I keep getting emails from all of you awesome folks asking about healthcare in Costa Rica. This week, that conversation goes in-depth with health insurance options for expats.
The great news is that Costa Rica has a fantastic healthcare system that's accessible to locals and foreigners alike (in part). And more and more people are going down to Costa Rica just to get a procedure or surgery, which would cost them way too much or be impossible to get in the U.S. (Canadians have that covered!)
Even if you’re not an official resident and therefore don’t qualify for Caja, you have other options for great healthcare in Costa Rica. Many expats and visitors opt for a combination of Caja, private pay and also keep their U.S. health insurance coverage to patch together the best possible medical coverage.
Here are a few other options outside of Caja:
INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros)
INS offers medical insurance autonomous of Caja. It’s a group plan offered by the Association of Residents of Costa Rica. It’s a government- run private plan (you’ll never see that in the U.S.!) that is available to legal residents or non-residents who pay into the system. If you sign up with INS, you’ll have access to about 200 affiliated doctors, hospitals, labs, and pharmacies throughout Costa Rica.
However, it does have a limit of $17,500 per year for treatment costs and does not cover pre-existing conditions or routine check-ups. INS pays out 80% of the cost for prescription drugs, examinations, doctor visits, hospitalization and treatment and 100% of surgeons’ and anesthetists’ fees.
The costs for NIS range from $60-$130 per month based on gender, age, and other health factors.
International health insurance policies:
If you’re not yet a resident of Costa Rica or will be going back and forth to the U.S. or traveling to other countries frequently, you might want to check out your options with international health insurance.
There are a handful of companies that offer insurance plans that will cover you anywhere you go in the world – including Costa Rica. Unlike the INS option that has an annual premium cap of $17,500 and excludes preexisting conditions, most worldwide health insurance plans cover up to a $2 million up to a $5 million lifetime limit.
The premiums might be a little higher than you’ll pay with INS or Caja, but they usually cover far more and offer greater flexibility. Just bear in mind they may reduce your premiums if you specify that you’ll only need coverage in certain countries.
For instance, most of them will still cover you when you go back to the U.S. (we exclude Canadians from this conversation because they have their health insurance all set up!) as long as it’s for 30 days or less. Plans do differ so check out some of the biggest international health insurance providers like Bupa International Insurance.
None – be your own insurance company:
With the sky-high cost of medical treatment in the U.S., it’s ingrained in us that we need a health insurance plan at all times to cover our medical needs. However, some expats choose not to carry medical insurance in Costa Rica at all.
Instead, the logic goes that they can just save the cost of the monthly premium in their own savings account, and have it there to pay for any private medical care if needed since the cost of health care is so reasonable in Costa Rica.
While I’d still never recommend going without some major medical plan in case of serious accidents, sudden sickness, and hospitalizations, but for expats who are in great health and have significant savings as a safety net, this is a viable option.
Again, I wouldn’t recommend this long term and maybe look at travelers insurance or something temporary so that you have base coverage on your way to establishing residency and Caja.
U.S. based health insurance:
Some U.S. citizens that move to Costa Rica choose to keep their U.S. based health insurance coverage, whether that comes from Medicare, our government-run healthcare system, from a spouse, or an old employer.
They may pay out of pocket for basic care in Costa Rica like doctor’s checkups and dental cleanings, but then go back to the U.S. for more major care or procedures.
If you have affordable health insurance – maybe subsidized with credits so the monthly premiums are low – you may want to keep this option and just get annual medical care taken care of when you make the trip back to the states periodically.
But, for most expats that don’t have affordable care taken care of back home, this might not be a great long-term choice.
The healthcare conversation is SO important for expats or visitors in Costa Rica, and I have lots of great, invaluable information for you in the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
Costa Rica may be known for its perfect beaches and sunny climate, but the wildlife is even more remarkable in the Central American nation. Despite being only the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica is home to more than 500,000 different species, making up an astounding 4% of all the plant, insect and wildlife species on the entire Earth!
In recent weeks, I introduced you to sea turtles, howler monkeys, toucans, and the famous three-toed sloth that you'll find down south.
Today, I'll highlight six more cute, cuddly, and cool animals and species that you'll encounter in Costa Rica!
Off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica in places like Golfo Dulce, divers may catch a glimpse of the rare and beautiful spotted dolphin, or Manchado del Pacifico in Spanish. They are found all over the world in tropical and subtropical waters, as far as China, Japan, India, New Zealand, and also in the Gulf of California and Mexico.
Spotted dolphins have a patch of dark skin below their dorsal fin that’s covered with white spots, and dark spots flecking their white underbelly. These majestic creatures gather in huge groups of 1,000 dolphins or more in deep seas and swim so fast that they often keep up with fish boats, playfully jumping in the air and crossing in front of and behind the boat. Spotted dolphins can live up to 45 years. But too often, large numbers are killed by fisherman, intentionally or unintentionally, or by ocean pollution.
Costa Rica has several species and types of iguanas, including the Green Iguana, which can get up to six feet long! But despite their size, they’re not dangerous to humans, eating only plants, insects, and small animals (unless you force yourself onto a nest, in which case the mother might whip her tail at you, which can cause some damage).
