Expats moving to Costa Rica will find a small, popular tourist destination known for its year-round tropical climate, impressive natural scenery (including rainforests, beaches, canyons and volcanos) and great quality of life. In fact, not only do expats enjoy a good quality of life, they may even live a bit longer by relocating to Costa Rica, as the country has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
The country also has plans to become carbon neutral by 2021 – happy news for expats with fears of irresponsible tourism practices.
Expats in Costa Rica are sure to come across plenty of British and American retirees and tourists. It is estimated that more than 30,000 US retirees call the tiny country home, drawn to this stable democracy’s affordable healthcare, low cost of living, excellent climate and spectacular views.
Those looking to work in Costa Rica will find it difficult to secure a work permit unless they have exceptional skills. Although pensioners are allowed to own and profit from businesses in the country, Costa Rica is not considered ideal for investment.
Costa Rica’s healthcare is top quality, particularly in San José’s private hospitals, and as a result, it is a popular medical tourism destination. Residents are required to subscribe to Costa Rican social security via monthly contributions, giving them access to free public healthcare. Many expats also take out a private insurance policy as well as use a mix of both public and private healthcare.
Despite a favourable climate allowing plenty of sun and surf, there are downsides to living in Costa Rica. The country is at risk of seismic activity, making earthquakes and volcanic eruptions an ever-present danger. Hurricanes and flooding can also occur in the rainy season. Although still fairly rare, violent crime against foreigners and tourists is steadily rising, and burglaries and theft are also a source of concern, but expats can avoid falling victim by staying aware of their surroundings and taking basic safety precautions.
Most tourists tend to steer clear of urban centres and instead flock to the country’s natural surrounds, which range from sleepy, picturesque villages to lively resort towns. The capital, San José, boasts the best nightlife, shopping and restaurants in Costa Rica. Centrally situated, with gorgeous colonial architecture alongside modern galleries and cafés, the city offers expats an ideal base from which to explore the rest of the country.
Population: Around 5 million
Capital city: San José
Neighbouring countries: Nicaragua and Panama
Geography: Costa Rica lies on the Central American Isthmus, the narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea linking North- and South America. Bordered by Nicaragua in the north and Panama in the south, it also has a number of islands in the surrounding waters. The landscape is comprised of peaks and volcanos, as well as lower plains and forests.
Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic
Major religion: Christian
Main language: Spanish
Money: The Costa Rican Colón (CRC) is divided into 100 centimos. ATMs and card facilities can be found in all major urban centres.
Tipping: Most places add a 10 percent service charge to their bill, but extra tipping for excellent service is appreciated.
Electricity: 120V, 60Hz. Flat two-pin plugs and three-pin (two flat blades with a round grounding pin) plugs are used.
Internet domain: .cr
International dialling code: +506
Emergency contact: 911 (general), 117 (police), 118 (fire), 128 (ambulance)
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. Buses are the most commonly used form of public transport and the cheapest way to travel. Taxis are more expensive but more flexible than bus travel. Foreigners can drive with a valid licence from any country for the first three months of residency.
"I enjoy surfing in the ocean every morning. Nothing feels better than waking up on the waves! I would rate the quality of life as much higher [than Florida]! No traffic, no pollution, smaller community, and less commercial development." Read more about the highs and lows of Jenna's expat experience in Costa Rica.
"I have a mix of friends who are expats from all over the world and locals. Once you meet one good local friend they will introduce you to other locals. As far as meeting other expats, head to the beach or the local ice cream shop and don’t be afraid to spark up a conversation, everyone is so happy here and willing to give good advice." Read more of Jason's thoughts about expat life in Costa Rica.
Are you an expat living in Costa Rica?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Costa Rica. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
With 86 million customer relationships in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.
GeoBlue is one of the best international health insurance plans for US expats abroad or internationals residing in the USA. The GeoBlue Xplorer plan includes worldwide coverage and great customer service with access to a premium international network of hospitals and doctors including the Blue Cross Blue Shield network in the USA.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.