Moving to Costa Rica

Ten Reasons Why Moving to Costa Rica is a Great Idea (Plus Ten Reasons Why You Shouldn’t)

Are you planning on moving to Costa Rica? Here’s a handy checklist to determine if making this move is a good idea for you or not.

Moving is always an exciting moment in life. It fills you with hopes and dreams of a fresh new beginning, filled with anticipation and joy. But it also comes with a fair amount of stress as you do all you can to ensure a smooth move.

But what happens if you’re not moving to another city, town, or state? What if you’re moving to a new country like Costa Rica? There’s a lot you need to think about and a lot of research to do.

Costa Rica has become a popular place for people to move to, or at least consider moving to. But will Costa Rica work for you?

Sure, there’s the political stability, the great weather, and the natural beauty. These are the pros they all talk about on International Living and similar sites. But what else should you consider when thinking about moving to Costa Rica?

You might not think there’s much more to consider.

By that, we mean Costa Rica is on the map nowadays. It’s no longer a “secret spot”, beloved of surfers, backpackers, and adventurers. If you’ve never been to Costa Rica, you surely know someone who has. And Time Magazine just named Costa Rica as one of the World’s Greatest Places of 2021, so now you can bet even more people will take notice.

Some of the features Time Magazine included were Costa Rica’s efforts in renewable energy, the measures it’s taken to reverse deforestation, and the level of safety protocols put in place for COVID-19 in the tourism sector.

So, if you’re expecting to move to Costa Rica and have it be your secret hideaway, you may need to think again. That doesn’t mean you’ll find Costa Rica crowded with expats and you can’t find your private slice of heaven. It just means it’s not the secret it once was.

This can be a good thing, because you can make friendships with locals and expats, which can help you to settle in faster and easier.

Then there are the logistics of moving.

Whether you’re downsizing or not, you need to ask yourself if you plan on taking your belongings with you and, if not, what will you do with them?

Perhaps you’re not ready to sell everything yet. Maybe you plan to move it all to Costa Rica one day, or maybe you’ll move back to your home country in the future, and want to keep your things.

This is when short and long-term storage options make sense.

There are moving companies that will store your stuff for any specified amount of time, keeping it safe and secure until you are ready to take it.

If you plan on using a storage solution, be sure to shop around to get quotes, as they’ll range in price and services.

But beyond the logistics, there’s the reasoning for the move and a natural fear about the move. 

Moving abroad is a big step and it’s scary. Is Costa Rica right for you, no matter what they say in Time Magazine or what the real estate people tell you? Are you doing the right thing? Is Costa Rica the right country for you? How will you know?

In all honesty, there’s no way to know until you’re actually here on the ground in Costa Rica. But before you arrive, you can look at some of the points below and see how they play out in your mind.

Below are ten reasons why moving to Costa Rica is a good thing to do. We counter these reasons, for the sake of balance, with ten reasons why moving to Costa Rica might not be for you, at least right now.

We hope this helps you figure out, at least to some extent, if Costa Rica is a good fit for you or not. In the end, only you know this.

Ten reasons why moving to Costa Rica is a great idea:

1. You’re looking for a new adventure

If you’re an adventure seeker, there’s no better place in the world to move to than Costa Rica. Of all the countries in the world you could move to, you’re choosing the eco-adventure capital of the world.

Costa Rica is a country famous for outdoor activities like rafting, surfing, hiking, zip lining, and so much more. With tropical beaches, rainforests, mountains, volcanoes, cloud forests, and a myriad of national parks, you won’t get bored living in Costa Rica. It’s an adventure paradise.

And for the more sedentary, Costa Rica is also a great place to move to. Adventure doesn’t always mean physical activity. After all, if you live in Costa Rica, there’ll come a time when you’ve rafted and zip lined and hiked your heart out. There’s plenty of adventure in keeping an open mind. In learning a new language, experiencing a new culture, new food, new friends, a new way of life.

Whatever your definition of adventure is, Costa Rica offers it in spades.

2. Affordability

There’s no doubt that compared to elsewhere in Central America, Costa Rica is expensive. But compared to where you might be coming from, it could be cheap. Or at least cheaper.

If you’re prepared to live a simpler, more basic lifestyle, you’ll find Costa Rica refreshingly affordable.

