Living in Costa Rica as an Expat

Living in Costa Rica as an Expat

Costa Rica is a democratic country located between Panama and Nicaragua in Latin America. It has earned the name “Switzerland of Latin America” due to its stable nature, huge investments in social welfare, and preservation of nature for a good quality of life for its citizens. In comparison to its neighbours, the country has a low cost of living and a favourable tax regime for expats.

If you are looking for a country that offers a mix of quality living and a great place to explore at prices you can manage, consider Costa Rica. Read on to learn more about the country and aspects that matter for expats who would like to live in Costa Rica.

How is Expat Life in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is generally a slow-paced country. It is ideal for people who want to slow down from a busy, fast-paced life and enjoy what nature has in store for them. The country has features and amenities for people who work remotely, travellers, freelancers and retirees.

This country has taken the cup for most “firsts” in various studies. For example, it was ranked as the happiest nation on earth between 2009 and 2012. It was later ranked as the greenest place in the world in another study.

In Latin America, it is one of the oldest democracies to have ever existed and tops the list of the Human Development Index in the region. In the past, it has also ranked well on the list of the world’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations for travellers.

The charming small country is a top tourist destination for people who want to explore central America. Its allure entices many tourists to return and live there with their families or retire there in their golden years. It boasts enviable tropical weather, stunning scenery, good travel connections with many leading destinations and a low cost of living.

Therefore, an expat looking for a place to live in Costa Rica with family or alone will find the country welcoming, easy to settle and with features that will keep them feeling at home. It has a wide range of experiences to accommodate people from all walks of life and with varying needs.

Post related to living in Costa Rica.
Cheap Places to Live in Costa Rica
Cheap Places to Live in Costa Rica

Which are the Best Places to Live in Costa Rica?

There are several great places for expats to live in Costa Rica, depending on their interests and preferred way of life. Besides, the cost of living varies from one location to another. Costa Rica has seven provinces, namely: Alajuela, Guanacaste, Cartago, Heredia, Limón, San José and Puntarenas. Each of these provinces has distinct living experiences that may appeal to specific foreigners. Here are some of the most popular destinations for expats.


Atenas is a small town in Alajuela Province, which borders Nicaragua in the country's north. The area is on an elevated plateau, which makes it a highland without the hilly landscape that dots such areas. A while back, National Geographic ranked this town as having the best climates on Earth. It was also named one of the best places to retire by AARP in 2010.

There are less than 10,000 inhabitants in the town. Therefore, the area is not very crowded. Here, you are able to experience the authentic lifestyles of the locals. This town is also near San Jose and Escazu. Therefore, you have access to most services and medical care when you need them. Juan Santamaria International Airport is nearby for those who love flying.

The biggest reason why the location is attracting expats is the cost of living. The rent is reasonable, ranging from $750 to $1100 per month depending on the apartment. Food and water are plentiful and, therefore, cheap.


Cartago is the capital city of the province of the same name. It is part of the famed Central Valley, which is an elevated plateau. This elevation provides a cool climate and spectacular views of the surrounding areas. Besides, the city has a rich history that dates back to the 14th century, although some early architecture was damaged by earthquakes centuries ago. The city has botanical gardens, museums and a technology university for those who would like to explore more.

This city has about 150,000 residents and has all the services or amenities you may need to live in Costa Rica comfortably. Like most of the country, it also enjoys a lower cost of living. Therefore, it gives you a chance to enjoy city life at a budget that is way below other places of similar size around the world.


If you love to live by a beautiful beach, Tamarindo is one of the best locations to visit. The North Pacific surfing city is popular with tourists and offers warm, sunny weather for the better part of the year. It is located just an hour away from the Liberia International Airport. Liberia is home to an international hospital. Therefore, if you have a health need that requires regular attention, you are covered.

Furthermore, Tamarindo has a vibrant nightlife, restaurants, and dozens of co-working spaces for expats who want to spend the majority of their time having fun. If you have children, you can choose from one of the many international schools in the area. While the city is more expensive than other parts of the country, it is less expensive than most cities in neighbouring countries with comparable amenities.


