With all of the emails I get from people thinking about moving to Costa Rica, one of the three most common questions is always about healthcare.
It’s not hard to fathom why (they’re usually from the U.S.A. – not Canada, of course) with health insurance premiums and prescription drug prices skyrocketing in the ever-more confusing and ineffective system of medical care in the states.
So what can you really expect when it comes to healthcare if and when you relocate to Costa Rica?
The great news is that Costa Rica has a top notch system of medical care with plenty of options for expats, from utilizing their state-run socialized system for residents, opting for affordable private healthcare insurance, paying out-of-pocket, or mixing in a combination of U.S. and travel insurance coverage.
You should be encouraged by the quality of Costa Rican medicine, too. It’s no coincidence that Costa Ricans are some of the healthiest people in the world, with higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates than those in the United States. In fact, the World Health Organization frequently ranks Costa Rica well ahead of the United States and all other Central American countries for healthcare.
The amazing thing is that Costa Rica earns all of these accolades for its medical care even though healthcare spending is 87% less per capita than in the U.S.!
So as an expat, resident or just visitor to Costa Rica, you’ll enjoy great quality care for surprisingly reasonable prices.
I’m sure you have specific questions, and all of them will be answered in The Official Expat’s Moving to Costa Rica Handbook, including:
To find out everything you need to know about medical treatment, insurance, and healthcare while visiting or living in Costa Rica, purchase my Shopfull handbook.
But if you want to save some money, check out the Shopmost popular sections from the Handbook for only $9.95.
Whether you're an expat moving down to Costa Rica permanently, a snowbird escaping their for the winters, or just a traveler going on a vacation soon, you'll love these 50 fun and interesting facts about Costa Rica!
1. Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos and Ticas.
2. Costa Rica is slightly smaller than Lake Michigan.
3. There are 800 miles of coastline, both on the Atlantic and Pacific.
4. Costa Rica borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.
5. It only takes up .03% of planet’s surface but holds 5% of its biodiversity!
6. There are over 130 species of fish, 220 of reptiles, 1,000 butterflies (10% of the world’s butterflies are in Costa Rica!), 9,000 plants, 20,000 species of spiders and 34,000 species of insects!
7. More than 25% of Costa Rican land is protected national parks and refuges.
8. They don’t have summers and winter seasons like in the U.S., but a dry season that runs December-April and a rainy season that runs May- November.
9. The average life expectancy of 77 years is one of the highest in the world.
10. Costa Rica had a female president, Laura Chinchilla.
11. Costa Rica has no standing army. It was constitutionally abolished in 1949.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼12. Costa Rica has a 96% literacy rate. In very poor and rural areas, where children can’t get to schools, they teach classes over a national radio station.
13. When a woman is pregnant, they say she is “con luz,” or “with light.”
14. When someone is your significant other (your “other half”), they are your “media naranja,” or the other half of your orange.
15. Like we mentioned, “Pura vida” is the national saying, meaning “pure life.” It’s a sunny, feel-good expression used as a greeting, goodbye, or if someone asks how you are doing.
16. The average Tico makes $6,000 a year, and the average wage labor is $10 per day, the highest in Central America.
17. Costa Rica is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2020.
18. San José is only a 3-hour flight from Miami and 4 1⁄2 from New York. They have nonstop flights from New York, Houston, and Miami.
19. Names can be confusing in Costa Rica. Ticas (female Costa Ricans) do not take their husband’s last name. Instead, the woman uses her full maiden name for life, so she doesn’t need to worry about changing her ID cards, driver’s license, etc. She also adds her mother’s maiden name, but children take their father’s name. Confused yet?
20. The older generations of Ticos are not tall, so most furniture, like chairs, couches, beds, etc. used to be built 6-8 inches lower than in the US.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼21. Locks (on houses, doors, and gates) almost always work backward (from our perspective).
22. Milk, eggs, and other perishable items are usually sold unrefrigerated.
23. It’s common to buy wine in little paper boxes, which are then refrigerated.
24. Milk is commonly sold in a little plastic bag, and you have to cut the edge with scissors to open it, which often results in inexperienced gringos covered in milk and putting water on their cereal. (I’ve learned from personal experience!)