For those of you moving to Costa Rica from North America or Western Europe, you’ll find the following less expensive:

  • Rent
  • Labor
  • Healthcare/Dental
  • Prescription drugs
  • Public transportation
  • Fresh produce (local meats, fruits, vegetables)
  • Cell phone plans

A good rule of thumb is to compare Costa Rican prices to a small Midwestern or Southern state in the U.S. You can more or less determine Costa Rica to be around the same, or more expensive.

But compared to California or New York, for example, it’s much cheaper.

If you’re flexible and don’t mind a few basic lifestyle changes, you can still live a good life on a limited budget in Costa Rica.

3. Residency

People complain about residency in Costa Rica, saying there are too few options and categories for them. But the truth is, Costa Rica is a very open country, with very few demands on foreigners seeking residency. Sure, there are hoops to go through, but it’s a straightforward process, if lengthy.

Right now, Costa Rica wants to make it even easier for foreigners to get some form of residency.

In July 2021, a bill went into law which brings down the minimum investment for the rentista category of Costa Rica residency from $200,000 to $150,000. This makes it easier to invest in Costa Rica than before.

Furthermore, a brand new remote worker visa is now law in Costa Rica. This allows you to work remotely in Costa Rica for up to two years if you fulfill certain requirements.

And if you don’t want residency (and there’s no reason why you should in the first year, at least while you’re still deciding if the country is for you), Costa Rica is still an easy country to live in.

Thousands of expats do “visa runs” every three months.

While it’s true that Covid restrictions have made visa runs more difficult, the fact remains that Costa Rica still welcomes most expats with open arms.

Costa Rica is still one of the easiest countries in the world to jump on a plane and move to.

4. Safety

Safety in Costa Rica is a hot button issue on the expat Facebook groups. You see a divide between those who think it’s the safest paradise ever and those who think the place has gone to the dogs.

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

As far as Central American or even Latin American standards go, Costa Rica has a good reputation for safety. The perception is that most crime in Costa Rica is spontaneous, petty, and non-violent. For the most part, this is true, and Costa Rica certainly has one of the lowest homicide rates in Central America.

The vast majority of tourists and foreign expats who come to Costa Rica experience no crime whatsoever. They have a wonderful time and feel very safe, no matter what the U.S. State Department or anyone else says.

Bad stuff does happen, of course, but most violent crime occurs in the drug trade, in areas of the country where you have no business going to.

If you take reasonable precautions, stay sensible, and exercise the street smarts that you’ll use anywhere else in the world, there’s no reason why moving to Costa Rica would put you in any danger.

There are thousands of expats living in Costa Rica who don’t spend their lives worrying about crime and safety. If you came, you would almost certainly be one of them.

5. Healthcare

There’s a lot to be said for the standard of healthcare and healthiness in Costa Rica. After all, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica is one of the few Blue Zones in the world, where people routinely live to over 100 years old. These places are few and far between, but the common denominator between them is that they support long, healthy lives and lifestyles.

With its gorgeous climate and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, Costa Rica is perfect for maintaining a healthy way of life.

And as an expat moving to Costa Rica, you’ll be surprised at the high standard of private hospitals. You’ll get world-class treatment for a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere. Same thing with dental services.

Costa Rica even sells itself as a medical/dental tourism destination.

Those of you with residency can access the local public healthcare system. Here, you have access to plenty of treatments and prescription drugs as part of your monthly Caja payment.

If you’re coming from the United States, you’ll see no-one goes broke in Costa Rica paying for healthcare.

6. Working

If you’re a remote worker, Costa Rica is a great place to come and live. Not so long ago, the internet in Costa Rica was slow and patchy, especially outside of the Central Valley. Now, for the most part, those days are gone, and you can get a good connection pretty much anywhere.

There’s no need to live in Costa Rica anymore and stay unconnected from your office back home. You can even set up your own online business if you want!

7. A relaxed, “pura vida” lifestyle

Ah pura vida! Those two little words (meaning “pure life”) sum up everything positive about Costa Rica. Pura vida is a lifestyle, a low key, laid back approach to things. It attracts stressed out gringos from the cold north like moths around a lightbulb.

Costa Ricans are, you see, compared to our countries, super relaxed and chilled. They live in a beautiful, tropical country with stunning scenery and amazing weather. Nothing seems to phase them. This is why so many foreigners fall in love with Costa Rica.