Heredia is also the biggest city in Heredia Province. It is known locally as the "City of Flowers" due to its scenic landscape, which is known for its beautiful blooms. The city is located high in the mountains, which is cool and beautiful for foreigners.

The city is close to San Jose. Therefore, if you wish to stay away from the congestion of the bigger city but enjoy all the amenities in it, this is the best place to live in Costa Rica. Besides, the city is home to international schools and high-quality healthcare providers. It has several sights and activities to do but a generally slower pace of life than most cities.

Heredia is generally affordable, with the cost of living below $1,500 a month. It has co-working locations and high-speed internet for expats who would like to work remotely.


Limon is located on the Caribbean coast. The beach town receives fewer tourists than other Pacific cities. However, it has a longer rainy season than other coastal cities. However, it is a beautiful location that has a rich culture and stunning landscape.

The city has all the amenities you need to live in Costa Rica comfortably and is only four hours' drive from San Jose. Besides, it has an airport, which you can use to connect to other cities around the country. Its cost of living is a little higher than $1,500 per person for a comfortable stay away from noise. It has schools, hospitals and other important services that anyone would need.


Dominical is located in the southern area of the country, in Puntarenas Province, and borders Panama. It is an ideal location for expats looking for the natural charm of a rural setting without the noise and congestion of the city. This town boasts idyllic landscapes and has all the amenities you may want to stay comfortably.

The town has a beach on one side, which is great for surfing. Several interior roads are unpaved, but it is located 40 minutes' drive from Quepos, a city with a domestic airport and several large hospitals. Dominical is affordable, with the cost of living below $2,000 monthly.


Escazu is considered one of the safest cities in the country. It is a large city with modern amenities and all the luxury you want. It is also home to top-class international schools and excellent hospitals. The city is near many bigger destinations, including San Jose, which is just less than half an hour away.

The city already has an expat community that will guide you through your settlement to make it fast and less expensive. However, the cost of living in this location is way higher than the rest of the places, due to the quality of life and the number of expats that live in this area. However, you can get an apartment to rent for as little as $1,000. The cost of living ranges from $2,400 to $7,600 USD, depending on the services you use.

Here is a list of the cheapest places to live in Costa Rica.

How Do I Obtain a Visa for Costa Rica?

Costa Rica requires several nationalities to have a visa when entering the country for short or long stays. Those who come for short stays apply for a tourist visa, which enables them to live in the country for up to 30 days. On the other hand, those that are exempt from having tourist visas can stay in the country for 90 days, after which they must leave and be allowed back with fresh time limits.

On the other hand, if you would like to live here permanently, you can pick any of the three options below.

Pensionado Program

This scheme requires evidence that you receive at least $1,000 per month from a lifetime pension from a fund that is acknowledged as a significant entity, such as Social Security, state schoolteacher retirements, etc. IRA and 401K plans are not accepted. Certain annuities might be eligible. Although you cannot work as a worker in Costa Rica, you can run a business and profit from it.


This was created for those who don't have a guaranteed retirement income. It requires evidence of a $2,500 monthly unearned income (not earned from a job) for at least two years, such as stock, 401K, mutual fund, bond, equity, withdrawals from savings, etc. However, depositing $60,000 in a domestic or international bank remains the most typical way to get this kind of visa. In addition, you must establish a two-year schedule for a monthly payment of $2,500 into a Costa Rican account. You must also invest an additional $60,000 to repeat the process after 24 months.

Program for Inversionistas

This is for those who can invest in the nation but may not be eligible for the other alternatives. The investment can be made by buying property in Costa Rica, starting a business, or contributing to other eligible projects that have received government approval, such as reforestation or national interest projects. The required minimum investment dropped to $150,000 from $200,000 in 2021.

