You have finally decided to move to Costa Rica! A lifetime of hard work and a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude has finally provided an opportunity for this escape. A new life in one of the happiest countries on the planet awaits, and you couldn’t be more ready to get started.
The next big decision immediately presents itself. Where are you going to live when you’re there? No doubt, you have a few areas of the country in mind. But this is a tough and important choice. Do you go for cooler temperatures in a cloud forest setting? Is the beach the ideal spot to settle? Do you want the conveniences of big city life, or is a rural life sounding nice?
My team at Costa Rica Immigration and Moving Experts has assisted hundreds of individuals and families in their move to Costa Rica. One of the first questions we are always asked is, “Where do you suggest we live?” That is a hard one to answer because it simply depends on the individual. Our most common response is to highlight certain areas of the country and provide them with the positives and negatives of each area. But there are not many negatives that come up in the conversation, no matter where they might live!
Some drawbacks of living in Costa Rica as an expat include the high cost of living in certain areas, limited job opportunities outside of tourism, occasional bureaucratic hurdles, language barriers for those not fluent in Spanish, and cultural adjustment challenges. Additionally, healthcare quality may vary outside the major urban centers.
So, with this in mind, we’d like to highlight some of the most popular areas to call home here in Costa Rica. Keep in mind that my list could be much longer, and I am not inferring that these locations are the be-all-end-all! There are many many more conversations to be had about finding the ideal place to live in Costa Rica — but this is a great start.
7 Best Costa Rica Expat Communities
1. The Central Valley
Notable Destinations: San José, Escazu, Santa Ana, Atenas, And Grecia
San José has all the conveniences of a big city in the U.S. and Canada. Banking, shopping, excellent internet service, and so many museums, theaters, and restaurants are here for all to enjoy. Over 5 million people live in Costa Rica, and more than 3 million live in this area.
About 15 minutes west of San José are two towns popular with the expat community. Escazu and Santa Ana, about 4 miles away from each other, have so much history, a perfect blend of Costa Rican culture, and the conveniences of many of the residents’ home countries. Much of this area is located on the side of a mountain, so the views of the Central Valley below are breathless. Many upscale restaurants are located here, as well as historical churches, homes, and other neighborhoods rich with culture.
The Multiplaza in Escazu is a popular mall that caters to the high-end shopper, with many luxury brands having a presence there. It has three stories and is a must-see destination.
Atenas is in the northwestern area of the Central Valley. In the 1800s, it was used as a resting place for the oxen and horses that were making the trip from the Central Valley to the Pacific port town of Puntarenas. Farmers used to haul their coffee, sugarcane, and other goods to the port for international distribution. Now, Atenas is known for its immaculate climate and is home to many expats who live a very quiet life there. It has the best of both worlds, being very close to San José’s airport as well as the Pacific beaches!
Alajuela is the second-largest city in Costa Rica known for its warm hospitality, historical significance, natural beauty, and a blend of urban amenities and a laid-back atmosphere. Alajuela is also associated with its proximity to Juan Santamaria International Airport, making it a common entry point for expats and travelers exploring Costa Rica.
The city’s Parque Central is a hub of activity and a great place to unwind and immerse yourself in the vibrant local culture. Whether you’re seeking historical landmarks, natural marvels, or the authentic charm of Costa Rica, Alajuela promises a memorable experience.
Finally, Grecia is a town that is near and dear to my heart. When I am in Costa Rica, I love to take the bus from San José and travel about 35 minutes north to Grecia. The bus station houses many stores that serve the best gallo pinto and coffee! It also has a central park with an iconic red metal church that has been there since the late 18th century.
Many expats live in this area. This is Costa Rica at its finest. Rolling hills and close proximity to San José and all points north make Grecia a perfect place to spend a lifetime.
2. The Central Pacific Coast
Notable Destinations: Jaco Beach, Quepos, Esterillos Este, And Esterillos Oeste
There are two coasts in Costa Rica. To the west, you will find the Pacific Ocean, and to the east, you will enjoy the Caribbean Sea. With places like Jaco Beach, Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepos, Esterillos Este, and Esterillos Oeste, many expats call the Central Pacific Coast home.
It is much more humid here than in the Central Valley, and at times the heat is challenging. Costa Rica is closer to the equator than Florida or Arizona. So when you’re out in the sun, be sure to cover up with either a wide-brimmed hat or lots of sunscreen. There are many famous beaches in this area, as well as two beautiful marinas and many mountains and national parks in Costa Rica.
Jaco Beach is popular for a long weekend. Those who live there enjoy the party atmosphere and the close proximity to many of Costa Rica’s natural wonders!
Located on the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is a popular tourist destination known for its stunning white sand beaches and lush rainforests. The area’s highlight is Manuel Antonio National Park, known for its wildlife and adventure activities, such as horseback riding, zip-lining, and white-water rafting.
Manuel Antonio is also home to the largest LGBTQ+ community outside of the San José area. Manuel Antonio is worth considering if you are looking for an alternative lifestyle. However, due to its popularity, you are most likely not going to find any “steals” when it comes to real estate.
