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September 26, 2020

Things to Know Before Moving to Costa Rica

Though Costa Rica is a relatively small country, with a population of around 5 million, a lot of foreigners, and especially Americans, are interested in moving or retiring here.

While there are myriad reasons for moving to Costa Rica, it’s important to think carefully about what that involves and what you need to do to make this dream a reality. Here are some of the things you need to know about how to move to Costa Rica.


1. Decide Where to Live

Your first major decision before moving to Costa Rica is where you want to live. There’s a huge range of geographic options to choose from, including property near the ocean, an urban setting in the Central Valley or more secluded areas in the mountains.

a map of costa rica deliniating the various provinces | planning your move to Costa Rica - brought to you by

Though it’s a small country, Costa Rica has tremendous geographic diversity to choose from.

You’ll also have to decide what type of home or apartment you want to live in, depending on your budget and the lifestyle you want to enjoy in Costa Rica.

You’ll have to decide whether you want to rent or buy a home in Costa Rica.  Many experts recommend that you choose a long-term or vacation rental before you make the major commitment to build or buy a home here.


2. Determine Your Residency Status

Many foreigners live in Costa Rica on a 90-day tourist visa, which requires them to leave the country temporarily every three months.

a cartoon depicting a man using the GPS from his cell phone to find various locations within Costa Rica | brought to you by

Finding a pathway to establishing residency is an important step for anything wanting to move to Costa Rica.

But if you’re serious about moving to Costa Rica for the long term, you’ll want to look into other residency options.

Costa Rica offers the option of temporary or permanent residency for various categories of foreigners, including retirees with pensions, investors who make large capital outlays in the country, working people with a guaranteed income, and those who marry a Costa Rican or have a child here.


3. Prepare for the Cost of Living

A lot of visitors find that Costa Rica is more expensive than they expected. The cost of gasoline may be higher here than in other countries, and whenever you eat at a restaurant, a 13% tax and 10% service charge are generally added to the bill.

a notebook with a list of things to do related to money management | the cost of living in CR - brought to you by

Be aware of the cost of living in Costa Rica, and do the math to be sure you have the means to afford moving here.

However, your biggest expense — the cost of renting, buying or building a home — may be substantially lower than in the place you came from.

Costa Rica is often said to be the most expensive country in Central America. Yet according to recent statistics from Numbeo, the cost of living in Costa Rica is 28.52% lower than in the United States (not counting rent), whereas rent in Costa Rica is 63.02% lower than in the U.S.


4. Find Income

Unless you have a pension or some other financial safety net, you’ll probably need to figure out how to earn a living if you plan on moving to Costa Rica. It’s important to understand that most foreigners who don’t have residency are not allowed to hold a job in Costa Rica.

You can start a business and hire Costa Ricans to run it, but your ability to actually work at this business will be determined by your residency status. One way to earn money is to buy property and then rent your home out through a vacation property manager.

Embracing the digital nomad lifestyle and working remotely is another good option for those who have the ability to do so.


5. Know How to Be Safe

Costa Rica is a safe country, but there are a few precautions that all foreigners should take to safeguard their health and safety.

a closeup of the shoulder of a policeman, showing his crest | how to be safe in costa rica - brought to you by

Costa Rica is considered the safest country in Latin America, but it’s always wise to take certain precautions to protect your security.

Make sure you have all appropriate vaccinations before moving to Costa Rica, and beware of petty crime and pickpockets in big cities and crowded areas.

If you do intend to buy a home, look into any measures you may need to safeguard it. You may prefer to live in a gated community with 24/7 security. And if you intend to spend only part of the year in Costa Rica, it’s often wise to have a watchman on the property to keep an eye on it while you’re gone.


6. Select Your Mode of Transportation

You’ll need to look into ways to travel around Costa Rica, whether you choose to buy a car, scooter or even golf cart, or whether you can get where you need to go on foot or using public transportation.

Some expats choose to ship their current vehicle to Costa Rica by sea, or even to drive here from North America. But import taxes for vehicles can be prohibitively high, and it’s important to understand all the costs you will face. You may find it easier to sell your car back home and buy another one here.

It’s best to figure this out before you get here so you can make the necessary arrangements beforehand.


7. Embrace Pura Vida

The culture of Costa Rica is unique, and you’ll have to fully embrace the local lifestyle if you move there. Costa Rica’s national motto is “Pura vida” (pure life), and you’ll find that locals’ outlook on life is more easy-going and “tranquilo” than you may be used to.

a bellini in a cocktail glass sits on the deck next to a swimming pool | embrace pura vida while moving to costa rica - brought to you by

Adopt Costa Rica’s laid-back, “tranquilo” mindset, and you’ll fit right in.

You might experience some culture shock when moving here, but it’s important to find ways to fit in if you want to set yourself up for long-term success here.

Certainly there’s no shortage of amazing things to do in Costa Rica, and embracing the country’s culture is one way to get the most out of it.


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