Though Costa Rica may be small, this Caribbean country has much to offer. The landscape is chock-full of awe-inspiring geographical features, including rainforests, beaches, canyons and even volcanos.
Expats moving to Costa Rica often flock to the country to enjoy an excellent quality of life in its picturesque environment. In fact, not only do expats enjoy a good quality of life, but they may even expect to live a bit longer by relocating to Costa Rica, as the country has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
Another key drawcard for expats moving to Costa Rica are the friendly locals. As the country is a well-known tourism hotspot, locals are accustomed to foreigners and are typically quite welcoming.
Living in Costa Rica as an expat
Expats in Costa Rica are sure to come across plenty of British, Canadian and American retirees drawn to this stable democracy’s affordable healthcare, low cost of living, magnificent climate, friendly locals and spectacular views. Roughly 10 percent of Costa Rica's population is made up of foreigners.
The capital, San José, boasts the best nightlife, shopping and restaurants in Costa Rica. Centrally situated, with gorgeous architecture alongside modern galleries and cafés, San José offers expats an ideal base from which to explore the rest of the country, ranging from sleepy, picturesque villages to lively resort towns.
Those looking to work in Costa Rica may 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.
Expats will also find plenty of accommodation options that are suitable for different budgets. Most expats will live in apartments or standalone homes. Those who can afford it will find themselves in luxury villas that are often home to sought-after amenities such as gardens and pools. Fortunately for expats, utilities are usually included in the rental fee in Costa Rica.
Cost of living in Costa Rica
While Costa Rica is renowned for its affordability, the country has seen an uptick in the cost of living, with the 2023 Mercer Cost of Living Survey ranking San José. This is up 76 places from its 2022 ranking of 139th.
Still, Costa Rica's low cost of living remains one of its biggest drawcards, especially for retirees looking to enjoy their golden years in the sun. Retired expats from the likes of the US and UK find that their pensions from back home can stretch significantly further in Costa Rica.
Housing in Costa Rica can be significantly cheaper than the national average in the US, and healthcare is affordable as well as high quality. Markets sell local fresh fruit and vegetables at low prices, so eating healthy is not only easy but also inexpensive.
Families and children in Costa Rica
Though Costa Rica is largely thought of as a retirement destination, expat families can also find an exceptional quality of life here. Local schools teach in Spanish, but there are several international schools scattered around the country. The majority teach the US curriculum in English, though there are a few that offer other options, such as the International Baccalaureate.
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 and their spouses access to free public healthcare. Many expats also take out a private insurance policy and use a mix of both public and private healthcare.
Thanks to Costa Rica's beautiful natural landscapes, parents will also find themselves spending more time outdoors with their children. Some of the most popular outdoor activities, include surfing, swimming, hiking and kayaking. With access to a volcano and rainforest, children will never be without activities to do at the weekend.
Climate in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a favourable climate allowing plenty of sun and surf, with most days being in the range of 77°F (25°C) to 90°F (30°C). This, of course, is useful for exploring the country's bounteous natural beauty – just be sure to remember the sunblock and to stay hydrated.
Expats who move to Costa Rica initially come to the country for a short stay, but, with friendly locals, good infrastructure and a stable political situation, it's no surprise that they frequently decide to settle down here for good.
Population: 5.2 million
Capital city: San José
Neighbouring countries: Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the southeast.
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. The landscape comprises 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 tipping extra 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 pricier but more flexible than bus travel. Foreigners can drive with a valid licence from any country for the first three months of their residency.
What do expats say about living in Costa Rica?
"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.
►Check out some first-hand accounts of Expat Experiences 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.
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