25. Costa Rica is a Catholic country but ensures freedom of religion. 26. Nearly all Catholic churches in the country face west.
27. On the Atlantic Coast (the Caribbean side), most of the population is descended from African roots, like Jamaica, and speak Spanish as well as a patois.
28. A Costa Rican female swimmer won a gold medal in the 1996 summer games in Atlanta.
29. Costa Rica is the longest-standing democracy in Central America.
30. Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, with workers enjoying unions, membership cards, health benefits, and police protection. However, possession of pornography is illegal!
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼31. In most areas, people cannot flush toilet paper because the pipes are old and only 1” wide, so toilet paper goes in the trash basket.
32. Pedestrians have very few rights in Costa Rica. They joke that Ticos love to use their horns but hate to use their brakes! It’s so bad that the Tico word for “speed bumps” is “son muertos,” or “the dead people.”
33. Most Costa Ricans don’t have addresses and there are very few street signs. When mailing something or giving directions, they just point out proximity to nearby landmarks. So when I lived in San Pedro, a suburb of the main city, San José, my address was: “50 meters south and 100 west of the church of San Pedro.”
34. Earthquakes are common in Costa Rica. They may get 2-40 per month depending on the movement of tectonic plates! Almost all of them are small (although we got a 7.6 while I’ve lived here!)
35. Ticos put coffee in their baby’s bottles along with milk, and also give it to young children.
36. The most popular national beer is Imperial. They drink it over ice with lime and salt, called a “michelada.”
37. “Guaro” is the national liquor, sort of like firewater sugarcane tequila.
38. Fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken make home deliveries in Costa Rica.
39. The meter in a taxicab is known as the “Maria,” which is a sarcastic reference to the Virgin Mary’s honesty and virtue.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼40. You aren’t allowed to wear sunglasses or hats inside of the banks due to the constant threat of bank heists.
41. Their slang is much different than proper Spanish. One term for street language is “pachuco.”
42. One slang word is to call someone “Mopri.” This is supposed to mean “primo,” or cousin backward. In the 90’s Costa Rican teen culture went through a phase where they were saying words backward.
43. A lot of popular bands play the main stadium in San José, most recently the Red Hot Chili Peppers and then Lady Gaga.
44. Scientist actually named a species of Costa Rican fern after Lady Gaga after she played there.
45. They have bullfights in Costa Rica, but instead of the bull being harmed, it runs free around the ring and tries to maul the brave teens and men who jump in there for sport. Almost every little town has a festival with bullfights during the holidays.
46. Costa Rica is one of the biggest cocaine transit nations in the world. Approximately 95% of the cocaine that ends up in the United States comes from Columbia to Costa Rica, and then up through Central America into Mexico and across the border.
47. Robert August brought the surf scene to Costa Rica with his 1968 documentary, Endless Summer, and then Endless Summer II.
48. If you get pulled over by the police for some minor traffic infraction in Costa Rica (or some imaginary infraction), the cops can probably be paid off for around $40 or less.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼49. You are not allowed to wear shorts in a government or public office in Costa Rica - they see it as disrespectful and may turn you away.
50. Costa Rica is a warm, beautiful, and friendly country! Enjoy!
I get a whole lot of emails from people who have questions about moving to Costa Rica. This morning, I received an email so short and sweet – and on everyone’s mind – that I’d thought I’d share with you.
Erica from the USA asked:
“Can one person live in Costa Rica on $3,000 a month?”
The short answer?
Yes, it is possible to live on $3,000 a month in Costa Rica – or even less.
The in-depth answer?
“It depends,” because each expat, traveler or visitor has a different standard of living. Additionally, different areas within Costa Rica can be more or less expensive, and even the time of year (rainy vs. high season) can make costs fluctuate wildly.
But this I will say: living in Costa Rica isn’t as cheap as you may think.
People often think that because it’s a Central American or tropical country that it must be a paradise where you can live like a king or queen for next to nothing, but that’s not the case anymore. International influences, the spread of resort-quality living and advances in local knowledge, skills and infrastructure have seen costs escalate in past years.
