How to Retire to Costa Rica

Retire in Costa Rica

¡Bienvenido al paraiso!

Costa Rica has been a favorite international retirement destination for years, attracting expats from various countries like the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, and France. They all come to experience the magic of Pura Vida in this small Central American gem. The appeal is easy to see, with its majestic volcanic mountains, pristine beaches, tropical climate, abundant biodiversity (accounting for over 6% of the world’s total), and a welcoming community. Whether it’s the climate, laid-back lifestyle, proximity to North America, outdoor lifestyle, or the cost of living (particularly for housing and healthcare), let’s highlight how to retire in Costa Rica.

Embracing the Climate

For many seeking refuge from snowy winters or sweltering summer heat, the Costa Rican climate is the foremost draw. While the country experiences tropical rain, the overall quality of life and the ability to enjoy the outdoors remain strong. The climate ranks among the top three reasons retirees move here. With consistently mild temperatures, most regions in Costa Rica rarely see temperatures above 32°C (90°F) at the beaches, and evenings in the Central Valley typically hover around 18.5°C (65°F). Predictable rainy and dry seasons, coupled with limited tropical storms, contribute to the country’s favorable climate.

A Safe Haven

Costa Rica has no national police force or military since the civil war in 1948. This emphasis on peace has been a magnet for expats, including a significant Quaker population drawn to the nation’s neutrality and tranquility. Expats and retirees across the country largely view Costa Rica as a safe place to call home. While crime does exist, it’s not at the levels found in many other retirement destinations, and often lower than in our countries of origin. As with any country, adhering to practical safety rules, such as not leaving valuables in your car, securing your home when you’re away, and avoiding dark streets at night, is advisable.  And for those who want to live with even more peace of mind, gated communities are commonplace. 

Living the Pura Vida

The primary reason so many choose Costa Rica as their retirement destination is the unique Tico way of life. It’s a bit slower and more laid-back, with less emphasis on external concerns. Family and quality of life are central priorities. No wonder Costa Rica is home to one of the world’s five Blue Zones, where people live longer, healthier lives. Pura Vida isn’t just a translation of “pure life”; it’s a profound belief that life is what you make of it. It’s a versatile word, used as a greeting, farewell, a blessing, and even to express “oh well.” In essence, Pura Vida is a way of life. Adapting to the pace and tenor of life here, which may not include late-night text messages, can lead to unexpected personal growth.

With as many as 120,000 Americans living in Costa Rica and approximately 500,000 total expats, the country has witnessed substantial growth in services catering to international residents. Costa Rica is renowned for its high living standards in Central America and consistently ranks near the top in international living and happiness surveys. The country boasts a robust healthcare system, stable banking, a thriving housing market, and burgeoning investment opportunities.

Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

While Costa Rica has its undeniable perks, there are also drawbacks that deter some from long-term residency. From challenging road conditions and traffic to periodic infrastructure issues like power and water outages in certain areas, to expensive imports, life here differs from cosmopolitan environments with extensive cultural scenes. Life is more unhurried, and culture is deeply rooted in the local way of life. Many expats travel to nearby countries and major cities to get their cultural fix before returning to their Pura Vida lifestyle.

Cost to Retire in Costa Rica

Let’s face it: Costa Rica isn’t a budget-friendly destination – even tourists will tell you that. Some retirees end up leaving because they underestimate the cost of living. While it’s cheaper than pricy cities like Toronto, London, or New York, Costa Rica isn’t as cheap as some might expect from a Latin American country. The country resembles a remote island, similar to Hawaii, with limited connectivity and a small population, resulting in a 20-40% markup on most imported goods.

Your cost of living in Costa Rica depends on where and how you live. Dining out every night, shopping at high-end boutiques, and indulging in luxury brands can inflate expenses. However, most of us adjust to a lifestyle that embraces farmer’s markets, local products, cooking more at home, and minimalism. Costa Ricans don’t place as much importance on conspicuous consumption as in some other countries, but globalization trends like fast fashion and convenience are increasing.

