The rich biodiversity and low healthcare costs are only two reasons a move to Costa Rica from the USA is so alluring. Let expert Scott Talboom be your guide as he reveals what he’s learned while planning his move to Costa Rica from the USA.
Scott shares his insider tips for all you need to know about moving to Costa Rica. So get ready, let’s go!
Table of Contents
I have been to Costa Rica many times and have seen changes, but for the most part, much remains the same.
The positive changes involve the efficiency of systems like banking and getting through customs at the airport. Going to a bank to do business can still be a challenge, but far more manageable and less time-consuming than in the past. Likewise, getting through customs is a breeze compared to my experiences 20 years ago. Many of these enhancements make a move to Costa Rica from USA more appealing.
Infrastructure has significantly improved in the past 20 years, with more roads and better roads. However, like everywhere, there are more cars, more people, and traffic jams. Internet connections here have also improved—you can connect just about anywhere.
Move to Costa Rica From USA and the Cost of Living
The cost of living here was cheap 20 years ago, but not so much anymore. Nonetheless, renting and purchasing a home here is still a deal compared to the USA.
With prosperity, the cost of living has increased for tourists and those who live here. As a tourist or a person like me that is just living the Tico life for several months, you need to be mindful of the tourist traps, like restaurants that look like they belong in the USA. Instead, go to the local pubs and restaurants. The food is better and far more reasonable.
Items like electronics, certain consumer goods, processed foods and cars can also be costly. My cab driver friend says he works around those costs by ordering from Amazon!
Lower your housing costs with a move to Costa Rica from USA
If you plan to move to Costa Rica from USA, you can cut expenses immediately by lowering your housing costs and following the advice mentioned above. Depending on where you live, you might also be able to cut auto costs out of your budget.
As for housing, you can spend a bundle if you want a big house with the beach in your backyard. Or you can immerse yourself in the culture by renting a room in the central mountains like San Jose, Heredia or Alleluja, as I did on my recent trip for a few hundred dollars per month. Living in these towns full-time is also far more affordable than living in beach towns.
Scouting for a Place To Move to Costa Rica From USA?
As I scouted for a place to move to Costa Rica from USA, I lived in several locations over the years. This year, I started in Heredia, then spent a month near the mountain town of Atenas, and finally ended my journey in Jaco, a beach town.
I rented my place in Jaco and Atenas for around $1,000 monthly. I only spent a couple of hundred dollars in Heredia for my three-week stay there. I financed my trip in part by renting my furnished home in the USA.
Every place I stayed was modest, clean and safe, perfect for one or two people.
Now for the reasons I keep coming back: The people here are lovely. Once they get to know you, they will share information and—even better—food!
Pros and Cons of Your Move to Costa Rica from USA
If you can shed your affinity for long hot showers, a perfectly controlled climate where you are staying, and understand that the food may not be the same as “back home,” you can begin enjoying yourself.
Those are the shortcomings. What I love about Costa Rica is how the bar/restaurant owner is so excited about his or her favorite dish they cannot help but give you a free sample.
Also, it’s common for your waiter or bartender to serenade you and dance when their favorite song comes on the jukebox. It is not an act—it is just what they do!
On the first night in Heredia, my cab driver shared that he played bass in a top-rated Costa Rican band (they toured the east coast of the USA for ten years.)
He offered to pick me up the evening I arrived to enjoy his show. He did not charge me for the ride to the venue, and when I arrived with him, the doorman waived the cover charge.
Their music was terrific, playing American cover songs in Spanish and English, original and traditional Latin music. If you are not afraid to make new friends, the move to Costa Rica from USA might be something to consider.
I also love that fresh fruits, eggs, bread and vegetables are always reasonably priced and a short walk from your door to the market on the corner or across the street!
Abundant opportunities to be close to nature
Of course, opportunities to be close to nature are abundant. From impressive National Parks to simple pleasures, including spotting wildlife, self-guided hikes and splashing in the surf!
Getting Around if You Move to Costa Rica From USA
The bus system is highly affordable and efficient. You can get just about anywhere for a few bucks, and contrary to what people say about Latin America, the buses run on time. The cities may be congested, but that makes for a walkable situation that is healthy and enjoyable.
If you find a good cab driver when you move to Costa Rica from USA, especially one that speaks good English (if you are not fluent in Spanish), keep their number! It is beneficial.
My favorite cab driver took me to tourist destinations, provided information about the area like a guide and even took photos of me for less than I could have rented a car for the day!
Depending on where you live when you move to Costa Rica from USA, owning a car may be optional. It is liberating not to navigate the traffic and deal with the hassles of owning or renting a car. Of course, much of this depends on your lifestyle and your patience, and buses take some time and effort.
RELATED: Transportation in Costa Rica
Safety When You Move to Costa Rica From USA
I feel very safe here, and like anywhere in the world, you need to take precautions; even so, violent crime is relatively rare. Being out late at night increases your risks, just like in the USA. However, the smaller towns are very safe.
One of the most significant risks is being a pedestrian. Be mindful of traffic in every direction and holes, big curbs and unexpected dips in the sidewalks!
Driving in Costa Rica is challenging, so be careful when renting a car.
No Habla Espanol? No Problemo!
Yes, language can be challenging, but I see it as an opportunity, not a problem.
