Every year, 6.6 million U.S. citizens call another country home - including Costa Rica but many others, too.
We do so for a variety of reasons -- work assignments, warmer climates and better medical care, and a cheaper cost of living for example. But whatever the reason for buying a one-way ticket and becoming an expatriate, there are some important choices to make once we get there.
I’ve been lucky enough to live in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and travel all over the world to 47 countries on six continents and counting. I’ve also met expatriates almost everywhere I traveled, and picked their brains every chance I got.
So, if you’re considering a similar move abroad, here are some things to consider:
1. The language barrier
Communication is something we take for granted, but when you are in a foreign country you might not be able to walk right up to someone and express yourself... or ask for life’s essentials, like the bathroom, and beer. You’ll want to study and practice the language as much as possible before you go. Also, taking intensive language lessons once you arrive is a great way to meet people and ease the linguistic transition.
2. Where to go?
There are many factors that go into your choice of a new home country: climate, political stability, crime, proximity to the U.S. for a quick flight home, cost, language and customs, etc. Many people chose to expatriate to places like Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, or the Philippines for these reasons.
3. Taxes, insurance, and other nuts and bolts
Even when you’re living in another country, the IRS expects you to pay U.S. taxes as long as you’re a citizen and make income. You’ll probably also want to stay current with your U.S. health insurance, and many people conveniently forget to tell them that you don’t live in the U.S. anymore so it doesn’t cause complications. You can bank online and pay bills online these days with e-statements, but you can also get your stateside mail sent to a relative or to a post office box.
4. Medical care
It’s important to be aware of the medical services available in your communities, and how they are rated for quality and consistency, as well as access to prescription medications. Many seniors who are expats want to live in countries with medical care that is much less expensive than in the U.S. Luckily, that is most of the world.
5. Buying real estate (or a business, a car, etc.)
Your first instinct may be to plant “roots” by purchasing a home, a car, etc. but I’ve found it’s best to give it some time. Don’t make any major purchases for at least a year until you thoroughly learn the local culture, customs, and business climate. There can be some complex and Draconian rules when it comes to property and vehicle ownership, as well as bizarre registration and paperwork demands.
People get ripped off or make bad decisions all the time, so give it some time until you’re a seasoned expat and enlist the advice of a trusted local. You’ll also want to weigh out the import taxes and costs of having things like a car or furniture shipped down to you, or buying them locally.
The reality is that you have to be careful no matter where you are in the world, but with some common sense, you can stay super safe in Costa Rica. Don’t walk around with expensive (or probably any) jewelry, don’t show off valuables, don’t go into bad areas, befriend locals to show you around and watch after you, always respect others, don’t walk around late at night or get too drunk, and get a dog!
Every country (including and especially the U.S.!) suffers from street crime. But you want to avoid countries where there’s political upheaval or religious extremist groups — and Costa Rica definitely doesn’t have those problems.
7. Working, making money, and doing business
Many expats find out that life isn’t quite as cheap as they anticipated and the savings goes fast, so you’ll have some decisions to make about earning money. But do you try and open a local business? Try to keep working in the U.S., doing your job remotely from your new home country? Or jump into tourism?
Do your research and go for a low-risk consistent paycheck, not a venture that requires a huge up-front investment of time and money. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen open bikini or surf shops, bars or restaurants, but six months later they’re broke, stressed and out of business. Keep it simple.
Technology will be an invaluable tool as you try to stay connected to friends and family, do business, and get things done from your new country. With some adjustment and planning technology will be your best friend. Get a local cell phone. Almost every bar and restaurant has Wi-Fi, so iPads, laptops, iPhones (with your U.S. network turned off!), and e- readers can all be used as mini computers to keep you rocking and rolling.
Applications like Skype, Netflix, WhatsApp, Internet calling apps, language translators, currency converters, and GPS make your life easier. And a GoPro camera or drone will be super fun in Costa Rica!
9. Blending into the local community
Assimilating to the local culture is a long-term challenge, but also a constant source of connection, humor, and fascination. Be naturally curious and open to being outside of your comfort zone. Say hello and show respect to everyone, learn the local sayings, the customs, celebrate the holidays, make local friends, and even get in good with the police and officials. Attending religious services and volunteering to do charity work are great ways to foster good will and positive karma.
10. Residency and Visas
Some expats want to become citizens of their new nation; some are content staying there on extended tourist visas. If that’s the case, you might have some shuffling to do over the border to renew your visa every 90 days.
