Moving to Costa Rica | Country Guides | I Love International Moving

Moving to Costa Rica – All You Need to Know

Posted Country Guides / July 5, 2013
Jane Davis

Apart from being a freelance writer and moving expert, Jane is also an art and museum lover.

In times when you get tired of your job, everyday life, when everything seems so dull and repetitive, the idea of living somewhere where life seems so much more simple and easy-going has probably crossed your mind several times. Hence, it is no wonder that the idea of moving to Costa Rica is the reason why so many seniors cannot wait to retire and pack their bags. But it is not just them. Many young people and families are also looking to relocate to this tropical paradise in Central America. So there has to be more than sun and sand behind that, right? Let’s explore the options and see what life in this country has to offer.

A Brief Newcomer’s Guide to Moving to Costa Rica

More than two million tourists every year visit this beautiful country with shores on both the Carribean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Almost 5 million people are living here, and 50.000 of them are Americans who decided to live and work in Costa Rica. If you are looking to join them and continue your life as a Tico, then keep reading to find out how you can do that.

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9 Ways to Start the Adventure Called: Living and Working in Costa Rica

The most wanted pieces of information are the ones concerning your legal stay in the country. First of all, there are several ways to obtain a Costa Rican residency permit. But all of them are temporary since only after three years, you can apply for a permanent one. The exception is if you have a first-degree family member who has citizenship. In that case, you are in a much better position. Pretty much everything else depends on the income. But let’s take a look at all the options you have for visiting and becoming a full-time Tico.

  • Tourist visa: when coming as a tourist, you can stay up to 90 days, and you will get a free three-month visa at customs. We recommend coming here first as a tourist, to explore the state and see if you could actually adapt to life here.
  • Perpetual tourism:many use this hack to “live” here for years without having a residency. Before your 90-days tourist visa expires, you just go out for an extended weekend to Nicaragua or Panama and come back. You will get another 90 days. Although many do this, we still recommend living there legally, instead of using perpetual tourism.
  • Permanent residency: this is available exclusively to first-degree relatives like parents, siblings, and children (under 25). Until 2010, foreigners were able to obtain citizenship through marriage, but that is no longer possible. Now, after having any type of temporary residence visa for at least three years, foreigners have the right to apply for permanent residency.
  • Pensionado temporary residence: this visa is for people who are retired and receive at least $1000 per month. You can bring your spouse or children under 18, and even open a company, but you are not allowed to work in it.
  • Rentista temporary residence: this visa requires that you have confirmation from a bank or an investment firm that you will receive at least $2,500 per month for the next five years.
  • Inversionista temporary residence: for this type of visa, you have to invest at least $200,000 in a business or real estate, and you will also get a working permit but only for that one business of yours.
  • Work visas:it’s really hard to obtain a work visa as a foreigner, but not impossible. You can start a business while on your tourist visa and provide working places for locals, or get a sponsorship by a local company, in case they can prove that there are no locals who are qualified for that job.
  • Student visa:to get a student permit, you will first have to apply and be accepted for an educational program. You cannot apply unless you have a certificate issued by the institution in which you want to study.
  • Volunteer permit: another great way to travel across the state and live like a local is to apply for a volunteer program, and then ask for a volunteer permit. You can search for all the information and available programs at RCDP International Volunteer and embark on a life-changing journey.

Finding a Place to Live in Costa Rica’s Green Paradise

This Central American nation has something for everyone. Whether you want to live in a rainforest, next to the beach, up in the mountains, or in the city. But keep in mind that infrastructure, prices, and climate vary depending on the landscape, so make sure you have all the information before you rent a place.

Costa Rica is a small country, but it has as much as 99 micro-climates. Even though everyone comes here for the warm climate and sunny beaches, we recommend you explore the country first, before deciding where to settle down. We will now introduce you to the five main regions, but wherever you go, we recommend that you find a local expat community that will help you adapt to the new surroundings.

Costa Rica’s Gold Coast

The Pacific coast stretches along the northern part of Guanacaste province, and it is also known as the Gold Coast. This is your typical picture-perfect heaven with hot weather, prime sandy beaches, and palm trees. There are several places suitable for expats, but the majority of them settle down in a town called Tamarindo, which has around 6,000 residents. An airport is just an hour away, making it very convenient for Americans and other tourists to come here. Life in Tamarindo is very vibrant due to tourists and expats, but it also offers that slow-paced lifestyle of a small beach town. Bottom line, you get the best from both worlds.

