Discover how to make friends as an expat in Costa Rica, or anywhere else. From joining expat groups to volunteering, learning Spanish together, and more, we hope these tips will help you find your tribe and broaden your circle.
If you could move anywhere in Central America, chances are that Costa Rica is at the top of your list. After all, it has a good reputation as one of the safest and the most stable country in the region. And we haven’t even mentioned the natural beauty and friendly population that brings in so much tourism.
In fact, Costa Rica might well have more expats from the United States, Canada, and Europe than any other country in the region. We’ll save the old “expat or immigrant” argument for another day, although it’s an argument worth having.
We say “might well have”, because it’s very difficult to determine exact expat numbers in Costa Rica
There’s no way to pin down the amount of long-term tourists doing the visa-run shuffle, those with residency, those in-country under the digital nomad visa, and those illegally in Costa Rica. Well, there is, but no-one does it to a uniform degree. Pre-pandemic (educated) guesses were that Costa Rica had some 50,000 to 100,000 “expats” from the U.S., Europe and Canada. As opposed to some half-a-million “immigrants” from Nicaragua.
Other Central American countries have smaller gringo expat numbers than those mentioned above. It’s estimated, for example, that around 35,000 U.S. and Canadians live in Panama, with lower figures elsewhere in the region. But again, as with Costa Rica, exact numbers are tough to determine.
On a base level, we suppose, you could argue that Costa Rica receives more tourists than the other countries. So it makes sense that the amount of those tourists who end up staying is higher. That’s natural.
So it should be easy for expats in Costa Rica to make friends, right?
If there are so many others in similar situations and if the local population is as friendly as they say.
Yes, it’s possible to make friends in Costa Rica. But as in any other location, getting “out there” can be challenging for some people. We’re not all extroverts, after all. This guide offers tips for networks and making friends in Costa Rica or any other place as an expat.
Whether you’re fresh off the plane or an expat veteran looking to expand your circle, we hope you’ll find some ideas below.
1. Join expat groups or associations
While having local friends is good, there are always times when you want to intermingle with people you can relate to, like fellow Americans/Canadian/whatever. Think about the Super Bowl or other sporting events, for example.
One of the best ways to connect with other expats is by joining expat groups or associations. InterNations organizes social events, language exchanges, and other activities to help you meet new people.
Another way to find fellow expats is by joining an expat group online. You’ll find tons of Costa Rica expat groups on Facebook, for example. And although many of these can be toxic, they also give you friend-making opportunities for real-life meet-ups.
Curious about what expats really think about the places they move to? Check out the Expat Insider 2022 survey to see how your country or city ranks. https://t.co/j7ot6w6lq8
— InterNations (@InterNationsorg) December 23, 2022
2. Take a class – Learn the language
Spanish classes are a great way to meet new people. Sure, you can take online classes, but you’re trying to get out there and meet people, remember? Going out to old-school classes means you’ll meet – in real life – other students who are also learning the language and are likely to share your interests.
If you already speak Spanish, congratulations. You’re ahead of the curve. But that doesn’t stop you from taking classes. Costa Rica, like everywhere in Latin America, is perfect for dancing classes (salsa, cumbia, etc.). That’s a great way to connect with people, locals and expats alike. You can also take cooking classes, art/photography classes, or anything else to meet people with shared interests.
Learning Spanish in Central America is essential for knowing the region, and not enough expats and tourists bother to try. New languages are hard to learn but the payoff is worth the hardship.https://t.co/AurMW4dlKp
— Central America Living (@VidaAmerica) December 7, 2022
Volunteering is a fantastic way to get involved in Costa Rican life and give back to the community. There are many volunteer opportunities available in Costa Rica, and it’s a great way to meet locals and other expats.
Volunteering for causes close to your heart can be rewarding because you’re participating in a worthy course. But it offers more than fulfillment. You also get to meet people with shared passions and ideas, which are the foundation of strong friendships.
Research local charities that offer volunteering opportunities. There’s plenty to do, from the wildlife and environmental projects that Costa Rica is famous for to educational, social, and sporting projects like, for example, Tacos4Ticos. There’s no real domestic violence database in Costa Rica, but contact organizations like CEPIA Costa Rica if you want to help out in this field. They’ll be happy to give you more info.
Working as a volunteer will allow you to identify others you can relate to and create friendships with.
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4. Get a job/work
If you’re able to work in Costa Rica, why not do it? If you’re a digital nomad/remote worker, consider working in a public space/shared space a couple of days per week. It will give you access to other digital nomads and allow you some solid networking opportunities.
One great way to meet people and make friends through work in Costa Rica is as a travel consultant. You’ll not only meet a bunch of fun, driven people, but you’ll also get to travel the country with them, enjoying no end of adventures!
5. Attend cultural events
Attending cultural events is a great way to experience the local culture and meet new people. Whether it’s a festival, concert, or other cultural event, it’s an opportunity to socialize with locals and other expats.
One great example of a cultural event in Costa Rica is the annual Holi celebrations organized by the Indian community. Events like this bring foreign residents and interested locals together and help form bonds and friendships. Other events include the annual July 4th picnic and (previously) the Queen’s birthday organized by the embassies of the United States and the UK, respectively.
— Central America Living (@VidaAmerica) March 26, 2023
It’s possible to make new friends sitting in a bar watching sports while drinking beer. That’s not what we’re talking about here, though.
Getting physically active is an excellent way to improve your health and make new friends. From 10k runs and half-marathons (which is a great community in Costa Rica) to Iron Man contests, surfing, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (another great community), you’ll meet people as passionate about their sport as you are.
And then you can all go out for a beer together afterward, and watch the game safe in the knowledge that you have something more in common than beer and football.
Jiu Jitsu has taken off all across LatAm
You can find a legit BJJ gym in every city over a million people in Latin America
— Jake Nomada 🌎 See Pinned Tweet (@JakeNomada) March 30, 2023
7. Say yes to people
At first, you might be skeptical about accepting invitations from people you don’t know, which is understandable. But don’t let fear or being introvert get in the way of making friends. Learn to say yes to invitations from people you’ve met through any of the methods mentioned above. There’s no way to get to know someone better unless you spend more time with them.
If you feel a good vibe from the person inviting you for coffee, a beer, or whatever, take the offer. But trust your gut, too, and don’t lower your guard.
We hope we’ve given you some ideas on how to make friends as an expat in Costa Rica
The ideas shared here, though, can apply anywhere, not only Costa Rica. If you’re an expat looking to expand your social scene anywhere in Central America or elsewhere, all the ideas listed above are equally applicable.