Sometimes, there are huge benefits to becoming a citizen, while for others, it’s just not worth it. So do your homework and talk to other expats because it could be a lengthy and expensive process to establish residency.
-The Official Expat,
Find out everything you need to know about moving to Costa Rica - or abroad - with my Official Expat Handbook.
Google and the other search engines receive hundreds of thousands of inquiries about Costa Rica every day. I'll share the top ten Google queries (with my answers), starting with the first five today and the next five in weeks to come.
The top 10 Google queries about Costa Rica:
1. Where is the best place to visit in Costa Rica?
There are so many wonderful places to visit in Costa Rica, that’s impossible to answer! But the good news is that the country is relatively small, so intrepid travelers can visit a whole lot of destinations in a short time. Some of the top destinations and points of interest include San José, the capital, Jacó Beach, Santa Teresa, Malpais, Montezuma, Arenal Volcano, Monteverde and Santa Elena, Tamarindo and Guanacaste, Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side of the country, and the many incredible national parks that dot the country.
2. Where is the best beach in Costa Rica?
Visitors tend to love different beaches for different reasons: diving and snorkeling, surfing, turtle and whale watching, remote jungle expeditions, or white sand and fruity drinks under an umbrella. Some of the best beaches in the country include Playa Uvita, Manuel Antonio, Samara, Tortuguero, Tamarindo, in and around Jacó, Cahuita, Malpais, Montezuma, Playa Cocles, and Playa Gandoca, just to name a few.
3. What’s the best time of year to visit Costa Rica?
There aren’t summers and winters in Costa Rica like in northern climates, but rainy and dry seasons. The dry season usually runs from mid-November until around May, while the rainy season lasts May into November. December and January are probably the best weather months, but also it’s the time of year where you’ll encounter the most crowds and higher prices. There really isn’t a bad time to visit Costa Rica, as even a little tropical afternoon rain won’t slow down your plans at all. But October tends to be the month with the most rain, so maybe plan your vacation before or after (unless you want huge discounts and no crowds!)
4. Is Costa Rica safe?
Costa Rica can be considered a safe country, but it’s important to use common sense and act responsibly at all times, just like you would in your home country. Travelers who run into problems are usually doing something illegal, wandering around drunk at night, in a place they shouldn’t be, or not keeping their wits about them. Just for peace of mind, you should look into a cheap and easy travel insurance policy for your vacation.
5. Where is the best place to see wildlife in Costa Rica?
Whales, dolphins, sloths, turtles, monkeys, toucans, and many other exotic birds and fish are on display in Costa Rica, which is one of the most ecologically diverse land masses in the world despite its small size.
Depending on what you want to see, Playa Ostional, Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, Tortuguero National Park, Santa Rosa National Park, Osa Peninsula, Drake Bay, Quepos and Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Manzanillo, Nicoya Peninsula, Gulf of Papagayo, Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Cahuita National Park, Finca Baru Wildlife Refuge, Camaronal Wildlife Refuge, Manuel Antonio National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Santa Elena cloud forests in Puntarenas, Santa Rosa National Park, and La Selva Biological Station are all great options for spotting wildlife.
Drop us an email with what animal you’re most hoping to encounter and we’ll be happy to guide you.
Look for the next five Google queries in part two, or just email me if you have any questions.
And you can always turn to the #1 resource in the world for moving to Costa Rica, the Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook.
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.
La Caja, Costa Rica’s national healthcare system:
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.
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.
Costa Rican employees each pay 9% tax to fund this health insurance, with employers paying an additional 18%.
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.
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.
You just need to show at least $1,000 monthly income from Social Security, a pension, disability, or any other source to qualify for pensionado (retiree) residency status. Your spouse can even qualify as well.
Once you’re a resident, you’ll only need to pay the low monthly fee based on your income (usually between $60 and $120 for modest incomes) to join Caja.
As a member, you’ll enjoy all the benefits of Costa Rica’s public healthcare system, including free doctor’s visits, diagnostic testing, prescriptions, dental, eye health, and even major surgeries.
There’s no upper limit on the annual amounts paid out by the plan for your healthcare – and you’ll never just be canceled or see your premiums balloon like in the U.S.
An individual doctor and clinic are assigned to each patient, but you can arrange to bill for Caja through many private doctors and hospitals, too.
What’s the downside of Caja?
