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Costa Rica

Moving to Costa Rica

If you have ever visited or seen photographs of Costa Rica, you already know that this Central American country boasts lush rainforests, towering mountain ranges, active volcanoes and 780 miles of coastline. Add in the country’s temperate year-round climate, and it is no wonder that many North Americans consider Costa Rica an ideal place to relocate.

As of the country’s last census, it was reported that Costa Rica’s population is 9% immigrants, the highest percentage in Latin America. If you have been dreaming of relocating to Costa Rica, read on to learn how to turn those dreams into a reality.

Reasons to Move to Costa Rica

People from around the world choose to make Costa Rica their home for a variety of reasons: to retire, to work, to learn Spanish or simply to experience another culture. While there are many reasons people make the move to an overseas location, Costa Rica is the choice of people attracted to:

  • Costa Rica’s culture of “pura vida”
  • A lower cost of living
  • High-quality, affordable health care

In addition, Costa Rica is a great choice for expats seeking:

  • Safety and political stability
  • Good internet and cellphone connectivity
  • Geographical diversity and climate

Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida”

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Native Costa Ricans — called Ticos — refer to the Costa Rican lifestyle as “pura vida,” which is Spanish for “pure life” or “simple life.” A pure life vibe is just what you can expect if you move to Costa Rica. The locals are known for their welcoming ways and easy-going spirit. In fact, Costa Rica ranks 15th on Forbes’ listing of the 20 happiest countries in the world and consistently rates at the top of the Happy Planet Index.

A peaceful nation, Costa Rica dissolved its military in 1949 to focus resources on maintaining a stable democratic government that puts conservation, education, health care and pensions for its population at the top of its political agenda.

Costa Rica is a world leader when it comes to protecting the environment. With an economy deeply dependent on ecotourism, the country is committed to achieving carbon neutrality or net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Cost of Living

Many expats are attracted to Costa Rica because it is a beautiful country with a low cost of living. A single person can live outside the big city centers for less than $1,300 a month, and that includes rent for a one-bedroom apartment, utilities, high-speed internet, a car and gas, food, a mobile phone, health care and medicines, and a reasonable amount of entertainment. Couples can live reasonably well on $2,000 a month.

For $4,000 a month, you and a partner can live comfortably in the capital city of San Jose or one of the more expensive expat-occupied coastal towns or interior developed communities. For families, the cost will be a bit higher depending on how big a home you need and whether you plan to send your children to an English and Spanish bilingual private school.

The average monthly private school tuition per pupil varies, although the English instruction International School of Costa Rica is a bit high, charging each student over $10,000 per year. Many families choose to send their children to Costa Rica’s public schools, which are quite good, but Spanish fluency is required.

High-Quality, Affordable Health Care

All Costa Rican citizens and permanent residents are required to sign up for Costa Rica’s public health care system, Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), referred to by the locals as “the Caja.” The annual cost is between 7% and 11% of your income. The Caja covers all doctor visits, prescription drugs, and medical procedures provided through the country’s public medical facilities, with no additional charges or copays.

While not required, some expats opt for additional private health insurance at an average cost of $150 a month, which allows them access to English-speaking physicians in private health care clinics. Private insurance also allows patients to bypass the wait times that many associate with Costa Rica’s universal health care system.

Stability

Costa Rica has the most stable and democratic government in Central America. Bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, Nicaragua to the north, and Panama to the south, Costa Rica offers its citizenry excellent education — from grade school through university — and a stable economy based on agriculture, tourism and electronics exports.

Good Connectivity

As long as you stay in a larger city or one of the more developed areas, you will have no problem with internet or cellphone service. Costa Rica has first-class connectivity when it comes to both. With this solid cyber infrastructure, you can easily stay in touch with family and friends back home, work remotely, and keep up with all your shows and movies with your favorite streaming apps. There are plenty of internet and cellphone coverage plans to choose from.

It’s also easy to travel to and from Costa Rica. There are two international airports — in San Jose and Liberia. The roads in and around the major cities are well-maintained, but you will need four-wheel-drive vehicles to get around some of the rougher terrain around the mountain areas.

Geographical Diversity and Climate

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Perhaps the most inviting aspect of Costa Rica is its geographical diversity and wide range of climates. Costa Rica is home to a rich array of primary and secondary rainforests, swamplands, wetlands, dry forests, mangroves and cloud forests, lakes, rivers and majestic waterfalls. The country has 800 miles of tropical coastline — 80% of which is found on the mountainous Pacific Coast, with the remainder found on the sandy Caribbean beachside of the country.

Although technically located in the tropics, Costa Rica has 12 climate zones that range from hot and humid to chilly and cold. In fact, the only three climates that are not in Costa Rica are the three that are least hospitable to humans: tundra, snow, and desert. Rather than the four seasons most North Americans are used to, Costa Rica has just two seasons: the rainy season from May to November and the dry season from December to April.

Choosing Where to Live in Costa Rica

With all of its beauty and geographic and climate diversity, choosing where to live in Costa Rica can be a challenge. The country is divided into five regions: Central Valley, Gold Coast, Southern Zone, Central Pacific and Arenal.

