How to Move and Retire in Costa Rica: The Complete Guide

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Need an all in one adventure, wildlife, relaxation, culture, and fine cuisine retirement destination? Think Costa Rica. Move or retire here and enjoy excellent pristine beaches, ecotourism, wildlife, and all year round tropical climate.

To move and retire in Costa Rica, research the best retirement expat regions. You can live in the country’s high altitude mountainous areas, rain forests, and beachfront or in its modern cities. Apply for a Pensionado, Rentista, or Inversionista program Visa, and then make your move.

In this article, you will read useful insider data about this exceptional retirement or second home haven, such as:

  • Its cost of living
  • The Pura Vida advantage
  • Cost of retiring in Costa Rica
  • How to move or retire to Costa Rica

Living Expenses: What to Expect

A stereotypical gripe about Costa Rica by North American expats is the country’s high cost of living. Most foreigners are often mind blown by the fact Costa Rica is not the perfect shoestring budget destination. You can leverage the dollar’s purchasing power in many other Latin American nations, but Costa Rica is America’s Switzerland. 

As an illustration, away from the high-end tourist beaches, food prices in a backwater ranching town will cost at least as much or a little more than it does in Canada, the US, or Europe. A chicken sandwich in an average restaurant could cost $9, while a burger will go for $8.

A simple meal that includes dessert and a few glasses of wine could cost about $69 per person before tax. A 13% tax could ratchet up the costs, making it difficult to live in luxury in this beautiful rugged coastline and rainforest country.

Should you splurge for a birthday or anniversary, with a special candlelit dinner, the affordable luxury in other developing countries in the region will cost over and above $250 at a nicer restaurant.

A simple, enjoyable evening by the beach, watching the sunset over a couple of drinks could set you back $25. Indeed, drinking water itself costs a few bucks more in this grand adventure and nature haven.

How to Move and Retire in Costa Rica: The Complete Guide

The Cost of Living in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is not your typical basement living retirement destination. That said, you could live comfortably on an average of $1400 to $1700 per month here. It is also possible to scrape by with less.

To this end, in comparison to North America and larger parts of Europe, you will spend a little less living amid the tropical country’s unspoiled nature. Your cost of living, however, is significantly hinged on your lifestyle.

Retired couples here spend an average of $2000 to $3000 per month. Should you have more savings to live on, you can enjoy a jet-set lifestyle here; one that is unaffordable in the United States.

Costa Rica’s High Inflation Rates

So why is it not possible to enjoy a bargain lifestyle in this scintillating cultural region? Costa Rica is the most expensive retirement destination in Central America because of its rising inflation and wages.

Its Colon has been on a race against the dollar. The rising wages weaken its competitiveness in the global arena. Its costs can be as high as 20% to 30% above the nations surrounding it. Major employers such as HP and other international businesses have moved away to cheaper locations such as India.

Businesses here find it a challenge to afford skilled English-speaking employees. The high level of inflation places the cost of ordinary items in Costa Rica on par with more developed regions of the world. To get the big picture, according to World Data’s inflation rates development figures, the level of inflation in the US has risen from -0.4% to 13.5% in the last 40 years.

As of 2019, the US inflation rate was 1.8%. On this account, an item that would go for $100 in 1979 costs close to $392 in 2020. This figure is because of a 291.91% price increase and a 3.5% average rise in inflation rates.

Costa Rica’s inflation rates have shot up from lows of 0.0% to highs of 90.1% in the last four decades. In 2018, the Costa Rican inflation rate was 2.1%, rising at an average rate of 14.7% annually. The overall price increase is 18,842%. An item that cost 100 Colon in Costa Rica in 1979 costs over 18,942 Colon in 2020.

The Pura Vida Advantage

Costa Rica’s inflation and under-developed port and ground infrastructure may seem like deal-breakers. Nevertheless, these challenges cannot blemish the many benefits of living in Costa Rica. There is much to love about this biodiverse country.

First, Costa Rica is a politically stable democracy with adequate education systems. For this reason, it is the to-go-to BPO region for big-name corporations like IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, and Infosys. It might not be the cheapest hole in the wall kind of country, but it has adequate airport infrastructure and out of this world tourism services.

We are talking about a wild natural environment so lush that 5% of the world’s species live within it. Ticos or Costa Ricans say that this unique land houses close to 500,000 species of flora and fauna in its 51,100-km² (4200ha) piece of land.

Over 25% of this space is under protection, meaning that it will stay safe from adverse human activities. There are diverse opportunities for surfboarding, yoga, misty mountain climbing, or bat-filled caves ascensions. Costa Rica has also positioned itself as the American retiree’s perfect retirement destination. 

It has all that retirees need to spend their sunset years in bliss, warm Caribbean beaches, quiet rural life, Pacific coastlines, modern cities, and lush scenery. Today, over 20,000 US expats live here, and many of them are retirees.

Its economy is perfect for a middle-class lifestyle, with diverse theatre, fine dining, and gallery opportunities to enjoy. You will have excellent healthcare, reliable water and electrical services, and good cell phone coverage. 

Its rural village life is much cheaper than town or ocean living. It is easy to access high-speed internet connectivity, satellite, and cable TV. You can also hire household help affordably to enhance your quality of life.

A small condominium or house rent goes for $300 to $600 per month. Larger homes with large yards will set you back $1200 to $2000 as per the location. For this reason, despite its high standard of living, Costa Rica is the ultimate retirement destination. 

Costa Ricans are also warm and welcoming people, and the weather is almost spring-like all year round.

Do Some Research

Costa Rica is a small country with close to 4.8 million citizens. It has Panama to its south and Nicaragua to its north. On its west is the Pacific Ocean, while its East has the Caribbean Sea. Its Caribbean coast on the south has some of its best turquoise water, white sand, and pristine coral reef beaches. 

The Caribbean beaches on the north have dark sand beaches perfect for ecotourism and wildlife. Its tropical climate makes life perfect in its high altitude mountainous areas, rain forests, or modern cities. 

The first question that you need to answer when planning to move or retire in this beautiful paradise is where best to live in Costa Rica. Some vital issues that you may consider when making this decision include:

  • The climate of the area
  • The cost of living
  • Cost of real estate
  • Healthcare facility quality
  • State of power, water, and telecommunications infrastructure
  • Entertainment and recreation
  • Access to other expat communities
  • Outdoor and cultural activities
  • The state of education facilities if you have a young family
  • Ease of international travel

All the factors above are vital for enjoyable Costa Rica living for retirees or expats.

Find Your Ideal Location

How to Move and Retire in Costa Rica: The Complete Guide

Here are a few things that you might not know about this small country. Besides its appealing wide range of climate and landscapes, its people have a thirst for pure life or Pura Vida. Living a pure life is the Costa Rican mantra that means to ‘live to the fullest state of mind.’

Most retirees coming from the bustle and hustle of large economies find this culture very refreshing, calming, and restorative. It is no wonder, then, that Costa Ricans are at the top of the Happy Planet index. They are indeed some of the merriest people on earth!

The levels of well-being, life expectancy, and low ecological footprint of the Costa Rican are downright impressive. Life is so good down in Costa Rica that its western coast is a Blue Zone. Alongside Okinawa in Japan, and Ikaria in Greece, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica has people that live active lives beyond 100 years.

Retirees and expats that enjoy the Pura Vida life will vouch for Costa Rica as an outstanding retirement spot. Here you can live happily next to the beach, on a farm, in the jungle on having an exhilarating cliff or mountainside view. There is a Costa Rican dream view to fit any taste. 

After your research, consider all the pros and cons of your choice of location. Below are some valuable tips on location:

  • The central valley region gives you quick access to the Costa Rican capital, San José.
  • The Arenal region is perfect for the green hills next to lakeshores living.
  • The North Pacific Gold coast has expat spots like Playas del Coco, and Tamarindo is perfect for that sleepy fishing village lifestyle.
  • The beach lover should settle for the Nicoya Peninsula and the Caribbean region of Costa Rica.
  • The central Pacific region has quick access to medical care and shopping zones. There are beautiful beaches and resort towns as well.

Best Places to Move and Retire to in Costa Rica

Some of the best places to retire to in Costa Rica include Costa Ballena, Puerto Viejo, Montezuma and La Fortuna. Santa Teresa, Mais Pais, Nuevo Arenal and Monteverde are excellent locations for expats as well.