But the good news is that you can still live very well on a modest budget in Costa Rica with some planning and discipline.
For retirees that factor in things like healthcare costs, it can be far less expensive than living in the United States for a better standard of life.
For most people, the biggest costs come from renting a place, and then maybe food a close second.
Here are some notes on cost of living in Costa Rica:
A decent standard of living for a single person is at about $1,500 to $2,000 a month. That is very possible, but if you add eating meals out at restaurants, drinking out or other entertainment, activities and side trips, I’d say you’d be far more comfortable at $2,500 - $3,000.
Likewise, a retired couple can live comfortably for about $2,000 to $3,500 a month for two people including the cost of housing, food, transportation, medical care (that can vary greatly), and entertainment.
While Costa Rica may not be as inexpensive as other Latin American countries, it is still possible to have access to creature comforts and luxury goods that are much cheaper than in the States. Life in Costa Rica allows for a high level of “spending freedom,” meaning you can spend very little if you choose to live more like a local, or you can spend a lot and enjoy the North American-style luxuries.
Expenses vary greatly depending on area and lifestyle, but here are some average monthly expenses for 2016-17:
• Apartment (local standard): $300 - $500
• Condominium (larger or more luxurious): $600 - $900
• House (2-3 bedroom): $500 - $1,200
• Electricity (house): $75 - $200 depending on location and air conditioner use
• Water/sewage (apartment): $12
• Telephone: $13
• Cable TV: $40
• High-speed Internet (ADSL): $25
• Cleaning service or a gardener for $2/hour or $200/month
• Entertainment is very affordable with museum entrance or
concerts around $5
• Import duties make it very expensive to import your car, probably
best to buy locally
• Consumer electronics are much cheaper in the US, bring them
with you instead of buying in Costa Rica
Want more information on the cost of living - and just about everything else - for expats in Costa Rica? Download the Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
Thinking about moving to Costa Rica? That's a damn good decision in my opinion. But don't take my word for it, as I've been traveling there since 1999 and made the move there in 2011. So whether you're planning on retiring in Costa Rica, living there for part of the year, or just taking a nice vacation, here are 20 reasons why Costa Rica is the coolest country on earth!
1. It’s ecologically friendly
Costa Rica is considered one of the most ecologically conscious countries in the world, instituting a goal to be carbon neutral way back in 1997 – and coming close these days. In fact, Costa Rica is ranked no. 5 in the world on the Environmental Performance Index, the best country outside of Europe. It’s probably also the no. 1 eco-tourism destination in the world.
2. It has the oldest constitution in Central America
Costa Rica is the longest-standing democracy in Central America, thanks to a national constitution drafted in 1949. This governing document affords many rights and protections to its citizens, allowing Costa Rica to enjoy stable and peaceful growth. Costa Rica consistently ranks the highest of any Latin Nation on the Human Development Index and United Nations Development Program.
3. It’s a country with no army
With their progressive constitution in 1949, Costa Rica decided to ban any armed forces, making it one of only countries in the world without an army, still to this day.
4. A model education system
By investing in education instead of funding an army, Costa Rica now boasts a 96% literacy rate, the highest in Latin America. Their commitment to education has allowed them to attract good skilled jobs and boost income for their citizens.
5. Unmatched natural beauty
Costa Rica has not one but two gorgeous coastlines, with more than 800 miles of shoreline and tropical beaches between the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country.
6. The most diverse wildlife on the planet
There are over 130 species of fish, 220 of reptiles, 1,000 butterflies, 9,000 plants, 20,000 species of spiders and 34,000 species of insects in Costa Rica. That represents 5% of the world’s biodiversity even though it is just about .03% of the earth’s total landmass. Costa Rica is also known for its sloths and turtles, which can be seen in protected habitats and beaches. But if you’re more of a monkey, lizard, or exotic bird lover, Costa Rica will be your favorite place! In fact, the country became the first place in the Americas to ban recreational hunting.
