Moving To and Living in Costa Rica
So you visited Costa Rica and you fell in love. It happens to the best of us. Who can resist those warm sands, clear blue waters and lush tropical plants and rainforest? But, now reality sets in. You’ve made the decision to move to your beloved Costa Rica, and now you need to find a home and learn the ins and outs of living there. So, how do you go about making this tropical paradise your full-time residence? There are a few things you should know.
First of all, Costa Rica has one of the highest standards of living in Central America, yet still remains an inexpensive place to live. Costa Rica home prices can be found for well under $200,000 and land prices for under $100,000, making it much easier for people to afford to buy properties for sale in Costa Rica than those in the US or Western Europe. You’ll find wide varieties in Costa Rica real estate. Everything from Costa Rica vacation rentals, to luxury homes and farms are available for new residents.
Many people prefer to rent a home or villa for the first few months until they learn the country and determine where they want to settle permanently. Once you have determined where you’d like to settle, there will be many properties for sale in Costa Rica from which to choose. The Costa Rican constitution guarantees the right to own property to everyone, including foreigners, so you’ll have no problem buying your dream home here.
Cost of Living in Costa Rica
Once you’ve found your perfect Costa Rica property, you’ll find that everyday living in Costa Rica is very affordable. The great climate means you’ll never have to heat your home, and you’ll find that the utilities you do have to pay for are about 30% cheaper than in North America and Western Europe.
- $1,000 per month pension from an approved source – or
- Investment income of $2,500 per month from an approved source – or
- Invest $200,000 in an approved sector of the economy or $100,000 USD in a Costa Rican forestry project.
Regular, unrestricted residency can be applied for after two years on one of the above plans. The cost to process residency is approximately $700 per family head, plus $250 for spouse and $100 per child.
Residency renewals are usually every second year. General conditions for renewal are 4 months’ residence in Costa Rica, the required amount of monthly income was changed into Costa Rican currency, or that the terms of the investor residency are met. Renewal cost is $150-$200.
How to Apply for Residency in Costa Rica
Stay in Costa Rica Without Residency: Three Month Stay / Three Days Away
North Americans can stay in Costa Rica legally for periods of up to 3 months. After 3 consecutive months, they must then leave for a period of 72 hours. Then they can then return to the country for another three-month term.
Many people who have lived in the country for years without residency, like hotel employees or ecotourists, will simply make a short trip across the border to either Panama or Nicaragua – stay for three days and get their passports stamped. This is sufficient proof that they have met the requirements for staying in Costa Rica for another three months.
If the three month period is overstayed, a travel agency or ARCR can arrange payment of a small fine and prepare the travel documents required to leave the country for the required 72 hours. Tourists can own vehicles, property, businesses, and generate income from self-employment.
The Costa Rican Government
Costa Rica is a very democratic republic, headed by a president who is in power for one 4 year term. He cannot run for a second term. Ministers are appointed and there is an elected congress. There has been no military since 1948 when it was banned constitutionally.
Costa Rica has a history of a stable government that stretches back to when the country was founded. It had one brief civil war in 1948 when a president wanted a second term in power. At this time a new constitution was drawn to ensure such a situation could not occur again.
Foreign residents are protected by the constitution and have most of the rights of citizens. The record of the government historically has been excellent in honoring these rights. They do not have the right to:
- Vote or participate in political activities
- Work for wages without a permit
- Own land close to national borders
What to Expect From the Weather in Costa Rica
Weather in Costa Rica is largely a matter or choice unless someone is looking for snow. There is no snow to be found in the country, even on the 13,000 foot high mountains.
The weather varies from hot coastal lowlands, where rainfall varies according to location and season, to very cool mountainous regions.
There are plains that go months without rain while there are areas where it rains daily. The average temperature in the Central Valley is ideal, with evenings of 17 – 18 C and days averaging 25 – 28 C year-round.
The dry season is usually from the end of November until past Easter. The amount of rain in the rainy season – or what we call the “Green Season” – depends on the climate zone. The heaviest rains occur usually in October. If it is going to rain, the heaviest rainfall is usually in the afternoon.
Taxes in Costa Rica
There is no income tax on money earned outside of Costa Rica by residents. Personal income taxes are low compared to North America, with many personal expenses deductible from locally earned income. Corporate taxes are also low.
- Sales Tax – 13%
- Import duties are being decreased in Costa Rica in compliance with the GATT agreements. The principal exception is new vehicles, on which duty is about 98%. Tourists pay an exit duty of approximately $17, while residents pay more. License plate fees are paid annually for vehicles and depend upon the value. They are not excessive.
- Property taxes are very low in comparison with North America.
