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Housing in Costa Rica

Everything You Need to Know about Finding a New Home

Are you in need of accommodation in Costa Rica? Most expats find the home search process in this country easy, especially because foreigners can rent even before obtaining legal residency. The tricky part, however, is competing for a place with all the other expats.

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Finding housing in Costa Rica is the dream of many expats. Living here calls to mind weekends swimming in waterfall lagoons or lazy sunsets on the beach. The tropical weather makes every day feel like a vacation. But how easy is it for expats to rent in this country?

Luckily, it is very easy for foreigners to secure housing in this country. The greatest problem they will face? Competing with all the other foreigners. Relocating expats would be wise to look into short-term rentals first.

Costa Rica offers plenty of houses and apartments for residents and non-residents to rent. It is even possible to buy a house in this country before obtaining residency. Foreigners are not restricted from buying the different types of houses available, although they will be limited from purchasing within 200 meters of the high tide line until they have lived in the country for five years.

Renting a House or Apartment

Figuring out how to rent a house or apartment in Costa Rica is simple. Foreigners are given the same rental rights as legal residents, and it is even possible to rent a place while only having a tourist visa.

Renting in Costa Rica as a Foreigner

How do you rent an apartment or house in Costa Rica as a foreigner? The most important thing you should keep in mind is to not begin your search for long-term accommodation until you are in the country. Most Ticos and foreign residents in Costa Rica find their home through word-of-mouth. Searching online is not popular, and if you are not yet in the country, you run the risk of being scammed and putting money on a place that is less than ideal (or, worse, does not exist at all).

Other popular ways for looking for a home in Costa Rica:

  • realtor companies;
  • classified ads in newspapers and magazines;
  • announcements posted in shops and community areas.

We suggest booking temporary accommodation first. As the housing market in Costa Rica is fairly competitive, it is best to book a temporary stay for one or two months. You can read more about this in our Short-Term Housing section below.

Tips for Your House Search

  • June, July, and August are the best months to look for and secure accommodation. These are not peak tourist months and therefore there will be more places available, most likely at a reasonable price. May is also not a high tourist season, but Tico landlords are known for not being terribly active during this month because they have just finished with a profitable tourist season.
  • If you commit to a lease for a year or more, you may be able to get a slight discount on your rent.

Types of Houses in Costa Rica

Expats typically rent apartments or standalone houses in Costa Rica. These can range from basic units to luxury accommodations with pools and private gyms. If you have specific requirements, consider using our home-finding services to help you find the perfect place for you.

Average Rent in Costa Rica

How much is the rent in Costa Rica? Like everything in the Pura Vida (“pure life”) country, the average rent for accommodation will vary greatly depending on your lifestyle. If you are a single expat, you can rent a one-bedroom apartment for as low as 249,000-283,000 CRC (440-500 USD) per month. If you would like something more lavish, a large three-bedroom house will run around 735,700-1,018,700 CRC (1,300-1,800 USD) per month.

Minimum House Rent in Costa Rica

Compared to other popular expat destinations such as Japan or the UAE, Costa Rican rent prices stay relatively low. The cheapest place to rent in Costa Rica is in the mountains. The majority of foreigners move to the country for the tropical beaches, so mountain towns are not as popular as coastal ones.

The lowest rent you are likely to find in the country is 226,400 CRC (400 USD) for a one-bedroom apartment. It is possible to find something even lower if you are willing to rent just one room in a shared house.

Rental Process and Rules (for the Landlord and Tenant)

The rental process in Costa Rica is similar to many other countries around the globe: once you find a place that you like, you will inform the landlord, pay a security deposit, and move in. Unlike applying for a work permit, this is not a lengthy process. Because competition for accommodation is so high in the country, you should have a few options in mind. Landlords will typically tell you straight away whether an apartment is yours or not.

Rental Contract and Deposit

Signed paper contracts are common in Costa Rica. If someone tries to make you have a verbal agreement for a property, do not accept. Be sure to keep a copy of the lease for yourself. It will most likely be in Spanish. If you are not confident in your Spanish skills, consider hiring an agent or lawyer to make sure everything in the contract is legal and valid. InterNations GO! can help you find a professional who speaks your language and will work diligently on your behalf.

Terms and Conditions

Costa Rican law states that rental contracts should be for a period of three years. It is possible to find contracts for a shorter period of time, but do not be shocked if all you can find are three-year leases.

That being said, your deposit should only be equal to one month’s rent. Be wary of any landlord who asks for more. If you are moving to a space that allows pets, expect to pay a pet deposit, too.

Expect to pay your deposit in cash. Landlords in Costa Rica do not accept foreign checks and it is rare that they will permit a credit or direct deposit.

Terminating a Contract

Although long-term rental leases are typically for three years, it is common practice not to fulfill the entire contract. It is standard to not receive your deposit back if you leave before one year is up. However, if you stay in the space for at least one calendar year, you have the right to receive your deposit back. Keep in mind, it is customary for landlords to not return your deposit for a period of 30 days so as to account for any extra bills or damages.

