The Country of Costa Rica

Intro to the  Country of Costa Rica


Stats for the Country of Costa Rica

  •  Costa Rica means rich coast. This Latin American country has two oceans, the Pacific and the Caribbean sea.  Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. It is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Costa Ricans refer to themselves as “Ticos”.
  • Costa Rica now has two international airports. The oldest in San Jose, Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport(SJC)  and a newer airport in Northern Costa Rica at Liberia called Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (LIR). Both have flights from the US.
  • The population of the country is about 4 1/2 million people. The biggest percentage of people, 2.1 million, live in the Central Valley where the capitol San Jose is. The rest of the population is spread throughout the country. The countries population is divided into European and some mestizo 94%. The European ancestry comes from a mix of  several countries including Spain, Germany, Dutch, Italian, English, Irish, Portuguese, Lebanese and Polish families as well as some Jewish settlers. The African origin population is 3%, Chinese 1% and a mix of other ethnic groups for a remaining 1%. In addition, Costa Rica also has over 104,000 indigenous inhabitants or Native Americans who live in small secluded reservations.
  • The official language is Spanish. Costa Rica has a 95% literacy rate. They also have 5 public universities and 10 private ones. About 38% of  graduates of high school go on to attend college.
  • At this time there is no Permanent Visa you can get here that will allow you to bring in your belongings duty free.  A Visa that did provide this has been discontinued.
  • There is a 13% sales tax countrywide and a 10% tax for table service at bars and restaurants. There is no income tax on income earned outside of the country. There is no inheritance tax in Costa Rica.
  • You can drink the water in Costa Rica safely in most major cities. Also smaller town that rely on well water are usually okay. The government monitors the water systems an every two months tests are done to check the purity.
  •  The government of Costa Rica is composed of seven provinces. These seven provinces are Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste,  Heredia,  Limon, Puntarenas and San Jose. It has a democratic government with a constitution dating to 1949. All provinces are are ruled by a governor appointed by the president. Costa Rica’s executive power is a president, vice-presidents, and the ministers, all of them form a 17 member group called Government Council.  The legislative assembly consists of 57 members elected from proportional representation in the provinces and their counties and districts. These positions are held for 4 years and can be reelected for another 4 year term. The legislative assembly also appoints members to the Supreme court for a minimum 8 year term. There are 24 judges on the Supreme Court. Costa Rica has no military and has only domestic police and security forces.
  • Weather in Costa Rica is unlike any other Latin American country. There are 12 ecosystems in Costa Rica, all with different micro climates and vegetation.  They are out of the hurricane belt, but they do have earthquakes. They also  have volcanoes. Six volcanoes are active and 61 that are extinct.  Arenal  and Poas volcanoes are the most visited and easy to see volcanoes.  As in most Latin american countries the “rainy”  or winter season is from May thru November.  Summer or “dry” season is from December to April. Some places in Costa Rica get up to 150-200 inches of rain a year.

    Poas volcano, Volcán Poás with Mountains

    Photo Courtesy of Richie Diesterheft








  • The national currency of Costa Rica is the Colon. The exchange rate against the US dollar can vary day by day.
  • Costa Rica provides free universal health care to its citizens and permanent residents. There are 10 major hospitals in Costa Rica with four of them in San Jose. All doctors are trained and educated in the US and most speak English. As a resident of Costa Rica you are required to pay into Caja or the Costa Rica Social Security system that provides the healthcare. The cost as of this writing is $42 a month per person.  Many expats however choose private hospitals and doctors due to the wait time and overcrowding of the public system. Private Insurance can be obtained in the country. For more information please visit International Living’s Health Care Costa Rica article.
  • Costa Rica also offers assisted living facilities. This is a new addition for Costa Rica, and one that has interest for many expats who at some point might need this kind of care. You can find out more at Costa
  • Crime in Costa Rica has been consistently on the rise the last few years. However, since 2011 the government has added more police and more police cars. Under the new president, Laura Chinchilla, the number of police cars have doubled,  more police were hired and since January 2012 to date,  homicides have dropped 43%. Burglaries and property crimes fell by 9%.
  • With the  drug trafficking problem, this administration has added security to borders and is doing a much improved job at busting traffickers. Even though crime is down,  insecurity still remains the top concern of most Costa Ricans.
  • Costa Ricans are good natured, family oriented people who value tradition and religion. They have the manana attitude that enables them to live the “Pura Vida” life.

 Current Economic Information for the Country of Costa Rica

Flag of costarica, The Beautiful Costa Rican Flag Pura Vida

The current outlook for Costa Rica is not great. Because their number one industry is tourism, they have seen a down turn in the number of visitors with the current economic problems worldwide. Costa Rica is now reaching a high fiscal deficit and may need to borrow money from countries to keep the current budget on track.