Black Iguanas are full herbivores, and Costa Ricans call them garrobos or gallina de palo – which translates to ‘tree chicken’ in English – because their meat is said to taste like chicken. In Costa Rica, you’ll also see plenty of smaller Geckos climbing up walls, across ceilings, eating mosquitos and pesky insects, and making their signature amplified chirping noises that often perplex first-time visitors.
The Great Tinamou
Considered one of the oldest lineages of birds in the world, the great tinamou has an interesting trait that allows them to survive in the Costa Rican jungle among so many predators like snakes, jaguars, and others. The tinamou’s rare practice that ensures their evolutionary survival has to do with how they reproduce.
These birds lay bright green eggs, which easily attract other tinamou to their nest. Since this species in polygynadrous (multiple males mate with multiple females), other males and females lay their eggs in the same spot. Soon, there are so many eggs piled up that even though predators eat roughly 75% of all tinamou eggs, there is no way they can eat them all, and the species lives on.
White-Headed Capuchin Monkey
These are some of the most intelligent and evolved animals on earth, actually using tools, weapons, and other implements from their environment to get food. They’re also one of the only animals to use natural medicine, rubbing
certain plants over their bodies in what appears to be a use of herbal medicine. White-Headed Capuchin Monkeys live in groups of 40 or so and have an astounding life expectancy of 54 years. White-Headed Capuchins are easily spotted in most of the National Parks in Costa Rica.
Ocelots are nocturnal cats that populate every country south of the U.S. except for Chile. They’re about twice the size of an ordinary housecat, ranging from 38 to 60 inches long and 20 to 35 pounds. Since they are lighter than other large cats like pumas, cougars, mountain lions, etc. and have huge paws, they’re great at climbing trees.
Once hunted for their furs so much that they were listed as a vulnerable species, ocelots have replenished their numbers and now are frequent in Costa Rica – though their habitat, like many animals’ – is shrinking because of commercial development.
When biologist Charles Darwin embarked on his legendary voyage throughout the Americas, he documented 14 species of finches – birds that were later named “Darwin Finches.” Of those 14 species, 13 lived in the Galapagos Islands, but only one species lives elsewhere; you guessed it – in Costa Rica.
In fact, the rare and beautiful 14th species of finch inhabited the island of Cocos off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The Cocos finches were remarkable because, unlike most finches that evolved sharper or different-shaped beaks to eat specific diets, these finches ate just about everything front nuts to crustaceans. Since their island was so small, they had to eat whatever food sources were available, on the island, which still doesn’t have human settlers living there.
I hope you enjoyed these cute and cuddly critters, but don't get too comfortable out in the wild in Costa Rica.
In fact, there are a whole lot of exotic, dangerous, and even deadly animals, from crocodiles to poisonous frogs and more. I'll highlight them in a future blog or you can discover the flora and fauna of Costa Rica extensively in the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
Most people visit Costa Rica or even move there for the tropical weather, nice beaches, and laid-back, sunny lifestyle. But there's another compelling reason to head down south to the land of pura vida: healthcare.
In fact, Costa Rica has a fantastic healthcare system that's accessible to locals and foreigners alike (in part). And more and more people are going down to Costa Rica just to get a procedure or surgery, which would cost them way too much or be impossible to get in the U.S. (Canadians have that covered!)
Here is what you need to know about medical procedures in Costa Rica:
Medical tourism in Costa Rica:
More and more people are visiting Costa Rica for elective surgeries, including cosmetic procedures. In fact, last year it’s estimated that more than 100,000 foreigners visited Costa Rica for medical procedures.
Costa Rica is most popular among medical tourists for cosmetic surgeries, knee and hip replacements, heart surgeries, and cosmetic dentistry, among others.
There are a host of clinics and options, but you’ll probably want to stick to the well-established bigger medical facilities in or around San José. When it comes to plastic and cosmetic surgery, you’ll find that Costa Rican doctors are world-class, with the latest laser technology and skilled in the newest procedures and treatments.
Prices for cosmetic surgery are probably 1⁄2 or even 1/3 what you’d find in the United States.
If you’re heading to Costa Rica for a procedure, remember to leave a couple of days before the surgery to relax and get acclimated, and book a week or two (whatever the doctor recommends) at a nice resort or hotel to recover afterward before you have to fly home. It will still cost far less than in the U.S., all travel expenses included!
Typical Costa Rican Medical Costs
Here are some estimates for typical medical costs in Costa Rica, compared to U.S. prices and with the percentage savings. These are only estimates, and you can get more accurate pricing by contacting the appropriate hospital in Costa Rica.
Procedure/Cost in U.S./Cost in Costa Rica/% savings:
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery:
General and Cosmetic Dentistry:
Visiting the dentist in Costa Rica:
Dental procedures are covered by Caja, but for those visitors or expats who don’t yet have residency and access to the nation’s nearly free healthcare network, there are still plenty of great options for dental work.
In fact, dental clinics and small offices are abundant, especially in cities and communities that have a large foreigner, tourist or expat population.
Some of these clinics may not look like anything fancy from the outside. However, you’ll usually find that they are spotlessly clean and up to date on modern technology and equipment. It’s also easy to get an appointment as a walk-in, and they’re often more thorough than U.S. dentists because they’re not as pressured to keep an eye on the bottom line in Costa Rica.
