food, utilities and regional travel. Others live in Escazu in the high cost areas. We live in San Ramon and get by well in a nice place on less than$2000 a month, including yard guy, and maid for 12 hours a month! Depends on you," remarked another expat living in Costa Rica.

"This is probably the number one question that people ask. Honestly, there is no "correct" answer to this because everyone has different needs. All I can say is Costa Rica is NOT as cheap as it used to be. It is one of the more expensive destinations but it is still much cheaper than the US. Housing, taxes, maid service, drivers, medical...these items are significantly less. Food, utilities, gasoline, dining out....can be close to US prices in an affordable city. Shopping at the "feria" for produce is your best bet for keeping costs very low," added another expat in Escazu.

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"We live comfortably on $2000 a month. That includes rent of a new 2 br 2 ba house with great views, all utilities, high speed internet, and even temporary car rental. Gas for the SUV is expensive, but we explore a lot and eat out a lot, so dining and food costs are higher for us too. Not in Caja yet," said another expat.

"Per capita GDP in Costa Rica is about a third as high as it is in the US, and the cost of living is commensurately lower. However, the prices of some goods are set at a global rather than a local level and the prices of others are actually higher owing to taxes and import costs. Realistically, the cost of living is about half as high as it is in a similar location in the US, although individual tastes and circumstances vary. As for a dollar amount, some expats say $2000/month is the minimum, though I think that's high and others think that's low. I will say that the pensionado minimum of $1000/month is doable, but pretty lean," commented one expat living in San Jose, Costa Rica.

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What type of recreational facilities are in Costa Rica?

When we asked people living in Costa Rica about recreational activities, they mentioned:

"Soccer is hands down the most popular recreational activity, but adults seem to prefer watching the games on TV than playing. A fair number of people are bicycling these days. Almost everybody likes going to the mountains or the beach, but these are more weekend excursions than daily activities. My neighborhood has several gyms for those who work out. People do play tennis and swim in pools, but this seems to involve finding and paying for access to the courts or the pools. Foreigners often like to play golf, and there are courses, but none near me. You have to go to the golf courses. Basically mine is an urban setting where sports-like recreational facilities aren't widely available to the general public, but people who like various sports and recreational activities find the venues. Some even take day trips to the ocean beaches--a couple are close enough--but that's ambitious. Most people would want those trips as well as those into the mountains to be overnight excursions, but they can be done in a day," mentioned another expat inSan Jose.

"Recreational activities include surfing on all levels from beginning to highly advanced. Playa Jaco has no shortage of surf schools due to the outstanding conditions in the area. Hiking is common in the area. Miro Mountain is one of the most popular hiking activities as the trail wanders through jungles with a great opportunity for wildlife spotting. The Miro Trail climbs to an elevation of 1,100 feet with spectacular vistas of the Pacific. Miro Mountain Trail is also popular with mountain bike enthusiasts. The area has many mountainous trails so ATV is very popular to reach the higher elevation views and local restaurants. Yoga is popular in the area with many studios and profesional instructors. Art classes are popular in a new facility in Jaco. Golfing at a top course in Playa Herradura is just ten minutes north of Playa Jaco. Playa Herradura Los Suenos Marina boasts one of the best in the area for excellent sport fishing known world wide. Bird watching and nature loves enjoy the Carara National Park just 20 minutes north of Jaco and the Manuel Antonio National Park just one hour south of Playa Jaco," commented one expat who moved to Playa Jaco, Costa Rica.

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What is the weather like in Costa Rica?

"The climate is perfect. The warmest day was 88 and the coolest was 65 so it's wonderful and so comfortable. ," mentioned another expat inSanta Ana.

"Depends on what altitude you live at, whether beach or mountains. But expect rain EVERYWHERE May to November," commented one expat who moved to Costa Rica.

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Are there good restaurants in Costa Rica?

"There's pretty much everything. My specific neighborhood (within walking distance) has dozens of restaurants ranging from pizza joints to Japanese cuisine, though not many if any four star restaurants. I'd have to take a taxi to get to one of those. My neighborhood also has various US chain restaurants, such as Fridays and Hooters. Nearby (a short cab ride) is a "gastronomy row" of various independently-owned creative restaurants and brew pubs that have good reputations. My neighborhood also has tons of bars, including one with live music every night and a few with occasional live music. Most of the live music is Latin, but there is jazz, blues, classic rock, and so on. Beyond my neighborhood are casinos, dance clubs, pickup bars, and so on. San Jose isn't on a par with London or New York, but it's not a backward small town either. Pretty much everything exists here.," said an expat in San Jose.