The Central Valley

Also known as GAM, which stands for the Greater Metropolitan Area of the capital town of San Jose. The area in and around San Jose offers the best infrastructure, and you can choose whether you want to live in San Jose, or outside of the capital, closer to the fields of coffee.

Here you will be settled between the two coasts, so regardless of the beach you are heading to, you will have to drive for an hour or two. Central Valley is not expensive, it’s still friendly towards expats, and the climate is more spring-like.

The Central Pacific

Another popular region for foreigners and tourists is the Central Pacific area, where the majority of locals from San Jose come to spend a weekend at the beach. You can choose among towns like Dominical, Uvita, Jaco, or Ojochal. They are all highly praised for their beaches and restaurants; some of them even have shopping malls and thriving expat communities.


If you are looking for something different, and a home on the beach is not your priority, then how about a home with a lake view? Lake Arenal and its volcanic surroundings are welcoming locals and expats who are looking for affordable housing, beautiful nature, serenity, and an ideal spring-like climate. Arenal is around three hours’ drive away from the capital and offers a slow-paced lifestyle for anyone looking to settle down in quiet surroundings.

The Carribean

This side of the country’s coastline has a rainy, jungle-like climate. The most famous place is Puerto Viejo, a mecca for expats who have been coming here for years for a vacation, to find a job, travel, and live. Puerto Viejo is less than an hour from the southern state border with Panama, which is why it is so praised among perpetual tourists. Here you can also find breathtaking beaches, and enjoy a dash of Carribean culture different from anything you will see on the Pacific coast.

Is Getting a Job as a Foreigner a Challenge?

Yes and no. The unemployment rate is below 10%, which is great news, but it can be challenging for foreigners to start a business or find a job because the Costa Rican government is protective of the local workforce. They have a high percentage of educated people, so an expat can expect to get a job only if there are no locals who qualify to do it. Make sure you get all the information about the situation in your profession before you put on pink glasses and start daydreaming.

However, there are some multinational companies, and there is always a chance. So make sure to research the job market, and do not forget about important relocation questions to ask your employer. They will provide you with information about your work permit and documents needed to travel abroad. If you do not have a job waiting for you, the process can last, and it will all depend on your luck and skill.

The Cost of Housing

Life here is not as expensive as in North America or Europe, but it can still get pricey, depending on what you are looking for. For example, when we compare it to other countries of Latin America, it is more expensive. Generally speaking, you could live just fine with $1500 per month and even less. That is, if you are not based in touristy places, and you are eating local food instead of eating out in restaurants every day.

On average, one person needs around $747 per month, excluding rent. According to Numbeo, a one-bedroom apartment in the city center can cost around $532 per month, while in the suburbs, it can cost almost $100 less. For those who are looking to purchase a property, the price per square meter in the city center is $1739, while outside of the center is around $1458.

Making the Decision to Move

It is never easy to leave your home and move across the world. But luckily for Americans, this piece of heaven is not that far and living “Pura Vida” while having the opportunity to travel around such a beautiful and diverse land is the dream of many. If you are worried about how to keep in touch with friends after moving abroad, do not. If you move here, expect that your friends will gladly come to visit you more than once.

You can ship your belongings internationally by sea, and also consider overseas vehicle shipping. Purchasing imported cars comes with some extra duty fees, so shipping your old vehicle could save you some money. Use professional packing services if you need help with boxes and packing supplies, or you want to use storage while you are away.

Do Not Forget to Bring a Dictionary

One of the things you should know before relocating abroad is that although English is spoken worldwide, there are still some places where you will have to put effort into learning a new language abroad. The official language is Spanish, but locals speak their version called Costa Rican Spanish. A Creole-English is spoken along the Carribean coast, and besides that, there are five local indigenous languages, which are still in use in some areas.

In coastal towns and Central Valley, you will easily communicate in English, especially with younger people. Still, there are some areas where you should expect to have some problems with communication if you do not know basic Spanish. So the best would be to start learning Spanish on time, and if you need a dictionary – find it, it will help you with breaking down the language barrier when relocating abroad.

Ready to Join the Ticos?

Tico and Tica are typical nicknames for local people, and as a nation, they like to call themselves Ticos because they tend to add tico as a diminutive at the end of many words. It sounds annoying at first, but it’s actually sweet, and you will get used to it eventually. We hope we covered all the burning questions when it comes to living and working in this amazing land. It’s now up to you to determine how you will spend your best years in this tropical paradise.

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