I used to coordinate my biannual cleanings with trips to Playa Coco, where I found a great dentist and got a filling and crown there for about 1/10 the cost of what it would be in the U.S. Even dental lab work and dental surgeries are high quality and cost effective; another reason Costa Rica is an increasingly popular destination for medical tourists from up north.
More questions about medical care, moving to Costa Rica, or anything else?
I've got you covered with the #1 resource in the WORLD!
The Official Expat,
Google and the other search engines receive hundreds of thousands of inquiries about Costa Rica every day. A while back, I shared the first five of Google's top-10 queries (with my answers), and here are the final five:
The top 10 Google queries about Costa Rica (#5-10):
6. Do they use U.S. dollars in Costa Rica or do I need to change money?
These days, U.S. dollars are widely accepted in almost all areas that foster tourism in Costa Rica, including hotels, restaurants, airports, etc. ATMs usually give you the option to take out U.S. dollars, which you can then spend and receive local colones as change. But most people don’t need to hassle with changing money before they go or even when they get there. If you do change dollars to colones, do so at a bank or your hotel, but never on the street or with a freelance moneychanger.
7. Should I fly into Liberia or San José airport?
Both airports are great and offer many unique advantages depending on where you plan on visiting. The majority of travelers still fly into SJO – San José’s International airport – because of its central location and accessibility to the east or west coast.
But more and more vacationers fly directly into Liberia airport, in the northwest corner of the country in Guanacaste Province, which is where popular Tamarindo is located. It’s best to plan your destination in the country first, and then start searching for airfares and routes to the appropriate airport based on that.
8. What does “pura vida” mean?
Pura vida is a Spanish phrase that translates to “pure life.” It’s the Costa Rican national saying, used as a hello, a goodbye, a how are you doing, and also to express the chill, sunny, mellow vibe that people feel when they visit the country.
9. Do I need a visa to visit Costa Rica?
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. But it’s a good idea to check with your embassy or the Costa Rican consulate just to make sure.
10. What’s the best place to book hotels/vacation houses/tours/package deals/transportation to Costa Rica?
The best way to ensure that you end up with the best vacation in Costa Rica is simply to contact a credible local tour operator. (I can suggest some I know and trust). They can advise you on the best and cheapest flights, arrange transportation from the airport and to and from your hotel, set up tours around the country, arrange plenty of activities, and even arrange a rental house or condo instead of a hotel.
Once you move to Costa Rica, will you have to pay taxes on income in your new home country?
But wait; do you still need to pay U.S. taxes (assuming you’re from there)?
What if you’re living in Costa Rica but working virtually, still earning a foreign paycheck?
How about taxes on social security and other forms of income?
And will all of this change if/when you become an official Costa Rican resident?
Ay Dios mío, there are some serious questions you need to answer when it comes to paying taxes in paradise.
Your body, mind, and soul may reside in Costa Rica, but for the sake of paying taxes, you’re still a citizen of your home country. That’s typically the scenario when United States citizens move to Costa Rica, or anywhere abroad.
No wonder many expats look for jobs in Costa Rica where they can earn wages “under the table” or in cash so they can avoid paying a large U.S. tax bill (not that I endorse that!) If you become a Costa Rican citizen you will have an additional tax obligation there.
Here is the exact verbiage from the IRS website:
Beyond that, the tax rules and codes, both in Costa Rica and the United States, are far too complicated for me to try and give you sage advice here.
The best I can do is urge you to consult with a CPA or professional tax preparer that has some experience dealing with taxation issues for expats abroad. Don’t take tax advice from online forums, rumors, or the word of other expats. Always seek professional advice on taxation issues.
That being said, there are some general rules we know about taxes in Costa Rica:
Costa Rican citizens enjoy the fact that there is no wealth or inheritance tax in the country.
• Sales tax is currently 13% (the equivalent to VAT)
• Sales tax is levied on all goods except for food, medicinal products, and a few other items
• Gasoline carries an additional tax
• Income tax and social security run at 10% - 15% for both depending on income level Taxes on property sales:
• Transfer of property title is approximately 2.75%, including transfer taxes and attorney’s fees
• Property tax ‘impuesto terretorial,’ annual - 1% of assessed property value (about 10 - 40% of market value) goes to the city government
• Certain areas have additional taxes for trash collection and street maintenance
• Capital gains - NONE
Additionally, for U.S. expats it’s important to know that the IRS taxes all income made worldwide. So you won’t be easily avoiding paying taxes back in The U.S. just by physically relocating to Costa Rica. The good news is that you may be able to avoid paying double taxes on income you earn in Costa Rica and then again to the IRS.
You may be able to avoid double taxation thanks to the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (IRS Form 2555 or Form 2555-EZ) and Foreign Tax Credits (IRS Form 1116).
You may qualify to exclude from income up to an amount of your foreign earnings that is adjusted for inflation ($91,400 for 2009, $91,500 for 2010, $92,200 for 2011, $95,100 for 2012, $ 97,600 for 2013).
You can exclude or deduct certain foreign housing amounts - Housing Exclusion (IRS Form 2555) or Housing Deduction (IRS Form 2555).
But, you must file a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service to qualify for these benefits.
There are caveats, qualifiers, and exclusions, of course. So, once again, the best advice I can give you is to consult a certified tax planner that has knowledge and experience in helping expats. If you want to further inform yourself, I’ve heard The Complete US Expat Tax Book is a great resource.