Digital Nomad Visa

This is an option for international visitors who would like to stay in the country for extended periods beyond those offered by the tourist visa. It extends the tourist visa for another year, with the option of renewing it for another one. You are exempt from income tax, can validate your driver’s licence in the country and can open a bank account. This is the best option for anyone located in Costa Rica as an American freelancer or remote worker

There are temporary and permanent visa options for retirees, teachers, students and company executives. These are applied either from the country of origin or inside Costa Rica. If you apply for them through your embassy in Costa Rica, your current visa should be valid. This means you apply within the validity period of the current visa.

In addition, all the documents that you present must be appostilled by the Costa Rican Consulate in your country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will then check the authenticity of the documents. It is possible for expats to live with dependents and close family members, such as spouses and family members below the age of 25. Children with disabilities can be older, but they should have medical certificates that specify their disabilities.

The process of getting a residency permit takes several months and involves back-and-forth communication with the embassy. Start your applications well in advance so that you have enough time to comply with all the requirements before the expected moving date. Talk to your consulate if you have problems completing the application process.

What Is The Cost Of Living In Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is relatively cheaper to live in than most of its neighbouring countries that offer the same quality of amenities and services. However, the actual price you will pay largely depends on the facilities you use, your accommodations and where you eat.

In Costa Rica, a single person can easily live on between $1,600 and $2,000 per month. All necessary costs, including accommodation, transportation, healthcare, utilities, food, and entertainment, are covered by this sum. Couples in their retirement years might possibly be able to get by on as little as $2,000 to $3,000 per month.

The availability of reasonably priced real estate in Costa Rica, whether you choose to rent or buy, is one of the main advantages of living there. Affordable homes in good settings can be found in North American architectural styles. Furthermore, healthcare in Costa Rica is both affordable and of good quality, especially for expats who are authorised residents and have access to CAJA, the country's publicly funded healthcare program.

For a small monthly charge dependent on income, this system provides access to a range of medical services, including doctor visits, medications, and operations. Additionally, private hospitals and clinics provide discounted fees for cash payments in addition to health insurance choices. One approach to cutting costs when it comes to food is to buy and dine like a native.

Weekly open-air farmers' markets, or ferias, are held in numerous cities and villages around Costa Rica where locals may buy low-cost fresh food items such as fruits, vegetables, and fish. Typically, a couple can shop at the feria and stock their fridge for $40 to $50 each week. It is important to keep in mind that some beach locations that are well-liked by tourists could have a higher price due to greater costs for rent, dining out, and groceries.

Furthermore, using air conditioning can result in higher electricity costs. No matter where you are in Costa Rica, there are still a lot of ways to cut costs.

Average Wage and Minimum Wage in Costa Rica

The Labour Code states that an employee may only work a maximum of eight hours per day and forty-eight hours per week. However, the period from six o'clock in the evening to the end of the working day is not included in these hours. If an employee's income is determined by reference to a weekly wage, the monthly salary is equal to 4.33 times the weekly wage. If an employee's pay is expressed as an hourly rate, it will be multiplied by 4.33 to determine the wage average.

Here are the average wages.
Per day Per month

  • Unskilled workers CRC11,738.83
  • Semi-skilled workers CRC12,765.12
  • Skilled workers CRC13,154.99
  • Specialized workers CRC15,333.31
  • Generic, unskilled workers CRC352,164.91
  • General semi-skilled workers CRC381,433.12
  • Generic skilled workers CRC396,210.87
  • Workers with generally high levels of expertise CRC452,407.20
  • Technical workers - Diversified Education CRC415,200.76
  • Technical workers - Superior Education CRC511,689.26
  • Technical workers - Diploma of Higher Education CRC552,643.52
  • Technical workers - Bachelors University CRC626,828.55
  • Technical workers - University Graduate CRC752,220.04
  • Superior specialization workers CRC22,044.90

The minimum wages are reviewed after a year. As a result, the figures presented above are likely to change in a year or more. On the other hand, the maximums for different positions are determined by the organizations. While the amount may not be very high compared to your host country, the difference is made up by the lower cost of living. You cannot work in the country until you have the right permit or use a digital nomad visa.