7. Adventure sports galore
Zip lining, sky diving, jumping off waterfalls, repelling, exploring caves, horseback riding, 4×4 runs, jet skiing, and just about every other adventure sport you could imagine are all on the menu in Costa Rica.
The landmass of present day Costa Rica is the result of volcanic eruptions 75 million years ago – and still is active today. In fact, Costa Rica still has five listed active volcanoes and more than 200 volcanic formations. The most famous of these is Arenal Volcano, an easy day trip from San José. It last erupted in 1968, but it’s now considered safe and you can still enjoy the hot springs at its base.
9. Protected nature reserves
Costa Rica is on the forefront of environmental conservation, long ago protecting about 25% of their country as national parks. Manuel Antonio National Park on the west coast is the most famous, but Tortuguero National Park and La Amistad International Park are amazing, too.
10. A top surfing destination
Costa Rica is ranked as one of the three best surfing destinations in the world, home to year-round warm water and a unique microclimate that bring consistent offshore winds. Big competitions like the Billabong World Surfing Games are often hosted by Costa Rica, but even beginners can wax up their boards and catch some waves.
11. Their “pura vida” attitude
A common saying among locals is “pura vida,” which means “pure life.” Everywhere you go in Costa Rica you will be welcomed with a smile by the locals, and they will truly make you feel at home in their country.
12. It’s so close to the U.S. and Canada
One of the best benefits about Costa Rica is its close proximity to the United States and Canada. San José is only a 3-hour flight from Miami and 4 1⁄2 hours from New York, and there are more and more nonstop, cheap, and direct flights all the time.
13. The happiest country on earth
The World Database of Happiness ranks Costa Rica as the #1 happiest nation on earth out of 148 countries. (The United States ranks no. 20, by the way.)
14. Gender equality
According to the World Economic Forum, Costa Rica ranks higher than even the United States in the gender gap index. The female population is educated, enjoys advanced healthcare, voting, and employment equality. In fact, Costa Rica even had a female president recently.
15. Superb coffee and chocolate
Thanks to their mountain terrain and tropical weather, Costa Rica is known for producing some of the best coffee and chocolate in the world. Those just happen to be two of our favorite things!
16. A world-class healthcare system
Costa Rica has a modern and highly rated healthcare system, even more highly ranked than the United States. Costa Rican citizens enjoy universal healthcare insurance and have a life expectancy of 77 years, one of the highest in the world.
17. Modern and improving Infrastructure
Costa Rica has gone to great lengths to modernize and improve their infrastructure in the past decades. There are efficient international airports, paved highways connecting the country, and modern amenities in the capital of San José, as well as any popular touristy area.
18. Diving and marine life
Costa Rica has some of the best diving, snorkeling, and accessible marine life in the world, such as such the Cocos Island National Park (also a World Heritage Site), and the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refugee. In fact, Costa Rica’s oceans are home to at least 6,777 species, which is 3.5% of the known marine species on the planet!
19. Bull fights...that are safe for the bulls
Bullfights are a Costa Rican tradition at every small village festival and the grand events in San José. But unlike the bullfights in Spain and other countries, the bulls are never harmed in Costa Rica...although they do dish out some serious damage to whoever is brave enough to jump in the ring with them!
20. Costa Rica welcomes expats
People from all over the world choose to move down to Costa Rica and make it their new home. Retirees, surfers, young families, and those who just desire the simple, beachside life move there every year by the thousands – and Costa Ricans general welcome them with open arms.
To find out more about life as an expat in Costa Rica, download my free special report, “50 Facts About Moving to Costa Rica” here.
Are you serious about moving to Costa Rica? Download The Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook to answer all of your questions.
(This CRexpat.com article was published in the Huffington Post)
Costa Rica welcomes expats!
People from all over the world are choosing to move to the breathtakingly beautiful country of Costa Rica, making it their new home. In fact, every year, about 2.5 million tourists and visitors touch down in the nation ranked #1 on the World Happiness Index, and about 50,000 North American expats and retirees now live there permanently.
Whether they’re retirees, surfers, nature enthusiasts, young families, or those who just desire a simpler, sunny life by the beach, Ticos (what Costa Rican people are called) welcome them with open arms.