While it is highly accessible and inexpensive, remember that Caja is socialized medicine. You’ll probably still find it more efficient and user- friendly than many U.S. health plans, but do be prepared for long lines and generic medicines.
Wait times for testing like ultrasounds, CT scans, etc., can be weeks or months in non-emergency situations, and you may have long waits to schedule advanced surgeries or appointments with specialists. However, for the vast majority of low-middle income groups, Caja is a fantastic medical care option.
You’ll find that many of the doctors speak English, but most of the nurses and administrative staff do not, which can prove difficult when it comes time to talking about medical diagnosis and options. So you may want to bring a local Tico with you to help with translation.
Coming up in future blogs, I’ll cover health insurance options for expats in Costa Rica (more good news!), dentistry in this country, as well as typical costs for procedures and surgeries.
The Official Expat,
Want the full prognosis on medical care, health insurance, and other aspects of living as an expat in Costa Rica?
Check out The Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
If you're thinking of moving to Costa Rica or just visiting, you may have a lot of questions. For instance, what's the main city? (San Jose.) When is the rainy season? (Around May to November)? What currency of money do they use in Costa Rica? (Colónes.) And how about plugs for electronics and appliances? (110-120 Volts and you probably will need an adapter.)
Want more fast facts about Costa Rica?
Country profile: Costa Rica
Roman Catholicism, but freedom of religion is well respected
Costa Rican Colón (CRC)
Is drinking the water safe?
The water is potable in most of the country. Tourists are safe using the water to brush their teeth, take a shower, etc. However, I recommend using bottled water to consume, especially in rural or coastal areas
$29 USD Country borders: Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east
51,100 square kilometers or 19,653 square miles. To give you an idea, it’s slightly smaller than West Virginia and the 128th largest country in the world
Tropical and subtropical
Dry season is December to April; rainy season is May to November
Government: Unitary presidential constitutional republic
Capital: San José
Voltage: 110-120 Volts (Same as U.S./Canada) or most other areas are 220-240 Volts)
Primary Socket Types:
North American Non-Grounded, North American Grounded
Please note that these may not be identical to U.S./Canadian sockets, and may require an adapter.
Carlos Alvarado Quesada
Tourist revenue: $2.6 billion, with an 8.3% yearly increase
Number of visitors:
2.66 million- a 9% increase from the previous year
Percentage of foreign arrivals:
Calling country code: 506
Driving: in the right lane
Common natural hazards:
Ethnic profile (by percentage):
White or Mestizo: 83.6
Mixed ethnic background: 6.7
Black or African descent: 1.1
Religious profile (by percentage):
Roman Catholic: 76.3
Jehovah’s Witness: 1.3
Other Protestant: 0.7
76.8% of total population concentrated in urban areas
97.8% of population over age 15 can read and write
The name Costa Rica means “rich coast” in Spanish and was first applied in the early colonial period of the 16th century.
Costa Rica’s seven provinces:
Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas, San José
A non-military nation:
Costa Rica is the only country in the world without an army or military of any kind
Ranges from humid lowland jungles to arid, bare mountain
Length of the Pacific Coastline:
Length of the Caribbean Coastline:
Costa Rica’s national tree:
Guaria morada, orchid
Need more great information about Costa Rica? Check out the Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook - the #1 resource anywhere in the world for making the move to Costa Rica or just visiting!
As you start thinking about moving to Costa Rica, your mind might be preoccupied with thoughts of what you’ll do with income, where you’ll live, and how easily you can get by with limited Spanish. But, eventually, your thoughts will come to the possibility of leaving a beloved four-legged family member behind.
Should you cancel the move/trip/vacation to Costa Ricabecause you can’t bring Fido/Spot/Fluffy along?
Don’t dismay, because your family dog, cat or other pet can come with you to live in Costa Rica – if you’re willing to follow the correct procedures and regulations. Here are some tips and resources for bringing the family pet into Costa Rica as you make the move:
So you want to transport your dog down to Costa Rica, but where do you start? If you’re from the U.S., one of the best resources you’ll find that spells out all of the procedures is the United States embassy to Costa Rica’s website.
According to the Costa Rican authorities:
“The dog or cat must be accompanied by a health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian, and endorsed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Veterinary Services (VS) veterinarian.”
You’ll also need a certificate statement from a vet that says, “The dog/cat was examined and found to be healthy and free of any clinical signs of infectious disease.” This should be done within 2 weeks before you leave for Costa Rica.