If you move to Costa Rica, you’ll find your blood pressure lowering, your anger abating, and your happiness growing. It’s that kind of country.

8. The weather

Costa Rica’s climate is amazing. And if you don’t like the climate in any one part of Costa Rica, go to another part and it’ll be different. Or wait awhile where you are, and the climate you seek will come to you.

Ignoring the old real estate sales patter about Atenas (a town between the Central Valley and the Pacific Coast) having “the best climate in the world”, the truth is, any given spot in Costa Rica has the best climate in the world, depending on what that means to you. After all, don’t they say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad preparation?

For those who prepare, Costa Rica has something for everyone, except for that unrelenting cold winter misery us northerners yearn to escape from. If you like rain, fog, and sunshine (often on the same day), you’ll love Costa Rica.

In all seriousness, Costa Rica’s Central Valley has near perfect weather. You don’t need heating and you don’t need AC. The temperature is… perfect. Day in, day out, rain or shine, 365 days a year.

At the beach it’s hot. Hot and tropical, which we love. Who doesn’t love shorts and flip flops all year? And the rain, when it comes, washes out the heat and creates millions of shades of green you never knew existed.

There’s nothing like relaxing in a hammock on a rainy day with a beverage at hand, listening to the sounds of the jungle and the patter of water hitting the tin roof above you.

The weather in Costa Rica makes you feel alive in a way it doesn’t elsewhere. You’ll realize that when you move here.

9. Infrastructure and accessibility

There was a time when Costa Rica was famous for its bad roads, bad internet, awful cell phone network, and, well, you get the picture.

Back in 2000, San Jose Airport was a hectic mess and it took all day to get to the beach. You had to join a waiting list to get a cell phone number from ICE, who were the only (state-owned) providers.

This was only 20 years ago, but given the improvements since then, it feels like a lifetime has passed. That Costa Rica of 2000 is almost unrecognizable now. Cell phones are as ubiquitous in Costa Rica as anywhere, and coverage is pretty universal. The roads are way better, you can access fast internet, and the power doesn’t go out (as much).

Anyone moving to Costa Rica now will have easy access to the rest of the world through two beautiful, world-class airports.

Costa Rica is an easy place to travel to and from, and an easy place to live. It’s come a long way and that’s something to be grateful for.

10. The people

If you’re thinking of moving to Costa Rica, you’ll be happy to know you’re coming to a country filled with some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

You get bad apples everywhere, of course, but you’ll find most Costa Ricans charming, helpful, and happy to show you their country.

And then you have your fellow expats. Anyone who takes a chance in life and moves to a foreign country has something about them. An adventurous streak, a taste for the wild side. Expats are often some of the most interesting people in the world.

It won’t be long until your circle of friends covers many different nationalities and social classes. Back home, most people are like you. Here, they’re not, and that’s a good thing, as it ends up opening your mind.

Ten reasons why moving to Costa Rica is a bad idea:

1. You’re moving to “escape”

Let’s start this section by going off on a little tangent. Bear with us.

The Costa Rica expat Facebook groups are full of people talking about politics in their home countries, Americans in particular. They bang on about Bush or Obama, Trump or Biden. Many of them don’t live in Costa Rica, but they’re inserting their domestic political viewpoints into a different country.

Elsewhere on social media (and even in the mainstream media), you see the same thing. “If Bush wins, I’m moving to Costa Rica!I’m on the next plane to Costa Rica if Obama wins!!We’re all going to Costa Rica if Trump wins this election!!” “I can’t live in a country with Biden as president… I’m moving to Costa Rica!” Blah blah blah.

Every four years we see this, and it’s always the same. Like clockwork, you see all these idiots claiming Costa Rica is the answer to their prayers if the candidate they don’t like wins the election.

But guess what? Costa Rica isn’t the answer to your prayers. If you’re moving to Costa Rica because you hate where you are, whether it’s politics or whatever, you’re moving for the wrong reason.

If you’re moving to escape, chances are you’ll hate where you end up just as much as you hate where you’ve been. Remember – Wherever you go, there you are.

Come to Costa Rica because you love Costa Rica. Otherwise it won’t work. U.S. presidents come and go. Costa Rica doesn’t.

2. Affordability

Costa Rica is not the cheap solution to your expat dream you might think it is. If you want a cheaper lifestyle in Central America, then you should consider any of the other six countries instead (except for Belize).

