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What You Need to Know About Living in Costa Rica

by Shannon Steinberg on Nov 28, 2023

Life moves at a different pace in Costa Rica. Costa Ricans (also known as “Ticos,” for their habit of adding “tico” to the end of words) don’t share our hectic, fast-paced lifestyle. They prefer the pura vida: the pure life, free from stress. It's an attitude so pervasive, it's practically baked into the landscape. You’ll find it in the mountains, beaches, lakes, and rivers; the markets, stores, and restaurants. The pristine weather, wildlife, and jungles seem to imbue the country with a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Small wonder why Americans are flocking to this tropical paradise in such growing numbers. But if you’re not certain whether living in Costa Rica is the right choice for you, here are a few other things you ought to consider.

No Foreign Income Tax

Retirees dependent on a pension or overseas investments don’t have to worry about them being scrutinized by the Costa Rican government. Expats don’t have to pay a dime on any money they receive from outside the country. This includes remote work. As long as your paychecks are signed by a foreign company, you're not required to pay taxes on them. Every penny is yours to keep.

High-Quality Life, Low Cost of Living

Even though Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries in Latin America, it’s still far more affordable than the vast majority of the United States. It’s estimated that a single person living in Costa Rica can get by on as little as $1,400-$1,700 a month, while a retired couple only needs $2,000-$3,000.

Most Ticos assume Americans have money to spend, so tourist areas tend to charge more for basic goods and services. Nonetheless, you’d be hard pressed to find any place with prices anywhere near as high as what you’d find back home. For only a few dollars, you can purchase a week’s worth of eggs, milk, fruit, bread, vegetables, and fresh meat at the feria: open-air farmers markets found in every town, village, and neighborhood throughout the country.

Cars are one of the few things more expensive here than in the states, which is why most Americans living in Costa Rica prefer to rely on public transportation instead. A bus ride in the capital, San Jose, costs around $1.25. Starting fare for a taxi is $1. Riding the train will generally cost you $0.80-$2.50.

Housing is surprisingly reasonable as well. Homes in the Central Valley are generally more affordable than ones out on the coasts, but no matter where you end up, you can expect to pay:

  • $2,000-$5,000 a month for a private villa
  • $1,500-$3,000 a month for a house in a gated community
  • $800-$2,000 for a detached home
  • $500-$3,000 for a condo or apartment

Multiple Residency Options

Tourists can spend up to 90 days in Costa Rica without a visa. Anyone planning to stay longer needs to apply for residency with the Immigration Bureau. It’s a slow process, but a relatively simple one. Applicants have three programs to choose from:

  • Pensionado (Pensioner). Open to anyone with a corporate or military pension, state retirement benefits, or social security income of at least $1,000 per month. To qualify, you’ll not only need to provide proof of income, but also live in the country for at least four months out of the year and contribute to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), the state healthcare program.
  • Rentista (Renter). Open to anyone who can show proof of income ($2,500 a month for the past two years) or deposit at least $60,000 in an approved Costa Rican bank. Like Pensionados, Rentistas also need to live in the country at least four months out of the year and contribute to the state healthcare program.
  • Inversionista (Investor). Designed for businessmen and women willing to help grow the economy. Applicants need to invest at least $200,000 in a Costa Rican property or business. Any type of property will do, commercial or residential. You can even purchase land for preservation! Unlike Pensionados or Rentistas, Inversionistas are required to live in the country at least six months of the year.

Pensionados, Rentistas, and Inversionistas can apply for permanent residency after three years. Despite the name, permanent residents cannot stay indefinitely. Their status has to be renewed every three years. The government recently announced a new program, the digital nomad visa, for single workers earning $3,000 a month and married workers earning $5,000 a month. Unlike the programs above, it’s only valid for one year, but can be extended for a second.

Expanding Infrastructure

Costa Rica is one of the few countries without any army. Instead of spending money on soldiers, Costa Rica has invested that money back into its society, building up its highways, bridges, railways, airports, seaports, internet, electrical grid, and wastewater systems.

And while the country still has its share of dirt roads, it’s made enormous strides towards modernization. Cell phone and internet service are available in most parts of the country, something unheard of twenty years ago, and it’s one of the only places in Latin America where it’s safe to drink water straight from the tap.

Happy, Healthy, and Sustainable

Costa Rica is a blue zone, one of a handful of places where people live unusually long lives. Average life expectancy in the country is 80 years, two more than in the USA. This is no accident. The Costa Rican government has poured millions into healthcare and the environment, with spectacular results. Its health system consistently ranks among the top 20 in the world, above Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Care is free at the point of service and open to foreign residents.