That includes treatment for ticks and tapeworms. For vaccinations, dogs should be vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, Leptospirosis, parvovirus, and rabies, while cats need to be vaccinated against rabies.
The rabies vaccination certificate must be included with the health documents and be valid for 1 or 3 years.
Use the International Certificate (APHIS FORM 7001) for Small Animals. Within 14 days of arriving, a licensed vet must complete the pet’s Veterinary Certificate for Costa Rica. You’ll be required to have a copy translated into Spanish.
That form must be endorsed by your state USDA office (if you’re from the US) or local CFIA office (if you’re coming from Canada.)
The animal’s health certificate needs to be stamped by the Costa Rican Consular office but doesn’t need to be signed by a Notary Public. However, don’t make out the certificate in duplicate.
All of this documentation will be carefully reviewed once you arrive in Costa Rica, so make sure it’s correct.
You’ll want to notify veterinary officials at your arrival airport so they’ll be ready to inspect your pet upon landing without a big wait. All dogs and cats must be free from any signs of communicable diseases and in good apparent health. If not, you’ll be ordered to have them inspected further by a Costa Rica veterinarian at your expense.
It’s also not a bad idea to carry a personal letter that documents your pet’s market value.
You’re allowed to bring up to five personal pets into Costa Rica without an import permit.
A blood titer test is not required to enter Costa Rica and there are no banned breeds that cannot enter the country.
If you have a pet other than a dog or cat, like a rabbit, guinea pig, etc., you’ll need an import permit to transport them into Costa Rica.
Unfortunately, exotic pets are not permitted entry to Costa Rica. Make sure the species is not protected under including turtles, parrots, and many others. Consult the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to find out.
Of course, you should carefully research your airline’s specific policies and procedures for transporting pets.
Even if you’re sending your pet along on a different flight or any other class of service, you’ll need to obtain an Import Permit.
While it’s not required, you may consider getting your pet fitted with a microchip before you travel, so it can be found and identified if ever lost in its new environment. Remember that pets will be a little freaked out by their new surroundings, too, and may bolt or get lost, so even if you don’t get them micro chipped, get tags made with your name, new address, and contact info in Spanish and English.
The hot and humid tropical climate may be a big change for you, but it can be an even bigger shock to your pet’s system. So make sure they always have a cool place to take shelter and hang out, especially in the first few weeks, provide lots of water, and help them explore their new environment by taking them on walks every day.
However, keep dogs on the leash at first until they’ve grown accustomed to their new home, as cars (not as merciful as drivers in the US), stray dogs, and even different plants and critters like poisonous frogs could pose a threat.
While most pet supplies and foods can be found in stores in the bigger cities, it may be hard to get familiar things when you’re living in the countryside or smaller coastal towns. So plan on bringing any essentials, and making supply runs as needed when you go to San José or the city.
No matter where you end up relocating in Costa Rica, it’s a good idea to locate your neighborhood veterinarian and bring your pet in just to say hello, meet them and get their contact info/hours of operation, etc. and get the pet’s medical history on file.
If you think this information was helpful, you'll find WAY more of the same in
The Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook.
Enjoy your move to Costa Rica!
Want to work virtually from Costa Rica and still make big money? Check out this exclusive interview with Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs.com
The dream is to live on a white sand beach in Costa Rica, but to do that, you still need to make a living.
There are many ways to earn a healthy income while living in Costa Rica, but my favorite is to still work virtually from the U.S. or Canada, where you’ll enjoy time flexibility, higher wages, and you’ll never have to change out of your flip flops for business shoes again.
In order to bring you a rare inside look from one of the world’s authorities on virtual work, I had the honor of personally interviewing Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of Flexjobs.com.
I hope Ms. Sutton Fell’s insight and wisdom answers a lot of your questions and encourages you to build your virtual career!
Norm Schriever from CRexpat.com: Sara, how would you define virtual or stay-at-home careers?
Sara Sutton Fell: Virtual or stay-at-home careers include a wide variety of terms that all come to the same conclusion —a job where your primary place of work is NOT a traditional office, but your home office. Other terms that essentially mean the same thing include telecommuting, virtual job, telework, and remote job.
CRexpat: Do you see a rise in virtual careers?
Sara Sutton Fell: Absolutely!
