Moving to Costa Rica Expat Guide
Located in Central America, Costa Rica borders Nicaragua and Panama and connects North and South America. The country has is known for having no army and a stable, democratic government and solid economy, with a generally positive and easy-going way of life. Whether you're seeking adventure, city life, or a quiet escape on a sandy beach, you'll be able to find what you're looking for and enjoy a high quality of life as an expat in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is a country with a stunning landscape, low cost of living (for expats), and peaceful way of life, making it one of the most popular expat destinations in the world. If you're thinking about making the move to this wonderful country, we've covered everything from acquiring the correct visa to some of the most popular spots to settle in.
Types of Visas When Moving to Costa Rica
|Visa Name||Suitable For||Application Time||Cost||Further Information|
|30-day Tourist Visa||Citizens of Australia, Belize, China, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Philippines and Venezuela.||N/A||N/A||You will be granted a 30-day tourist visa on arrival to Costa Rica if you are from any of these countries.|
|90-day Tourist visa||Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, United States and most European countries, with the exception of Albania and Bosnia.||N/A||N.A||You will be granted a 90-day tourist visa on arrival in Costa Rica if you are from any of these counties.|
|Student Temporary Residence Permit||Students studying at an education institution||Up to three months||$1.25 and $2.50 for each page that is presented with the residency request||You’ll need to provide a request letter, proof of consular registration, and letter of acceptance from the educational institution duly signed by the legal representative or director of the educational institution.|
|Temporary residence for a retiree (pensionado status)||Those retiring to Costa Rica||4 months - 1 year||$50 if applying from outside the country and $250 if you apply while in the country on a tourist visa||You'll need to provide proof that you have USD$1,000 coming in per month from a government-guaranteed pension. This visa requires renewal every two years.|
|Rentista (legal resident) programme||Those not retired yet but do not need to work while living in Costa Rica||12 and 15 months||$50 plus $250 if you apply while in the country on a tourist visa||You will need to prove you can receive a non-salary income of $2,500USD per month for 2-years minimum. This visa needs to be renewed every two years.|
Costa Rican Way of Life for Expats
Costa Rica is known for having a laid back lifestyle and a peaceful way of life. The country does not have an army, has a stable economy, and is known for being a fantastic place to visit for anyone looking to surround themselves with the world’s natural beauty. Whether you’re looking for a more adventurous expat lifestyle with surfing, volcano adventures and jungle explorations, or would rather retire to a sandy beach and lay back on a hammock, Costa Rica has it all.
Interestingly, Costa Ricans have one of the longest lifespans in the world, which can be attributed to the country’s exceptional healthcare system and the general attitude towards life - ‘pura vida’. This phrase can be literally translated to ‘pure life’, but it means something closer to ‘enjoy life’, reflecting the peaceful outlook Costa Ricans have on life - something anyone moving to this beautiful country can embrace with open arms.
Animal lovers will be pleased to know that Costa Rica’s jungles are home to an enormous variety of wildlife thanks to the country’s many different habitats. In fact, Costa Rica possesses the highest density of biodiversity in the world, and visitors can hope to catch a glimpse of toucans, monkeys, hummingbirds, and many more exotic creatures that have made the sanctity of Costa Rica their home.
The climate in Costa Rica is hot and humid almost all year round, with 12-hour days throughout the entire year. The sun is extremely powerful in Costa Rica, so it’s essential that you cover-up in the sun and use sunscreen throughout the day. The Pacific side of Costa Rica has a rainy season from May to mid-December, while the Caribbean coast has rainfall year-round, although less so between October and March. The sunniest month in Costa Rica is March.
The public transportation network in Costa Rica is still fairly underdeveloped, with journeys often taking some time. The most commonly used method for getting around is by bus - the network of buses from one location to another is extensive across the country and inexpensive, but be prepared for long and uncomfortable journeys.
Trains are another option in Costa Rica, although much less common and with less reach across the country. Commuter lines are largely based around San Jose and the outlying suburbs.
Another option is to take a taxi, which is available in most Costa Rican cities. Make sure you get an official taxi (red with a yellow triangle on the side) and ask the driver to put the meter on when you get in.
If you are looking to drive in Costa Rica, expats can use your existing licence from your home country for the first three months, after which you’ll need to convert to a local license, This can be a time consuming and confusing process, so it’s best not to leave it until the last minute.
Crime and safety
Costa Rica may have no army and a peaceful way of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely without its risks - especially for travellers with no experience of travelling in Central America.