What Are the Must-See Places in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a paradise for nature lovers, offering a diverse range of attractions such as volcanoes, beaches, cloud forests, and abundant wildlife. Travelers of all sorts enjoy visiting this small Central American nation, from luxury tourists and birdwatchers to surfers and backpackers, travellers of many kinds enjoy visiting this small Central American nation.

The bustling city of San Jose is home to a range of cultural attractions, including museums, squares, and historical sites. However, the true beauty of Costa Rica lies in its small coastal towns and villages, as well as its forests and mountain regions.

The Pacific Coast is dotted with endless stretches of sandy beaches and charming towns that cater to beachgoers and surfers. The province of Guanacaste is particularly renowned for its beautiful beaches and beach towns.

Here are some of the popular areas in the country.

Manuel Antonio National Park

The Manuel Antonio Park, which is located outside of Manuel Antonio, is one of the best places in Costa Rica to see a diverse range of animals. The park is home to a wide variety of animals as well as lovely beaches with smooth sand.

A variety of creatures, such as howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, sloths, white-nosed coatimundis, and capuchin monkeys, live in the park. A broad range of colourful birds and beautiful butterflies also live here. While it is possible to tour the park independently, most visitors use a guide.

The Cloud Forests

The Cloud Forests near Monteverde are top destinations for ecotourists, as they offer an opportunity to witness unique plants and wildlife. These clouds cover the forests (hence the name) and provide the necessary moisture to support the diverse habitats in the region. Bird watching is a popular activity in the area, but the reserve is also home to various mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

Watch out for colourful frogs and howler monkeys. You may also be lucky to see more elusive species such as pumas and jaguars. There are also organised hikes and canopy tours, including zip lines, bridges, and cable cars, that are some of the best ways to explore the forest. Monteverde and Santa Elena towns are the main tourist centres in the region, where you get accommodations, restaurants, shops and artist galleries.

The Arenal Volcano National Park

The Arenal Volcano National Park, situated in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range, is a popular destination for visitors interested in volcanoes. Its main attraction is the Arenal Volcano, a cone-shaped mountain with a frequently active crater that often releases ash columns.
This volcano has been inactive since 1500 AD until a catastrophic eruption in 1968 that killed 82 people. Since then, it has experienced regular volcanic activity. Visitors can see a variety of phenomena, ranging from ash clouds to flowing red lava.
In addition, the park has a diverse array of flora and fauna, including about half of all Costa Rican mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. There is also an observatory lodge within the park that offers excellent views of the volcano and adjacent Arenal Lake. This park has hiking trails, many of which lead to waterfalls and lava flows.


Tamarindo, a well-liked vacation spot in Guanacaste's Nicoya Peninsula, is renowned for its top-notch surfing, stunning beaches, and lively atmosphere. This popular tourist attraction with a broad selection of hotels and eateries was formerly a small seaside town.

The charming Tamarindo Beach, a wide crescent that extends for roughly 1.5 kilometers, runs along Tamarindo's coastline. This region is especially liked by surfers since it has a variety of breaks that are suited for both advanced surfers and those just starting out. Typically, November and December are the months with the biggest waves. You can buy souvenirs and favourite Pura Vida jewellery and numerous shops in the location.


Backpackers love Dominical's tropical paradise, which is dotted with rickety wooden cottages, beautiful beaches, inexpensive lodging, casual dining, and a laid-back vibe. It is also well known as one of Central America's top surfing locations.

Due to Dominical's outstanding surfing conditions, many tourists who come to surf stay longer than they initially intended. The town also draws a more affluent populace that favours luxury accommodations on hills or with views of the surrounding area. Since these lodgings are frequently separated from one another, visitors can get up close and personal with local animals like toucans and howler monkeys.

San Jose

San José is a capital city with lots of fun things to do, a tidy, welcoming atmosphere, and a mix of ancient and new architecture. Some of the popular attractions include the National Museum of Costa Rica, which showcases the country's history, culture, and natural history and Plaza de la Cultura, the markets close to the National Theatre. It is also home to the botanical gardens at La Sabana Park and visitors can sample Costa Rican cuisine at one of the city's many restaurants.