Enrolling in the CCSS costs $75-$455 a month and provides free access to practically every hospital, clinic, and pharmacy in the country. Standards are so high, thousands of Americans travel to Costa Rica every year for operations and medical procedures. In fact, access to comprehensive and affordable healthcare is one of the biggest reasons people choose to retire here.

Besides protecting the well-being of its citizens, the government has also taken steps to protect the environment. Farming and logging took a heavy toll on the country’s rainforest during the 20th century. By the 1980s, eighty percent of it had been chopped down and clear cut. But, thanks to numerous conservation efforts, the rainforests have bounced back and now cover fifty percent of the country. National parks were expanded significantly as well. Almost a quarter of the land is protected from development.

These health and environmental initiatives have had a remarkable effect on the country’s well-being. Costa Rica is currently number one in the Global Happiness Index. Progressive government action has helped build tight-knit communities. Economists at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences have observed that Ticos are especially friendly and adept at building relationships with their neighbors to help support them through good times and bad.

Easy to Find Like-Minded People

Americans living in Costa Rica are sometimes astonished at how quickly they make friends. Rather than concentrating around a single point, like the capital, Americans tend to spread out and experience the country. So whether you decide to settle in Jaco, Playa de Coco, Esterillos, Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio, or San Jose, you can always count on finding people who share your background, language, and traditions.

Perfect Climate

Costa Rica is a tropical paradise: never too hot, never too cold. Temperatures in the Central Valley range from 70-80°F throughout the entire year. The climate in this part of the country is so moderate, with its calm and gentle breezes, most Ticos don’t install air conditioning. Air conditioners are more common out on the coasts, however, where the lower elevation pushes temperatures into the mid-to-upper eighties.

Eco-Adventure Capital of the World

Costa Rica is a diverse and breathtaking country, brimming with tropical forests, sandy beaches, and fog-shrouded peaks. Its primeval jungles are alive with all manner of wildlife: tapirs, sloths, coatis, toucans, ocelots, jaguars, spider monkeys, scarlet macaws, harpy eagles, red-eyed tree frogs, basilisk lizards, rainbow grasshoppers, and blue morpho butterflies. Hikers can visit active and dormant volcanoes, bathe in bubbling hot springs, zipline through dizzying ravines, raft down whitewater rapids, witness dizzying waterfalls, and walk along hanging bridges surrounded by trees so tall they block out the sun.

Out on the coasts, tide pools, coral reefs, and white sand beaches offer endless opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, wakeboarding, kayaking, parasailing, and more. With hundreds of miles of shoreline, the country is heaven for surfers. When the waves are down on one beach, they’re up on another. Gentle swells and challenging breaks make it possible for everyone, from ardent beginners to seasoned veterans, to get out and enjoy the waves. 

So Many Places to Choose From

Whether you prefer the beach or the mountains, the big city or a rural village, you're sure of finding the right place in Costa Rica. Some people buy a home in a perfect spot, while others move about the country, changing locations every few years. With so many beautiful options, deciding where to settle down is a happy problem. Some of the most popular destinations are:

  • Escazú. Located in the suburbs of San Jose, Escazú is home to great bars, restaurants, and hospitals, not to mention some of the biggest shopping malls in the country. It’s especially popular with families, due to the large number of international schools in the area.
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Casual and bohemian, this rural town on the Caribbean Coast is a favorite for people interested in getting away from the hustle and bustle to enjoy a quiet life, close to nature and the ocean.
  • Manuel Antonio. A popular tourist spot surrounded by crystal waters and lush, tropical jungle. A great place to relax on the beach or explore the country’s incredible landscape. The town is also notable for its large hospital and private clinics with a mostly English-speaking staff.
  • Cartago. The former capital of Costa Rica. Here you’ll find some of the nation's most historic architecture, as well as stunning views of the Central Valley. One of the least expensive cities in the country, with plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants to keep you entertained.
  • Tamarindo. A surfing destination on the North Pacific Coast, popular with tourists and digital nomads. Features great food and nightlife, as well as good schools and hospitals. One of the most expensive cities in the country, but a spectacular spot for anyone who’s dreamed of living by the ocean.

Moving to Costa Rica

Moving to a new country can be a daunting prospect, but with our specialists providing on-the-ground support every step of the way, it doesn’t have to be. We handle everything, from packing to shipping to storage, customs, and final delivery. There is no detail too small, no challenge too big. Our crews put your needs first, ensuring your belongings arrive safely, on schedule and on-budget. Contact us today for a free quote!

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