Tips For Relocating to Costa Rica

You are excited because you have decided to move to Costa Rica. You’ve found a place to settle and you’ve told your friends and family the plan. Now that you’re leaving, your mind is going in so many directions. You want some tips for relocating to Costa Rica because there is a lot to think about. Some of the biggest questions are:

  • What do I need to bring?
  • What are my options for residency or visa statuses? 
  • What can I do to make sure things go smoothly once I get there?

We are here to help, so you can be a little bit more prepared for what to do and expect when relocating to Costa Rica.

You don’t need to bring anything…really…but you may want to bring some things

One of the best tips for relocating to Costa Rica, is don’t bring everything. Costa Rica is continuously developing and you can find most things here that you were used to back home. From furniture to kitchen appliances to sports equipment, there are plenty of stores that have quality offerings. The caveat here is that you may have to drive to get the things you are looking for. If you’re in a more rural area, you may need to plan a trip to Liberia or San Jose where they have more retail stores and a variety of local and international brands. 

Even food offerings are ever expanding in Costa Rica. There are numerous fruit and vegetable stands and ferias (think farmers markets) that offer local tropical fruits and imports as well. There are butcher shops and fishmongers with an assortment of meats and seafoods. You will even find Ticos selling what they’ve grown or harvested on the street corners, and they typically have some of the freshest produce at the best prices. 

If you need more specialty food items, there are import markets, like Auto Mercado Super Massai, and Pricesmart. You can find vegan friendly options, specialty alcohols, gluten free flours, and brands that you may just miss from home. They are available, but you need to be ready to pay premium prices. 

Although there are plenty of stores to help you fill your house and stock your fridge, there are also some things that are much more expensive here, due to import taxes. There are also some items that are very difficult to find. 

  • Electronics – cell phones, laptops, extra phone charges, a wireless mouse, video gaming stuff, external hard drives, iPods, cameras, car chargers, etc…
  • Athletic wear – running shoes, hiking shoes, tennis shoes, tennis skirts, golf equipment, tennis racquets, etc… There is an abundance of water sports equipment here, so no need to buy a surfboard before you arrive. They do have plenty of those things.
  • Over the counter medications and basic care items- There are farmacias all over the place, but the quantity and cost of some basic things, like Advil or ibuprofen, can get ridiculous. Sunscreen is also surprisingly expensive. Also, if you have a special lotion or face cream you need, bring it. Other things you may want to consider are: razor refills, feminine hygiene products (especially if you wear tampons), your favorite hair care stuff, makeup (although you may wear a lot less in the warm weather), Nyquil, Neosporin, and hydrocortisone cream. 
  • Linens – for some reason quality sheets and towels are hard to come by. They’re light anyways, so pack those up and bring them down. 

Once you’re in it for the long haul, Costa Rica has different options for visa status and residency

Tourist Visa: What a lot of people do, even some who have been here for 10 years, stay on a tourist visa. The tourist visa will allow you to stay in the country for 90 days at a time. After that, you have to exit the country. If you are close to a border, like Nicaraugua, a day trip over the border and back can get you the next 90 day stamp you need. If that’s not an option, some people use it as an excuse to travel all over Central America or the world. 

Digital Nomad Visa: Newly introduced this year is the addition of the Digital Nomad Visa. Once it is officially signed into law, this visa will grant people a 1 year visa for “qualifying remote workers.” Those who obtain this visa status will be able to drive on their license, open a bank account, and gain other benefits. They will also have the opportunity to renew for an additional year. Once this is fully enacted, we will make sure to have an updated post about how to get the Digital Nomad Visa.

Permanent Residency: There are three pretty standard avenues for residency in Costa Rica. 

  • Pensionado: If you have a pension of at least $1,000 USD per month, you can obtain temporary residency for 3 years. 
  • Rentista: In order to get this temporary residency status, you must prove you will have $2,500 USD income per month for 2 years. 
  • Inversionista: If you are investing in Costa Rica, $200,000 USD in a business or real estate will get you temporary residency for 3 year. 

Having a child in Costa Rica: If you give birth to a child in Costa Rica, you are able to become residents along with that child. Once you receive the birth certificate, you are able to apply. 

With all these options, you are able to apply for permanent residency after a 3 year period. One of the most important tips for relocating to Costa Rica and getting residency is to hire a competent lawyer. There are people who have done it themselves, but the process may not be something you want to spend your time on, especially in a new place when you’re trying to get settled and established. 

Tips for relocating to Costa Rica and making the transition as smooth as possible

One of the most important things you can bring to Costa Rica is your patience and a sense of humor. The phrase that Costa Ricans live by is Pura Vida, which means “simple life” or “pure life.” This is not just a passing expression, it represents the laid back, no worries, no fuss lifestyle that embodies Costa Rica. People here tend not to dwell on the negative and don’t get worked up over little things. Embrace this mantra and you will be fine.

If you’re used to a big city where you honk your horn the second the light changes to green, it will be an adjustment. If you’re used to a technician coming to your house, then an appliance or something being repaired that week, you’re in for a culture shock. It’s not that locals or businesses are unfriendly, mean, or lack a sense of customer care. They just value living a family oriented, peaceful lifestyle over one that focuses on an unnecessary sense of urgency. Patience is important and while you’re relaxing and not stressing over when your drink will get to the table, you will likely see or experience something amazing.

Things are different everywhere, but especially here, and when you encounter the unusual and unexpected, the best thing to do is laugh. While you’re living here, at some point you will be stuck in a traffic jam behind a herd of cows. You will also get your car stuck in the mud. The house you are renting or own may lose power for an hour or a day. Crazy bugs or creepy crawlers will find their way under your doors and welcome you home.  Oh, and there are no numerical addresses, so you’ll have to explain where you live by using the closest large landmark. 

There are so many other interesting things about Costa Rica that you’ll get to experience once you arrive. And that is the best way to look at it: “look what I get to experience.” It is new. It is an adventure, but that is part of the fun of living abroad.

You are ready

Aside from these tips for relocating to Costa Rica, joining some positive expat groups on social media and reading through website content of others who have taken the plunge can be very useful. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to other experienced expats. Don’t be afraid to ask the Ticos either, they are typically friendly and have a lot of knowledge to offer. This is a beautiful country with a lot to offer to every adventure seeker. With all you’ve done to prepare, you are ready to make your move. Pura Vida!