“You live in Costa Rica? You’re so lucky!” are words we hear almost daily from friends in other countries. The good news is you can also move to Costa Rica! It’s not an impossible goal, but there are some things you should be aware of before you decide if moving here is right for you. It’s an amazing country, but it is definitely not one long tropical beach vacation!
How We Moved to Costa Rica
Thomas and I moved to Costa Rica in January of 2016 from Germany. We had been looking to leave Germany for a while but didn’t have any particular destination in mind. After a few months of researching different destinations and applying to jobs abroad, Thomas was offered a job in San Jose, Costa Rica. He was definitely hesitant about it at first because the company wanted him to start in less than two months. I, on the other hand, was like, “Let’s pack our bags! We are moving to Costa Rica!” I’m just spontaneous like that.
Eventually, I convinced Thomas that we should go. Within the next month and a half we sold all the furniture in our apartment, had my dad visiting for two weeks, had a friend sleeping on our couch for a week until there was no couch left, quit our jobs, ended the lease on our apartment, had a big goodbye party, and attempted to plan our move. It was definitely a lot to take on!
I don’t think it’s normal to board a flight to a new country and breathe a sigh of relief, but that’s exactly what we did. We had finalized everything in Germany and we were on our way to live in a country we had never visited. I can’t even begin to explain the rush that goes into landing in a country you have never been to in order to begin a new life there. I’ve done in twice now, and man, nothing compares.
We fell in love with Costa Rica instantly. I mean, keep in mind it was January and we had come from cold weather in Hamburg to sun and heat in San Jose. That alone was enough to win us over. However, it was definitely not just the weather we loved.
We quickly realized that people from Costa Rica (Ticos) are some of the nicest and happiest people you will ever meet. It was weird for us to move to a place where everyone was more than happy to help us adjust to our new life, but that is exactly what we experienced. A new friend helped us find a permanent home, our landlord helped me look for jobs, our neighbor invited us to do things with her family. What a treat this was for us!
Eventually, we adjusted to life in Costa Rica and started to explore this diverse country more. After spending a year living, working, and traveling we started Costa Rica Vibes to help people who are interested in visiting Costa Rica while sticking to a budget.
And the rest is history!
Anyway, now that you know our whole story, I’d like to share with you how you can also move to Costa Rica.
How to Move to Costa Rica Legally
Residing legally in Costa Rica is not an easy task. In fact, it is rather difficult to deal with. Even by going through an immigration lawyer the whole process can sometimes take several years. Yeap, you read that right, YEARS!
Thomas works for a company that dealt with all the residency permit stuff for him. He had to provide them with some forms such as his birth certificate and police record and his company took care of the rest. By having a company sponsor you for a residency permit you are allowed to move to Costa Rica for the length of time that you are employed. This is probably the simplest way to go about the residency permit process.
Another way to go about getting a visa is to buy property. If you buy a piece of property exceeding $200,000 you are able to secure a long-term residency.
If you are retired and receive a lifetime pension exceeding $1,000 a month you are also able to move to Costa Rica and get a residency permit called pensionado.
Also, if you have a guaranteed income stream or can invest $60,000 into a Costa Rican bank that will be paid out to you in the amount of $2,500 a month for two years, you can also secure a residency permit.
There are exceptions to these rules, for example, if you marry a Costa Rican (or a nice German with a residency permit 😉 ) you may secure a residency permit that way.
You can also start a business in Costa Rica and get a residency permit that way.
My suggestion is to get in contact with an immigration lawyer here in Costa Rica. All the info I have stated here is from last time I researched things, but a lot is changing with the new president and it can be difficult to keep up with. Everything is confusing and would be difficult to navigate on your own, especially if you are not fluent in Spanish.
If you do not have a residency permit you can stay in Costa Rica for 90 day periods of time. You then need to leave the country for 72 hours before reentering. This used to be a great way to live in Costa Rica for foreigners because it is easy to cross the border into Nicaragua or Panama for a few days. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult. Border control officers are definitely cracking down. Also, with the current political situation in Nicaragua, it is not the safest to use Nicaragua as a border run destination any longer.
Costa Rica Living Cost
Costa Rica is definitely not the cheapest country in the world, but you can definitely survive on under $2,000 a month. It is possible to live on the cheap, but if you are used to certain luxuries from home, you will find them to be much more expensive here. The reason for this is the crazy high import taxes.
We save money by doing most of our food shopping at our local weekly farmer’s markets (which you can find all over the country), staying in cheap places when we travel, rarely going out to restaurants, and buying all of our clothing, electronics, etc. while visiting my family in the US.