- New residents will be charged import duty on cars and boats at the same rate as would be paid by a resident bring them in. Personal effects and artwork are not taxed. Electronic equipment and appliances will be valued and a duty charged.
Rental rates depend on the area. Any rental agreement is assumed to be for three years, during which time the landlord may not raise the rent. Lease contracts are honored by the courts provided they are drawn according to the law of rentals. Landlords may not evict tenants for other than nonpayment of rent or illegal activities.
Property prices vary from area to area. There is a computerized central registry system similar to North America. Lawyers or others, such as the ARCR, who subscribe to the service can search property titles from their office computers.
Foreign residents and non-residents have the same property ownership rights as citizens, with the exception of leasing land from a municipality or purchasing land close to the frontiers (protected land). Registration, taxes, and legal fees are based upon the declared value of the land purchase. The government has an excellent history of respecting foreign ownership of land.
Construction is less costly than found in North America. A finished luxury house would cost a fraction of what a comparable home would cost to build in a state like California. Everything from the land to labor is much more affordable. There are additional protections in place for home builders. For instance, a contractor is responsible for defects in construction for 5 years.
Pets can be brought to Costa Rica. A veterinary certificate is required.
The Infrastructure in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a state-owned hydro / telephone company. Phone installation can be slow, but once installed they function well. Touchtone international dialing for phone and fax is in place, as is a well developed cellular system. Costs are competitive. Costa Rica has 110-115 Volt electricity and the NTSA television system as in North America.
Internet was introduced in 1995 and use is becoming widespread. There are several Spanish language and one English daily newspaper, two English and one German language weekly, and various magazines. Foreign newspapers can be purchased readily. There are several Spanish language television stations, and different cable TV companies offering English language channels. Satellite TV dishes and Direct TV are also readily available.
Water can be drunk from the tap throughout Costa Rica. Sanitary standards are very high for a third world country. Pasteurized milk and dairy products are normal everywhere.
Traveling Throughout the Country
Costa Rican roads are in generally poor condition. Potholes are common, and an endless chain of patching is underway. However a new coastal highway was recently constructed in the Southern Pacific Zone that is in great condition and has made this part of the country much more accessible.
Air service from Costa Rica is well developed, with many direct flights daily to Mexico, USA, Central and South America, and also direct flights to Europe (Italy, Spain, Germany, England, Holland), Canada and Cuba. Average return airfare to a destination in the USA would be $550. Bus service is excellent, frequent and inexpensive. Deluxe buses are operated on many runs with air conditioning and video movies. There is no passenger train service except for commuter trains near San Jose.
Costa Rica is within 2 hours of most North American cities for time zone. There is no daylight saving time, so it varies seasonally.
The Best Places to Purchase Goods and Services
Most things are offered for sale in and around San Jose, much less so in the rest of the country. The central valley boasts many large, enclosed malls and there is little which one could want which is not readily available at competitive prices.
There is a wide range of warranty, service, and repair companies to choose from. Computer software sales and service is common, as are hardware repair facilities. There is a duty-free zone in Golfito in the South West of the country, where everyone is permitted to purchase up to $600 in goods from some 80 stores at low prices twice a year.
There are thousands of restaurants in the central valley offering cuisine from most countries of the world. Giant supermarkets offer most familiar items. Items imported from North America are more expensive usually, however many familiar name brands are manufactured in Central America and the prices are reasonable. Also, many items will be available inexpensively from local manufactures with as good or better quality than the brand name you are used to.
Cultural Activities in the Country
Almost all hobbies are represented by clubs and suppliers locally. There is an excellent symphony orchestra, several live theaters, and many local or visiting musical, dance and entertainment groups. There are an active art community and several galleries.
Football (soccer) is the most popular local sport. Every region, no matter how small, has a football field. There are dozens of cinemas, and most films are in English with Spanish subtitles. San Jose never sleeps, with a large number of night clubs, discos, bars, casinos and dance halls. Fiestas are popular and frequent throughout Costa Rica.
There are many recreation and health centers, private and public, and 18 and 9 hole golf courses. Many courses are under construction by various resort developers. Tennis and basketball are popular. Whitewater rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, water sports, hiking, bicycling and many other sports are popular and well provided for.
There are hundreds of miles of world-class sand beaches in various colors. The ocean temperature is warm – well over 80 F – year-round. Surfing is world-famous.
There are a few dangerous animals. There are several varieties of poisonous snakes but are not usually seen. Insects are few in the central valley, more on the coast and in a rain forest.
Costa Rica is in an earthquake zone. While there are many recorded earthquakes per year, only about half a dozen can be felt. There are no hurricanes, but heavy rains may cause flooding. There are several active volcanoes, the most active of which is Arenal. It erupts almost continuously, without causing damage. There has been a loss of life and damage caused by volcanic eruptions in the past.