I’ve lived in Costa Rica or abroad for ten years now, and still file and pay my U.S. taxes every April 15 as if I was still residing in the states.
Want more information about taxes, insurance, medical care, housing, and just about everything else you can think of concerning moving to Costa Rica?
Check out the Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook.
Whether you're heading down to Costa Rica for a week's vacation, a month to start scouting out your big move, or finally pulled the trigger on a one-way ticket and officially are an expat, you'll first have to get to Costa Rica - and that usually entails an airline ticket.
However, the price of tickets can fluctuate wildly, from a few hundred dollars to well over a thousand bucks during the holidays and busy season. So, I wanted to put some tools and resources in your hands for finding the best (ok, just cheapest!) airline tickets to Costa Rica!
1. Use reverse searches
If you are flexible with which days you can travel, a lot of cheaper airfares may open up for you. There are several travel search engines that will allow you to search by destination without putting in a hard date.
• AirfareWatchdog.com • Kayak.com
2. Travel off-season
Costa Rica, like many countries in tropical climates, doesn’t have set winters and summers like up north. Instead, they have a dry season from approximately late November through April and a rainy season from May to November. If you don’t mind some clouds and a little rain mixed in with sunshine, it can actually be cooler (but still plenty warm) and far less crowded, meaning cheaper flights, hotels, etc.
3. Let the travel sites do the work
There are some great Internet search sites out there that will do all of the work for you. Even better, register a search to a certain destination or below a certain price, and they will give you automatic email alerts. I like:
4. Check the airline websites directly
Search engines are great, but also search directly on the airlines’ websites. They often offer private deals or promotions that the search engines can’t access. Increasingly they are running cheap deals on social media sites like Facebook, so it’s worth it to Like their page and check in.
5. The best time to search for tickets
Did you know there are up to 10 different ticket prices on the same flight? So how do you get one of the cheap seats? Timing is everything.
Airlines release their new weekly fares on Mondays, so at Tuesday by 3 pm their competitors have released their deals, making it the exact time to search.
Studies show that the cheapest time to book is 49 days before your departure, or 81 days ahead of time for international flights. Interestingly, flights booked 200 days or more in advance are more expensive, and last minute flights may be cheaper, but the seat availability is extremely limited.
If you are flying during the holidays, start searching 10 weeks ahead of time. If you’re headed to a non-vacation destination, shop on a weekend – it will save you 5%.
6. The best time to fly
The majority of air travelers want to fly on a Friday or Sunday, so you’ll find the best deals available for flights on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday.
Flights at the crack of dawn, at dinnertime, or red-eye flights over night are cheapest.
7. Follow the airlines on social media
Almost every airline has a social media page, at least on Facebook and Twitter these days, and often release specials and limited time deals that aren’t publicized elsewhere. Like or follow a few airlines ahead of time so you can track their updates.
8. Book a package deal
Booking a package usually drops your airfare into the leisure travel category, saving you money. Arranging a ticket for your hotel, rental car, and airfare together may give you access to lower prices on internet search engines, and travel agents can be helpful when it comes to these bargains.
9. Ask for organizational discounts
Contact any organizations, unions, or membership sites you belong to, like AAA, AARP, unions, Veterans groups, or even Sam’s Club or Costco, as they may offer bulk discounts.
10. Sign up for frequent flyer miles and points
Always register to earn frequent flyer miles and keep track. Confirm with the booking agent and at the check-in counter to make sure they credited you your miles, and once you get home check to make sure they were registered.
11. Use a credit card that offers award points of frequent flyer miles
Some of them are great but only give you miles on one airline. I have a Chase Sapphire card (they don't pay me anything to give them a shout-out!) that allows me to accumulate points for all flights, hotels, rental cars, or even restaurant meals. I run all of my bills through it but pay it off every month, and the result is that I get at least two free flights every year.
12. Factor the airline’s luggage policy into the total price
When booking a flight, ask about their luggage policy. Slightly cheaper tickets for your family does no good if you are paying $50 each for baggage. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airlines make over $3 billion in baggage fees alone every year!
13. Call back the next day to see if the price went down
After you book your flight, call back the next day, within 24 hours, to check if the fare went lower. Most airlines have a policy where you could cancel and re-book for the lower fare within 24 hours without penalty.
14. Check the airline websites
While it’s convenient to go to one website and search for the best fares among all airlines and schedules, you can often find specials or the best deals on the airline’s own website. So do a little research but then cross reference with the airline.
15. Call and chat with a representative but then book online
I love getting an actual human being on the phone from the airline or travel websites because they can guide you and offer their tricks, tips, and vast experience. But if you want to book over the phone there’s usually a service charge of $15 to $50. So to save money, call and chat to identify what you want and then thank them, hang up, and book online.
Once you move down to Costa Rica, you'll probably realize quickly that transportation is a key issue. In fact, you'll feel fairly isolated and "stuck" if you don't have a vehicle to get around, whether it's adventures at local beaches or just to the market during the rainy season. So, today I want to bring you some great facts and tips about buying and registering a vehicle in Costa Rica, as well as the pros and cons of importing your car.
The pros and cons of importing a car to Costa Rica
I get emails all the time from people who want to drive down to Costa Rica. Number one, I wouldn’t recommend that because it can be extremely dangerous going through Mexico and the southern route until you get to Nicaragua.