We definitely suggest buying any new laptops, cameras, phones etc. that you are thinking of purchasing before moving here.
Costa Rica Living Standard
Costa Rica is continuously listed as one of the happiest countries in the world, and we can confirm it really is an extremely happy place. The weather is almost always perfect, everyone is usually relaxed, you can live on a small salary, and you are surrounded by amazing places to explore.
However, you will need to change your mindset here. Some of the things that may be standard parts of life in your home country are considered luxury here. For example, not every house has warm water in sinks. Showers typically have an electric water heater. You usually can not flush toilet paper down the toilets. A lot of roads and sidewalks are not well maintained like you are used to.
These things were definitely strange for us at first, but you get used to them. After almost three years it all seems normal.
How to Find a Home in Costa Rica
If you do not need to move to a specific place in Costa Rica and are flexible with your relocation location I suggest taking a trip here for a few weeks to scope out which area of the country would be best for you. We have a destination page which can assist you in getting an idea of the vibe in each part of the country.
While on your trip, if you decide where you would like to make your permanent home you should have no trouble finding a place to rent or buy. There are always plenty of places looking for new occupants.
I suggest checking the websites Encuantra 24, OLX, Craigslist (I find most of these listings are from foreigners and are on the nicer but more expensive side). These sites are great not just for apartments but for finding used furniture as well. There are also always apartment listing on various Costa Rica Facebook groups.
Another option is to walk or drive around the area you would like to live in once you are here and look for “for sale” and “for rent” signs. We found a lot of great prospects this way.
Definitely, do not commit to any place before you move here. Pictures can be deceiving. We looked at a lot of places that seemed OK from the photos online, but in real life, they were not well maintained or in bad areas.
We asked our landlord about this and she said it is not uncommon for tenants to trash apartments here. It is usually too expensive for the owners to fix the problems so they just fix them on the surface and rent the place again.
If you are interested in buying a place it can be a great investment. Property is fair priced here and you can do a really good business if you rent your house out a few months of the year to tourists.
Working in Costa Rica
Most foreigners move here and start their own businesses or work online. It is not easy to find a job here unless you are recruited before moving. The reason it is difficult to find work in Costa Rica is that most companies do not want to deal with the whole residency permit process. Thus, it is difficult to find Costa Rica expat jobs.
For example, I was working as an English teacher before moving here and I thought I could continue to do that once we arrived in Costa Rica. I had more than sufficient qualifications and knew that there were tons of jobs available. Unfortunately, nobody wanted to hire me because I didn’t have a residency permit. Instead, I started working for myself online and did the whole leaving every 90 days thing until Thomas and I got married.
If you also teach English and would like to live in Costa Rica there are now TONS of websites you can use to teach online and make a great income. Some of the more popular sites are VipKid and DadaABC.
Health Insurance in Costa Rica
You should definitely have health insurance while living in Costa Rica (or while living anywhere really). This is a foreign country and you might find you’re not used to things here and get sick easier.
If you work for a Costa Rican company you will pay into the government health insurance called CCSS. The other option that some people have is INS. I would highly recommend doing your own research on this topic because for everyone the health insurance requirements are much different. There are also several companies that provide long-term international health insurance.
If you plan to move to Costa Rica for short time I recommend just getting travel insurance. I always use World Nomads and have had nothing but great experiences with them.
Staying Connected in Costa Rica
We use the wireless internet provided by our apartment and have no problem. Occasionally when there are big storms the power will go out for a few minutes, but it doesn’t last long.
As far as cell phones go, I would not buy a phone down here. They are extremely expensive. Basically, you will pay double what you would pay in the US for a phone. I would buy an unlocked phone in your home country and bring it with you here.
You can go to a cellphone service provider (we both use Kolbi) and they will set you up with a SIM card for a prepaid account. It is extremely cheap and you can add more minutes at most grocery stores. I don’t use my phone for the internet, but I usually only spend about $6 a month. If you want a regular plan you can ask around, but I think it is possible to get a plan including internet flat rate for about $20 a month. Most people I know just do prepaid though because it is so cheap.
Costa Rica uses the same type of outlets as the US. Just be aware though that in some older building the outlets are two-pronged instead of three-pronged.
I hope this helps you to decide if a move to Costa Rica is right for you. Please feel free to leave us any questions in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out! Also, if you live in Costa Rica and have some more tips for other people, please pass them on. The more knowledge we can share with each other the better off we all are. 🙂
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