Moving to Costa Rica: A Guide for Expats
Ahh, Costa Rica! If you’re moving to the lovely Central American country, let me be the first to say congratulations. You have a lot to look forward to. It’s not a coincidence that so many foreigners are packing their bags and relocating to Costa Rica. But before you commit, there are a few things to consider.
In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about moving to Costa Rica–from visa options to affordability to the country’s Pura Vida lifestyle. So, put on your travel shoes, and let’s head down south!
Knowing your visa options should be priority number one. The good news is that Costa Rica offers a few different visas that make it easy for expats to relocate there. Your first option is to obtain a 90-day Tourist Visa. You may be thinking, Uhh, I want to stay longer than 90 days. Well, Costa Rica allows you to continuously renew this visa an infinite number of times. All you have to do is leave the country for three days at the end of your visa limit before coming back for another 90 days. It’s a wonderful option while you’re adjusting to the country and doesn’t require any paperwork.
Costa Rica recently announced a new Digital Nomad Visa. For expats who make at least $3,000 a month, they are eligible for a yearlong visa that can continuously be renewed–booyah! The visa ends up costing a few hundred dollars after paying application fees. It’s a wonderful option for anyone who wants to bring the whole family along. If you make $4,000 a month, you can sponsor your spouse and children–convenient, right?
Best Places to Live
On the southwest tip of the Nicoya Peninsula is Santa Teresa. The beach town has become a hotspot for travelers, expats, and surfers. You’ll find tasty eateries, great cafes to work at, and, of course, beach bars. Each day feels like paradise when you wake up in Santa Teresa, so put it on your list of potential places to live!
The Caribbean side of the country has its own unique vibe. Down towards the coast of Panama, Puerto Viejo has become a popular destination for expats looking to enjoy a slower pace of life. But don’t let that fool you! There is plenty to do in Puerto Viejo. From national parks to salsa bars to scuba diving, you’ll have no problem filling up your days with activities.
The Guanacaste Province is located in the northwest of the country. It’s home to dozens of pristine beaches, lovely communities, and lush nature–what else could your ask for? You can’t go wrong choosing a place in Guanacaste to live, but I recommend checking out Samara and Tamarindo–two beach towns with a strong expat scene.
Uvita is a small beach town on the southwest coast. It’s one of the country’s hidden gems that’s slowly but surely getting more attention. Although more Americans are heading to Uvita, you won’t feel like you’re living in a tourist trap. You’ll also find the iconic whale tail beach in the national park–need I say more?
For a true Costa Rican experience, living amongst the locals, Heredia is the place to do it. The province is just 15 minutes northwest of the capital San Jose. There are plenty of towns to choose from along the gorgeous mountains. If you’re interested in teaching English in Costa Rica, this is the place to do it. You’ll find loads of job opportunities and very affordable accommodation options. So, check it out!
Cost of Living
Is Costa Rica affordable? The short answer: yes. Compared to the United States, Costa Rica is a wonderful place to stretch your money. How cheaply or expensively you live depends on your preferences, but if you do as the locals do, you’ll be amazed at how far your money goes.
For example, the country’s typical dish is called a Casado, which consists of rice, beans, meat, vegetables, a salad, and plantains, and it costs about $5. If you’re in a more touristy part, it’ll be a bit more expensive. But either way, it’s a massive amount of food for just a few bucks–not a bad deal, huh?
Rent prices vary greatly from town to town, but you could find a comfortable place for around $500 a month. Now, that price can get even cheaper if you just rent a room from someone–I’m talking just $200 a month!
You could, without a doubt, live off $1,000 a month in Costa Rica and live a good life. Sure, there are places that can get quite expensive in the country, but it’s safe to say it’s much cheaper than the United States.
English is Everywhere (Almost)
Are you still brushing up on your Spanish skills? Don’t worry! In Costa Rica, you’ll find that a lot of people speak English–especially in the beach towns. Of course, you should take the time to learn Spanish, but it’s nice to know you can fall back on your mother tongue. Often, when you sit down at a restaurant, the menus will have an English translation below each item to make life that much easier. The farther you get away from the tourist highway, the less English you’ll find. Luckily there are several excellent Spanish schools for you to take classes.
Pura Vida Lifestyle
If you’ve done any research on Costa Rica, then you know about Pura Vida. It means Pure Life, and it’s the basis of how the country operates. For Costa Ricans, it’s a reminder to focus on the important things in life, like family, friends, and health. The phrase can also mean good morning, goodnight, hello, don’t worry, and almost anything else you can think of. It’s a different lifestyle than people from the United States are used to, so it might take a bit to get accustomed. But once you do, you’ll wish every country operated on the same frequency.
Costa Rica is a wonderful place to relocate to. The people are friendly, the economy is stable, and the visa process is a walk through the park. Once you get a taste of the Pura Vida lifestyle, it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. Safe travels!
Ryan Hichens is a freelance writer, digital nomad, and sucker for a good time. He’s a native Californian but has spent the last five years backpacking and road-tripping throughout North and South America. Check out his Instagram to follow along with his travels and writing.