Secondly, although people want their own cars, it just doesn’t make financial sense. It’s almost always better to buy (or even rent) a car in Costa Rica rather than importing your own car because of the sky-high import taxes.
The tax for importing vehicles into Costa Rica is 52.29% for models that have been released in the last three years. But in Costa Rica, a car is considered new for tax purposes for up to three years after it was placed on the lot for sale, no matter what its mileage or condition.
The Ministerio de Hacienda (Treasury) regulates the value of imported cars and other vehicles the same way that Kelley Blue Book does in the U.S. – based on make, model, engine, and other features and accessories. However, in Costa Rica, mileage and mechanical condition aren’t taken into consideration for this tax process!
Import taxes for cars that are 4-5 years old are 63.91%, and cars older than 5 years must pay an import tax of 79.03%.
Buying and owning a car in Costa Rica
Owning a car is very expensive when you consider maintenance, insurance, and gas, which is stable now (over $4 a gallon as of 2018), but can get expensive. But if you want to buy a car, check out pricing and find local sellers search http://crautos.com or http://www.encuentra24.com
The best places to buy cars are:
• In and around San José and Grecia
• The best deals are found when you buy directly from the owner
• Get to know the local expats and you will likely find one when someone leaves
• One of your best resources for buying and registering a car in Costa Rica is: http://ticotimes.com/costa-rica/buying-a-new-used-car
• Ideally buy from a dealer or a private seller
• Either way (especially if privately sold,) have the car inspected by a competent and trustworthy mechanic before you sign the papers Inspections are done at one of the many specially constructed locations around the country. They were built and are operated by a Spanish firm that won the contract to perform motor vehicle inspections.
Understanding reteve or revision technica:
• When a car is inspected it is given a decal on the windshield, which needs to be valid in order to avoid a ticket
• Once a mechanic completes the inspection certificate (which is then renewed every year for older cars and every two years for newer cars,) you can get the obligatory limited liability insurance, marchamo, at the MOPT (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes) or at any number of private locations, including all public and most private banks
• The only insurance required is the marchamo, an annual “liability insurance” fee that every car owner must pay
• To avoid a fine, marchamo must be renewed annually from November 1 and December 31
• The fee depends on the condition and year of the car, and the driver (age, driving record, etc.) which costs around $200
• You have to have this up to date because police are always looking for cars without marchamo sticker
More notes on car ownership in Costa Rica:
• Remember that outside San José, parts can be extremely hard to find!
• Try to purchase a model where you know parts are easy to get and it’s easy to fix – or very reliable.
• If you need work done or parts, it might make sense to order them from San José or even go get them yourself!
• There is no AAA and it’s easy to get stranded way out in the countryside if your car breaks down.
• In the provinces, roads can be really rough, with flooding prevalent in the rainy season.
• For that reason, many expats prefer a SUV or pickup truck. It might be a good idea to get one fitted with a “snorkel” to keep the engine safe during the rainy season
• Chains on tires and towing winches/lines are a good idea, too.
• Always carry a spare tire and your own tools.
The (Costa Rican) Rules of the Road
Expats, foreigners, and visitors who plan to drive in Costa Rica should be aware of the laws and rules of the road.
One important thing to know is that if a foreigner is involved in an accident, the Costa Rican government may prevent the driver from departing Costa Rica until all injury claims have been settled, whether or not the driver is at fault or covered by insurance. This process is often delayed until courts are certain of the damage and responsibility.
Travelers renting vehicles should make sure to have theft insurance that will cover them completely, always park in secure lots (and tip the parking attendant beforehand!), and never leave anything visible inside the car – whether it’s valuable or not.
Note that individual, unlicensed “parking attendants” are everywhere. Often, a local guy or old man just throws on a fluorescent-colored vest and a whistle and become the unofficial parking police for a certain area! Remember that although they may offer to park your car or assist you with finding a spot, it doesn’t ensure that it is a legal spot - your car may still be ticketed or towed.
It’s best to pay these guys a little bit. If you DON’T pay them, you’ll often be amazed to find your car broken into, damaged or something missing when you come back! I usually let them know I’ll pay them well WHEN I get back to the car and it’s in good condition and safe.
Maybe you’re bringing the family down to Costa Rica for a first-time vacation, going with your nuptial entourage for a wedding on the beach, or even planning a few months in Central America during the North American winter to enjoy the warm weather, great beaches, and mellow vibe.
Either way, booking a hotel night-by-night may get insanely expensive – or downright impossible if you have a big crew looking for accommodations during the high season.
But, instead of just perusing the hotel websites, there’s another great option – Airbnb. The good news is that Airbnb is not only present, but thriving in Costa Rica - a fantastic option for vacation rentals, long-term stays, or any other arrangement you need for housing.
So, instead of just sharing a boring list of Airbnb listings in Costa Rica (which you can access on Airbnb Costa Rica, of course), I wanted to bring you a little fun background about the company itself.
1. Based in San Francisco, California, Airbnb is a privately owned accommodation rental website, with 1,500,000 unique listings in 34,000 cities in 192 countries all over the world.
2. By renting out rooms, space, or even entire private residences, Airbnb is offers cheaper, more flexible, and often more charming and comfortable alternatives to a hotel room.
