Have you ever wanted to move abroad? One of the trending topics online for travelers right now is what it’s like living in Costa Rica.
We’ve decided to weigh in on the topic and give our two cents too. To be honest, a lot of the blogs and articles you’ll read about what it’s like living in Costa Rica are idealized. Sure, living abroad sounds great – and it is. But believe it or not, it’s not just all about chasing waterfalls and watching sunsets. You’re here for the nitty gritty stuff.
What does it take to move abroad? How do you get there? What kind of a culture shock will you be in for? We’ve gathered the information you need to know about living the day to day in Costa Rica.
Here’s Everything You Need to Know About What It’s Like Living in Costa Rica
Pura vida can take some getting used to. This laid-back attitude is what draws in so many expats to the country in the first place. Ironically, it is also one of the most frustrating things for them after the initial honeymoon phase wears off. Whether you’re moving for a season or plan on staying for the long run, you’re going to need to adopt or at least get used to the lifestyle. Let’s walk through the steps.
Getting a Visa
So here comes the inconvenient truth. Before you figure out what it’s like living in Costa Rica, you’re going to need to get a visa. Technically, you can’t live here without first applying for legal status. Coming from the North American continent, you and many other current passport holders will receive a free automatic tourist visa when you go to customs. This means you don’t even have to apply for it. It seems the cliche idiom is true – half the battle is just showing up.
So maybe you don’t want to buy a return ticket. If you want to stay for longer than three months or are just not sure yet, you’ll need to buy a fully refundable ticket back to your country. Or you can purchase a bus ticket to another country. You just have to make sure you leave the country after your 90 days are up. What’s good to know is that tourists without residency can still own vehicles, property, business, and even generate income from self-employment.
Living in Costa Rica on a Tourist Visa
There are plenty of people living in Costa Rica on a tourist visa. Over the years, it has become common practice for Costa Rica to have a fluctuating tourist population based on foreigners leaving once their 90 day visa is up. Others travel to another country for a while and then return to extend their visa.
This said, if the authorities ever do decide to crack down and become more severe with their penalties, they could be severe. Believe it or not, you could be banned from living in the country for twelve years. So when you decide to make the move, do it right.
For longer term living, expats have several options. Costa Rica’s immigration laws changed in 2010 but prospective residents can still find a fairly easy way to stay in the country. Don’t make an immediate decision simply based upon your residency status. Listed below are some of the more popular visa options:
This program requires you to show that you make at least $1,000 a month in income from life-long pension. The source of your income has to be a major entity like teacher’s requirements. Sources like a 401k, social security, and IRA plans are not recognized. Certain annuities may qualify as a pension. While you won’t be able to work as an employee in Costa Rica from it, you can still own a company and receive dividends from it.
This is for people with a fixed retirement income. The rentista program requires proof of a $2,500 monthly income for at least two years. You can also show a deposit of $60,000 in a Costa Rican bank approved by immigration authorities.
Here’s How to Apply for Your Visa
All visa applications for living in Costa Rica must be filled out in your country of origin. We also highly recommend hiring an attorney in Costa Rica to handle your application for residence. This is particularly useful if you don’t speak Spanish.
According to the Department of Immigration, they favor “applicants that can demonstrate that they will provide a financial benefit and contribute to create employment for Costa Rica citizens either in the form of direct investment or indirect investment.” In this sense, direct investment refers to direct investors and entrepreneurs and “indirect” refers to those Pensionada and Rentista visas.
How to Secure Residence in Costa Rica
The cost of hiring an attorney to help you achieve your dreams of living in Costa Rica will cost you – somewhere between $600 – $2,000 to be exact. Be wary of those who try to offer you a deal on their services. Cheaper does not always mean better. If you want to do it on your own, it will run you about $400 for filing fees, making payments to translators (if needed) and the like. The required documents you need to file can be found here.
Once you have applied, your attorney can keep track of the status of your application. You can also check the status of your application online from the immigration department website. Approval can take anywhere from four months to one year depending on the type of application being processed and how busy the immigration department is at the time.
The Mañana Culture
One of the biggest things to get used to in a new place is how the locals live. If you’re coming from a fast-paced, highly individualistic city like NYC or Los Angeles, this is going to take some getting used to. Living in Costa Rica means you’re participating in a mañana culture. You probably thought this catchword means “tomorrow.” It doesn’t.
In essence, it means not today. The locals are relaxed and the overall culture is mellow. People take midday naps just because, lazy beach days can last a week, and drinking a beer anytime of the day is just a part of the culture. Simultaneously, so are slower services. The same approach can easily be applied to government services in particular. The roads are in poor condition.
Buses are unreliable. Your mail might not come for a day. Or two. Or three. Similarly, your visa application could take a while to be processed. In fact, the steps you were told to take in order to get your visa may be completely different from the ones that you thought you had to take.
So What’s Your Best Bet?
Here comes another cliche but true expression. If you can’t beat them, join them. Relax; dive right into the pura vida lifestyle. We’ve found that one of the best things about travel is going in without a sense of expectation. If you’re anything like us, that can be hard to do. After all, the initial excitement of travel is probably killing you.
Prepare Yourself to Explore Some Unimaginable Beauty
Okay, now that we’ve told you about the stuff that doesn’t seem so fun… Here comes the good part. When you’re living in Costa Rica, you can’t escape the country’s natural beauty. Seriously. Anywhere you look seems like it could be a scene straight off of a postcard. That’s why the country draws in so much tourism.