3. The Caribbean Coast
Notable Destination: Limón
For some reason, this area is not as popular among tourists. It is at times hard to get to because of the difficult-to-navigate roads and because of the mountain range that lies between the Central Valley and this area. With that said, there is so much history here.
Limón, for instance, was the original spot where Christopher Columbus and his team of sailors first set foot in Costa Rica. Obviously, there is a huge Caribbean influence here. People from Jamaica and other eastern Caribbean islands were brought over as workers, sometimes enslaved, to build the railroads in the 1800s, and they decided to stay when they were liberated. Caribbean cuisine, dance, music, and culture make this area a wonderful place to visit and live. It is not densely populated and has incredible beauty.
4. The Southern Pacific Zone
Notable Destinations: Dominical, Ojochal, And Uvita
Up until about 20 years ago, the roads that led to this area were not paved. It was hard to get there from the Central Valley and even from the Central Pacific Coastal areas. Now, the towns of Ojochal, Dominical, and Uvita are very popular among the expat community!
This area of the country is much greener. Everything is lusher, and as a matter of fact, it’s one of my favorite areas. Life is quiet here. You are surrounded by so many natural wonders, such as the Whale’s Tail, Corcovado National Park, Drake Bay, and the Osa Peninsula, to name a few. Whale watching is popular in this area as well. Many expats and retirees call this area home, and they are blessed to be there!
5. Guanacaste Province
Notable Destinations: Playa Flamingo, Playa Del Coco, Playa Tamarindo, And The Papagayo Peninsula
The northwestern areas of the country are so beautiful as well. Many expats live around Playa Flamingo, Playa del Coco, Playa Tamarindo, and the Papagayo Peninsula. Each small town here is as beautiful as the last. They have a small-town feel, but tourism is booming. Just to the west, you will find many national parks and nature reserves, and also the Arenal Volcano!
The Guanacaste International Airport, located in Liberia, has made this area very accessible in the past 10 years. This part of the country ranks high in popularity among the expat community.
6. The Nicoya Peninsula
Notable Destinations: Nosara And Samara
This area of the country lies south of Playas del Coco, Flamingo, and Tamarindo. It is actually the home of one of the five “Blue Zones” in the world. People live longer here. Many live to be over 100 years old. Secluded beaches, yoga retreats, and the towns of Nosara and Samara are draws for expats who want a peaceful, long life with Mother Nature surrounding them.
7. Towns Around Arenal Volcano
Notable Destinations: La Fortuna, Tilaran, Caño Negro, And Pocosol
A popular tourist area, Arenal Volcano National Park is a huge draw for visitors who want to relax, birdwatch, hike in the cloud forests, soak in the many hot springs, and enjoy all that Costa Rica has to offer.
The many small towns near Arenal Volcano have become popular havens for expats. Towns like La Fortuna, Tilaran, Caño Negro, Pocosol, and other wide spots on the road are perfect for expats who want to get away from it all and become one with nature. Being in the shadow of Arenal Volcano allows for a lot of outdoor time. This leads to a healthy lifestyle and a stress-free existence.
My goal was to highlight a few starting points to reference when considering a move to Costa Rica. Take your time in deciding where to live. Many individuals and families rent for a short period of time in a certain area to solidify and confirm that their decision for that particular area was the right one!
No matter where you decide to live in Costa Rica, keep in mind that this country is close to the size of West Virginia. The geography allows you to be anywhere in a very short period of time. You will always be close to a volcano and a mountain range, the Pacific Coast beaches and a dense jungle, and a big city as well. Day trips are very popular. This is indeed one of the big positives if you decide to live in Costa Rica.
Enjoying life in Costa Rica is a blessing. You may just find yourself referring back to this article in a couple of years to help you decide what part of the country you’re going to be calling home!
Why Should Expats Choose to Live in Costa Rica?
In Costa Rica, you’ll find a tropical paradise with beautiful beaches, national parks, and beach towns that blend local culture with modern amenities such as international restaurants. Costa Rica is politically stable and offers good medical care. Also, many Costa Ricans speak English.
What Part of Costa Rica Is Best to Live in?
Popular expat destinations include coastal towns along the Central Pacific Coast. San Jose in Central Valley, as the capital city and cultural capital of Costa Rica, is also hugely popular among expats, while the Gold Coast of Costa Rica is friendlier and has a more relaxed atmosphere.
Where Is English Commonly Spoken in Costa Rica?
English is primarily spoken on the Eastern Coast of Costa Rica due to its population’s Jamaican heritage. Also, in major tourist areas like San Jose and popular destinations like Jaco and Tamarindo, you will find that most residents can effectively communicate in English.
Is Costa Rica Expensive for Expats?
Costa Rica has become one of the most expensive places in Central America, especially on its Pacific Coast and in Costa Rica’s capital, due to the high import taxes imposed by the government. For those who can afford it, Costa Rica is a great country to retire in.
Are Expats Happy in Costa Rica?
The 94% majority of expats living in Costa Rica rate their overall quality of life as excellent or very good. For a country so small, it has a plethora of popular expat towns due to excellent international schools, a great private hospital network, and safety.