As technology makes it easier and easier for people to work from a variety of locations away from the office, virtual careers are becoming more popular and more mainstream. According to the Telework Research Network, there has been a 60% increase in the number of people telecommuting for work since 2005. At FlexJobs, we’ve seen the number of open telecommuting and flexible job listings increase over 50% since the end of 2011 and now, going from around 7,000 active listings to 14,800 currently.
CRexpat: What is the best way to go about finding these jobs?
Sara Sutton Fell: Of course, we think FlexJobs is a pretty great resource!
Unlike other job search websites, FlexJobs specializes in finding, screening, and listing only telecommuting and flexible jobs, and we pre-screen every job and employer before adding them to our site.
No matter where a job seeker searches for virtual or telecommuting jobs, they should know to use keywords like telecommuting, virtual job, and remote job. Phrases like “work from home” and “work at home” are commonly associated with scams.
CRexpat: What is the biggest mistake people make or pitfall in getting a virtual job?
Sara Sutton Fell: The biggest mistake people can make when looking for virtual work is to not pay attention to the scams in this niche. While many legitimate at-home jobs do exist, there are a huge number of scams out there, so job seekers need to stay alert and educate themselves on those scams and how to spot them.
At FlexJobs, we help job seekers identify the legitimate, professional- level virtual jobs amid all the scams. Our team of job researchers scour hundreds of job listings every day to weed out scams and find the legitimate listings, which get posted on our site for job seekers to view.
CRexpat: Can you give us a little more information on that?
Sara Sutton Fell: Some examples for job seekers to steer clear of scams: Jobs that sound too good to be true, that promise easy money for no work, that ask you to “invest” or pay to get the job, that require wire transfers through Western Union, or that just sound “off” should be avoided
CRexpat: Where/who are your employers?
Sara Sutton Fell: We have over 3,300 employers with open job postings on our site, and over 20,000 who have posted jobs in the past. They are large and small, from Fortune 500 companies to start- ups and nonprofits.
We mainly have employers from throughout the United States, and we also have companies based in Canada, Australia, the UK, and other international locations. Some of the most widely recognized names of employers who use FlexJobs to recruit virtual job seekers include: IBM, Capital One, AT&T, Rosetta Stone, the IRS, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, TripAdvisor.com, and Kelly Services.
CRexpat: And where are your clients?
Sara Sutton Fell: Like our employers, our job seekers are located throughout the United States, with some living internationally as well. According to a survey we did last year, 77% say they live near a big city, and California (11.7%), Colorado (7.7%), and Texas (6.6%) had the most respondents, though we do have job seekers from all 50 states.
CRexpat: What advantages do job seekers get by using your company?
Sara Sutton Fell: To put it simply, we make searching for a legitimate virtual job easier, faster, and safer.
Because our team of job researchers is doing the hardest work for our job seekers -- spending hundreds of hours every week searching for, screening, and verifying virtual job listings -- our members can spend the majority of their job search time crafting excellent applications, rather than scouring through hundreds of job listings every day.
On FlexJobs, job seekers have access to thousands of pre-screened, legitimate, and professional-level telecommuting and flexible jobs, as well as our Company Database where they can research thousands of employers who offer telecommuting and flexible jobs, and our Community area with hundreds of articles, videos, and advice columns to help their job search and career development.
FlexJobs is the leading job search service of our kind, and we are 100% dedicated to our job-seeking members.
CRexpat: Thank you, Sara - and I'm sure all of the people living in Costa Rica and working virtually would love to thank you, too!
Ready for more life-changing insights that will help you move down to Costa Rica, find virtual work, and start living again?
Go to CRexpat.com for the full handbook.
You’ll probably guess that my favorite thing about living in Costa Rica is being right by the beach, where I can swim, play, and (try to) surf endlessly. Or, it could be the perfect tropical climate, with sunshine every day and gentle sea breezes at night.
A more practical person might even surmise that it’s living in paradise for about half the cost of the United States.
Don’t get me wrong; all of these things are wonderful. Every day, I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in a place where other people come for vacation.
But for me, none of those are the best part of living in Costa Rica. You might laugh when I tell you because it seems like such a small thing.
My favorite thing about living here is walking through town each morning, saying hello to people.
I'm an early riser (the roosters help with that), and the first thing I do is throw on my swim shorts, slip on my flip flops, and take a stroll down to the beach.
This early, the sun is just starting to peak over the palm trees and warm the dirt roads. But there are already a lot of people out, like me. I say hi to them all.