3. For instance, a recent query showed that a night in a hotel in San Francisco would set you back on average $229, however Airbnb was able to offer room at approximately $165 and cheaper.
4. It’s perfect for families who wish to rent out an entire apartment on vacation, young couples or solo travellers who wish to explore foreign destinations on a budget, or anyone who’s looking for more of an authentic traveling experience.
5. While Airbnb is just about a household name today, the company started from extremely humble beginnings. In fact, Airbnb was born from the desperate attempts of two guys struggling to pay rent to earn a few bucks back in 2008.
6. Roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia couldn’t afford to pay their rent in their San Francisco apartment. So they came up with the idea of setting up and renting out three air mattresses in their apartment for travelers in the area, including breakfast as a perk.
7. They even created a quick website, Airbedandbreakfast.com 8. Soon they had their first guest, 2 men and a woman, who paid $80 each.
8. The light bulb went on that this was a great idea, so they enlisted their ex-room mate, Nathan Blecharczyk, into the fold to create a better website, promoting the concept of personal rentals to others, earning about $200 a week.
9.. The boys even raised their first $20,000 in funding to grow the concept. They decided they needed to advertise and promote their listings with better imagery, so went door to door in New York and took beautiful photos of their listings.
10. That helped them ramp up to $400 a week and a slow but steady upward trajectory.
11. Although they were spurned by bigger investors, they didn’t give up, and eventually went on to raise $119.2 million from various investors, including actor Ashton Kutcher (who is still a strategic advisor for the company.)
12. In 2011, the company started its overseas expansion, opening its first international office in Hamburg, Germany.
13. Certainly no company has climbed to greater heights in a short time than Airbnb, as only six years after their inception, in 2014, the company earned a 10 billion-dollar valuation.
14. According to The Wall Street Journal, Airbnb expects to climb to $10 billion in revenue by 2020 led by the current CEO, Arne Sorenson - one of the major players in the hospitality industry.
15. The “traditional” hotel industry doesn’t think highly of Airbnb, as Marriott International stated on CBS that Airbnb was an “interesting experiment,” but they “did not see them as any threat.”
16. Airbnb guests stay longer than average travelers (average travelers stay for 2.8 nights while Airbnb’s average is 5 nights).
17. About 20% of people staying with Airbnb are staying more than 30 days or more – perfect if you’re going to be down in Costa Rica for a month or two – or even half the year!
18. While it’s a household name in the U.S., still less than 50% of locals are familiar with Airbnb in Costa Rica, so the movement that’s labelled “the sharing economy,” so the company is anticipated to still see exponential future growth.
19. How much can regular people earn by renting out their homes? In New York City, one commercial host made approximately $6.84 million dollars from renting out their properties in the US between 2010 and 2014.
20. Along with their meteoric rise, Airbnb certainly felt some growing pains, as not all customer experiences were glowing. In fact, the company has endured a number of scandals involving theft, property damages and an array of sordid activities in hosts’ apartments.
21. In one instance, Airbnb promised to pay the damages, expected to be at $75,000 after a house was destroyed during a ‘drug-crazed orgy.’
22. CEO Brian Chesky was recently shocked by an incident involving a woman’s home that was ransacked by an Airbnb renter. In response, he instituted a $50,000 Airbnb guarantee protecting future hosts from damage.
23. An Airbnb guest once stayed at a house where the host died midway through their stay, confusing the matter of checking out and payment.
24. According to reports in the New York Post, “entertainers” of questionable character regularly pose as tourists renting out Airbnb listings in New York City, helping them security avoid cameras and saving money compared to hotels.
25. One Airbnb host was forced to pay tenants $1,700 to vacate her apartment after they refused after 30 days, citing California tenant’s rights laws and demanding a payment of relocation fees before they left.
Despite this small number of issues, the vast majority of Airbnb customers have wonderful experiences and thoroughly enjoy their stays – especially in Costa Rica!
Need help with booking a place in Tamarindo, Guanacaste, or Playa Jaco? Hit me up!
Virtual careers are a reality these days, thanks to amazing technology, a global marketplace, and increases in outsourcing. In fact, there are plenty of online jobs you could do to earn a living while traveling or living in Costa Rica - or anywhere.
However, I’ve seen a ton of websites that go that far and then stop, not giving you the nuts and bolts of WHERE you can find these jobs and HOW to get them.
It’s hard to even do research because most links bring you to other links, paid sites, people selling you stuff - or downright scams. To be honest, it’s incredibly frustrating!
There are virtual job sites, like FlexJobs.com, Upwork, and more that prescreen employers for you, and their small fee might be well worth it in wasted time.
So I did a little research for you (because I care) to offer some good resources to actually find a legit virtual job and get hired.
Please note that I do not have any affiliation or get paid by any of these sites (I wish). I’ve clicked on all of the links to see if they were live and looked like credible job services, but I can’t vouch for their validity.
So feel free to email me with any updates or experiences you have when you go to these sites and start your job search.
Warning: There are a lot of scams out there in the world of virtual work because the bad guys prey on the anonymity of being online and the dream of “quick money from home” that many job seekers buy into.
Here are 5 ways to make sure your virtual job is not a scam:
1. Make sure the employer is a reputable company. Check their feedback and reviews on LinkedIn, Elance, and Google them. Look up their Better Business Bureau rating.
