“You live in Costa Rica? You’re so lucky!” are words I hear almost daily from friends in other countries. The good news is you can also live in Costa Rica! It’s not an impossible feet, but there are some things you should be aware of before you decide if moving here is right for you. It’s an amazing country, but it is definitely not one long beach vacation.
Residing legally in Costa Rica is not an easy task. In fact, it is rather difficult to deal with. Even by going through an immigration lawyer the whole process can sometimes takes several years. Yeap, you read that right, YEARS!
My boyfriend works for a company that dealt with all the visa stuff for him. He had to provide them with some forms such as his birth certificate and police record and his company took care of the rest. By having a company sponsor you for a visa you are allowed to stay in Costa Rica for the length of time that you are employed. This is probably the simplest way to go about the visa process.
Another way to go about getting a visa is to buy property. If you buy a piece of property exceeding $200,000 you are able to secure a long-term visa.
If you are retired and receive a lifetime pension exceeding $1,000 a month you are also able to get a visa called pensionado.
Also, if you have a guaranteed income stream or can invest $60,000 into a Costa Rican bank that will be paid out to you in the amount of $2,500 a month for two years; you can also secure a visa.
There are exceptions to these rules, for example, if you marry a Costa Rican you may secure a visa that way.
My suggestion is to get in contact with an immigration lawyer here in Costa Rica. Everything is confusing and would be difficult to navigate on your own, especially if you are not fluent in Spanish.
I’m definitely not an expert on the subject of moving legally, so I highly recommend you check out this article from someone that is a bit more experienced in this area here.
Cost of Living:
People assume that Costa Rica has a low cost of living, but I have found that to be far from true. It is possible to live on the cheap, but if you are used to certain luxuries from home, you will find them to be much more expensive here. The reason for this is the crazy high import taxes.
I survive by doing most of my food shopping at the weekly farmer’s markets (which you can find all over the country). I also eat like a local and have adapted a diet high in beans and rice. I take the public bus or walk as a means of getting around.
Because of the high import taxes you can expect to pay almost double what you would pay in the US for technology, cars, and some imported groceries.
Some of the things from your home country that may seem normal to you are considered major luxuries here.
For example, it is unusual to have warm water in sinks. Most of the showers I have seen have electric water heaters, but they don’t always get very warm.
Things such a well-paved sidewalks are basically unheard of. Where I live there are sidewalks, but I have to constantly look down because they are either not in great condition or there are random holes.
If you want to move to a country with some of the best weather you’ve ever experienced, come to Costa Rica. I find it to be absolutely perfect. It gets hot for sure, but I have never felt too hot. During the rainy season you can expect some cloudy days and some days of scary afternoon storms, but they usually only last for a few hours. Also, I had never before lived in a place in which the sun rises and sets at basically the same time every single day. Sometimes it feels a bit like Groundhog Day, but it has also spoiled me. I don’t know if I can ever live in a colder place again.
I love Costa Ricans, or ticos as they are called here! They tend to be some of the nicest, most helpful people I have ever met. I found it an easy culture to adjust to because so many people are willing to go out of their way to help you. For example, on the public busses, people always get up to give a woman, young children, or elderly person their seat.
I also have found that this country is all about making connections. When I was looking for a job I had people say things such as, “my cousin’s husband’s sister might have a job for you at her company. I’ll call her right now.” I even had my landlord sending me jobs. How cute is that?
When I first moved here I was pretty paranoid about safety. It’s hard not to be when every house is behind gates and barbed wire fences. It takes a bit to get used to, but now I feel pretty secure here. There are obviously some bad parts that you should avoid, as every country has. I also don’t recommend walking around late at night.
You can read my extensive list of ways to stay safe here.
Find A Place To Live:
I suggest renting a place for the short term while deciding if this is a country you’d really like to settle down in. I find the cost of rent to be OK. We pay $550 a month for a one bedroom furnished apartment in San Jose in a nice neighborhood. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s nice.
We had no problem finding an apartment. There are many places available (at least in San Jose). I would suggest checking out Encuantre 24 and Buscomicasa and contact the people listing apartments through there. Also, it is usually best to call them instead of emailing. I had a much better response rate when I called. Another option is to walk or drive around the area you would like to live in and look for “For Rent” signs. We found a lot of places to look at this way.
Definitely, do not commit to any place before you move here. Pictures can be deceiving. We looked at a lot of places that seemed OK from the photos online, but in real life, they were not well maintained or in bad areas.
We asked our landlord about this and she said it is not uncommon for tenants to trash apartments here. It is usually too expensive for the owners to fix the problems so they just fix them on the surface and rent the place again.
If you are interested in buying a place it can be a great investment. Property is fair priced here and you can do a really good business if you rent your house out a few months of the year to tourists.
Ugh! Goodluck speaking Spanish here. If you are planning on relying on the Spanish you learned in school it may be difficult for you. I had ten years of Spanish in school, but I find the Spanish here is very different from the Spain Spanish I was taught. I can understand and respond if people speak slowly, but it’s definitely an adjustment.
The good thing is that in all tourist areas you will find at least someone that speaks English. Another plus is that by looking at me it is pretty obvious I am not from here. Usually, people speak to me slowly.
You can take Spanish classes here though if you would like to improve your language skills. There are many schools that offer private or group classes. Some even have teachers that will come to your house.
I highly recommend having a car if you want to live in Costa Rica. The public bus system is decent for inner-city trips, but if you want to travel to the beach for a weekend it can be rather uncomfortable. Plus, a trip that might take one hour by car could take you five hours by bus because of all the frequent stops.
That being said, cars are really expensive here. You will have to save up a lot of money to buy one. Gas prices are regulated by the government, so they are the same every gas station you go to and I find the prices to be fair.
Driving here is scary. It definitely takes a bit to get used to. The roads are not always maintained very well, and people drive crazy.
You should definitely have health insurance while living in Costa Rica (or while living anywhere really). This is a foreign country and you might find you’re not used to things here and get sick easier. For example, I know some people that have gotten sick from food here. I personally ended up with a severe allergic reaction to mango trees. So, you never know.
If you work for a Costa Rican company you will pay into the government health insurance called CCSS. The other option that some people have is INS. I would highly recommend doing your own research on this topic because for everyone the health insurance requirements are much different. There are also several companies that provide long-term international health insurance.
If you are moving here for short term just to try it out I would recommend getting travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have had nothing but great experiences with them.
We use the wireless internet provided by our apartment and have no problem. Occasionally when there are big storms the power will go out for a few minutes, but it doesn’t last long. Most hotels have free wifi as well. If you want to ensure that you are always connected you can purchase a global mobile hotspot.
As far as cell phones go, I would not buy a phone down here. They are extremely expensive. Basically, you will pay double what you would pay in the US for a phone. I would buy an unlocked phone in your home country and bring it with you here.
You can go to a cellphone service provider (I use Kolbi) and they will set you up with a SIM card for a prepaid account. It is extremely cheap and you can add more minutes at most grocery stores. I don’t use my phone for the internet, but I usually only spend about $6 a month. If you want a regular plan you can ask around, but I think it is possible to get a plan including internet flat rate for about $20 a month. Most people I know just do prepaid though because it is so cheap.
Costa Rica uses the same type of outlets as the US. Just be aware though that in some older building the outlets are two-pronged instead of three-pronged.
I hope this helps you to decide if Costa Rica is right for you. Please feel free to leave me any questions in the comment section. I’m happy to help you out! 🙂
HERE ARE A FEW THINGS I WISH I BOUGHT BEFORE I MOVED TO COSTA RICA
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