I enjoy studying with the Babbel program each morning before starting my day and practicing with my new friends in everyday conversation. It is a victory whenever you have a successful conversation.
It is essential to do your best to learn the language to earn the respect of the people. They are patient and kind and do not ridicule you for your terrible Spanish!
Before making a move to Costa Rica from USA, I recommend taking a class at your local community college and purchasing a self-study program like Babbel, practicing 15 minutes daily or more.
There is nothing better than immersing yourself in the language by making a move to Costa Rica from USA.
Expats and a Tale of Three Cities
As I wrap up this article, I hope it gives you a little perspective into what it is like to move to Costa Rica from USA. The three places I stayed, Heredia, Atenas and Jaco, were very different.
I. Affordable Heredia, Excellent Spot for Spanish Speakers
Heredia offers an affordable urban lifestyle with all the amenities you would expect in the USA. In addition, I was within walking distance of a significant modern mall and central Heredia, offering a much more cultural experience.
You rarely see a gringo in Heredia, so people are excited to see you and learn about the USA. But, of course, it was a challenge because only a few people spoke English.
Life in Heredia is less expensive and would be an excellent place to live for someone who is fluent in Spanish or wants to be and wishes to live the Tico life without the cost.
The weather in Heredia was always cool and refreshing, with some rain and wind when I was there, but as a North American, I rarely felt like I needed an extra layer. During the rainy season, you need to prepare with warmer clothing.
The Airbnb in Heredia, where I stayed for three weeks, was more like staying at grandma’s home than a rental. The lady that owned it loved sharing her traditional Costa Rican dishes with (me) her new gringo tenant.
We spent every morning chatting over coffee, speaking Spanish and English, and, when necessary, resorting to Google Translate.
II. Atenas, an Expat Community With the World’s Best Climate
Atenas has a relatively large older population of gringos and expats from Canada and Europe. So if you wanted to find an expat community, it would be accessible in Atenas.
People here are seeking a healthy lifestyle. Atenas boasts that they have the best climate in the world (according to National Geographic), and it is the best climate I have ever experienced.
Every day it is marvelous in the morning, a bit warm between 11 and 2, and then it cools off again. There always seemed to be a nice breeze, and the temperature in February when I stayed ranged from 80-86F during the day to 70F at night.
Of course, opportunities to be close to nature are abundant. My mornings were spent by the pool, drinking coffee and watching iguanas, Coatimundis, and various birds, including Toucans, in their natural habitat.
My stay in Atenas was peaceful and quiet, but just a little too sleepy for me. Still, I got to know some oxpats staying there quite well.
Atenas is also a great location, conveniently located just 30 minutes from San Jose, an hour from Jaco Beach by car, with access to highways that lead to La Fortuna, the Arenal Volcano, and other tourist destinations a few hours away.
III. Lively Jaco Beach for Outdoor Activities, Nightlife and Robust Expat Scene
Finally, there is Jaco Beach if the beach life is what you seek with a move to Costa Rica from the US.A
I spent the most time in Jaco, five weeks, partly because one of my best friends is a full-time resident here. Expats are everywhere, from older couples to groups of younger people here to experience the attractions and the beach.
There are also plenty of opportunities to listen to music, dance, sing Karaoke and party!
Most people in the service industry speak good English, but mainly the basics to take your order or check you into your room. That said, I did meet far more Latin people speaking fluent English here than in Atenas or Heradia.
Well, there was an ocean within a block of my apartment. Daily and evening walks in the surf occupied a good portion of my day. Opportunities to surf, rent ATVs and motorcycles are abundant, and many tour companies are available for sport fishing, tours to Tortuga Island, zip line experiences, Manual Antone, and so forth.
I liked the fact that there was some nightlife, so I was not in bed shortly after dark every evening.
There were plenty of clouds and some rain to cool things off the second and third weeks I was in Jaco, but the locals told me that was rare for March, so instead, expect mostly sunshine and sweltering days.
The pool and the beach were my friends on the hotter days. Nights and early mornings were comfortable.
Having my friend here, I could spend plenty of time enjoying his company and the expat friends he has gotten to know over the past few years.
Jaco is more expensive than Heradia and Atenas, but thanks to my connection here, I found a lovely place for less than I paid in Atenas.
One little tip about Jaco, if you eat out, especially breakfast, get off the main drag that runs through town. A few hundred feet down a side street will score you an excellent breakfast for half the price.
Jaco can be very expensive if you partake in the abovementioned activities; however, it is not that bad if you are here to live. Of course, real estate will cost more because of the beach proximity, but renting for a few months is okay if you plan and expect something other than an ocean view.
Conclusion: Insider Tips for a Move to Costa Rica From USA
I wrote this article to help you contemplate a move to Costa Rica from USA. I stayed in three different places to get an idea of what suits me as I commit to spending winters in Costa Rica.
The main message here is that there is not one place that is necessarily better than another. It depends on your budget and what kind of experience you are seeking. Pura Vida! — Scott Talboom
Hi, I’m Stacey
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel is a travel blog focused on immersive travel that highlights food, wine and the spirituality of place. I also occasionally write about life as a Camino de Santiago pilgrim. I hope you enjoy what I post here. Feel free to leave comments! Read more…
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