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Moving to Costa Rica

A comprehensive guide to moving to Costa Rica

Moving to Costa Rica and living among the “Ticos”, as Costa Ricans call themselves, is a vacation dream come true for many foreign assignees. Read the InterNations GO! Guide on Costa Rica for information on expat destinations, permits, and more.

Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats ourselves, we understand what you need, and offer the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us to jump start your move abroad!

Relocating to Costa Rica

  • The Central Valley is Costa Rica’s economic hub, with many expats moving there.
  • Learning Spanish before moving to Costa Rica is recommended.
  • There are different types of residency permits, most of which are income-based, while perpetual tourism is another alternative.

The Central Valley

Costa Rica’s Central Valley has been the most feasible relocation option for both Ticos and foreigners for centuries now. The valley, which is divided between four of seven provinces is a densely populated area, home to four of Costa Rica’s five largest cities. It is no surprise, then, that the large number of people moving to Costa Rica’s Central Valley have shaped the region into the nation’s economic and cultural focal point.

Whether your move finds you in Alajuela, San José, Cartago, or Heredia: The cities of the GAM (Greater Metropolitan Area) are almost like the boroughs of a town, with their own distinct flavors, but still part of a larger unit.

Popular Expat Destinations

While any part of the Central Valley will be a good new home to expats, the capital of the country, San José, still retains a special status among the valley cities. Due to its central location and excellent connections to the adjacent cities of the GAM, San José is often the first city people think of when they contemplate living abroad in Costa Rica. Reasons for moving to Costa Rica are manifold, and they are often not connected with jobs or careers, but rather the end of them. Many pensioners and retirees, especially from North America, come here to retire in comfort.

Of course, having led a busy professional life, most pensionados are more interested in Costa Rica’s more laid back areas rather than large economic centers. Cities on the Pacific coast, such as Tamarindo or Jaco, are highly popular with expats moving to Costa Rica in order to spend their golden years in the country’s beautiful scenery and warm climate. These areas are also very popular with tourists. The small town of Atena, which is located around 25 km from the capital San José, has also proven to be a popular destination for retirees for its easy access to major cities and its friendly, expat-welcoming community.

Health Tips — Mosquitos Are Your Worst Enemies

Although nearly a quarter of the country is covered with nature reserves, there is a low risk of malaria in Costa Rica. However, you should still do your best to avoid mosquito bites — bring a supply of anti-malarial drugs, insect repellent, and long-sleeved, bright garments. Even though Costa Rica has not been significantly affected by the outbreak of the Zika virus, extra caution should still be taken for protection from mosquitos. Other than checkups and some routine vaccines, including hepatitis A and B and typhoid, no further healthcare measures have to be taken when moving to Costa Rica.

We have taken a look at the nation’s healthcare system in our article on living in Costa Rica. Expats moving to Costa Rica do not need to worry about their health as it is in very capable hands during their stay there. If you are dependent on a specific prescription medication, however, you should make sure to bring sufficient amounts with you. Costa Rican healthcare is of high quality, but the expenditure on prescription medication can be considerable.

Spanish Helps

We have previously mentioned in our article on living in Costa Rica that the Costa Rican education system prioritizes the widespread use of English as a second language. Expats moving to the Central Valley or coastal areas should have no problem communicating in English. But you should still realize that you can only get so far with this lingua franca. Signs, internet pages, and many other things are in Spanish only.

You should try to pick up at least some basic Spanish before you move to Costa Rica. Not only will it simplify things considerably, but it will also be greatly welcomed by the local population.

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Residency in Costa Rica

Costa Rican Residency Permits

Costa Rica offers various ways for foreigners to legally reside in the country. With the exception of a first-degree blood relation to a Costa Rican, most options are income-based. Some residency permits come with a limited permission of earning income, but as a general rule, a residency permit does not qualify foreigners to take up employment.

All residency permits are temporary. However, after three years of temporary residency, expats can apply for permanent residency. This type of residency does not have any labor restrictions whatsoever.

The different types of residency permits are:

  • Permanent residency: This residency type is available for first-degree relatives of Costa Rican citizens. This includes parents, children under 25, and minor siblings. Additionally, expats may apply for permanent residency after holding any type of temporary residency permit for three years. Prior to 2010, foreigners could acquire a permanent residency permit through marriage; this has since been abolished.
  •  temporary residency: This type is for individuals with a fixed lifetime income and thus mostly reserved for retirees looking to spend their autumn years in beautiful Costa Rica. The minimum required pension is 1,000 USD monthly, to be paid from a social security or retirement fund. Dependents under 18 years of age and spouses are also included in this permit. Pensionados are not allowed to take up employment, but they can own a company in Costa Rica and collect income. You could, for example, set up a little restaurant, but not work the cash register or be the chef.
  •  temporary residency: This is basically the same as the Pensionado residency above, but with a higher income threshold. You must produce proof of income in excess of 2,500 USD monthly for five years, the source of which is irrelevant. 
  •  temporary residency: The most expensive way of acquiring a residency permit, the Inversionista permit comes with the added benefit of the holder being able to legally take up employment. This category requires an investment exceeding 200,000 USD in Costa Rican businesses or real estate. The work permit is limited to employment related to the investment.
  • : The most exclusive category, this permit is for heads of companies only. The company must have offices and subsidiaries in Costa Rica and fulfill a number of other requirements.

“Perpetual Tourism” in Costa Rica

These are the official residency categories. But there is another way of indefinitely prolonging your stay in Costa Rica that requires zero bureaucracy, but which also leaves you with no actual permits or rights.

Costa Rican tourist visas are valid for 90 days at a time. These 90 days begin anew as soon as you leave the country for at least 3 days. Many foreigners on tourist visas make use of this by making short trips to adjacent Nicaragua or Panama, only to return and stay in Costa Rica for another three months. This practice, dubbed “perpetual tourism”, is not illegal, but it is obviously also not a feasible option for expats who have other reasons for coming to Costa Rica in the first place.

Whether you are moving abroad for the first time or relocated multiple times before, the process raises many questions. Our complete guide to relocation will ease your doubts along the way, from the initial preparations to how to negotiate a relocation package, we help you GO! prepared with the key answers.

Updated on: December 06, 2018

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