I have been visiting and periodically living in Costa Rica since November of 2002. During my maiden trip here, I simply fell in love with the people, the culture, and, of course, the biodiversity.
For the past 15 years, my business partner and I have been assisting individuals and families with their moves to Costa Rica. We help them acquire residency and legal status and also are here to answer every question imaginable about moving to another country and what needs to be done to be happy here.
It’s a pleasure to watch the excitement grow when they finally decide to move. It is more exciting to keep in touch with them and, perhaps a year or two later, find out that they are so in love with their new life in Costa Rica. Here at Costa Rica Immigration & Moving Experts, we provide up-to-date information on the laws, requirements, and documents required to successfully become a resident of Costa Rica.
Does this sound familiar? You’ve finally decided to uproot your family and totally rearrange your lives. You’ve come to the conclusion that the grass is indeed greener on the other side! Your spouse and children are totally on board. Now, it’s go time!
Costa Rica’s 22 microclimates, her beaches, her mountains, waterfalls, tropical birds, and volcanoes are all awaiting your arrival! This is an exciting time of your life and moving here will be much easier than you may think! Here’s everything you need to know.
1. What Do You Need To Do Prior To Moving To Costa Rica?
First, you’re going to have to set a firm date for your move. You’ll need to cancel your electricity service, your water, your waste pickup, your streaming services, and your cable and internet as well. You need to consider whether you’re going to ship your vehicle(s), your furniture, and all of your household goods to your new home or, are you going to start fresh with everything new?
Perhaps you do want to purchase everything when you get here, but you have a rocking chair that was owned by your grandmother. There’s no way that you want to leave that behind! How about all of those winter clothes? The jet skis. . the trampoline? How about your wife’s designer shoe collection? Your tools? You can’t forget about your pet(s). Do you have a house to sell or if you’re renting, when is your lease up? All of these “things to do” have to be considered, agreed upon, and then addressed.
Shipping To Costa Rica
If you’re going to ship your household goods, you will need to contact a receiving agent here in Costa Rica and advise them that you plan on moving on a specific date and that you want a quote “door to door” for either a 20-foot or 40-foot container. By providing the agent with your postal zip code, they will provide you with a very accurate cost for shipping.
Pro Tip: If a vehicle is going to be involved in the shipment, typically a 40-foot container will be required.
If you do have a pet(s), you will need to coordinate this with your airlines and also read up on the current requirements for domestic animals to enter Costa Rica.
2. Have You Decided Where You’re Going To Live In Costa Rica?
And Are You Renting Or Buying?
It may seem stressful, but I think this is the fun part. There are so many different areas of Costa Rica that I love. I know you will find the perfect place if you decide to retire here. No matter what you decide, everything has to be in place and ready for you when you arrive.
Many people rent for the first year or so to have some time to decide exactly where they want to call home forever! If you have purchased a home in an area that you end up not liking, then you’re stuck. So, this is a very important decision.
In addition, if you are purchasing a home, do you have an attorney and a real estate agent that you can trust? Are the legal papers all in order?
3. Are You Going To Begin The Residency/Legal Status Process Now Or Remain A Perpetual Tourist?
If you have decided to become a resident, there are many steps involved. Start the process immediately. There are legal papers to gather. You need to find someone to assist you. You need to pay some fees up front and stay in touch with the company, individual, or legal firm who is assisting you.
In addition, there are three major statuses to consider. Which status is right for you?
Or, are you going to remain a so-called perpetual tourist (at least for a while)? If you do, you will have to leave Costa Rica every 90 days and have your passport stamped in another country. There are variations and restrictions in doing so. You will have to be comfortable with the hassle (or opportunity, depending on how you frame it) of perpetual tourism.
4. How Can You Get The Medications You Need In Costa Rica?
It is highly recommended that you bring a list of the medications you currently require, and if possible, an additional month’s supply. In most cases, your prescription needs can be filled here at the local pharmacy or at a local hospital dispensary.
