A fact that may surprise newcomers to San José: they will not find themselves in a giant conurbation many other parts of Latin America are known, even infamous, for. With a population of less than 300,000 inhabitants, San José is a decent-sized city, but it might not exactly match your mental picture of the capital city of a prospering country. But make no mistake: San José is a fascinating place that plays a key role in contemporary Central America.
San José’s importance and influence cannot simply be limited to the city proper or even its province. As the city is a cultural and economic focal point and transportation hub (please see our articles on living and working in San José), moving to San José will firmly place you within the unchallenged center of the entire Central Valley, which we have described in detail in our guide to Costa Rica.
Therefore, no article on San José could just be limited to the city itself. The metropolitan area and, by extension, the entire Central Valley are not only the country’s biggest expat hotspots, but also home to the majority of Ticos. San José’s metropolitan area is popular with nationals and foreigners alike, so rest assured that moving to San José will take you to the pulsating heart of life in Costa Rica.
The climate in the Central Valley is another reason why this area is so attractive to expats. Even though it is situated in the tropics, the altitude gives it a pleasant and mild climate throughout the year with temperatures ranging between 17°C and 30°C. The higher up you go, in terms of altitude, the cooler it gets.
The San José metro area covers a large part of the Costa Rican Central Valley. A common, although unofficial, definition stretches from San José to include the adjacent capitals of Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia. While this may seem like quite a large area — we’re talking province capitals, after all — don’t let yourself be deceived! Whatever city or suburb you may relocate to when moving to San José’s metro area, you’ll never be more than an hour away from the capital.
Alajuela is a popular destination, and most likely your first stop in the country, as the city is home to the international airport. This fact — combined with Alajuela’s big city feel, despite its small town looks — makes the city a viable option for many expats.
Heredia, the capital of the province of the same name and technically a San José suburb, is extremely popular with expats, as many multinational technology giants such as Intel and IBM are located here. But its perks do not stop there: Heredia is renowned for its exceptional beauty, high quality of life at an affordable price, and its reputation as the country’s safest city.
The bustling capital of Costa Rica has various neighborhoods and suburbs for every taste and budget. The upscale suburbs of Santa Ana, San Pedro, and Escazú, the so called “Little America”, enjoy great popularity with expats moving to San José. No wonder: The quality of housing, the proximity to amenities such as hip bars, restaurants, and malls, the easy access to high quality private institutions like hospitals and international schools, and a thriving expat community are reasons enough to lure many expatriates there.
The neighborhood of San Pedro, in which the Universidad de Costa Rica is located, boasts a large selection of malls, restaurants, and bars making it a hotspot for university students and tourists alike. La Sabana is also a favorite for young professional for its amenities, proximity to San José’s center, and a buzzing nightlife. The suburb of Rohrmoser, which is home to many foreign embassies, is a preferred destination for expats as well as local professionals who like things a little less lively, as it has peaceful and calm neighborhoods that nevertheless offer plenty of city conveniences.
Soon after moving to San José, you will realize that most of the city is designed in a perfect grid, with avenues in east-west and streets in north-south direction. This is extremely important to know when trying to navigate the busy streets: San José has a lack of street signs.
Many roads and streets of any size are unmarked and have no names or numbers. Josefinos, as the citizens of San José are often called, usually navigate and give directions by using landmarks as points of orientation, and we strongly advise you to quickly start familiarizing yourself with the main ones — and also those which are long gone, as they are still used for reference — right after or even before moving to San José.
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