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Your Guide to Moving to Costa Rica

Those living in popular tourist destinations can expect to pay more on a daily basis, but overall, newcomers will find the country to be fairly affordable. In fact, Cost Rica regularly ranks among the best countries for retirement.

Thinking about moving to Costa Rica? This tropical paradise is one of the most popular places for expats to retire, study and live. The country’s surfable beaches, natural beauty and abundant wildlife make it one of the most exciting destinations for adventure seekers. For more information about moving to Costa Rica, keep reading.

Cost of living in Costa Rica

The overall cost of living in Costa Rica is much lower than the cost of living in the United States. In fact, according to Numbeo, consumer prices, rent prices, restaurant prices and grocery prices are all considerably lower than those in the U.S. International Living, a popular magazine detailing the best places in the world to live, retire, travel, and invest, claims that American, Canadian and European expats living in Costa Rica spend less money on a daily basis than they do in their own home countries. The magazine states that “a single person can live on between $1,400 and $1,700 a month” while “many retired couples live well on $2,000 per month and even better on $2,500 to $3,000.” Of course, the cost of living varies depending on lifestyle choices. Those living in popular tourist destinations can expect to pay more on a daily basis, but overall, newcomers will find the country to be fairly affordable. In fact, Cost Rica regularly ranks among the best countries for retirement.

Housing in Costa Rica

While home prices vary depending on the city and town, Costa Rica’s overall housing market is relatively affordable. According to Numbeo, the average rent per month for a one-bedroom apartment in a city center is just $485. The average rent per month for a one-bedroom apartment outside of a city is $332. The average price per square foot of an apartment for sale in a Costa Rican city is $167.50, and the average price per square foot of an apartment for sale outside of a city is $124. According to Global Property Guide, the most expensive properties in Costa Rica are located “in the Central Valley, the greater metropolitan area (including San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia and Escazu) where most businesses are, and the Pacific coast.” 

Safety in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is fairly safe, however, newcomers must be careful and practice common sense precautions when traveling in the country. The U.S. Department of State advises travelers to exercise increased caution in Costa Rica due to crime. The advisory states that while petty crime is the main threat for visitors in Costa Rica, violent crime does occur in the country. Safety tips include being aware of your surroundings, not displaying signs of wealth and not physically resisting a robbery attempt.

Weather in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s warm, tropical weather and beautiful beaches attract flocks of tourists and newcomers every year. According to Go Visit Costa Rica, the country has two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season. The rainiest part of the year is typically from May to November, with the majority of the rain falling between September and October. The dry part of the year runs from December through April. Costa Rica’s average annual temperature is between 70 degrees and 81 degrees Fahrenheit, making it an exceptionally warm place to live. 

Quality of Life in Costa Rica

Retirees, students and families looking for a high quality of life will certainly find it in Costa Rica. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, Costa Rica is one of the world’s happiest countries. The report cites the country’s beautiful beaches, picturesque rainforests, stable democracy and educated population as reasons for its exceptionally high quality of life. 

The Happy Planet Index also rates Costa Rica as the happiest country on the planet, thanks to the country’s heavy emphasis on environmental sustainability. The Index ranks Costa Rica number 1 out of 152, with a score of 62.1. The country’s life expectancy is a little over 80, its wellbeing is ranked 7 out of 10. The Happy Planet Index also notes its low ecological footprint.

Healthcare in Costa Rica

Newcomers will find Costa Rica’s healthcare providers and facilities to be top-notch. According to International Living, Costa Rica “has some of the best healthcare in Latin America.” Expats have access to the country’s universal healthcare system and the private system. In addition to having excellent healthcare options, costs are relatively low compared to the U.S. The article points out that healthcare costs are “about a third to a fifth of what you’d pay in the U.S., depending on the treatment.”

Immigration requirements

Moving to Costa Rica from USA or Canada? U.S. and Canadian citizens do not need a visa to visit Costa Rica as a tourist. However, they will need proof of a plan to leave Costa Rica within 90 days (i.e. a return plane ticket). Those looking to live in Costa Rica long-term have several visa options, including the Pensionado Program (pensioner) and the Rentista Program. The popular Pensionado Program requires that newcomers have proof that they receive at least $1,000 a month from a pension source. The Rentista Program requires either proof of a monthly income of at least $2,500 for at least two years or a $60,000 deposit into a Costa Rican bank. The third option, moversdubai, requires that you invest at least $US 200,000 in property, shares or any business projects. This means that, basically, you buy a house or land or a business in Costa Rica. You can see the latest requirements for temporary residency in Costa Rica on the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington, D.C. website. 

And, good news. You don’t have to be a perpetual tourist when you move to Costa Rica anymore, or exit and then re-enter Costa Rica to be granted a new 90-day stay. Not yet implemented but approved in 2021 digital nomad visas for qualified foreign nationals will enable them to remain in the country legally for one year if they earn their income remotely and abroad. Costa Rica’s digital nomad visa is to be rolled out so, so keep your eyes peeled for an announcement on Costa Rica’s immigration website. Moving to Costa Rica will therefore be much easier for remote workers.

