Chinatown in San Jose, Costa Rica
Chinatown in San Jose, Costa Rica
Chinatown in San Jose, Costa Rica

Moving to San Jose, Costa Rica

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Last updated on Sep 24, 2021

Summary: San Jose, Costa Rica has a population of approximately 350,000 and enjoys incredible weather with daily high temperatures in the low to mid 80s. Plus, the cost of living is low. Despite checking a lot of boxes, San Jose is NOT a popular destination for expats, retirees and digital nomads. Most people who move to San Jose do so for employment or educational reasons. And, many end up in settling in suburbs in the Central Valley such as Escazu, Grecia or Atenas.

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What do I need to know before moving to San Jose?

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

"Travel there first, travel around the country and find a place/local people that suit your tastes. Everyone in the country is generally friendly. 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," added another expat who made the move to San Jose.

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How do I find a place to live in San Jose?

Live in San Jose? Answer this Question

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

"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 ex-pat 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 (if insisting on travelling budget), but it definately suffices. It's a small country and travelling from the Pacific to the Carribean can be done in one long day even on the slowest, cheapest bussed routes available," remarked another expat in San Jose, Costa Rica.

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What is a typical expat home or apartment like in San Jose?

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"Housing can be very cheap, especially if you rent out a room from a Costa Rican family. While the family's home (bathroom especially) may not be of the same type that a middle-class American is used to, it is the best way to get to know your new home country's people. If you want, you could even rent out a room at a backpackers' type of hotel or hostel for cheap rates, too. I've stayed in simple beach-front hotels for US $9 a night," remarked another expat in San Jose, Costa Rica.

What is the average cost of housing in San Jose?

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

"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," remarked another expat in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Should I buy or rent a home in San Jose?

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

"I rent because I do not want to be tied down to a piece of property. Also property is expensive. My rental agreement was easy to understand, only about 4 pages (2 of them inventory of furnishings). I negotiated the terms from 12 months to 6 and the rent amount. It was not difficult at all," remarked another expat in San Jose, Costa Rica.

What should I pack when moving to San Jose?

Live in San Jose? Answer this Question

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

"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," added another expat who made the move to San Jose.

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Why do people move to San Jose?

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When we asked people why foreigners move to San Jose, they responded:

"Most foreigners who voluntarily move to San Jose, Costa Rica do so for the nice climate, lower cost of living, and friendly people. Some of course move here for work, usually in the multinationals, while a few are running from someone or something (often the law)," commented one expat who moved to San Jose.

How are healthcare services San Jose?

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When we asked expats and global nomads about the quality of medical care in San Jose, they replied:

"If you're a resident you pretty much have to enroll in the Caja, the public health system, and if you aren't, you can't. So there's that. Whether or not you enroll in the Caja, if you have the funds, private insurance is nice. INS, the state insurance company, sells a pretty good policy for not too much money, and (ahem) it's darn near customary not to mention pre-existing conditions on the application. After a year or so INS doesn't care, and it does pay. Blue Cross and others have now entered the market, but I doubt they're as lax as INS. Of course, you can always pay out-of-pocket for private at prices about a third of US prices, but even a third adds up. Me, I'm only in the Caja now, since I let my INS policy lapse, but that's because I'm poor. People of some affluence usually do both--private for ease and comfort, public as a backup. Oh, in the Caja plan on speaking Spanish. Most Caja docs will know a little English and a few will be fluent, but the system operates in Spanish and you can't count on anyone speaking English. In the private system almost everybody speaks English," commented another expat living in San José.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 8 Best Places to Live in Croatia and the Living in Mexico Guide. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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Get a quote for expat health insurance from our partner, Cigna Global Health.
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Join our Costa Rica forum to meet other people living in San Jose, Costa Rica.

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Help other expats and newcomers by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in San Jose.

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