Every morning, I pass the same abuela – grandmother - sweeping in her front yard, and we exchange a friendly “Buenos dias.”
I see the same surfers walking barefoot to the beach, their board balanced under one arm, and we acknowledge each other’s presence with a simple nod.
A talkative expat from New York walks his Chocolate Labrador on the same route every morning, and I stop to pet him (the dog – not the expat!)
I always stop by my favorite coffee shop, Saritas, for a few laughs and updates on the village gossip before I fill my mug and keep walking. I pass the nice French couple that just opened a dive shop, the young teacher from San Francisco on her way to school, and the Tico farmers in their fruit truck, selling ripe mangos, bananas, and coconuts. Finally, I make it to the beach.
There are people jogging on the cool sand, kids splashing in the waves, and surfers paddling out to catch the next set. People walk their dogs, drink their coffee, and sit on lawn chairs, watching the ends of their fishing poles for signs of a nibble.
I greet everyone I run into, whether by stopping and chatting, a quick hello, or just with a warm smile.
It’s comforting to know that these people are always here; always around me; like a big family.
I’m part of their lives, just like they’re part of mine, and it feels like we all belong here.
Maybe that’s the sense of community and oneness that has slowly slipped away in modern U.S. life?
Either way, THAT’S my favorite part of living in Costa Rica!
For you, it probably will be something different.
Or, most likely, you’ll have 100 favorite things and can’t decide which one is most endearing.
And I’d love to hear about them!
The Moving to Costa Rica Handbook
The daydream is a familiar one; you’re sitting on a white sand beach by the crystal-clear ocean, a soft tropical breeze blowing as you sip your third piña colada and finish up the day’s work (which only consumed a few hours) just in time for the dazzling sunset.
Unfortunately, then you always wake up, shackled to your desk inside a corporate cubicle, your boss droning on about how you forgot to put a cover sheet on your TPS report, so he needs you to come in to work on Saturday. And someone stole your red stapler. Again.
Sure, living in Costa Rica (or anywhere that’s warm, fun, and has nice beaches!) is a wonderful daydream, but without a practical plan to make income, it remains just that.
But here’s the good news for all you 9-to-5’ers out there: the dream is possible. You CAN travel or live anywhere in the world and take your job with you, still making money in the U.S. (or your home country) virtually.
I’m not going to blow sunshine at you at tell you that it’s easy, as it may take a lot of research, planning, and hard work. But it IS possible to live your life by a beach, or on top of a mountain, in a foreign country and still make a living. They even have a name for these new virtual workers – Digital Nomads.
Advances in technology and the prevalence of freelance job portals online like Fiverr.com, Freelancer.com, and Upwork.com have made working virtually easier than ever. In fact, people have been doing it for years, and a U.S. Census report shows that the number of people who work virtually or from home has soared by 41% in the past decade.
The prevalence of virtual and online work has also set us free (geographically speaking) to live abroad or travel like never before, with an estimated 6 million U.S. citizens live overseas. I’m seeing more and travelers and expats working virtually from their laptops, making just enough money to keep their dream alive (especially in some countries where living expenses may be much lower), while others bring in $10,000 or even $20,000 or more every month working virtually.
So, whether you are a stay-at-home mom looking for side work, a college student who wants to backpack around Europe and still make some money, or a 9-5 burnout who gives it all up and lives abroad to be a beach bum (like me), the dream is alive and well.
Here are just 10 of the 50 virtual or online jobs you can do from the beach (in Costa Rica or anywhere you choose!):
Writing content for media, websites, customer outreach or marketing content, or just about any business blog. Additionally, you can write your own books, special reports, or guides and sell them virtually.
3. Virtual call center/Customer service representative
As long as you have a phone and a headset (or a computer) you can take calls anywhere in the world. In fact, the Business Process Outsourcing industry (call centers) is one of the fastest growing jobs in places like the Philippines.
Virtual medical care is a rapidly growing field.
14. Chat support
More and more companies are moving away from phone support once they see the convenience and economical savings of offering live chat support for customers, which you can do from anywhere!
18. Medical billing
One of the work-from-home stalwarts, you can organize medical billing records for doctor’s offices.
21. Virtual assistant
A lot of busy business people don’t want to hire a full-time assistant in-house, so they outsource daily tasks to a virtual assistant.
