Top 10 Questions About Living in Costa Rica

Considering living in Costa Rica?
Living in Costa Rica isn’t always easy, but it sure is nice when you have time to relax!

After living in Costa Rica for nearly a decade, I have been asked just about every relocation question you could think of.  What is the cost of living?  Is it safe?  Can I work there?  So today, I decided to put the top 10 questions in writing as there seems to be a general lack of information out there.  There is a comments section at the bottom if you have questions or something to add.  We’d love to hear from you.

What is the cost of living in Costa Rica?

The answer to this question really depends on how you live.  If you live meagerly, eating local grown foods, drink a lot of water (it’s safe to drink), use the public transportation system, use a fan instead of air conditioning, and stay in a one bedroom apartment, it’s feasible to get by on as little as $1,000 per month.  It’s actually pretty expensive to live here if you want to live like you do in the United States or Canada due to steep import taxes, which average anywhere from 30 – 70% of the cost.  For example, the average new mid-size 4×4 SUV will run you around $50k+ or a 10 year old used Pathfinder or 4Runner in seemingly decent condition (careful with used cars here) will go for around $17k.  A nice two bedroom home with view could cost anywhere from $700 – $2,000 per month, depending on the location, quality and circumstances.  Therefore, if you wish to live comfortably with your own vehicle and a nice house, count on at least $2,200+ per month.

Is Costa Rica safe?

Costa Rica in general is a stable and safe country, without an army for over 60 years.  FTI Consulting Firm rated Costa Rica as the safest country in Central America in its 2014 Latin America Security Index.  While violent crime is rare, petty theft crimes of opportunity are not as rare, though a little common sense can go a long way in preventing it.

Is quality healthcare available in Costa Rica?

Yes.  The World Health Organization (WHO) rates Costa Rica 36th in the world for overall healthcare quality.  The United States is rated 38th in the same category.

Can I work in Costa Rica?

You can legally work if you are a permanent resident, somehow manage to obtain a legal work permit for specialized work, or if you own your own (registered) business.  In the latter case, you are permitted to manage your own company, but cannot perform other tasks.

How long can I stay in Costa Rica?

A standard tourist visa lasts 90 days, though this is subject to change.  Visit the Costa Rica Embassy site for detailed information.

What are the different types of residency?

The previously mentioned Costa Rica Embassy page lists detailed information on this subject.  The Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR) is also a helpful resource.

  • Pensionado – Among other requirements, must prove a set amount of monthly income from a retirement fund or permanent pension.
  • Rentista – Requires a large cash deposit in a Costa Rican bank or proof of a set income for at least two years, guaranteed by a banking institution.
  • Investor – The primary requirement is a sizable investment in a Costa Rican business.
  • Representante – Must be a director of a Costa Rican company meeting a variety of requirements.
  • Permanent – Possible for first degree relatives of Costa Rican citizens or you may apply after 3 years with any of the other residency statuses.

Are Costa Ricans friendly?

Costa Rica ranks #1 in the Happy Planet Index.  Now that does not mean that you should take an evening stroll on the streets of San Jose, but it does mean that in a general sense, Costa Ricans are very warm and welcoming people.

Where should I live?

Hmmm… do we have another top 10 list in the works?  Playa Hermosa, Tamarindo and Samara are all popular Guanacaste beaches for expats.  Jaco, Domincal, and Manuel Antonio are all popular beaches for expats on the Central and South Pacific.  Puerto Viejo is a popular area to relocate to on the Caribbean side.  Nuevo Arenal in the Lake Arenal area, Monteverde, and San Isidro de El General in the southern mountains have sizable expat communities for those that prefer mountains over the beaches.  Of course, many end up in the more convenient cities of the Central Valley such as Cariari, Escazu, and Santa Ana.

Should I buy a house or rent?

My best recommendation would be to rent for at least a year before buying a house.  It is much different to live here than to go on a highlight reel vacation.

Will I be able to open a bank account?

I hesitate to write on this topic as there is a lot of gray area under current regulations.  Currently foreign citizens can open a bank account, but need to bring a utility bill, proof of source of income, original identification, and a minimum deposit amount.

*Bonus Advice

You will find that things are much easier down here if you own a Costa Rican company (sociedad anonima).  A sociedad anonima can be used for everything from simply owning land or a vehicle in the name of a company (great benefits to doing it this way), to creating a real working business.  It also makes it easier to get a phone, set up utilities, open a bank account, or many other things that can be difficult down here as a foreigner.

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