Moving to Costa Rica can be an enriching and enjoyable experience as it is widely known for its lush tropical landscapes, friendly people, and a relaxed, laid-back lifestyle. The cost of living can be lower than in the United States or Canada, but it depends on where you live and your lifestyle.
Basic expenses such as food, transportation, and utilities can be relatively affordable, but housing, healthcare and private education can be more expensive. Costa Rica has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons, dry and rainy season.
The country has a well-regarded healthcare system, both public and private options available. Spanish is the official language, but English is widely spoken in tourist areas and among the expat community. Costa Rica also has a vibrant expat community and joining groups or clubs can be a great way to make friends and find support.
It is well-known for its environmental conservation, which makes for a great natural environment, wildlife and many opportunities for outdoor activities. Safety wise, Costa Rica is considered generally safe but as in any other place crime can happen.
The culture of Costa Rica is rich, influenced by its indigenous heritage, Spanish colonial history and Afro-Caribbean community, is well known for its peaceful and friendly people and commitment to environmental conservation.
With all that being said, I have narrowed everything down to a list of 8 essentials things you should do before and after moving to Costa Rica. Let’s take a look at them
8 Things to Know when Moving to Costa Rica:
1. Do your Research
It is crucial to do your research before moving to Costa Rica, as it will help you make an informed decision about where you want to live, what kind of lifestyle you want to have, and what to expect in terms of cost of living, healthcare, and other essential factors. Researching different regions of Costa Rica can help you find the area that best suits your needs.
It’s important to research the cost of living in the area you’re considering and find out what the prices are for things like housing, food, transportation, and utilities.
Additionally, you should research the healthcare system, both public and private options. Find out what kind of medical facilities are available, as well as what kind of insurance you’ll need to purchase or enroll to be able to access them.
It’s also important to research the language, Spanish is the official language in Costa Rica, but finding out the level of English spoken in the area you’re interested in can be helpful.
Furthermore, information about crime rate and Safety should be considered, you can find this information through local news or contacting with local authorities.
Researching the culture and community of the area you’re interested in can also be helpful, find out about local events and festivals, and find out if there are any expat groups or clubs in the area that you can join.
Lastly, research the laws and regulations regarding immigration, you should be familiar with the visa requirements and the process of obtaining legal residency in Costa Rica.
Doing your research before moving to Costa Rica can help you make an informed decision and can ensure a smooth transition to your new home.
2. Apply for a Costa Rica Visa
To live in Costa Rica, you’ll need to apply for a residency visa. There are several different types of visas available, including the pensionado (for retirees), the rentista (for those with a steady income), and the inversionista (for investors). You will need to meet the requirements for the visa category you choose, and may need to provide financial or other documentation as part of the application process.
Applying for a visa to live in Costa Rica is an important step in the process of moving to the country. There are several different types of residency visas available, including the pensionado (for retirees), the rentista (for those with a steady income), and the inversionista (for investors).
Each type of visa has its own set of requirements and documentation that must be provided as part of the application process.
It’s important to research the visa requirements and ensure that you meet the criteria before you apply. For example, the pensionado visa requires a monthly income of at least $1,000 from a pension, while the rentista visa requires a steady income of at least $2,500 per month.
The process of applying for a visa can take some time, it’s recommended to start the process as soon as possible, to avoid delays and ensure that you have your visa in hand before you arrive in Costa Rica.
It’s recommended to use a lawyer or an immigration agent who will help you with the process, they will know the laws, regulations and process to follow, they will help you with all the paperwork, and will represent you in front of the immigration office.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that all required documentation need to be translated into Spanish and authenticated by a notary public, in case you are from a non-Spanish speaking country.
Once you have your visa, you’ll need to register with the government and obtain a national ID card (cedula) and register for Costa Rican social security. Once these steps are completed, you’ll be able to live and work in Costa Rica legally. Remember to renew your visa before it expires, otherwise you will lose your legal status.
3. Finding a Place to live
Once you’ve decided where you want to live, you’ll need to find a place to rent or buy. You can find a variety of housing options, from apartments and condos to houses and villas, depending on your budget and preferences.
It’s recommended to start your search for a place to live well in advance, as the process of finding a suitable place can take some time. You can search for housing options online, through real estate agencies, or by contacting local landlords directly. Keep in mind that you should ask for references from previous tenants before committing to rent or buy a property.
San Jose, the capital city, and other major urban areas like Alajuela, Heredia and Cartago have a wide range of housing options, but prices tend to be higher than in smaller towns or rural areas. Coastal towns, like Jaco or Tamarindo, offer a wider range of housing options and the prices tend to be higher than the inland towns.
If you’re planning to rent, it’s important to keep in mind that the rental market in Costa Rica can be competitive, and you may need to act quickly when you find a place that you like. Also, it’s important to have a comprehensive rental agreement, stating all the terms and conditions of the rental, to avoid issues in the future.
If you’re planning to buy a property, it’s important to hire a lawyer to review the contract and ensure that the property is clear of any liens or other issues. Keep in mind that the process of buying a property in Costa Rica can be time-consuming and requires a significant amount of paperwork.
Overall, finding a place to live in Costa Rica may require some patience and persistence, but with the right approach and planning, you can find a suitable place to call home.
4. Register with the government
Registering with the government is an important step when moving to Costa Rica. Once you have your visa and have found a place to live, you’ll need to register for a national ID card, called a cedula, and register for Costa Rican social security.
To obtain a cedula, you’ll need to visit a government office called “Cédula y Pasaporte” and provide the following documents: a valid passport, two passport-sized photos, proof of address (such as a utility bill), and proof of legal residence in Costa Rica (such as your visa or residency card).
To register for social security, you’ll need to visit the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS) office and provide the following documents: cedula, a proof of address and a birth certificate. After registering you will be assigned a Social Security number which will be used for accessing the health care system, pensions, and many other services.
It’s important to keep in mind that the process of obtaining a cedula and registering for social security can take some time and that you should start the process as soon as possible. It is also recommendable to get the help of a lawyer or an immigration agent who can help you with the process and paperwork.
Once you have your cedula and have registered for social security, you’ll be able to live and work in Costa Rica legally. Keep in mind that you will need to renew your cedula every five years, and make sure to renew your social security registration annually.
5. Set up utilities
Setting up your utilities when moving to Costa Rica is an important step in the process of getting settled in your new home. The process can vary depending on the specific service provider and your location, but here are some general guidelines to help you get started:
Electricity: To set up electricity service, you’ll need to contact the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE) or the local electric company in your area. You’ll need to provide proof of address and identification, such as your passport or cedula.
Water: You will be responsible for obtaining a water meter reading, and notify the company of the change of tenant. Most water services are provided by the local municipalities, contact them for more information.
Internet and phone service: To set up internet and phone service, you’ll need to contact a provider such as Kolbi or Claro. You may be required to provide proof of address and identification and you may need to pay a deposit to start service.
Garbage and recycling collection: Garbage and recycling collection services are usually provided by the local municipalities, contact them for more information about schedules and fees.
Cable and television: Cable and television services are offered by companies like Tigo, Claro, and Movistar. They offer different packages depending on your needs.
Keep in mind that some of the service providers will require a deposit, and others may require a contract. And that some of the service providers have a minimum time commitment. It’s important to research the different providers and options available in your area and to compare prices and packages before making a decision.
Also, is important to keep in mind that many service providers require proof of address and identification and may require a deposit to start service, some of them accept credit card, others only cash.
Additionally, you may want to ask your landlord or other tenants in your building for advice or recommendations on service providers and the process of setting up utilities in the area.
6. Register for healthcare
If you plan to use the public healthcare system, you’ll need to register and obtain the Costa Rican health insurance.
The healthcare system in Costa Rica is divided into public and private options. The public healthcare system is operated by the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS), and the private healthcare system is operated by independent providers.
To register for the public healthcare system, you will need to visit a CCSS office, and provide your passport, cedula and proof of address. You will also need to pay a monthly fee, which is based on your income, the fee can be paid in cash or by bank transfer. Once registered, you will be able to access a wide range of services, including preventive care, general medicine, and specialists. The public healthcare system has some limitations, such as long waiting times and not all the specialists may be available.
To register for private healthcare, you will need to contact a private healthcare provider and sign up for a plan. Keep in mind that private healthcare can be more expensive than public healthcare, but it often offers more specialized care and shorter waiting times. Some of the private healthcare providers have agreements with foreign companies, so you can check with them before making a decision.
It’s important to research the different healthcare options available in your area and to compare prices, services, and coverage before making a decision. Some private companies may require some medical exams before approving your plan, and others may have a period of pre-existing conditions that is not covered. Keep in mind that once you register with a healthcare provider, you must renew your registration every year.
7. Learn Spanish
Learning Spanish when moving to Costa Rica can be an important step in the process of getting settled in the country. Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica and it is widely spoken throughout the country. Even though English is spoken by some Costa Ricans, especially in tourist areas, learning Spanish can help you navigate daily life, such as shopping, banking, and interacting with your neighbors.
There are several ways to learn Spanish in Costa Rica. One option is to take classes at a language school, where you can study with a group of other students or with a private tutor. Many language schools offer intensive, full-time courses as well as part-time, evening, and weekend classes. Some also provide language classes as part of their service package when you move.
Another option is to take online Spanish classes, this way you can take the class at your own pace and schedule.
Living in Costa Rica and being immersed in the language is also a great way to learn Spanish, this way you can practice what you’ve learned in real-life situations. You can also find Spanish-language movies, music, books and other materials to help you improve your language skills.
Learning Spanish can be a challenging task but it will open many opportunities to you, such as better communication with locals and opportunities to expand your social circle, business opportunities and a greater understanding of the culture and society.
8. Make Social Connections with other Expats and Locals
Making social connections when moving to Costa Rica is an important step in the process of getting settled in the country. Costa Rica is known for its friendly people and strong expat community, which can be a great resource for newcomers.
One way to make social connections is to join expat groups or clubs, such as the American Association of Retirees or the International Women’s Club. These groups often organize social events and activities, such as meetups, language exchanges, and cultural events, that provide a great opportunity to meet new people and make friends.
Another way to make connections is to participate in local activities and events, such as festivals, concerts, and sporting events. This can be a great way to meet locals and other expats and to learn more about the culture and customs of Costa Rica.
You can also use online resources like social media, to connect with people. Websites such as Facebook, Instagram, or Meetup have groups and pages specifically designed to connect with expats and locals. Another way is to attend local events, for example, a football match, a concert or festivals in your area, this way you can meet people who share similar interests and make new friends.
Keep in mind that building social connections takes time, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, join groups, attend events, and be open to meeting new people. You will find that with patience and persistence, you will make social connections that will enrich your experience of living in Costa Rica.