24. Affiliate marketing
You can promote other peoples’ goods or services on your website or blog, and when users click on your links and purchase something, you get a commission. In fact, affiliate marketing gurus like Tim Schmidt of Affiliate U and Ice Cold Marketing not only make some serious coin but are nice enough to share their systems and teach others how to do it. You can find out more here.
33. Facebook and Instagram ads manager
The hottest thing in online and social media marketing right now is the use of paid ads and booted content to promote your brand or business. To do it right, there is an expertise involved, so companies will hire someone to manage tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in paid ads.
37. Language teacher
Believe it or not, knowing English well is a commodity, and these days you can teach English via your laptop anywhere in the world (see profile at the end of this article).
49. Athletic trainer
Thanks to Skype, Facetime, and video conferencing, personal training has gone online, giving any trainer access to clients all over the world at any time, location independent. Likewise, the cost of personal training has become far more affordable thanks to this innovation.
Please note that these are just a sample of the jobs you can do virtually (I even know of a mortgage broker who works remotely with the help of a great team back home!) so by no means is this list exhaustive.
Likewise, there are plenty of jobs you can pick up IN Costa Rica that are popular with foreigners, and many multi-national companies (like resorts!) located in the land of pura vida that are ready to hire.
You’ll find actual real listings of these companies, more information on jobs you can do virtually, a special interview I did with the VP of Upwork when writing this guide, tips on work visas and other hacks, and much more here.
-The Official Expat,
How much will it cost you to live in Costa Rica?
The answer is, of course, “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.
I will say this: living in Costa Rica may not be as inexpensive as you may think. (Sorry!)
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.
Then again, a lot of expats(try to) live like their on vacation, spending lavishly and spending money on things like adult beverages every single night (or day!)
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.
Expenses vary widely depending on area and lifestyle, but here are some average monthly expenses for 2017-18:
Apartment (simple): $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
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
Here is a survey of approximate costs in Costa Rica:
Basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district ≈ ₡ 4,375 ($8)
Combo meal in fast food restaurant (Big Mac Meal or similar) ≈ ₡ 3,572 ($7)
500 gr (1 lb.) of boneless chicken breast ≈ ₡ 2,127 ($3.90)
1 liter (1 qt.) of whole fat milk ≈ ₡ 709 ($1.30)
12 eggs, large ≈ ₡ 1,817 ($3.33)
1 kg (2 lb.) of tomatoes ≈ ₡ 1,071 ($1.96)
500 gr (16 oz.) of local cheese ≈ ₡ 2,097 ($3.84)
1kg (2lb.) of apples≈ ₡ 2,444 ($4.48)
1 kg (2 lb.) of potatoes ≈ ₡ 935 ($1.71)
0.5 liter (16 oz.) domestic beer in the supermarket ≈ ₡ 873 ($1.60)
1 bottle of red table wine, good quality ≈ ₡ 6,099 ($11)
2 liters of Coca-Cola ≈ ₡ 1,588 ($2.91)
Bread for 2 people for 1 day ≈ ₡ 704 ($1.29)
Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 square feet) furnished accommodation in EXPENSIVE area ≈ ₡ 588,758 ($1,078)
Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 square feet) furnished accommodation in NORMAL area ≈
₡ 339,203 ($621)
Utilities 1 month (heating, electricity, gas) for 2 people in 85 m2 flat (915 square feet) ≈
₡ 49,026 ($90)
Monthly rent for a 45 m2 (480 square feet) furnished studio in EXPENSIVE area ≈
₡ 499,000 ($914)
Monthly rent for a 45 m2 (480 square feet) furnished studio in NORMAL area ≈
₡ 242,077 ($443)
Utilities 1 month (heating, electricity, gas) for 1 person in 45 m2 (480 square feet) studio ≈ ₡ 40,838 ($75)
Internet (1 month) ≈ ₡ 23,681 ($43)
40” flat screen TV ≈ ₡ 278,957 ($511)
Microwave 800/900 Watt (Bosch, Panasonic, LG, Sharp, or equivalent brands) ≈
₡ 61,744 ($113)
Laundry detergent (3 l. ~ 100 oz.) ≈ ₡ 4,423 ($8)