But life is not perfect in Costa Rica for expats and retirees – nor is it always easy or cheap. So you'd be wise to seek out plenty of practical information and honest advice before moving there.
Here are 12 facts about moving to Costa Rica to get you started:
1. If you’re going to move to Costa Rica, one of the biggest decisions you’ll make is where to live. While Costa Rica is typically divided into five regions: Central Valley, Gold Coast, Arenal, Southern Zone, and Central Pacific, the expat communities are strongest in the Central Valley, Gold Coast, and a little in the Southern Zone.
Towns like Jacó, Tamarindo, Dominical , Uvita, Ojochal, Escazu, Atenas, Grecia, and Puerto Viejo are most popular with expats.
2. Costa Rica has a modern and highly rated healthcare system, even more highly ranked than the United States. Costa Rican citizens enjoy universal health care insurance and have a life expectancy of 77 years, one of the highest in the world.
3. The government makes it easy for foreigners to do business in Costa Rica, in part because they want more jobs created for Ticos. You don’t even have to be a resident of the country – you can start a business on a tourist visa. A standard 90-day tourist visa allows you to buy an existing business, like a hotel or B&B, or to build your own.
4. Work visa can be a little difficult to qualify for. You must first prove that you are filling a position that a Costa Rican is not qualified for or incapable of doing, and an employer must sponsor you.
5. U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica, only a valid U.S. passport (make sure it is still good for at least six months after your trip) and proof of a plane ticket to exit the country. Residents of the U.S., Canada, Australia, France, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, and many other countries do not need a visa, and can enter and stay for 90 days as a tourist.
6. It’s important to understand that there’s a big difference between citizenship and residency in Costa Rica Most people from North America/Europe will not qualify for citizenship. However, for those wanting to live the normal expat lifestyle in Costa Rica, having residency is sufficient under the law.
7. The amazing thing about buying real estate in Costa Rica is that foreigners and locals have the same rights and follow the same laws as Ticos. In fact, property ownership is protected by the Costa Rican constitution. You don’t even need to live in Costa Rica to buy property or own land – you can buy and own outright with a tourist visa.
8. For those looking to rent an apartment or house, accommodations in Costa Rica can range from $400 to $900 for a simple apartment, $700 to $1,800 or more of a small house, and upwards of $2 or even $3k per month for larger homes, private villas, or luxury condos.
9. The state-run health system is called the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, or CCSS. However, you’ll almost always hear it referred to as, “la Caja” or just “Caja.” It includes medical care in any of the 30 hospitals and 250 clinics throughout Costa Rica in this government-sponsored network.
10. All citizens and legal residents to Costa Rica get access to Caja. Each member is required to pay a small monthly fee into Caja based on their individual income. Tourists are eligible and should ensure they have adequate health insurance. However, tourists won’t be turned away from Caja medical facilities in case of emergencies.
11. But for those expats who plan on retiring or living in Costa Rica, it probably is worth it to establish residency, and therefore get access to low-cost medical care through Caja. In fact, if you’re going to be a legal resident of Costa Rica, paying into Caja is REQUIRED – you can’t get any form of residency without proof of existing Caja coverage.
12. You should be able to live modestly for a minimum of about $1,500 a month in Costa Rica, or $50 a day. However, Costa Rica shouldn’t be considered a “cheap” country to live in. A decent local standard of living for a single person is at about $1,500 to $2,000 a month.
While that is possible, if you add eating meals out at restaurants, drinking out or other entertainment, activities and side trips, I’d say you’d be far more comfortable at $2,500 - $3,500. Likewise, a retired couple can live comfortably for about $2,500 to $3,500 a month for two people including the cost of housing, food, transportation, medical care (that can vary greatly), and entertainment.
Want more great information about moving to Costa Rica? Download the free special report, 50 Fun and Useful Facts About Moving to Costa Rica.
“I’m thinking about moving to Costa Rica,” are words I see every day in emails, Facebook messages, and from people who have read my articles about life as an expat in that country. More and more, people in the U.S. and Canada are thinking about making the move down to the Central American tropical paradise to live with the spirit of pura vida — the pure life.
