Costa Rica is known as one of the happiest places on earth. And for good reason – Costa Rica is an extremely peaceful country (it has had no standing army since 1949) and the catchword is “Pura Vida” – “Pure Life”. Beyond that, there is an abundance of beaches, wildlife, jungles, adventurous trails, good food and smiles in the small country on the Central America isthmus, wedged between Nicaragua and Panama.
If you’re planning on moving to Costa Rica and becoming one of Costa Rica’s happy people, we’ve listed the nine most important things to consider before embarking on the journey:
Fortunately for US and Canadian citizens, no visa is required to enter Costa Rica – as long as you don’t plan on staying for more than 90 days, which is the amount of time your “tourist visa” is valid. If you’re intending to settle there, then you must file an application for residence in your country of origin, either through your local consul, or directly with the Department of Immigration in San Jose. It is recommended that you also hire an attorney in Costa Rica to handle your residence application, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.
Prospective residents have a wide range of options which require various levels of income. Check with your Costa Rican consul for full details.
2. Finding a place to live:
Finding a place for long-term rental in Costa Rica can be difficult. Most expats own their own houses, as it’s far more profitable for locals to rent their places as vacation rentals than as long term residences.
If you have the funds, buy a property. It’s a great investment, and you can have a property management company make sure it’s rented when you’re not around.
3. Moving your Pets
If you’re planning on bringing your cats or dogs, make sure you do it correctly. There are dozens of rules, and they can – and do – change. Contact the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR), a moving advisor, or a relocation specialist no less than two months before your move to make sure that you are doing everything right.
With the proper paperwork, cats and dogs do not need to be quarantined – but this means a certificate from your vet which must comply with the US Dept. of Agriculture format. This is critical. Wrong form? No pets – or a very long quarantine. Check with ARCR for changes in regulations.
All shots (except rabies) must be current within 30 days of bringing the animals to Costa Rica. One day late? No entrance. Rabies shots must have been administered more than 30 days before traveling, but less than one year.
Be VERY aware of special airline blackout periods when animals will absolutely not be accepted– with or without papers. Plan your departure to avoid them.
Try to only travel from any country when your local (or closest) Costa Rican embassy is open. Not at night! Airlines are often not current on the rules of importation of animals. They can and will prohibit your travel completely for some of the dumbest reasons, even if you are completely right. That’s why you need to be able to contact the Embassy during working hours.
4. Learning the Language
If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t panic. Many Americans who live in Costa Rica don’t either. It may sound crazy, but it’s actually not that easy to learn Spanish in many of the beach towns in Costa Rica, because English is almost the “lingua franca”. This is particularly true in Puerto Viejo where most locals have Afro-Caribbean English speaking roots.
Take some basic lessons, though, because even a smattering of the language will help you get along with the locals, taxi drivers, bus drivers, house cleaners, gardeners, and the other people who don’t speak English. Private lessons in Costa Rica cost about $10/hr. or you can enroll in a Spanish Language school
5. Moving with Kids and schooling options
Costa Rica is one of the world’s top destinations for relocation, with many Americans, Canadians, and Europeans moving there with children every year.
In the Costa Rica education system, you will find a number of private schools in addition to the public school system. The public school system in Costa Rica has two levels, primary and secondary. Be in touch with the Costa Rican school in advance to see in which level your child will be placed. The Costa Rican school year runs from February to December, with the longest break of the school year over December and January. Plan your move accordingly to start your child at the beginning of a new school year, if possible.
6. Working in Costa Rica
Finding work in Costa Rica is difficult unless you’re lucky enough to have been sent there by your employer. There are not that many well-paying jobs, and most places require legal residency, which is enforced by law to protect Costa Rican citizens. Even if you are a legal resident, the wages will be significantly lower than they are in Western countries.
You have two options to beat this problem: create your own business or work remotely, online.
7. Setting up a bank account
Opening bank accounts in Costa Rica can present its share of obstacles – but nothing you can’t handle! Expect many banks to require two or three letters of recommendation from other depositors, or if you are new to Costa Rica, from your foreign bank, and a copy of your passport – at the minimum. Unless you are a legal Costa Rica resident, most banks will not allow you to open a checking account at all.
Many banks offer online bill payment, but the best ones are the State (national) Banks, such as Banco Nacional, and their web site is only in Spanish.
Credit Cards: Banks issue credit cards, but the general policy is that you deposit twice the amount of your credit limit in a CD for a minimum of one year and sometimes even two years.
8. Transportation and Getting Around
In general, there is no problem driving a car in Costa Rica. But know one thing from the get-go – Costa Ricans drive pretty crazy, especially in San José.
There are no street signs, often no street lights, no addresses (at least not the ones you’re used to), no numbering systems, and with the exception of a portion of San José, the streets do not run perpendicular to one another. Furthermore, there are often large potholes that can cause serious damage to your car.
Once you get the hang of driving around Costa Rica, it is pretty easy, but if you live in a city, it might be better to take taxis and busses.
9. The expat community: meeting people and making friends
When you relocate to Costa Rica, even though it is considered the most expensive Central American country to live in, it is still far cheaper than the US. You can actually retire for under $2,000 per month with affordable, high standard health care, great weather and all the amenities you could expect in any developed country.
You will become part of an exclusive community of expats, most of whom are either in the same boat as you, or have been in the past, and others who may have many years of experience in Costa Rica. Join online expat clubs and forums. Most people are more than happy to share their experiences and help you settle in to your new surroundings.
Join local clubs and get to know people as soon as possible. You can even start doing that before you move. The quicker you start meeting local people, the sooner you will feel settled. Costa Rican people are very friendly and accommodating so making the effort to meet your neighbors, and participate in events organized by expats in Costa Rica.
Moving to Costa Rica is a dream come true. Make sure your dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare by preparing accordingly, making sure you are up to date on regulations, and hiring a reputable moving company with experience relocating expats to Costa Rica.