You should also visit the Gold Museum, which showcases artefacts like pre-Columbian gold. There are also lots of outdoor activities, parks and live performances that will keep you happy during your entire stay.

What Is the State of Health Care in Costa Rica?

Many people consider Costa Rica's healthcare system to be among the best in the world. The World Health Organization has placed the nation ahead of the United States, Cuba, and New Zealand at number 36 on the global health rankings. Besides, the United Nations rates Costa Rica's healthcare as being in the top 20 in the world. Expats consider quality health a key consideration in their decision to relocate.

These comprehensive, cheap, and effective public health programmes are especially valued by retirees. Costa Ricans are among the healthiest people on earth, with one of the highest life expectancies in the world. This is mostly due to the nation's functional public healthcare system.

Since the 1940s, social security and universal healthcare have existed in Costa Rica. The CAJA (Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social) system serves as a means of providing universal health care to the general population. Citizens and permanent residents get complete coverage for all medical operations, appointments, hospital stays, and prescription medications under CAJA. They make small, monthly payments that are dependent on their income levels to support the system. The government constantly reinvests in hospitals and infrastructure to support healthcare needs.

How Much Does It Cost to Get Quality Healthcare in Costa Rica?

The cost of healthcare in Costa Rica is generally very affordable, particularly in comparison to other countries. Medical procedures and surgeries can cost about a quarter to a third of what they do in the United States, making Costa Rica a popular destination for medical tourism. For uninsured patients or those using private facilities, the average cost of a doctor's visit ranges from $60 to $75, with specialist care visits costing around $100.

Many diagnostic tests, such as ultrasounds, x-rays, and blood work, also cost less than $100. However, these expenses can mount up rapidly, particularly since the majority of medical facilities demand upfront cash payments. For people covered by the CAJA system, there is no out-of-pocket expense for medical services.

Some expats opt to purchase coverage from the Instituto de Seguro Nacional (INS), the nation's sole provider of private insurance. Legal residents have access to INS plans, which give them access to private healthcare providers like doctors, hospitals, labs, and pharmacies.

A health discount plan is an additional choice for people without INS or other private health insurance. For a monthly subscription, these programmes offer reduced prices on consultations, blood tests, and x-rays, giving patients an economical method to access private treatment. Health discount plans are an excellent option for people who wish to save money but foresee having a considerable amount of medical testing in the future.

Who is Eligible?

All permanent residents and citizens must enroll in the CAJA healthcare system. The cost of CAJA membership is determined by a percentage of the applicant's monthly salary, which can range from 7% to 11%. This fee covers the CAJA applicant and any dependent spouse. After completing the approximately 18-month residency application process, foreign nationals are required to register with their local government regional office and sign up as patients at a nearby clinic.

It is advised that you get private medical insurance to cover any unforeseen healthcare bills while you are waiting to join CAJA. Visitors to Costa Rica may only access CAJA facilities in an emergency, and uninsured guests will be charged for all services offered.

Money and Taxes in Costa Rica

Costa Rica's taxes are progressive and range between 0% and 25%. There are two types of taxable income: wages paid for employment within the country and income tax from profit generating activities done in the country.

People who earn a monthly salary of between CRC 0 and CRC 619,000 do not pay tax. Those that earn between CRC 619,000 and 929,000 pay 10% tax. Finally, those earning more than CRC 929,00 pay a 15% income tax. The employer withholds this tax and the individual is not required to file returns. This tax rate also includes corporations that are involved in commerce in Costa Rica (some exceptions apply).

Below are the tax rates for profit-generating activities where the individual is not an employee. However, it applies to any self-employed expat that offers professional services, such as a lawyer or a doctor.