Requirements and Documents for Renting

Requirements to rent in Costa Rica will depend on each individual landlord, but you will typically only need to show your passport. You do not need to be a resident of the country, nor hold a visa, to rent an accommodation.

Other documents landlords may ask for are:

  • letter of reference from your previous landlord;
  • proof of sufficient finances.

Which is Better: Furnished or Unfurnished?

You can find both furnished and unfurnished rentals in Costa Rica. Furnished rentals tend to be more expensive because you will be paying both for the accommodation and the items inside. Expats should keep in mind that in this country, ‘unfurnished’ can often mean that a property does not come with large appliances such as a refrigerator, stove, or washer/dryer.

Utility Bills: Payment

You will need to be a legal resident of Costa Rica in order to register for utilities. Because of this, it is common practice for landlords to register for utilities and include the price in your rent. Utilities are billed one month behind. This means that when you move into a residence, you will not pay for utilities until the following month.

You can read more about utilities in our section below.

Short-Term Rentals

It is advisable for expats to book a short-term rental for when they first arrive in Costa Rica. If you are relocating with your family, this will give everyone a place to stay while you deal with the other hassles of settling-in. If you are moving to the country by yourself, having a place lined up will provide some stability while you figure out everything you need to make this Latin country your new home.

Because Costa Rica boasts a competitive housing market, we suggest booking a temporary rental for one or two months. This will give you plenty of time to search for the perfect home.

Short-Term Rentals: Average Price

The price of short-term rentals is about the same as long-term rentals: anywhere between 283,000-1,131,900 CRC (500-2,000 USD) per month. If you rent through a company that only provides short-term properties, such as AirBnB or VRBO, you can expect to pay a higher amount.

Short-Term Rentals: What Documents do I need?

To rent short-term accommodation you do not need anything other than your passport. Depending on how long you rent, you may be asked for a security deposit. This should be returned to you as long as you do not break your contract or damage the property.

Short-Term Rentals: Things to Know

  • While there are many hotels and bed-and-breakfasts available throughout the country, it is also possible to find fully equipped apartments for a short-term lease.
  • If you book a monthly furnished rental, you may be charged a cleaning fee or be asked for a security deposit on the furniture.
  • Short-term rentals in Costa Rica are anything leased for less than six months.

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Buying Property as a Foreigner

Do you want to know how to buy a house or property in Costa Rica as a foreigner? Expats in Costa Rica have the same rights to purchase a home as local residents do. Unlike some countries where non-residents must wade through loads of requirements, those looking to own property in the country of Pura Vida will find the process simple and straightforward.

Whether you are looking for a second family home or a place to spend your retirement, our guide on buying a home in Costa Rica will walk you through everything you need to know to find your dream accommodation.

Types of Property Available in Costa Rica

The majority of expats purchasing property in Costa Rica choose to settle in the capital city, San José. This city is by far the largest in the country, and it offers residents a great balance of city conveniences within a laidback tropical vibe. San José is in the mountain region of Costa Rica, which lends itself to cooler temperatures when compared with the coastal areas. Beaches are also only about one to two hours away depending on where in the city you live.

There is no restriction to the types of property foreigners can buy. Housing choices range from standard apartments to condominiums, standalone homes, and even larger estates. It is also possible to purchase land in Costa Rica and build your home from scratch.

Costa Rica House Prices

House prices in Costa Rica have risen in recent years due to the influx of foreigners. Costs are typically listed as “price per square meter.” On average, this will be a little over 566,000 CRC (1,000 USD).

Prices across the country will vary depending on whether you live in one of the cities, popular beach towns, or in a smaller village. Many foreigners choose to live in condominiums or gated communities, which are more expensive than other types of homes. In general, expats can expect to see prices hovering around 11,318,740 CRC (200,000 USD).

Minimum House Price

On average, the minimum house price you will find in Costa Rica will be just above 56,593,710 CRC (100,000 USD). Be aware that if you choose a condo, you will also have to pay monthly Homeowners Association (HOA) fees. These can tack on anywhere between an extra 28,300-113,200 CRC (50-200 USD) per month. Luxury places can demand fees even as high as 339,600 CRC (600 USD).

Process and Steps for Buying a House in Costa Rica

Buying property in Costa Rica is a little similar to renting a place in that it is best to wait to put money down until you can search in person. Often, one of the best ways expats have found housing is by narrowing down in which region/town they want to live and then renting a car and looking for signs that say se vende (“for sale”).

If You Hire an Agent

Hiring a local realtor is a great solution for expats. A realtor will not only be able to help you find the right accommodation according to your needs and budget, but they will prevent you from falling victim to a scam.

Expats should take note that realtors in Costa Rica are not required to have a license. When looking for the right realtor, be sure to check that they are associated with a reputable real estate association, the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Costa Rican Real Estate Association (CCBR), or the Costa Rican Guanacaste Association of Real Estate (CRGAR).

For extra protection, hire the experts at InterNations GO! We help you find a local expert who has firsthand knowledge of not just the Costa Rican housing market, but the market in the region where you want to rent.