This Central American country has won the geographical lottery. Balmy climates grace diverse terrains and ecosystems. Towering volcanoes give way to dense jungles, undeveloped coastline, waters teeming with marine life, and rivers pouring out into cascading waterfalls. We could go on and on. But why just tell you about it when we can show you too? Hang tight. We’re going to let you in on some of the best kept secret places you need to see while you’re living in Costa Rica.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
What do we mean by this? Well, since you’re living in a jungle region, you’re going to encounter a lot of critters. And fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, these creatures are unavoidable. This means you’re going to have monkeys in your background and maybe a snake or two in your toilet. Just kidding. Or are we? But that’s not all. Humid beach towns along the coast are home to a lot of mosquitoes.
So what can be done about this nuisance? Unfortunately, not much. The less humid, mountainous regions might be a better fit for you if you’re trying to avoid them. One way to reduce the presence of unwanted critters in your house is to keep a tidy kitchen. Outside of trying to reduce the chance of running into them by moving to a less humid region, there are also small tips for you. Simply be on the lookout for them. Check your shoes, bedding, and shower.
What’s the Weather Like?
Think of this country’s climate like you would Hawaii. While you’re living in Costa Rica, you can can tweak the weather by choosing your location. Are you looking for a year-round consistent climate? No matter where you go, there are going to be showers. If you’re looking for a year-round consistent climate, consider the Central Valley near San Jose. This is where most of the expats call home.
If you’re okay with enduring a little more heat and humidity, you’ll find more authenticity near the small beach towns. We’ve got to give you a head’s up though. The country’s rainy season runs from May through November. Depending on where you live, “rainy” could translate to anything from sprinkles to torrential downpours. Just so you know, the Caribbean coast gets more rainfall than the Pacific. If you’re like us though, you love the thunderstorms and getting caught in the rain. Pina colada not included.
Cost of Living
Here’s some good news. The cost of living is pretty cheap. Of course, the affordability of living in Costa Rica depends a great deal on your lifestyle. But in many ways, you will probably find that this country is a whole lot cheaper to stay in than home. For example, a single person can easily live on an income of $1,400 to $1,700 a month. Some people scrape by on less and others spend hundreds and hundreds more.
A retired couple could happily live on $2,000 a month. This includes all the costs of living. Rent, transportation, housing, medical care, utilities, food, and entertainment could be fit into the above budget. Real estate is also more affordable here. Whether you’re looking to rent or buy, living is more affordable in Costa Rica.
Medical care is high quality and low cost. Legal expats enjoy use of a government-run universal healthcare system. For a simple, low monthly fee, you will get doctor’s visits, prescriptions, surgeries, and just about any care you might need. Private clinics and hospitals are also available if you need them.
When it comes to food, it will pay off to do some shopping, cooking, and eating like a local. You’ll find the feria, a weekly farmer’s market, in just about every village. This is where the locals come up to stock up on fresh fruits, spices, and veggies. Plus, it’s a fun little weekend excursion to go on. Just make sure you keep in mind that inland locations will be less expensive. Typically, beachside stops tend to be more popular among tourists. Thus, prices are higher there.
Opportunities for Adventure
Costa Rica’s amazing weather and prime location make it a dream destination for many tourists. Needless to say, there are near endless opportunities for adventure. As wonderful as it is living in Costa Rica, you’ll find that some parts can be pretty touristy. As with visiting any place and getting to know the culture, finding the authentic spots can take some time. Luckily for you, you have us here to help you.
Manuel Antonio Park
One of the first things you should do when you’re living in Costa Rica is to visit Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s honestly nothing short of a coastal gem. While it’s certainly not off the radar, it’s nothing short of a gem. Lush greenery gives way to vivid blue waters. When you’re looking for a scenic spot, walk about a half an hour until you get to the sand. Here, you’ll find the best spot for a beach picnic.
If you’d rather explore rainforests, you can do that too. There is a network of trails winding from the sand throughout the rest of the national park. Pick a path, any path. No matter which one you take, the views will not disappoint. Just make sure you have your travel camera ready. You’re not going to want to miss capturing these magical moments. Last but certainly not least, pack or rent some snorkel gear. These waters offer some of the best opportunities to see rare marine life in the world.
Tabacon Hot Springs
Unwind after a long day of hiking in the warmth of Tabacon Hot Springs. Temperatures range from 72 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Stunning waterfalls cascade down sheer cliffs into the springs. If you’re in the northern region of Costa Rica for any reason at all, you can’t miss this spot.
While you’re living in Costa Rica, you need to see this spot. After all, you deserve to pamper yourself. Why not do it in the middle of a lush Central American forest? Visiting these hot springs is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
Soak up the coastal beauty. There’s no way we could overlook these stretches of sand. Aerial photos of the park show the coolest thing – it’s shaped like a whale’s tale. What are the chances? It’s also one of the world’s most famous migratory locations from humpback whales in the spring through early fall.
Sea turtles also call the Whale Coast home from May through November. On your visit, make sure to book a tour to see the whales or better yet, rent out some gear and go snorkeling. Gorgeous coral reefs offer a unique chance to get an up-close look at marine life. Kayaking and stand up paddle boards (SUP) is a fun way to get around too.
Get Excited for the Next Big Step: Living in Costa Rica
We hope you enjoyed reading our article on living in Costa Rica. While the process of getting there can be a little rough, there are so many things to do and places to enjoy when you get there.
Are you looking for more information on things to do and places to see in Costa Rica? Check out these articles below for the inside scoop:
- Best Things to Do in Costa Rica for the Adventurous Traveler
- 9 Best All Inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica
- The 8 Best Beaches in Costa Rica for 2018
Questions and Comments
Do you have any questions or comments for us? If so, feel free to leave us a message below. We will be sure to get back with you soon.
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