Hourly rate for cleaning help ≈ ₡ 2,679 ($4.91)
1 pair of jeans (Levis 501 or similar) ≈ ₡ 37,335 ($68)
1 summer dress in a High Street Store (Zara, H&M or similar retailers) ≈ ₡ 32,545 ($60)
1 pair of sneakers (Nike, Adidas, or equivalent brands) ≈ ₡ 63,215 ($116)
1 pair of men’s leather business shoes ≈ ₡ 52,347 ($96)
Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI 140 CV (or equivalent), with no extras, new ≈ ₡ 11,780,900 ($21,579)
1 liter (1/4 gallon) of gas ≈ ₡ 605 ($1.11)
Monthly ticket public transport ≈ ₡ 18,679 ($34)
Taxi trip on a business day, basic tariff, 8 km (5 miles) ≈ ₡ 6,008 ($11)
Cold medicine for 6 days (Tylenol, Frenadol, Coldrex, or equivalent brands) ≈
₡ 3,587 ($7)
1 box of antibiotics (12 doses) ≈ ₡ 9,415 ($17)
Short visit to private Doctor (15 minutes) ≈ ₡ 41,657 ($76)
Deodorant, roll-on (50ml ~ 1.5 oz.) ≈ ₡ 2,694 ($4.93)
Hair shampoo 2-in-1 (400 ml ~ 12 oz.) ≈ ₡ 3,519 ($6)
4 rolls of toilet paper ≈ ₡ 1,552 ($2.84)
Tube of toothpaste ≈ ₡ 1,262 ($2.31)
Standard men’s haircut in expat area of the city ≈ ₡ 4,335 ($8)
Entertainment & Dining Out:
Basic dinner out for two in neighborhood pub ≈ ₡ 16,185 ($30)
2 tickets to the movies ≈ ₡ 5,835 ($11)
2 tickets to the theater (best available seats) ≈ ₡ 17,974 ($33)
Dinner for two at an Italian restaurant in the expat area including appetizers, main course, wine and dessert ≈ ₡ 33,574 ($61)
1 cocktail drink in downtown club ≈ ₡ 3,748 ($7)
Cappuccino in expat area of the city ≈ ₡ 2,086 ($3.82)
1 beer in neighborhood pub (500ml or 1pt.) ≈ ₡ 1,921 ($3.52)
iPod Nano 16GB ≈ ₡ 118,758 ($218)
1 min. of prepaid mobile tariff (no discounts or plans) ≈ ₡ 38 ($0.07)
1 month of gym membership in business district ≈ ₡ 35,333 ($65)
1 package of Marlboro cigarettes ≈ ₡ 1,924 ($3.52)
One last note for you: You'll find that you can fit your lifestyle to your budget, and STILL really enjoy yourself. A lot of the best aspects about life in Costa Rica - like going to the beach, enjoying nature, meeting great new people, and just experiencing the laid-back pura vida vibe - are FREE!
The Official Expat,
For more information on moving to Costa Rica, the cost of living there, and even how to get work and earn income as an expat, click here.
When I quit my job, sold my home and car and all of my possessions, and moved down to Costa Rica in 2011, it was pretty scary.
Actually, it was damn terrifying.
I had only been to my new adopted home town of Tamarindo once, knew only one friend there, had no job, limited savings, and didn't even know Spanish!
However, looking back all these years later, it was the best decision I ever made.
I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that things are always easy in Costa Rica. Life isn't perfect, even though it is a true natural paradise.
But, what seemed like monumental problems when I first moved there - stupid things like freaking out when the town had a blackout, trying to communicate with my baby Espanol, and surviving the rainy season all seem like romantic nostalgia now.
Each day that went by, I became happier, healthier, and more ME, for lack of a better description, like layers of an onion.
That's why I write a whole lot about moving to Costa Rica and started this website. Sure, I want to make a buck like everybody else (but this is just a very humble side job).
But, it's more important for me to share my passion of moving to Costa Rica - or anywhere that makes you happy - when you're feeling trapped, unfulfilled, depressed (and freezing cold!) in the United States or Canada.
I could go on and on because it really makes me happy to think that you may be following the same path, but I'll leave you with this:
If you're like me, I can promise you that in Costa Rica...
You will slow down.
Things will be simpler.
You'll enjoy the moments more.
You'll be healthier than you've ever been in your life.
You'll smile and laugh more.
You will find your "tribe" and make lifelong friends.
Your money will go much further.
Every day, you'll appreciate what you see and experience.
You'll feel alive!
Happiness will come from people, places, and experiences - not things.
You'll wake up thankful that you're in Costa Rica.
It will feel right.
The Official Expat
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