After tourism, the main part of the economy runs on exports. This is from a number of items, some of which are electronics(such as Intel, who supplies over 3,200 jobs),  pharmaceuticals, financial outsourcing and software development. Several large north american companies have set up here and take advantage of the low salaries they pay here.  Most Costa Ricans annual income is around $12,425(2012) and 7.5% unemployment (2012). They also export bananas, coffee, pineapple, sugar and lumber.

Costa Rica is also worldwide known for its conservation of the environment. Over one quarter of the country is under protection. This country gets about 99% of all its electrical energy from clean sources. Because Costa Rica has so much rainfall it has built over 12 hydoelectric  power plants, which make the country self sufficient in electricity. This has not happened with any neighboring countries. At some point in the future, Costa Rica may export electricity over and above what it consumes.


GDP for Costa Rica in 2011 was 4%. Inflation was 5.4% with a deficit of  -4.3%.

Probably one of the most frustrating aspects of Costa Rica is the lack of maintenance on infrastructure, and the lack of infrastructure in general. Roads here are beyond bad. Coastal developments sprang up attracting investments and tourism. However, roads to those same places were nonexistent or at best, dirt roads with more pot holes than surface. The government has not had enough money to solve these road problems even years later.

Costa Rica is the United States most valued trading country. About half of all Costa Rica exports go to the United States. Over the years, the United States has given Costa Rica assistance when needed financially. Now you can see the US influence in Costa Rica everywhere. There are numerous US franchises all over the country and Cost Ricans have acquired a  taste for American products and lifestyle. To that end, Costa Rica has a number of high end malls. Most of the recognized named stores in the US have locations here. They also have Price Smarts, which is their version of Costco.

Costa Rica has 2 Costa Rica airlines, Nature Air and Sansa. These provide flights to smaller airports all over the country.

It is no wonder why so many people have visited here and come back to live. Recent statistics confirm over 40,000 Americans now live in Costa Rica. This is only a small percentage of the estimated 160,000 people who have made Costa Rica their home from many other countries.


Getting Familiar With Costa Rica

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Costa Rica has the most online sites promoting its country than any other Latin American Country. They have been ahead of everyone, using promotions for the tourism trade. In addition there are dozens of Realty sites promoting retirement in Costa Rica. Many of these are developers and realestate people who have relocated to Costa Rica . Many will often have retirement tours of different areas of the country. There are also many expats who have set up good websites about living in the country. I would recommend that anyone thinking about living here, take some time and look at these unbiased sites to find out the real truth. Some good resources I have come across are:

The Real Costa Rica
The Expat Exchange
To get a free newsletter about Costa Rica, I urge you to put your email in at International Living They have good solid information.
Visit Tico Times English Newspaper from Costa Rica or visit AM Costa Rica.
One of the best ongoing video series just happens to be on moving and living in Costa Rica. I believe Mr. Browne has surpassed 100 so far. I highly encourage you to view as many as you can. He goes through everything from beginning to end. Visit Boomersoffshore. Click on the video blog section and take a look.


Places in Costa Rica Expats are Living

This is a little harder to define than other countries I am profiling. Because expats here live all over the country. However, I can say that most expats do not live on the Caribbean side of the country.  Expats have been coming here for years. Most moved here and took up residence where other expats lived.  As expat communities became more expensive and popular a new trend began. New expats to Costa Rica began finding other places to live. You can now find gringos in most small towns around the country.  But that being said, I can still tell you what areas are most promoted for retirement and why. I found this video that might be worth watching  Info On How to Find the Right Place for You.

San Jose and The Central Valley

Escazu costa rica, Colored clouds at night in Costa Rica

Photo Courtesy of Armando Maynez at Flickr

This large area supports the most expats living in Costa Rica. Why? The climate is not so hot as at the beach, but it is close to the beach. Good hospitals, shopping, lots of cultural events, close to international airport, good restaurants and reasonable housing choices.

There are many suburbs of San Jose that are situated on slopes overlooking San Jose. Many favorites for expats include Heredia, Santa Ana and Escazu. This kind of lifestyle here can be expensive. I would also say from personal experience, that driving in and around San Jose can be a nightmare.

Escazu is a quiet suburb of San Jose and one of the places expats love to live. There are many new condo and gated communities and this area has its own high end shopping , fancier restaurants and  most necessities are nearby.

I found a nice video on an expat who has moved to Escazu.
Also take a look at Anywhere Costa Rica.

Real estate companies that will give you an idea of prices would include:
Properties in Costa Rica
Karen Realestate

Grecia and Sarchi

Grecia costarica,

Photo Courtesy of Arturo Sotillo

These two small towns are in the middle of some of Costa Rica’s finest coffee plantations situated on rolling hills with soft breezes. