... Thinking of moving to Costa Rica? ...
by Ryan Piercy for the ARCR
We recommend that anyone considering moving to Costa Rica, or any country for that matter, first come here as a tourist. The longer you can stay the better. It is important that in addition to knowing the logistics of establishing residency and making the move, you get a little taste of what life will be like.
Depending on your country of origin, you can remain in Costa Rica with a tourist visa for up to three months. With a driver's license from your home country and your passport, you can legally drive. During this time, try to get a feel for what day-to-day life will be like -- learn first-hand that a different culture means different responses to given situations. Explore the country, and try to experience the different micro-climates (approx. 7) to help make your choice of where to live so that you will be satisfied and comfortable.
Costa Rica is a Spanish speaking country. Outside the tourist areas there is not much English spoken, but the Costa Ricans are a warm and friendly people and are willing to try to help. Also, there are many schools available offering complete immersion courses, and private lessons are relatively easy to arrange. And, of course, practice is the key.
What is it like to live here? Only your own experience can answer that, since it is different for every person. But some basic information may help you in your investigation. Foreign residents and tourists can own a house and property in Costa Rica, and there are houses, condos and apartments available for rent in most areas of the country. Rental prices vary from US$300. And up, depending on your choice of location and type of house. Location also dictates the house prices, whether buying or building. The closer to San Jose (ie. Escazu, Santa Ana, San Pedro) the higher the price. At the present time, if you own a house and car and have no debts, a couple can live comfortably on US$1,500-2,500 per month depending on your lifestyle. Personal services (ie. Maid, gardener, beauty parlor, etc.) are very reasonable, and many foreigners take advantage and enjoy using these services more than before living here.
The cost of an automobile is relatively expensive in Costa Rica. While visiting, check around for prices on the type of car you would prefer. Some people ship their own cars from home, so check the cost of the import tax and shipping charges. Your decision to bring your personal household goods should be carefully evaluated. Contact others who have done it and consult with them. There are a few horror stories, but also many good ones using well established moving/customs services. With this information you are in a better position to make a sound decision. The exchange rate as of May 2000 was about 300 colones to the US$1. Auto parts are expensive, but labor is reasonable. Most of the roads are poor, with an ample supply of potholes, but the government is working hard to try and improve this situation.
Property taxes are generally lower in Costa Rica than in North America and many other countries. As a foreign resident, you will not pay income taxes on foreign pensions or income generated outside of Costa Rica, but you may have to pay taxes on income generated in Costa Rica. Businesses income, after expenses, is taxed, and there is a 13% sales tax on goods and services, including restaurants, hotels, entertainment, and so on.
For those considering retirement in Costa Rica, it may be unwise to expect to earn a living, or to supplement your income. Pensionados and rentistas are allowed to own and operate a business but are not permitted to work for wages for someone else.
Costa Rica has both private and public health care systems, and there is reasonable insurance available for both. ARCR has obtained group discounts for its members. The private clinics, doctors, specialists and laboratories are all quickly accessible and modestly priced compared to North America. Overall, health care is rated as good in Costa Rica. There are also reasonably priced dentists and periodontists available, who provide quality service.
Whether purchasing a house or car, or investing in anything else, it is advisable to exercise even more caution than you would normally, especially if you don’t understand Spanish. Get recommendations for good lawyers, etc. from the ARCR or other residents, and be sure to understand all of the terms/conditions, and know a lot before making a deposit or committing yourself. Like most places in the world, it is a ‘Buyer Beware’ society.
There is theft here, as in all parts of the world, especially in and close to large cities. Exercise common sense when parking your car, lock it and don't leave valuables inside. When walking the downtown streets don't wear expensive flashy jewelry, leave it at home in a safe place.
Costa Rica is a beautiful and peaceful country. The army was abolished in 1948, and the people, in general, are kind and warmhearted. The weather is warm and the sun shines almost 365 days a year, with a pace of life that is more relaxed than in North America.
The members of the ARCR, the staff, and other 'expats' are all quite happy to assist you. In the end, your ability to adapt and approach life with a relaxed attitude will probably govern your degree of happiness and satisfaction with Costa Rican life.
(Revised in co-operation with the Canadian Club of Costa Rica)