“I want to move down to Costa Rica to live, buy a house, and open a business,” is the usual agenda, but their life-plan isn’t well thought out after that. I see a lot of people rushing into their big move, spurred on by visions of a stress-free, easy life on the beach. Their experience can either truly be “living the dream,” or a complete nightmare based on what happens next.
I go into every nut and bolt about moving down to Costa Rica in my new handbook, but I wanted to give you a snapshot of the most common mistakes people make when they’re considering becoming an expat in Costa Rica. Here are the top five mistakes I see, in no particular order:
1. Costa Rica or bust - without considering other options.
Costa Rica truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but what do you truly know about it? If you think all-day, everyday life there is sitting on a postcard-like beach, you might be shocked to hear that people actually have problems and challenges there, just like they do back home in your current life.
And why does it have to be Costa Rica? Honestly, why haven’t you considered Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia or other similar expat havens?
Of course, Costa Rica is a welcoming, healthy, and positive destination for many expats, but just make sure you think it through, do your homework, and prepare adequately for real life – not a rosy fantasy.
2. Thinking that you need to become a resident immediately.
Establishing residency in Costa Rica can be an expensive and timely proposition (unless you marry a Tica!) So don’t worry about residency just yet — the country will grant you a 90 day tourist visa, so all you have to do is leave the country for a few days — or a few hours — after that (called the Border Shuffle), and come right back in on a new visa. You can still get a driver’s license and function just fine without residency, while still keeping your options open. Take your time and make sure it’s where you want to be before establishing residency.
3. Moving down to Costa Rica permanently before you get to know it.
I recommend visiting for prolonged periods of time, first, to get to know the country, the different towns, the people, and the culture, before you commit to it. Start out with a month or two and go from there. If you really want to see what it’s like, go during their rainy season/low tourist season. Don’t treat your visit like a vacation, but instead, meet as many locals and expats who live there as possible, exploring different parts of the country.
No matter how beautiful Costa Rica may be, it’s always good to get back Stateside for a little bit every year to “recharge the batteries” by seeing family, friends, enjoying cooler weather, etc. The best schedule I can imagine is splitting the year between Central America and the U.S. (or wherever your home country is).
4. Looking to buy real estate too soon.
Err on the side of caution with buying real estate in Costa Rica (or any country) too soon. Not only will you not know or understand their local markets, but there can be issues with holding title, getting loans, etc. You also may fall victim to ridiculously overpriced condominiums and projects plagued by HOA issues.
So wait at least a year before you even think about buying real estate. You can always find a nice, inexpensive place to rent, giving yourself time to research and get to know about the housing market.
5. Rushing into opening a business - or opening the wrong business!
Too many people who move to Costa Rica try to open a business immediately, investing their life savings in it. Unfortunately, many of them lose all of their money, becoming so stressed in the process that they don’t enjoy daily life anymore.
There are a lot of considerations when opening a business in Costa Rica. A Costa Rican (Tico) might need to be on the paperwork for an official business, which could further complicate things. You also need to see what it’s like in the low season, too, before making accurate projections on profitability.
So if you’re going to start a business in Costa Rica, make sure it’s a low-risk endeavor that doesn’t cost you much. Try being an employee, first, just until you understand employment and business practices a little better. Many expats work as teachers, real estate agents, or in tourism in Costa Rica without official work visas.
I have much more advice for you but, to summarize, the best ways to avoid these common mistakes is to the take your time and be conservative: check out a lot of places before committing to one, keep your cash someplace safe, don’t rush into residency, buying a house, or starting a business, keep working abroad to replenish your funds, and perhaps come back to the U.S. to recharge your batteries a few months every year.
This plan will yield you the least amount of risk and stress, and keep things flexible and fun. The rest will work itself out based on what makes sense and feels right!
Get ready for the move of your life to beautiful Costa Rica!
To find out more about life as an expat in Costa Rica, download my free special report, “50 Facts About Moving to Costa Rica” here.
Are you serious about moving to Costa Rica? Download The Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook to answer all of your questions.