Pharmacies can and do dispense medications without a prescription being required. There may be cases where your brand of medicine is not available but an alternative or generic substitute is typically available.
5. What About Health Insurance In Costa Rica?
Health Insurance is not only available, but the Government promotes the purchasing of policies. Here you can purchase insurance to cover certain aspects of your anticipated requirements. For example, you can purchase a policy to cover costs of medications, a policy for hospital stays, or a policy for doctor visits — or any combination of the three.
The only restriction is that the policy can only be purchased for the length or duration of your visa. Once a person has made an application for a legal status, that time restriction no longer applies.
In addition, at the time of approval of your application for residency/legal status, you’ll be obliged to join the national health program commonly referred to as the Caja. This is the social services government agency that takes care of Costa Rican citizens and legal residents when they’re sick, injured, or in need of emergency services. Your monthly fee depends on how much you declare as guaranteed income when applying for residency/legal status.
When you become a member of the Caja, you will have doctors and hospitals at your disposal throughout the system. Costa Rica has one of the best health services in all of Central and South America and has a 911 system just like the U.S.A.
Pro Tip: There are many expat groups that will also guide you in finding out more about the medical services available here.
6. How Much Does It Cost To Live In Costa Rica?
Initially, you must decide if you’re going to live like a tourist or like a Tico/Tica! For example, if you go out to eat every night, take many trips, and buy a lot of expensive items, your monthly spend could be upwards of $5,000. If you want to live comfortably, with a few frills, and even grow your own fruits and veggies, then you can live on $2,000 per month.
You need to set your own pace and find your comfort zone financially. Rent will be less expensive in certain areas of the country. But if you want to rent a penthouse in Escazu, it could cost you $4,000 a month. My friend has a two-bedroom apartment very close to Sabana Park in a very safe area of San Jose and he pays $525 a month. He is very comfortable living there.
Pro Tip: Be sure to spend a lot of time gathering information on areas of Costa Rica that will fit into your budget. Try to find that comfort zone that will provide an enjoyable lifestyle in the range that you can afford.
7. Can I Drive In Costa Rica?
Upon arrival in Costa Rica, you will proceed to the immigration desk and will receive your visa. That visa shows that you are a guest of Costa Rica, typically 90 days for North Americans.
Having a valid visa allows you to drive here legally. Once your visa expires, then your driving rights expire as well. This is the reason why so many people do the border runs every 90 days. Your visa is stamped again at the border and this renews your visa, typically for another 90 days. You may continue to drive here until that visa extension expires.
Note: When an applicant has submitted paperwork to immigration and is given the right to stay in the country for longer than 90 days without needing their visa renewed, they still must leave the country every 90 days to renew their visa in order to continue to drive legally.
8. Do I Need To Learn Spanish To Live In Costa Rica?
The short answer is No! I have friends who have lived here for many years. For some reason, they haven’t taken the time to learn the native language. They get along fine.
Many of the Ticos and Ticas do speak English. In the smaller towns, perhaps this is not the case. However, I would certainly suggest that you take the time to learn Spanish. Your life and daily experiences here will be more fulfilling. You will meet so many more people who will, in turn, become your friends. You’ll be able to carry on deeper conversations and relate to the people and the culture with passion and spirit.
Learn Spanish at your own pace. Practice what you’ve learned the night before when you’re out and about the next day. Your progress will quicken. Before you know it, perhaps in a year or so, you will be fluent and your world will expand in a positive way. You will be appreciated more and you’ll feel the love!
Pro Tip: The entire moving process can seem overwhelming at times. It’s really easier than it looks. Do your due diligence, surround yourselves with people who have done this before, and learn from their mistakes. There are many Facebook groups that have thousands of members who are there to answer all of your questions. Do lots of research on the internet and then take it step by step. Everything will fall into place! And most of all, consider the prize. Once you’re here and all settled in, you’ll look back and be very proud of yourself for having the courage to start a new life in one of the happiest countries on the planet: Costa Rica! Pura Vida.
Final Word: We highly recommend visiting the website for the U.S. Embassy here in Costa Rica as well.