Violent crime is low. In the San Jose area break-ins of unoccupied cars and buildings are common, and care is necessary. The police do not differ in their treatment of foreigners or citizens. Generally the police will not come to a break-in until the victim goes to their office and files a report.
Costa Ricans are very welcoming and friendly people who welcome foreigners.
The Costa Rica Investment and Banking Sector
There are two stock markets in Costa Rica, and all banks issue Certificates of Investment (as do many private companies and licensed finance companies). OPAB’s are available (similar to money market funds) and yield about 5% annually. Private and national banks have savings accounts with interest rates in the 2-4% range. Mortgages, investments in private companies, and investments in stock, bond and commodity markets outside of Costa Rica are easily arranged through local investment brokers. There is no consumer protection legislation.
There are 4 national (government-owned) and about 23 private banks operating in Costa Rica, including Citibank from the USA and the Bank of Nova Scotia from Canada. All deposits in national banks are guaranteed without limit by the government of Costa Rica.
Banking is both safe and reliable, although the national banks can be bureaucratic. Checking, savings and investment services are available from all of them. It is also possible to operate accounts in the USA or elsewhere through Costa Rican private banks. Banking in Costa Rica is protected by secrecy legislation. Foreigners may have bank accounts. There are no exchange controls or restrictions on removing funds from the country.
There are a wide variety of professional people available in all fields. Lawyer-client relations are protected by confidentiality laws. Many of the major international accounting firms have offices in Costa Rica.
The Excellent Costa Rican Health Care System
The health care system is excellent. There is a plan for citizens and residents who have work permits covering medical care, hospitalization and prescription drugs. Citizens are also covered for dental care. This is funded by employers contributing 22% of wages paid, and the employee contributing 9%.
There is also private medical insurance, through the state-owned insurance monopoly, which is inexpensive and covers 80% of medical costs. For those who wish, medical services and hospitals are available on a “pay as you go” system for those without medical insurance. Medical care costs are very low compared to North America.
Hospitals regularly do high tech operations such as heart and organ transplants. There are many specialists in Costa Rica, and doctors have their home phone numbers in the yellow pages for emergencies. There is an ambulance service in almost every town in the country, operated by the Red Cross. There is also a wide choice in dental care. No special shots are required to come to Costa Rica.
Education and School System
There is a free education system for all, through high school. The official literacy rate is over 93%. There are many universities and technical training schools. Many university students have their tuition paid by grants. English is taught in the public school system but the main language is Spanish. There are excellent bilingual and trilingual schools available with a principal language of English, French or German. Some schools are on the North American school year.
Costa Rica Takes Great Pride in It’s Environmental Record
Costa Rica, in comparison with other third world countries, is very environmentally conscious. 27% of the area of the country is in national park or protected reserve, the 50 meters above high tide is public property and cannot be privately owned or developed and the next 150 meters inland in approximately 85% of the country is owned by the local municipality and cannot be sold. This land can be leased from the municipality for approved projects or residence.
There are strict environmental guidelines in place for all developments and mining activity. Logging is also very closely monitored.
Most international ecological groups are represented in Costa Rica, so even where the government overlooks an infringement of the environmental laws, the legal mechanisms are in place for concerned organizations or individuals to halt development with cause.
Coastal construction is limited to low rise buildings. Attempts are being made to address pollution in rivers and streams, and vehicle emissions are now being tested to keep them within set standards.
There are many privately funded research facilities, as may be expected in a country with more bird and insect species than all of North America, over 200 types of hardwood trees, over 1,500 varieties of orchids, and so on.
Construction and Development in Costa Rica
Development is planned to a certain extent, although in much of the country private land can be used as the owner’s wishes. Subdivisions must meet government standards, including paved roads, power, water, and parkland and they must be maintained by the developer for several years after being sold out.
Free zones and industrial areas are well defined, and government policy has been to encourage businesses to take jobs providing factories to the villages to allow people to travel short distances to work and to slow the spread of large cities. All construction must meet strict earthquake standards.
Most industry in Costa Rica is of a nonpolluting type. Examples would be electronics, pharmaceuticals, and clothing manufacturing. Agriculture is still the largest export sector, led by traditional bananas and coffee, but with nontraditional items such as palm oil, ferns, flowers, and tropical plants gaining rapidly. Huge refrigerated facilities are in place to encourage new agricultural exports.
We Have First-Hand Experience Moving to Costa Rica
Obviously, moving to a new country is a big commitment but also an incredible lifestyle change. Of course we are biased, but of all the countries in the world you could move to, Costa Rica is your best choice. We are more than happy to answer any questions you may have and will share our personal experiences about when we moved to Costa Rica.
Select One of Our Advisors For Guidance