The real cost savings are in locally sourced items. For instance, your home purchase or rental will most likely be affordable, but appliances and furnishings may not be. If you plan wisely and make informed decisions about what to bring and what to buy in-country, you can save a substantial amount. And many rentals and existing homes come “as is,” often including furniture, and appliances, large and small.

Key factors to consider when creating a retirement budget in Costa Rica include

Housing / RentInternetHealthcare (Caja, etc.)
WaterCable / StreamingGarbage Collection
GasSecurity SystemHousehold Help
EntertainmentCar / Car MaintenanceMaintenance 

Most expats can live comfortably with budgets ranging from $2,000 to $3,500 per month, encompassing food, rent, utilities, and other essentials.

Expat Housing in Costa Rica

While some choose to purchase homes, the majority of retiree expats prefer renting, at least during their initial years in Costa Rica. Rental prices vary widely depending on the location, whether it’s a touristy beach city, a serene mountain community, or an urban hub. You can find rentals starting at less than $500 per month and going up to $3,000 or more, depending on size and amenities. Utility costs, including water, electricity, and garbage collection, usually stay below $100 per month. Adding internet and possibly cable services, you can still comfortably remain under $200 per month for utilities.

This cost estimate applies to Western-style homes. In many areas, you can discover more traditional Tico or tropical homes, which may require some lifestyle adjustments but are budget-friendly. Collaborate with locals and fellow expats to find the best deals that match your requirements. Feel free to contact us at Your Pura Vida if you have any questions or need assistance in discovering your own slice of paradise.

So Many Choices, Where Should You Live?

If you search for “top places to live in Costa Rica,” you’ll find a multitude of town and region recommendations. No two lists are identical because the ideal destination is highly subjective. You might be adamant about living by the ocean but can’t tolerate excessive heat. You may desire tranquility but also require convenient amenities. Alternatively, you might have no specific location in mind and are simply drawn to where you’ve heard expats gather. The truth is that expats are scattered throughout the country but tend to concentrate in certain pockets.

Alajuela (Alajuela Province)Montezuma (Puntarenas province)
Atenas (Alajuela province)Nosara (Guanacaste province)
Cartago (Cartago province)Nuevo Arenal (Alajuela province)
Central Valley (San José & Alajuela provinces)Puerto Viejo (Limón province)
Dominical (Puntarenas province)Quepos/Manuel Antonio
Escazú (San José province)San Ramón (Alajuela province)
Grecia (Alajuela province)Santa Ana (San José province)
Heredia (Heredia province)Santa Teresa (Puntarenas province)
Jacó (Puntarenas province)Tamarindo (Guanacaste province)

With so many options and differences in provinces and cantons, we understand the challenges of determining where to live. This is why we established Your Pura Vida. There are numerous factors involved in making a decision that will impact your life for a considerable time. We are here to help you think through this life-changing decision. While we are here for you, nothing surpasses visiting and exploring different areas to get a real feel for them. We are more than happy to assist you in setting scouting itineraries.

Healthcare for Expats in Costa Rica

Like housing and location, healthcare is a crucial consideration for retirees in Costa Rica. Whether you opt to join the national healthcare system, retain private insurance, or rely on pay-as-you-go private healthcare facilities, Costa Rica offers excellent healthcare options across the country. In fact, the United Nations has recognized Costa Rica as one of the top 20 nations in the world for healthcare quality.

The key to feeling confident about your healthcare decision is finding medical providers you trust. The good news is that many doctors and staff in Costa Rica, particularly in private healthcare, are fluent in English. The country has strong hospitals, with major facilities located primarily in the Central Valley, such as Hospital CIMA in Escazú, Hospital La Católica in San José-Guadalupe, and Hospital Clínica Bíblica in San José. Guanacaste also hosts a full-service private hospital, San Rafael Arcángel.

