Guide to Moving Abroad to Costa Rica From the US
Whether you want to move to Costa Rica from the USA for work or for retirement, you won’t be disappointed by moving there! Costa Rica is a beautiful Central American country, with rich culture, friendly local people, and what draws many Americans to this amazing country is the very affordable cost of living in Costa Rica. Especially for US citizens, moving to Costa Rica is not a very daunting or complicated process. Below you will find an outline of things to consider and know about prior to moving to Costa Rica from the USA.
Figuring Out the Costa Rica Visa Requirements
Us citizens don’t need a tourist visa to enter Costa Rica. US citizens can stay in Costa Rica for 90 days without any permit. And if you want to stay longer? You can do something called “perpetual tourism”. For one day, you can leave Costa Rica to any neighboring country and come back and be able to stay another 90 days in the country legally. While this is a cheap and easy option, this entry type does not grant you residency or rights to work in Costa Rica.
Without the residency status in Costa Rica, you can still own property and enjoy profit from it, or you can own a business – but you can’t work in it. If you would like to get a work visa in Costa Rica, you may find that a bit challenging. In order to get a work visa, you have to fill a position that a native Costa Rican cannot do, and this is always a hard step to tackle.
There is a 3rd option: retirement visas. Costa Rica grants a temporary residency visa under the category of “pensionado” to foreign-nationals willing to immigrate to the country, who can demonstrate to have a lifetime pension, such as social security, annuities, retirement funds, military pensions, or other guaranteed retirement benefits.
For those without a steady retirement income, there is a 4th option: the “rentista” visa.
The Rentista Program is for people without a fixed retirement income. It requires proof of $2,500 monthly income for at least two years or a $60,000 deposit in a Costa Rican bank approved by immigration authorities.
Residency Options in Costa Rica
The first step in gaining Costa Rican residency is to apply for a temporary residence in Costa Rica. There are a few options for applying for it; one that is most popular among US citizens moving to Costa Rica is to apply based on your willingness to retire in the country. The above-mentioned “pensionado” and “ rentista” programs will grant you a temporary residency. Once you’ve been a temporary resident for three years, you can apply for permanent residence.
Understanding Healthcare in Costa Rica for US Citizens
Costa Rica offers a free, universal healthcare system for citizens and permanent residents. However, the best solution for expats without residency is to purchase an international health insurance plan or private insurance in Costa Rica. This is because hospitals and medical clinics in the private sector tend to offer a better quality of medical service. English speaking doctor of your choice and shooter waiting times to receive medical care. Also, it might be recommended to seek medical help outside of Costa Rica in case of serious illness, for example, in Mexico or even back in the US, and the international health plan allows you for that.
- Compare multiple quotes and coverage options
- Work with an insurance expert at no additional cost
- Find the best plan for your needs and budget
Preparing for the Cost of Living in Costa Rica
Something many visitors to Costa Rica find convenient is the fact that US dollars are accepted almost everywhere. That’s extremely useful as you don’t need to exchange your US dollars when you are here. Moreover, we already mentioned that the cost of living in Costa Rica is relatively cheap compared to the cost of living in the USA. Overall, it is estimated that the cost of living in Costa Rica is 26.6% lower than living in the United States. Where you’ll see the most significant difference in pricing is in housing costs. Compared to the US, rent in Costa Rica is 60% lower.
Food costs are also relatively affordable. In a big city like San Jose, lunch for one person in an inexpensive restaurant will only set you back about USD 7.22. Dinner for two in a nicer restaurant averages USD 41.30. However, you can expect to pay less if you dine in outside touristy areas.
For the average expat, you can budget around USD 1,500 to USD 2,000 per month to spend while living in Costa Rica, which is relatively cheap compared to the United States.
Finding a Place to Live in Costa Rica
Costa Rica allows foreigners to buy real estate there, which is a rarity. Since property prices in the country are lower than in the US, many expats who plan to move to Costa Rica long-term chose to purchase a place of their own. Another reason for buying a property in Costa Rica is that it is pretty challenging to find a suitable long-term deal for rent. This is because local landlords, especially in the expat and/or tourist locations, make more money with short-term rentals.
Setting Up Banking and Finances in Costa Rica
If you’re planning on moving to Costa Rica from the US and living long-term, having your own bank account is essential. Opening a bank account in Costa Rica as an American is relatively easy. However, please note that it depends from bank to bank and even from branch to branch whether your application for a bank account in Costa Rica without a residency status will be approved. One bank, the state-owned Banco de Costa Rica, allows non-resident foreigners to open an account, but there are various restrictions in place. In most cases, however, all you need to show when opening a bank account in a Costa Rican bank is:
- your passport
- proof of residency
- your phone number
- proof of income
- or if you are self-employed – a letter from an accountant – or evidence of assets from a foreign bank, such as your last bank statements
Learning the Language
If you’re visiting Costa Rica as a tourist, it’s entirely possible to enjoy your stay without speaking Spanish. However, living in Costa Rica for more extended changes things. Not only will your life be much easier if you learn Spanish, but it might also actually be a necessity, mainly if you chose to live in a smaller town. Therefore, consider taking Spanish lessons as knowing the language even at a basic level will improve your lifestyle and help you make new connections with local residents.
Making New Friends and Finding Expat Communities in Costa Rica
There are many American expat communities in Costa Rica. All of the popular and safe expat locations in Costa Rica, such as Heredia, Atenas, Arenal, Tamarindo and even some parts of the capital city San Jose are home to many American expats. One way to make friends is by simply being social and visiting US-owned establishments like bars or restaurants, or shops. You can also meet other American expats through Facebook groups, Meet-ups, and specific expat portals.
Before making your move, check out our moving abroad checklist, and the most popular social networks for expats, too!