The digital nomad visa will require that you have a stable income of $3,000 per month, or $5,000 if you have a spouse or family. This visa offers income tax exemptions, the ability to open a local bank account, and validity for your home country’s driver’s license. The visa is initially valid for one year, though it can be extended for a second year. You’ll also need to sign up for your own health insurance. If you want to apply for residency in Costa Rica, you can prep your paperwork before an international move by making sure you have your birth certificate, bank statements, a copy of your criminal record, and some other required documents.

5 cities to consider when moving to Costa Rica

  1. Escazu

    Looking to live close to the capital city of San Jose? Try the nearby suburb, Escazu. Located in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, Escazu offers newcomers plenty of trendy bars, restaurants, big-city amenities and safe neighborhoods. The suburb is also known for its year-round cool, spring-like weather.

  2. Atenas

    The small town of Atenas is one of the best places to find authentic Costa Rican food, coffee and culture. It’s also conveniently located roughly halfway between San Jose and the beaches of the Pacific Coast. Atenas is a popular spot for expat retirees looking for laid-back country living with easy access to the airport and big-city amenities.

  3. Tamarindo

    Located on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, Tamarindo is one of the most beautiful beach towns in the world. The city is a true destination for beach lovers, surfers and wildlife enthusiasts (as visitors are sure to spot leatherback turtles at the nearby Las Baulas National Marine Park). Young newcomers will also find bars, restaurants and a vibrant nightlife scene.

  4. Heredia

    Situated just north of San Jose, the hilly town of Heredia is home to the popular National University. The city is popular among expats, thanks to its many outdoor attractions, stunning architecture, lush vegetation and easy access to San Jose’s amenities.

  5. Dominical

    This Costa Rican beach town is a favorite among expats and visitors. Newcomers can surf, snorkel, dive, sunbathe, horseback ride and relax year-round on Dominical’s beaches. The town is also located near Manuel Antonio National Park, “the most visited park in Costa Rica,” according to Go Visit Costa Rica.

FAQs on moving to Costa Rica from the U.S.

Can I move to Costa Rica from the U.S.?

Yes. It’s quite easy to move to Costa Rica from the U.S. Before the global pandemic disrupting travel and immigration, some 120,000 U.S. citizens were thought to reside permanently in Costa Rica. Unless your worldly possessions will fit in your luggage if you’re flying, we recommend that you leave it to the professionals to move your belongings, including electronics and appliances.

Can I work in Costa Rica?

Unless you secure your digital-nomad status foreigners cannot legally hold a job in Costa Rica without obtaining a work permit. This typically requires a lot of paperwork and a long wait time. Most people who relocate have money in the bank, a pension or other steady outside income.

Can I move to Costa Rica with my pet?

Yes. It’s quite easy. You can either bring your pet on the flight with you or fly your pet separately as cargo. In both cases, you’ll need the required vaccinations and a health certificate from your vet, as it is typically required when you move your pets internationally to most countries in the world. No quarantine is required. The U.S. embassy recently updated their detailed info on bringing a pet if you’re not sure about the local requirements.

Will it be easy enough to enroll my kid in school in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is generally considered a safe country and a good place for families. Your family will enjoy great weather, plenty of outdoor activities and beautiful beaches. There are public, private and international schools in Costa Rica. Public schools are taught in Spanish, but some private and international schools offer classes in English. 

The school year runs from February through to November or December. It’s common for public schools to run a shift system with some kids attending in the morning and others in the afternoon, to keep class sizes manageable. Typically there are also plenty of before and after school activities offered. Choosing a school abroad might seem daunting, but it’s doable.

The cost of moving to Costa Rica

Relocating can be an expensive business, especially if you’re relocating internationally. If you’re shipping your car and your household belongings, you’ll need to budget for it. Costs will vary depending on where you’re relocating from, and it might be worth it to leave some items behind and simply replace them when you arrive in Costa Rica. That’s why we recommend that you get several quotes from international moving companies that can help you get the big picture of what’s involved and how much it will cost and even provide advice.

Tips for moving to Costa Rica

  • Do thorough research before you make any decisions about the move.
  • Get at least three quotes from different international moving companies to choose the right one for you.
  • Seek local professional advice about banking, taxes and real estate.
  • Try to connect with your fellow expats through social media to ease the adjustment after you move.

Ready to move to Costa Rica? 

While international moves are certainly stressful, figuring out how you’re going to move abroad doesn’t have to be. In fact, thanks to our network of reputable and reliable international movers, finding the right company to handle your relocation is a cinch. We vet all movers for key certifications, capabilities, and insurance. Our movers are also licensed and bonded with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission (FMC). In addition, all moving companies based outside of the U.S. must be in good standing with FIDI, the largest global alliance of professional international moving and relocation companies, in order to remain under their banner as an Accredited International Mover. Of course, before hiring an international moving company, we also recommend reviewing a mover’s history with the American Moving & Storage Association, the Household Goods Forwarder Association and the Better Business Bureau. Best of luck and happy moving!

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