What Towns Are Safe in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a popular expat destination, especially for US citizens. With relatively cheap costs of living, great private healthcare options, wonderful weather, and welcoming and friendly local residents, Costa Rica does not only attract people who want to retire there, but also younger people with freelance jobs, or even young families.
However, some might wonder whether Costa Rica is a safe place to live, or are there any places frequented by expats that are the safest to visit or settle.
Crime and Personal Safety in Costa Rica
While the official crime rate in Costa Rica is not small, the majority of the crime is labeled as “opportunistic acts of theft”. In the 2020 Global Peace Index, Costa Rica is ranked 32 out of 163 countries when it comes to overall peace. It is considered the safest country to live in Central America, however, it is still a Third World country, as the poor outnumber the middle class and the rich.
With that being said, compared to its neighbors, Costa Rica is a safe place for expats, but you should practice some common sense and personal safety rules to ensure that you are protected at all times. The Caribbean coast has historically had more crime than the Pacific coast.
One good safety tip is to buy a safe in your house and keep your valuables, including a passport in there. Passport theft is one of the major theft crimes in Costa Rica targeting tourists, or non-locals. It is advised to always make a photocopy of your passport, or local Costa Rica ID card.
Places to Avoid in Costa Rica
Another tip is to be vigilant at night in areas known to be a bit dangerous: that might be parks or not well-lit alleys at night, but also districts famously known for pickpocketing or other crimes. For example, the following districts in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, are considered to be unsafe: Los Guido, Desamparados, Pavas, La Carpio, Leon XIII, the El Carmen neighborhood in Cartago, and the “El Infiernillo,” sector of Alajuela.
A final piece of advice is to remember local police numbers: 911, and ambulance: 128 as well as to learn some basic Spanish to get by, or even how to cry for help, should you ever need it.
Tip: You should shout “fire” or “fuego” to get people’s attention in a stressful situation.
Top 5 Safest Places in Costa Rica for Expats
We started with a few words of caution, however, Costa Rica can be an amazing and happy place to move to, and that being said, safe. Here’s a list of the top 5 safest places to live in Costa Rica.
Tamarindo has one of the best and tranquil beaches found in Costa Rica. The city lies on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and it’s considered a safe place in Costa Rica. It is a tourist town, therefore be aware of the typical, abovementioned pickpocketing – so be careful of that! Expatriates love living in Tamarindo as it offers a wide range of daily activities, such as snorkeling, kayaking, sportfishing, surfing, sailing, and other sea-related things. There are also a lot of restaurants and bars, so having a social life is easy in Tamarindo.
The city of Arenal is best known for its majestic lake and volcano, but also for rural and safe ways of living. If you decide to move to this mountainous area, Arenal boasts a relatively big American-expat community, so it may feel friendly to live there from the start. The Arenal volcano is still active, and that might pose a potential threat, however, in terms of crime Arenal is a safe city to live in in Costa Rica, as it only features tourism-related petty thefts. From the lifestyle point of view, Arenal will be a great place for those who enjoy nature and adventure, as the area features a lot of hiking trails, volcano hot-springs, zip-lines, and kayaking and paddle-boarding on the lake.
Atenas is located between San Jose and the Pacific Ocean coast. It is a small town, where life goes slowly, as it is an agricultural town. It is considered a very safe town, great for families with a small-town atmosphere. There are a few established expats communities already in town, making it easier to accommodate newcomers. With an approximately 35 minutes drive to San Jose and its hospitals, airport, and other necessities that large cities can supply, Atenas is away from the big city bustle. Atenas is also considered to have the “perfect temperature” all year round, without extremes of hot and cold weather. The perfect weather and the closeness to the volcano soil make this area perfect for growing coffee, therefore, expats moving here can expect fresh and tasty coffee every day! Besides, there are a few good restaurants in Atenas, and Friday’s Farmer’s Market to attend.
Heredia is the capital city of the province with the same name. Located just outside of San Jose, it offers a slower-paced life and a lot more green space than Costa Rica’s capital city. If you work in San Jose, Heredia is approximately 15 to 20 minutes drive away, making it a desirable quieter option with easy access to hospitals and the airport should you need it. American International School (AIS) is located in Ciudad Cariari in Heredia, making it a great place to live especially for expatriates with children. Heredia, in fact, is one of the oldest cities in Costa Rica, which reflects in its architecture dated back to the 18th century.
San Jose – Escazu
While San Jose can see the highest rates of pick-pocketing from the list above as it is the main tourist attraction city, upscale neighborhoods of Santa Ana and Escazu can offer luxurious and – at least at day – safe living conditions. Escazu is one of the wealthier suburbs of San Jose and many buildings are in a gated community. Besides that, Escazu has everything one can need: a great shopping mall, beautiful properties, bars, and restaurants and it’s a short drive from San Jose downtown.
Making a life-changing decision to move to another country is never easy, especially if you worry about your safety. When it comes to Costa Rica, knowing which areas to avoid, and having common sense is usually enough to live there happily and without problems. We recommend you reach out to local expat communities before moving to Costa Rica to obtain first-hand information before deciding to move there. Good luck!