Time after time, the expat Facebook groups are full of posts from people shocked about the cost of living down here. Shocked!

While Costa Rica might be cheaper than San Francisco or London, you’ll find it more expensive than a midwestern city in the United States. And although you’ll find rent, labor, (some) groceries, and other things less expensive, you’ll be paying out a lot more on other items. Examples include:

  • Driving (cars themselves and gas prices)
  • Electricity
  • Electronics
  • Online services (Amazon, etc.)
  • Imported food
  • Beauty products
  • Home appliances and products

Going out for dinner or a beer in Costa Rica can be twice as expensive as doing the same thing in, say, Panama or Guatemala.

Chances are you won’t find it that much less expensive than in your home country.

Bottom line is, if you’re watching the pennies or want to live a comparable lifestyle to the one you’re already accustomed to for less money, then Costa Rica may not be for you.

3. Residency

Government bureaucracy is always a chore. That goes double in Latin America, where time plods on at its own pace. And it’s not only a question of how long things take (forever), there’s also always tons of petty details to attend to.

Costa Rica is no exception, and the Immigration Department is notorious for sapping the soul and willpower of even the most positive people in the world.

In short, getting residency in Costa Rica can be a pain. If you’re a pensioner or you have at least $150,000 to invest, you’re okay. Or you have a child in Costa Rica or want to marry a Costa Rican? Again, you’re good to go. You can expect a long wait, but you’re good to go.

But if you fit into none of these requirements, residency is difficult.

So many expats complain that no category fits their status at all, thus rendering them to a life of eternal visa runs, which can be stressful and expensive, especially during Covid.

Speaking of expensive, residency isn’t cheap. You can do it yourself, sure, but it takes way longer than if you forked out a couple of grand on a lawyer to help you. You’ll need to prove you have at least $1,000 a month (if you’re a pensioner), $150,000 to invest (if you’re a rentista), and at least $3,000 a month if you’re taking the digital nomad visa route. Not everyone has this.

Then you have the monthly Caja payments. That’s ten percent of your declared income each month to Costa Rica’s social security system right there.

Bottom line is, Costa Rica residency is only worth it if you want to stay forever. If you’re coming for a year or two, forget it. It’s not worth the time and money.

Problem is, so many expats go through the process of getting residency only to decide they want to leave before it even arrives. For this reason, we recommend residency only after you’ve been in Costa Rica for at least a year or two, and know if you definitely want to stay or not.

4. Safety

We talked about the positive side of safety in Costa Rica above, but this article is all about balance, so here’s some of the negative.

While it’s true Costa Rica has one of the lowest homicide rates in Central America, it’s still higher than the United States, and far higher than Canada or Europe.

In short, Costa Rica is one of the safest parts of a dangerous neighborhood. Central America is still Central America and Latin America is still Latin America.

Costa Ricans complain about crime all the time, and it’s true that things have gotten worse over the years. Rising inequality and poverty will do that to a country.

And don’t forget the petty crime either. It might not appear to be a big deal at first, but many expats get ground down by petty pilfering, and having to watch your stuff all the time. It gets old.

So although the chances are small of you being a victim of serious crime in Costa Rica, if you want a place where you don’t have to worry about this at all, choose Iceland.

5. Healthcare

Although Costa Rica has a worthy and commendable public healthcare system, it still might not be what you expect.

Many healthcare procedures have long waiting lists, and many hospitals are pretty basic. There’s a reason why wealthy Costa Ricans choose private health care or go to Miami for essential treatment.

If healthcare is super-important to you, you might reconsider moving to a developing country like Costa Rica. There’s also a chance you might not find the drugs you need, either, meaning you’ll have to mule them down. This happens a lot.

Be aware before you make the move whether it’s worth it. Only you know this.

6. Working

Above, we spoke about working online in Costa Rica, which is the way to go if you’re an expat who needs to earn money. But what if that’s not your jam? What do you do?

Well, as an expat, you have limited options. Unless you have permanent residency (which can take years), working legally is a no no.

Sure, it’s possible to get a job and have the company sponsor your work visa, but that’s quite rare. Most expats in Costa Rica working like that are people with jobs at multinationals, whose companies have transferred them down. Coming to Costa Rica and picking a a job with a company who will them sponsor your work visa is difficult.