Costa Rica offers high-tech medical and dental procedures at significantly lower rates than those in the United States. For instance, an online blog from a patient notes they paid the following for a procedure: 

A private clinic in Guanacaste charges $200 for a biopsy and $400 for cryosurgery for cervical dysplasia. I underwent cryosurgery through the Caja system, and it was covered by my monthly payment.

You can choose to pay for private services out-of-pocket or select an appropriate insurance policy. International policies from the U.S. or Europe are options, as well as insurance from the Instituto de Seguro Nacional (INS) or through providers like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, BMI/Aetna, or Cigna.

Retirement Visas in Costa Rica

Both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals are eligible to apply for a retirement visa in Costa Rica. For Americans, the ease of travel to Costa Rica, just a short flight away, is a significant advantage. However, to remain in the country and enjoy your retirement, you need to obtain the necessary documentation. Enrolling in the Pensionado Program, designed for retirees, is one option. If you are currently residing outside of Costa Rica, you can apply for a Costa Rica retirement visa at a Costa Rican consulate or embassy.

Regardless of your citizenship, you must demonstrate sufficient funds and health insurance to ensure you won’t strain the government’s resources before you can apply for a Costa Rica Retirement Visa. If you’re unsure about whether you need a visa to enter Costa Rica, it’s crucial to consult with experienced immigration attorneys in Costa Rica. They can provide detailed guidance based on your individual situation, helping you navigate the process of applying for a Costa Rica Retirement Visa.

Visa Categories in Costa Rica

While this article primarily focuses on retirement in Costa Rica, it’s important to highlight the various programs available to expats seeking to call this country home because even retirees may want to apply for a different program based on their needs and goals. Here are the key types of visas to be aware of:

Costa Rica Pensionado (Pensioner) Visa

Applicants need to demonstrate a minimum income of $1,000 per month from sources such as a pension, business, fixed retirement plan, or Social Security. IRAs do not qualify, but certain annuities may be accepted. This visa covers the applicant and their spouse. Initially, the status is “temporary” for the first three years, after which permanent residency can be requested. Pensionado Residency must be renewed annually, and proof of income is required.

Costa Rica Inversionista (Investment) Visa

Ideal for those planning to invest in property, a car, a business, or similar assets with a minimum value of $150,000. This visa extends to the applicant, their spouse, and any children under the age of 25. The Inversionista visa initially grants temporary status for three years and requires annual renewal.

Costa Rica Rentista (Renter) Visa

Suited for expats and retirees without a fixed pension income. Applicants need to obtain a document from a bank or financial advisor confirming that $60,000 will be transferred to Costa Rica at a monthly rate of $2,500 for two years. The Rentista visa covers the applicant, their spouse, and children under 25 supported by a single source of income. This visa initially offers three years of “temporary” status, after which you can apply for permanent residency. Rentista residency also requires annual renewal.

Costa Rica Retiree Visa Process

Each of these programs has an application fee, in addition to meeting income requirements. And you will pay a fee to an attorney to develop and process your application.  Also the consulate may charge fees for authentication, along with fees for document translation, notarization, and obtaining official documents. The same income information and documents must be provided for each renewal. After three consecutive renewals, you can apply for permanent resident status.

For all expats, retirees, and others considering Costa Rica as a destination, consulting an attorney in Costa Rica who specializes in residency is highly recommended.  When you get to that stage, Your Pura Vida is happy to help you find the right attorney to fit your needs.

We’ve provided you with a wealth of information here. If it feels overwhelming, rest assured that Costa Rica is one of the more straightforward countries to retire in, and foreigners are warmly welcomed. When contemplating a move and choosing your ideal location, there is much information to consider, and the nuances are abundant. This is why we developed Your Pura Vida: to help individuals thoroughly evaluate all the intricacies of such a significant move and to assist our new friends in thriving here. 

Still have questions or concerns, reach out!  Let’s set a time to talk.  And don’t forget to check out links to all our blogs, our YouTube videos and our website for more information.  And until we do connect, Pura Vida!