“I’m thinking about moving to Costa Rica,” are words I see every day in emails, Facebook messages, and from people who have read my articles about life as an expat in that country.
“I want to move down to Costa Rica to live, buy a house, and open a business,” is the usual agenda, but their life-plan isn’t well thought out after that. I see a lot of people rushing into their big move, spurred on by visions of a stress-free, easy life on the beach. Their experience can either truly be “living the dream,” or a complete nightmare, based on what happens next.
Let’s break down that plan, with excerpts from my typical answers:
1. “I’m thinking about moving to Costa Rica.”
Costa Rica truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but what do you truly know about it? If you think all-day, everyday life there is sitting on a postcard-like beach, you might be shocked to hear that people actually have problems and challenges there, just like they do back home in your current life.
Of course, Costa Rica is a wonderful, healthy, and positive destination for many expats, but just make sure you think it through, do your homework, and prepare adequately for real life – not a rosy fantasy.
Fun Costa Rica fact:
The proper way to say 'Email' in Spanish is, 'Correo Electrónico.' But that's too long for everyone in Costa Rica, so they just call it.... 'email." Simple, huh?
2. “I want to establish residency/become a citizen.”
Establishing residency in Costa Rica can be an expensive and timely proposition (unless you marry a Tica!) So don’t worry about residency just yet — the country will grant you a 90-day tourist visa, so all you have to do is leave the country for a few days — or a few hours — after that (called the Border Shuffle), and come right back in on a new visa. You can still get a driver’s license and function just fine without residency, while still keeping your options open. Take your time and make sure it’s where you want to be before establishing residency.
3. “I want to live there [permanently].”
I recommend visiting for prolonged periods of time, first, to get to know the country, the different towns, the people, and the culture, before you commit to it. Start out with a month or two and go from there. If you really want to see what it’s like, go during their rainy season/low tourist season. Don’t treat your visit like a vacation, but instead, meet as many locals and expats who live there as possible, exploring different parts of the country.
No matter how beautiful Costa Rica may be, it’s always good to get back Stateside for a little bit every year to “recharge the batteries” seeing family, friends, enjoying cooler weather, etc. The best schedule I can imagine is splitting the year between Central America and the U.S., but that’s just me.
4. “I want to buy real estate.”
Err on the side of caution with buying real estate in Costa Rica, or any country. That’s good advice for someone in the U.S., as well if they don’t know the local market very well. To complicate things there can be issues with holding title, getting loans, etc. and it’s undeniable that there are pockets of ridiculously overpriced condominiums and projects plagued by HOA issues. Wait at LEAST a year before you even think about buying real estate. You can always find a nice, inexpensive place to rent, giving yourself time to learn the ropes.
5. “I want to open a business.”
Be careful. Too many people who want to move down to Costa Rica and open a business invest their life savings in it, only to become stress-cases and lose all of their money.
Sometimes you need a Costa Rican (Tico) on the paperwork for an official business, which could further complicate things. You need to see what it’s like in the low season, too, before making accurate projections on profitability.
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