You get people coming down and working under the table as English teachers, yoga instructors and so on. But this is illegal, no matter what they tell you.

Then there’s the pay. Costa Rican salaries are far less than in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Coming down here and getting a job, especially an under the table job without residency, means low wages. Are you prepared for that?

The best option is to work online or set up some kind of business which you see might work. Setting up a business in Costa Rica isn’t for the faint-hearted. There are regulations galore, especially surrounding employment law. But plenty of successful foreign entrepreneurs in Costa Rica run businesses and there’s no reason you can’t be one of them.

With all that said, the biggest mistake you can make is moving to Costa Rica when you don’t have the money to support yourself and know you need to find a job. That can turn a dream into a nightmare.

7. A relaxed, “pura vida” lifestyle

One man’s “relaxed” is another man’s “lazy”. While many of you will love the slower, more relaxed pace of life in Costa Rica, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that some of you won’t.

We’ve seen New Yorkers and Londoners and Big City, fast-moving types get super bored in Costa Rica. A dynamic metropolis, Costa Rica is not, not even San Jose, despite the recent improvements to the city. If you’re all about Go! Go! Go! you might find Costa Rica a little slow slow slow.

If you’re a highly-strung or impatient individual who needs everything done yesterday, you might find Costa Rica isn’t for you.

Living in Costa Rica means accepting a degree of patience. People are late. Deliveries don’t show. “Tico time” is a real thing. Can you roll with that or will it stress you out?

Those who get stressed out by lateness, waiting in lines, and deliveries not coming might want to reconsider moving to Costa Rica.

8. The weather

Costa Rica has two types of weather. Hot and sunny (or hot and not sunny) or pissing down with rain. Ignore all the talk and lyrical waxing about how perfect the weather is and how many shades of green you see.

Costa Rica is either hot, humid, and sweaty or drenched in the type of biblical downpour that washes all the pura vida out of your system. Especially if you’re caught out on the street with some crappy umbrella you bought from a vendor that’s about as useful as a wooden frying pan.

If you’re one of those people that likes cool, temperate weather, Costa Rica ain’t your place. Do you like seasons? Spring and fall? Winter? Forget it. Costa Rica is wet or dry, that’s it. They say summer is winter and vice versa and it’s confusing.

Those of you who love seasons and cooler weather might not be happy in Costa Rica. It’s something to consider.

9. Infrastructure and accessibility

Trying to play devil’s advocate for all these points is getting harder.

There’s not a great deal to complain about regarding Costa Rican infrastructure and accessibility, especially since I remember how things used to be.

If you’re a newbie, the state of the roads might bother you, especially once you’re off the beaten path. The traffic in the Central Valley is murderous and can be another pura vida-sapping experience.

You might find the power outages a pain, although for the most part they’re much rarer than they were. But if you’re the type of person to avoid moving to a country because of the roads or electricity, you’ll never consider moving abroad anyway.

10. The people

We spoke earlier of the friendliness, warmth, and hospitality of Costa Ricans. Of the pride they have in their country and how much they enjoy showing you the place. All that’s true.

But some of the more perpetually-offended of you might find Costa Ricans (or Latin Americans in general) way less politically correct than you’re used to.

Nicknames abound, and some of the stuff you hear and see would get you cancelled in a heartbeat back home.

People have no hesitancy in talking about skin color and national stereotypes. Lots of gringos get offended, and yes, you’re a gringo. If “real talk” offends you, a Latin American country might not be the best place to hang your hat.

And while many expats are interesting people, many others are bores who spend their time bitching about Costa Rica while making zero effort to learn Spanish. Plenty of those around.

But in the end, how you react to people depends a lot on how people react to you. Are you prepared to move to Costa Rica with an open mind and a friendly vibe? If so, you’ll be alright. If not, you won’t last long.

Do you see what we did there? If you didn’t, take another look.

The point is, at the end of the day, moving to Costa Rica (or anywhere, for that matter) isn’t a black and white issue. What is heaven for some people might well be a living hell for others. That’s why we tried to flip every point onto its head.

The best thing to do when considering moving to Costa Rica is to take a good look at your needs, and at where you are in life right now.

If you’re honest about your expectations, moving to Costa Rica and becoming an could be the best thing you’ve ever done. And if you’re not, it could turn into an expensive nightmare.