2. Confirm they have a home office with a real address, not just a PO Box.
3. Ask for references from current employees and staff.
4. Get a phone number and surprise them with a call to make sure they are there, working, and professional. If you are suspicious, ask if you can swing by and say hi.
5. NEVER send money to them for ANYTHING.
How will virtual work be different from a regular job?
Instead of face-to-face contact with your coworkers and clients, you will have to do everything online. That means it’s so important to have a quiet place to work with a great Internet connection (which can be more difficult than it sounds in foreign countries.)
Since you won’t have managers looking over your shoulder, you’ll be tempted to take a siesta instead of working. But to be successful at virtual work, you’ll need to be organized, self-motivated, and have a great work ethic.
People often mistakenly assume virtual work is easy just because you can do it from home, but most virtual professionals I know work even harder, for longer hours, and sometimes for less money. But if you factor in that they don’t have to sit in traffic, get dressed up, or pay for parking and lunch, and the flexibility to take care of the kids – or travel abroad and sit by the beach – it’s well worth it.
Tools for virtual work:
Your laptop will be your best friend as you travel and work abroad. But these days, some people can get by just with a smart phone or mobile device. Also, a great Internet connection is a must. Most restaurants, bars, and cafes have free Wi-Fi abroad, but you will also want to get a home connection.
A Wi-Fi extender and a pocket Wi-Fi hotspot will be invaluable as a backup.
Your new job might require a printer, and get an external hard drive to backup all of your important documents and work.
A good quality headset with a microphone will be needed if you are making frequent calls.
Skype, Facetime, and teleconferencing software will replace personal meetings, and there might also be work-specific software or applications.
You can get paid via PayPal, which is convenient, but remember that they’ll take about 2.9% out of every transaction – which really adds up. You should also be aware that some payment platforms your U.S. employer may want to use, like Venmo, won't work internationally (they can pay to Venmo but you can't transfer or withdraw the money if you're abroad!) or may charge much higher fees.
Instead, just give your employer your bank account number and routing number from the start so they can make transfers or direct deposits.
You might want to keep a Post Office Box or use someone’s home address in the U.S. or your home country. This will serve two purposes: to collect any essential mail, and also to display a normal U.S. address on your marketing materials/website, etc. so you don’t advertise to potential clients that you’re living abroad.
And of course, you'll still pay U.S. taxes on any money you earn from a U.S. employer while you're abroad. *But always check with your CPA or tax preparer first.
How do you get the job?
You will need an organized resume, just like any other job, but a digital version. Since you won’t interview with your boss or Human Resource folks in person, the way you present yourself on paper (or computer screen) is extremely important. Take full advantage of testimonials, references from past clients, or employer recommendations. Highlight any education, certifications, professional awards, or projects you worked on.
A web page with a service page also makes for a great online resume center, or some sites like ELance or LinkedIn let you to set up your own profile.
Take advantage of every tool they allow – professional photos, work samples, uploaded videos, testimonials, etc.
A short video of you in professional attire, introducing yourself and talking about your job skills, experience, and goals for work is a wonderful tool, and the link can be emailed to any potential employer.
Expect a Skype interview, possibly more screening, writing samples, or even a skills test with a virtual job.
Note: Because of the lack of personal contact, expect your employers to do a Google search for your name and probably also look you up on Facebook. Take down those half-naked pictures of you doing tequila shots and stop talking about how you hate your past employer and can't wait to quit and move down to Costa Rica!
Best practices for virtual workers:
If you are traveling or living abroad, do you have to tell your employer where you are? Is it okay to work in your pajamas? At midnight with the television on? The fine line between professionalism and sloppiness often gets blurred with virtual work, but here is the unwavering truth: do the job well; exceed expectations, and you’ll make your employer happy.
It’s all about results, and if you need a babysitter to do your work, then you shouldn’t have a virtual job. Communication will key – there’s nothing that freaks your boss out more than if they email you for something important and you don’t get back to them for a long time.
If the job is 100% virtual, you don’t have to disclose your whereabouts (they don’t know if you are sitting home in the next town, the next state, or halfway around the world,) BUT you should ask to review their specific workforce policies before you start.
If something is going to create a conflict or become an issue in the future, then honestly address it with your manager ahead of time. Remember that there will also be a time change if you are out of the country, so you may have to work some strange hours!
Be organized, professional, and expect to put as much time into your virtual job-hunt as any other employment search. I promise you that it will be worth it to live the dream of spending time in a foreign country, while still earning a paycheck!
P.S. I have a ton more resources, links, and actual companies hiring for you in the Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook: Special Report on Working and Earning an Income From Costa Rica.
Email me any questions to email@example.com and I’ll be happy to help.
Once you move down to Costa Rica and things like location, housing and job are all determined, your attention will turn to the more mundane – like banking.
In fact, setting up a Costa Rican bank account will probably be on your radar after you use the ATM several times and get charged exorbitant foreign ATM fees.
Costa Rica does have a fantastic and modern banking system, accessible to the foreigner, long-term resident, and Tico alike.