"Playa Jaco boasts a wide variety of restaurants from gourmet, seafood, vegetarian, Thai, Chinese, Sushi, authentic Italian, gourmet burgers, and local restaurants featuring typical Costa Rican cuisine. Playa Jaco has many clubs for dancing and socializing. Additionally, the area is home to many local musicians that are featured in many restaurants/bar. At festival times, music, art and culture is featured in the centrally located town park.," remarked another expat in Playa Jaco.

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Where will I buy groceries and do other shopping in Costa Rica?

"I recommend joining Price Mart which is owned by Costco. Walmart has stores and owns two big chain stores there - Max X Menos and Maxi Pali. Auto Mercado is an upscale market chain which is also very good. Amazon barely works here and its Import duties and shipping cost are OUTRAGEOUS. ," remarked another expat living in Santa Ana.

"Most people shop in supermarkets similar to those the world over. Indeed, in addition to Walmart, Walmart owns two or three supermarket chains, although there are others. I have two supermarkets three blocks away and another one about six blocks away.. There are also chain office supply stores, PriceMart, chain convenience stores, McDonald's and all the rest, It's all pretty normal. Unique are the separate fruit and vegetable stores, farmers selling fruits and vegetables out of trucks on the side of the roads, and so on. Unfortunately also unique is the dearth of large department stores, even furniture stores. Specialty shopping, so to speak, can require going to a bunch of different stores and still not finding what you're looking for.," said one expat living in San Jose.

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What are the visa & residency requirements in Costa Rica?

"Tourist visas for the US and I believe most of Europe etc. are 90 days no real questions asked. They can also be renewed by a 3-day stay out of the country. As a result, many expats are "perpetual tourists" who just take short trips to Nicaragua or Panama every three months. This probably isn't good, and "perpetual tourists" can and sometimes are prevented from re-entering, but it works for tens of thousands of foreigners over many years. There are three ways to obtain legal residency (in addition to through marriage). One way is to come in as a pensioner. This only requires showing a minimum of $1000 a month income for life, as well as of course dealing with a lot of paperwork and paying fees. Those who can't or prefer not to show the $1000 a month income for life can obtain residency as either rentistas or investors. Rentista residency now requires showing $2500 a month income for a shorter period of time as well as the same fees and paperwork. . I'm not sure how to obtain residency as an investor, and I believe it depends upon the kind of investment, but some people seem to get it by just buying a house valued at either $200,000 or $250,000. Of course, people need a clean criminal record too, but otherwise it's either $1000 a month guaranteed for life or a fair amount of money in a lump sum for either rentista or investor residency," mentioned another expat living in San Jose.

"Upon entrance, tourists and visitors are generally granted a 90 day VISA. To enter Costa Rica, you must have a valid Passport. Residency is categorized into different areas of qualification. These options are Retiree (Pensionado), Legal Resident (Rentista), Business/Investor (Inversionista), Marriage/Relation (Vinculo). If you wish to become a resident, the requirements are different for each category and immigration attorney's are often used to assist you should you choose to hire one. If you plan to live in Costa Rica full time, residency is highly recommended as residents are not restricted to a 90 day VISA," said an expat in Playa Jaco.

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Are healthcare and health insurance expensive in Costa Rica?

"Ditto here. Most docs (and dentists) speak great English and have been superb, & very inexpensive at least in Escazu (Hospital CIMA). Many have been trained in the US or the UK, plus the medical & dental school here are top of the line. Educational achievement (and speaking English) is a high priority to Costa Ricans. We dropped our CIGNA Global insurance learning this," said another expat.

"The cost of medical care is high. I have private health insurance, which allows me immediate and unrestricted access to private hospitals under the conditions that I like to have at my disposal. That guarantees me care without waiting for weeks or months, compared to public health. My private insurance is accepted in all clinics in the country, and I got it on the recommendation of an expat friend," commented one expat living in Santa Ana, Costa Rica.

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William Russell Health Insurance

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.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

William Russell Health Insurance

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.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

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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