It is sensible to exercise caution and follow some common-sense tips to keep yourself safe when in Costa Rica:
Avoid travelling alone at night or very early in the morning
If you can, avoid placing luggage in overhead bins when travelling by bus
Keep your valuables locked in your accommodation
Don’t carry too much money with you when out and about, and never have all your credit/debit cards and passport all in one place on you
Avoid wearing overly-expensive-looking clothes and getting out your gadgets in busy places where you could become a target for pickpockets
Keep your wits about you - don’t take drugs or get drunk when you’re travelling alone and in unfamiliar areas
Jobs in Costa Rica
Finding a job as a foreigner in Costa Rica is tricky - the government has strict laws in place to prevent foreigners from taking jobs that Costa Rican nationals could otherwise do. If a company does make an offer to an expat, they need to first prove that the foreigner was more qualified than any other local candidate.
There are a number of online portals you can use to assist you with your job search, such as:
Cost of Living in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is considered a cheap place compared to Canada, America, and most European countries - which is where the majority of expats choosing to move here are from. However, the cost of living really depends on your budget and the type of lifestyle you want to live.
The general cost of living in Costa Rica is much lower compared to many countries in Europe or in America, for example, although like all places, it depends on what kind of lifestyle you are looking for yourself. Most expats will be able to live a comfortable lifestyle on $1,000 - $1,500 a month including rent.
It is sensible to find a temporary accommodation to stay in when you first arrive in Costa Rica, and then use the services of a reputable real estate agent and lawyer to assist you in purchasing or renting a property more long-term in Costa Rica to avoid any issues.
The most popular areas for retirement homes in Costa Rica are Guanacaste and the Central Pacific regions, while cities such as Santa Ana offer a diverse range of educational opportunities and activities that may appeal to families.
Costa Rica has an excellent public healthcare system, as well as a high-quality and affordable private care system (especially in comparison to the nearby United States). All expats are highly recommended to have a comprehensive health insurance policy to cover their medical care while living in the country.
If you are staying for a more short-term period, you may want to consider a travel insurance policy which will cover you for healthcare as well as personal possessions etc.
Education for children is free and compulsory in Costa Rica, and as a result, the country has a high literacy rate of 95%. The academic year runs from February to November or December, with children starting primary school at age 6 and pre-school starting at age 4 if not sooner. Public schools teach in Spanish with graduates earning the Bachillerato - a degree accepted in some universities abroad.
Most expats choose to send their children to a private or international school in Costa Rica, which often teaches a US or UK-based curriculum in English. There are a number of high-quality international schools in Costa Rica, so if you are moving with your family and have young children, you’ll be happy to know there are a good range of options to choose from with an emphasis on learning from a young age. Fees can range anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000
Banking in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a number of state-run and private banks to choose from if you want to open a bank account in the country. The advantage of state-run banks such as BCR, Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, and Bancrédito is that they have a large presence in the country, so you’re more likely to find branches and ATMs closer to you. Private banks, including major names such as BAC San José, Scotiabank, and Citibank, are usually more likely to have English-speaking agents and may be more open to non-residents opening a regular account. Read more in our best expat banks guide.
Opening a bank account in Costa Rica as a non-resident may or may not be possible depending on what bank you visit. You may need to provide your passport, previous bank statements, a utility bill, proof of funds, and even a letter of reference from your home bank. Other banks may not permit you to open an account until you are a resident in Costa Rica.
Sending money internationally to Costa Rica
Having a local bank account in Costa Rica can be useful if you are living there long-term to pay for expenses such as rent, utilities etc. However, getting your funds from abroad into the country can be expensive and time-consuming, so doing the research to find the best money transfer provider to facilitate this for you is a smart move.
Our comparison engine will compare your options for sending money to Costa Rica based on:
Popular Places to Live in Costa Rica
San Jose/Central Valley
Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, and the surrounding valley is popular with expats for a number of reasons. For one, the weather in this slightly elevated area is often perfect - not too hot, and not too cold. San Jose offers city-life with an abundance of restaurants, museums, art galleries and more to keep you busy, with a tight expat community and scenic mountains just a stone’s throw away. The only downside (for some) is that this area is one of the few in Costa Rica that doesn’t offer that idyllic beach life.
Costa Rica’s Gold Coast is made up of a number of different beaches and towns with their own unique features, from laid-back beach living to world-class surfing for the more adventurous expats. Places to choose from here include Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco, Las Catalinas, Playa Potrero, Flamingo and more. With low rainfall in this area, long hours of sunshine, and a vast range of options to suit expats of all personalities in this region, the Gold Coast remains a firm favourite amongst expats for good reason.
Southern Pacific Region
This area, known as the Coast Ballena, is popular with many expats due to the number of well-known beaches and good weather for the majority of the year. This is a great spot for expats looking for a quieter way of life with pristine beaches, untouched jungles, and diverse wildlife. Popular towns in this region include Dominical, known for great surfing and cheap rent, and Uvita, a beautiful beach town with a fairly established expat community,