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Central Valley, home to Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, is a high-altitude plateau surrounded by mountains. This area, particularly the less-congested suburbs of San Jose — Escazu is a popular suburb — attracts many expats. Central Valley has great weather — the temperature ranges between 61 and 81 degrees year-round — and has all of the amenities of a modern city, including great restaurants, plenty of shopping, first-class health care facilities and diversity of entertainment. Many expats decide to make their home in San Jose or Grecia, a smaller town in Central Valley.

Immigration Pathways to Costa Rica

There are several straightforward ways to live temporarily or permanently in Costa Rica. If you are a retiree with a fixed income, have money in the bank, or have a decent chunk of change to invest, then pack your bags because Costa Rica wants you. If you’re not ready to retire and not quite ready or able to make a sizable in-country investment, don’t worry. There are still ways you can make a new home in Costa Rica and live the pura vida life.

Immigrate as a Retiree and Someone With Reliable Lifetime Income

If you can prove that you have a lifetime monthly income of at least $1,000 from a private pension, military pension, annuity, Social Security or some other retirement fund, you can become a temporary Costa Rica resident under the country’s Pensionado Program.

Although most pensionado visa holders are retired, there is no minimum age to qualify for the program. You can bring your spouse and children under 25 with you, although you may need to show proof of additional income for dependents.

Your temporary residency permit is good for two years and can be renewed as long as you can show that you lived in Costa Rica for at least four months a year and that the income you claim has been deposited in a Costa Rican bank. As a pensionado visa holder, you are allowed to establish a business or work for yourself, but you may not work as an employee of a Costa Rican company. After three years as a temporary resident, you can apply for permanent residency.

Immigrate as a Retiree and Someone With $60,000 Cash on Hand

If you don’t have a guaranteed $1,000-a-month income, you and your family can still emigrate to Costa Rica under the Rentista Program if you have at least $60,000 cash in a foreign or domestic bank account and commit to converting at least $2,500 a month into Costa Rican currency for at least two years.

Like pensionado visa holders, rentista visa holders are allowed to start a business or work on their own, but they can’t work as employees. The same rules for renewal of residency apply.

Immigrate as an Investor Willing to Pay $200,000 for a Business or Property

The third and last option is the Inversionista Program. This requires you to immediately invest at least $200,000 in an approved Costa Rican business or property. Once you make the investment, you can become a temporary resident as an inversionista visa holder, which also allows you to apply for permanent Costa Rican residency after three years.

Immigrate as a Digital Nomad or Other Dispersed Worker

If you can work from anywhere, then Costa Rica can still be in your future.

Most visitors receive a 90-day tourist visa when they enter Costa Rica. As long as you leave the country before that 90-day period has expired — many people take a day trip to neighboring Nicaragua or Panama to meet this requirement — you can re-enter the country for another 90-day stretch. The Costa Rican government is usually just fine with your status as a perpetual tourist as long as you do these visa runs when required.

Note that you can’t work in Costa Rica or start a business in the country as a tourist. While there are no guarantees — reissuing visas is always at the discretion of the government — as long as you are working at a remote job that is not location dependent and aren’t violating any visa requirements, you shouldn’t have a problem.

That said, Costa Rica is pioneering a new Digital Nomad visa through legislation. This will certainly open up new pathways for those who truly seek to work while getting their scuba-diving license.

Immigrate as a Student

Many international students choose to immigrate to Costa Rica to study at one of its more than 60 universities. Known for excellence in education, Costa Rica boasts three universities on the QS World University Rankings top 1,000 list — Universidad de Costa Rica in San Jose, Tecnológico de Costa Rica in Cartago, and Universidad Nacional Costa Rica in Heredia.

You have a couple of options for immigrating to Costa Rica as a university student. If you have an acceptance letter from a Costa Rican university, you can procure a provisional student visa from your local Costa Rican consulate. Once you enter the country, you have to register with the Ministry of Public Security. Then, you must schedule an appointment with the Immigration Office to apply for the resident permit.

Alternatively, you can enter the country as a tourist and, within 90 days of arrival, enroll in university and then apply with the Immigration Office for a resident permit as a student.

In either scenario, since you only have 90 days to get your resident permit, it’s important to start the residency process as soon as possible after entering the country. You can bring your spouse and children with you while you are studying in Costa Rica under a dependent visa.

Immigrate as an Essential Worker, Volunteer, or Researcher

You can apply for a provisional visa to live in Costa Rica if you are a volunteer, or are conducting research in the country. You can even be granted a work permit if a Costa Rican company hires you to do a job that can’t otherwise be filled by a local. To obtain these visas, you must coordinate with your sponsoring research facility, charitable agency or employer. The rules for temporary residency also apply to these visas.

Get Help With Your Move to Costa Rica

Ready to turn your dream of living the Pura Vida life into reality? Find support in your journey through Relocate. Dig-deeper into important topics for immigrating to Costa rica, and connect with qualified Advisors who can confidently address your Costa Rican immigration needs.

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