Here are some tips and best practices for banking in Costa Rica:
Costa Rica offers a host of options when it comes to safely parking and managing your money. These include:
• 1 central bank (Banco Central de Costa Rica)
• 3 state-owned commercial banks
• 12 private commercial banks
• 1 workers’ bank
• 1 state-owned mortgage bank
• 3 mutual house-building companies
• 9 private finance companies
• 28 savings and loans cooperatives
In addition, there are 2 money exchange houses, 30 investment and retirement funds or trusts run by both state and private commercial banks and the state insurance company. All of these banks and financial institutions offer services to foreigners, whether they’re residents, students or have work visas.
When you first move to Costa Rica, the biggest decision you’ll have when opening a bank account is whether to do so at a private bank or the Costa Rica state bank. There are pros and cons to each: The state-owned banks like Banco Nacional and Banco Costa Rica offer the most branches and many more ATM locations, as well as guaranteeing all deposits.
However, you’ll find some seriously long lines when you visit these banks. Fridays closest to the 15th and 31st or 1st of the month can be nightmares with crowds and long lines trying to cash their paychecks. December is typically swamped as well as around any holiday!
The private banks, like the Canadian-owned Scotiabank, may have far less branches and ATMs, but are big on service, with less waiting times, better educated and accommodating staff, and English speakers.
However, private banks don’t typically offer deposit insurance. They’ll also carefully scrutinize your corporation and its dealings if you open up a bank account for any business.
No matter which bank you choose (or both!), the majority of these banks allow you to open up accounts and make transactions in colones, dollars, or even euros in some cases.
What do you need to open an account?
Whether you’ve chosen a state-run or private bank to open an account, there are a number of guidelines:
If you’re not a Costa Rican resident, you’ll need to show your passport. Bring a second form of credible ID, like your driver’s license, too.
2. Minimum Deposit
The minimum deposit will depend on the type of account, but you’ll need to deposit at least 5,000 CRC or $25 for savings accounts or $500- $1,000 for checking accounts.
3. Utility Bill
Bring a copy of one of your utility bills to prove your address in Costa Rica.
4. Proof of Income
If you get paid a salary, you’ll be asked to provide your orden patronal, while independent workers should show a Certification of Income (Certificacion de Ingresos), which is prepared by a CPA and includes your name, occupation, and monthly or yearly income.
5. Purpose in Costa Rica
Some banks may require retired Costa Rican residents to show their ID card or official document from immigration or your attorney showing that you’re in the process of becoming a resident. If you’re a student, bring a letter from your school stating your purpose to study in Costa Rica. Foreign workers should have their orden patronal or La Caja.
6. U.S. Tax Forms
A recently enacted policy called Conozca a Su Cliente (Know Your Client), Mandates that banks report certain things for transactions about $10,000 to help prevent money laundering. U.S. citizens will be asked to fill out tax forms and other documents to alert the IRS to the presence of these offshore bank accounts.
7. Letters of Reference
Most Costa Rican banks will require a couple of letters of reference, including letters from other banks where you’ve done business or made deposits. But they can also be letters from friends who are customers of that same bank where you’re applying, stating your relationship and vouching for you as a customer. You can even bring them to the bank with you to aid the process!
Other banking notes and tips:
• There are ATMs all over the cities but far less in provinces and small towns. It’s recommended you take out colones because it might be hard for businesses to give change for big U.S. dollar bills, and you won’t get a good exchange rate.
• Don’t use the ATMs located in smaller shops, restaurants, and casinos – you’ll get killed on ATM fees.
• During power outages, holidays and busy tourist weekends, the ATMs may not work or be out of money, so prepare in advance.
• Costa Rica is well established as an offshore banking haven, with banking secrecy laws that make it impossible for governmental (or private) agencies to access to your account information without a court order.
• For that reason, Costa Rica is a favorite place to hold significant assets for foreign individuals and corporations that want protection from governmental agencies and civil litigation like in their home countries.
• Travelers can expect most higher end hotels, restaurants and shops to accept credit cards, but many common and everyday businesses won’t accept them.
• When using credit cards, expect a processing fee and a very unfavorable exchange rate.
• Unfortunately, credit card transactions are more susceptible to theft in Costa Rica. When signing your receipt, cross out a block of 4-8 numbers on your receipt and request a copy of the receipt.
• It’s a good idea to check your account balances often to spot any fraud or over-charging. Use a hide-your-IP service to keep your logins to banking websites protected.
• Unfortunately, the same banking protection laws may not keep your credit card transactions confidential. Credit card transactions don’t fall under the same jurisdiction as banking secrecy laws, and in several instances in the past, the United States IRS forced MasterCard and American Express to disclose private financial information from their users.
• So you may want to stick to using cash and visiting your local bank in Costa Rica. When you enter, remember that appropriate attire is required, and don’t wear sunglasses.
• Whether you go into a private or government bank, you’ll be divided into two lines depending on what kind of transaction you’re there for.
• For standard transactions like making deposits, withdrawals and exchanging currency, you’ll be in the standing line. But for customers who want to open new accounts, request a new debit card, or make special business transactions or wire transfers, etc., there will be a special line where you take a seat, and then they’ll call you.
• Before you sit down, make sure to take a ticketed number – called a ficha – so you’ll be in the queue when your number is called. If you lose your spot, no one will take mercy on you!
• If you’re elderly, pregnant, disabled, with a young child, you qualify for the preferential line called the fila preferencial, usually located off to the side.
Did you find that helpful?
It probably isn't your main concern now but believe me - it will be very useful once you move down to Costa Rica and need to open a bank account!
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