Make an Offer

When you find the right home, you (or you and your realtor) will need to write an official offer stating what you are willing to pay and your conditions. This offer will be presented to the seller, who will then accept, negotiate, or refuse it. Once a mutual agreement is made, the buyer and seller will draw up an official contract to sign. At the time of signing, the buyer will need to make a deposit. This is usually 10% of the cost of the property.

When making an offer, it typically takes about two weeks before getting to the stage of signing a contract and handing over a deposit. It is also common in this country to handle all legal transactions through a third party such as a lawyer.

Closing

The final closing of a house can take anywhere from 30-60 days. You will need to make sure all deeds associated with your new property are submitted to the Public Registrar. Keep in mind that all of these documents will need to be in Spanish.

Getting a Mortgage

Unless you are a legal resident of Costa Rica, you cannot get a mortgage from a bank. You will instead need to finance your purchase through your own funds such as savings or retirement pensions.

Requirements to Buy Property in Costa Rica

As stated before, non-residents have the same rights to purchase property in Costa Rica as residents do. When making an offer on a house, you will most likely be asked for the following:

  • valid ID, such as your passport;
  • proof of financial status.
Maritime Zone

Although there are no limitations to non-residents owning property in Costa Rica, there is one restriction that is set for those without permanent residency. If you are interested in purchasing beachfront property, you cannot buy within 200 meters of the high tide line until you have lived in the country for at least five years (the minimum amount to obtain permanent residence).

Buying a House in Costa Rica for Permanent Residency or Citizenship

Can you buy a house in Costa Rica and get a visa? Yes, you can with Costa Rica’s investor visa. This visa is temporary. To apply, foreigners must invest at least 113,187,420 CRC (200,000 USD) into the economy. This can be achieved by purchasing a home. Expats are also allowed to purchase two homes, equaling a total amount of 200,000 USD. They can then live in one home and rent out the other.

This purchase permits visa holders to live in Costa Rica for at least two years before they are able to apply for permanent residency.

Utilities

Whether you are renting or buying in Costa Rica, you may need to know about the utility companies available. For most renters, landlords will prefer to keep the utilities in their name. This will save you the hassle of setting up the utilities or activation fees. The cost for the utilities will either be included in your rent at a flat rate or your landlord will send you the bills once a month.

Things to Know

Keep in mind that utility payments are usually one month behind. This means, if you move into a place in June, you will not pay until July. When you move out this may be confusing because it may look as though you are being asked to pay for a month when you were not there.

If you purchase property, it may be easier to keep the electric and water bills in the original owner’s name. This will not affect the way you pay as you can transfer your bank details to the same account without needing to add your name. Many expats choose this route because changing the name requires both you and the original account holder to visit the utility company in-person, deactivate and reactivate the service, and then pay a security deposit.

Utility Companies and Providers

When it comes to water and electricity, Costa Rica has both public and private providers. The majority of residents use government-owned services.

Gas

Gas is not common in this country. If you want to use it, you will need to go to a store and buy a propane tank.

Electricity

The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz (CNFL or National Company of Force and Light) is the most widely used public electricity service provider in the country. Depending on where you live in Costa Rica, you may also be able to use a local provider.

Water

Most of Costa Rica is serviced by the government-owned company, A y A. Other companies expats can look into include Asada, Coop, or ESPH, which is the public services provider in Heredia.

Required Documents

To set up your own utilities, you will need to provide proof of Costa Rican residency. You will also be asked to provide your lease as well as your bank information so that the company can establish direct withdrawal.

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Internet and Mobile Phones

Knowing how to get a SIM card and set-up your cell phone and internet is important when moving to any country. Having access to a phone and WiFi is not just a luxury, it is a necessity to feeling safe and secure in a foreign land. This is a way to stay connected to loved ones across the globe as well as ensuring you always have a map or translator in your back pocket.

How to Get a SIM Card and a Phone Plan in Costa Rica

To get a SIM card in Costa Rica, you will want to make sure you have an unlocked phone that can be used abroad. There are several providers you can choose from with a range of offerings. Plans for a single person are typically 11,300-17,000 CRC (20-30 USD) per month. You should only need a passport to register.

Recommended Cell Phone Companies
  • Kölbi (also called ICE; this is the government-owned provider)
  • Claro
  • Movistar

Costa Rica Internet and Television

Most internet providers in the country will offer a combo package of WiFi and cable TV at a discounted price. Recommended providers will be similar to the ones offering SIM cards:

  • Kölbi;
  • Claro;
  • Movistar.

You can also sign up for a satellite TV package through Sky.

How to Watch Your Home’s Country TV in Costa Rica

If you are an expat from North America, it may be possible to catch some of your favorite TV shows on Costa Rica’s cable channels. Because of the proximity to North America and the heavy presence of US Americans and Canadians in the Pura Vida country, these shows are typically streamed in English rather than being dubbed in Spanish. You can also find popular news networks such as ABC, CBS, and NBC.

For other shows, or TV from other parts of the world, expats should turn to online streaming services, satellite TV, or VPNs.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: July 01, 2020
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