The following are the tax credits:

Taxable Income Tax Rate

  • CRC 0 to 2,747,000 no tax
  • CRC 2.747.000 to 4,102,000 10 %
  • CRC 4.102.000 to 6,843,000 15 %
  • CRC 6.843.000 to 13,713 000 20 %
  • More than CRC 13,713,000 25 %

Here are the tax credits:

Each child gets a monthly maximum credit of CRC 1,170 and an annual credit of CRC 14,040. Spouses get a maximum monthly credit of CRC 1,730 and an annual maximum of CRC 20,760. Any foreigner who has lived in the country for more than six months in the tax year is required to file taxes in the country.

Retirees who are neither employed nor undertaking any income-generating activities in the country and are receiving pension payments from abroad are not required to pay taxes. This makes it a good tax haven for those who are looking to spend their sunset days quietly without spending a significant amount on taxes.

Administration of the Tax Regime

The tax year in Costa Rica is from October 1 to September 30. However, taxpayers may request an alternative timeframe. In the self-assessment system, advance tax is paid in quarterly installments, and the tax return and payment must be submitted within two months and fifteen days of the close of the financial year.

Employers withhold payroll taxes. A penalty of 1% of the total tax debt per month, up to a maximum of 20%, is assessed for late filing. A tax deficiency is subject to a 25% penalty of the amount owed, whereas fraud carries a 75% penalty.

In Costa Rica, corporations are only taxed on income earned within the country. The tax year for corporations runs from October 1 to September 30, although companies may request to file returns for a different tax year with the approval of the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance also establishes a presumptive net income and minimum taxable base for professionals and corporations, unless evidence to the contrary is provided.

Pros and Cons of Living in Costa Rica

Pros live in Costa Rica

Expats here live in a beautiful country. You can choose to live in Costa Rica in the beautiful upcountry, away from the hustle and bustle of cities, or in large metropolitan areas where you have all the amenities. Besides, you may decide to live near a beach and play in the water in your free time or near the mountains, where you can enjoy hiking, cool green landscapes and adventures in large waterfalls.

Costa Rica lies between the tropics. This means that it is warm all year. This means that it is warm all year. Temperatures range between 12 and 17 degrees Celsius all year round. If you're looking to get away from your home country, which has extreme temperatures in certain months, this is the place to be all year.

The crime rate is generally low. Where a standard amount of caution is advised, the place is generally good for foreigners without additional security beyond the general measures. Both men and women expats can live in Costa Rica without fear.

Costa Rica is also one of the best countries to retire abroad. It has several visas that allow foreigners to stay within the country even without a full-time job as long as they have adequate savings or have proof of regular pension payments.

It is possible to find expats living in Costa Rica from every part of the world. You will find people from different countries around the globe who have similar interests and needs. Therefore, you will not lack resources and communal support to get started.

While English is not the first language, it is taught in schools and many people understand it. Therefore, you will not have a hard time communicating with the locals or getting services around the country. However, you may want to study Spanish as it is the national language.

Cons live in Costa Rica

Most locations experience hot and humid weather throughout the year. If you are from a country where you are used to cool weather for extended periods, it may take time for you to get used to the weather. Besides, heavy downpours and floods are common in the country.
Despite being a small country, the infrastructure is still not fully developed. You will find bad roads, fewer airports and fewer railway lines that make travel difficult for adventure-loving foreigners. If you wish to travel a lot, especially out of the country, you must live near the large cities.
Some expats experience a cultural shock when they come to live in Costa Rica. For the citizens to fit in, you must take your time and be willing to learn the ways of life. The culture is very different from most European countries and the USA.
Being a tropical country, there are all manner of bugs, diseases and parasites that thrive there. You must take the necessary precautions to prevent bites and infections until your body has developed adequate resistance to handle the problem.

Conclusion about live in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a great destination for expats willing to settle down alone or with families and work either there or remotely in their home countries. It also offers great experiences for retirees who wish to enjoy their sunset days in peace.

The country has a mix of nice climates, landscapes, flora and fauna, as well as a favourable tax regime to guarantee a comfortable life. Costa Rica boasts affordable living costs and healthcare that enable you to live in Costa Rica comfortably with your pension or standard earnings. Review our resources and tips if you wish to move to other countries or Costa Rica as an expat or for retirement.