Santa Teresa and Mais Pais

Santa Teresa and Mais Pais on the Blue Zone of the Nicoya Peninsula have fantastic surfing beaches. Surfers say that you always have a 95% chance of finding waves big enough to surf on the southern Nicoya Peninsula waterfront.

The water is warm enough to allow for a wet suit-less scuba dive. At the Santa Teresa and Mais Pais beaches, you will find expats under the palm trees staring at the calming waves while getting their tan on.

Beachcombing for treasures is also a popular pastime. This region is also one of Costa Rica’s most satisfying food havens. You can retire here for a budget-friendly $1500 per month if you can handle the area’s dusty or muddy, potholed dirt roads.


Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula’s southern tip is both warm ocean and wild jungle. An inviting boho ambiance, it attracts the arty rootsy kind of expat. There are plenty of beach yoga classes, veggie-focused dining areas, and plenty of uplifting herbs.

Montezuma boasts sandy or rocky beaches, natural swimming pools, rivers, and a cascading waterfall over 80 feet tall. It also has a protected nature reserve. Montezuma is the place to be for retirees that want fishing and snorkeling excursions regularly. 

La Fortuna

La Fortuna de San Carlos is a popular, quaint town in Costa Rica’s northern highlands. It has an alluring park, graceful gardens, a large church, and its principal attraction is the Arenal Volcano, which acts as La Fortuna’s backdrop.

Despite its infamous tourist trap image, La Fortuna has charm and a local feel. Want to access thermal water-filled pools at any time? Move to La Fortuna.


They say that you have seen little of Costa Rica until you have been to Monteverde. Here there are cloud forests, close encounters with wildlife, and excellent coffee. According to CNN, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the most stunning locations in the world.

The magic of this biodiverse region includes the quetzal, one of the most resplendent birds on earth. Monteverde is a real-life terrarium with dramatic blue skies, vivid rainbows, and dramatic fine mists and is also a top coffee, cheese, and dairy, garlic, and flax production zone.

Apply for Your Visa

If you are a Canadian or US citizen, you will not need to apply for a tourist visa to travel to Costa Rica. Your immigration validation is enough proof of legal entry into the country. If you need validation renewal, simply leave and re-enter the country before the old approval expires.

If you plan to move to or retire in Costa Rica, you will need legal residence papers. Some of your options include:

  • Pensionado Program: To access the Pensionado Program’s legal status, a retiree needs to prove that they receive over $1000 from their retirement, Social Security, disability, or pension plan. The Pensionado program status will not allow you employment in Costa Rica, but you can go for self-employment or own a company.
  • Rentista Program: The Rentista program is for that person who does not have a regular retirement income. To access it, you need to prove that you earn $2500 each month. You also have to deposit $60,000 in a Costa Rican bank.
  • The Inversionista Program: Invest a minimum of $200,000 in Costa Rican and achieve resident status.

After three years in any of the programs above, you can apply for permanent resident status. A US expat will have a few tax breaks, but they will need to meet their US and Costa Rican tax requirements if they invest, earn, or start a business in Costa Rica.

Rent First

It is safer to rent a home in your haven of choice before making a full move. By temporarily moving to your location of choice for a minimum of six months, you can familiarize yourself with the area before committing.

Check the diverse housing available. Decide whether you want to buy or rent your home. If you buy, ensure that the property has resale potential. Ensure that your home of choice has enough space for family or pets should you plan to bring them along. Check out the education system if you have school-going children.

Make a Final Choice

Set a date for the move and settle challenges such as selling your property back home if you want to. If not, find management firms or caretakers to oversee your property while you are away.

This preparation will point you towards the right visa. Do you want to ship your household items or sell them and buy new ones on arrival? Think about the expense and hassle of your decision, and if it’s worth the costs, go right ahead. If not, purchase new household items after relocation.

Make Your Move

Move and explore your new home. Make new friends with fellow expats and retirees and more so with the locals. You can always change locations should the need arise.


If you ask most retirees or expats living in Costa Rica, they will say that they wish that they had moved there earlier. So do not spend too much time fretting over the decision. It could be the best decision of your life. Below is a rundown of moving to Costa Rica:

  • Do your research and find the perfect location.
  • Think about Costa Rica’s cost of living.
  • Apply for a visa and make a reconnaissance visit.
  • Make your decision, pack up, and move.



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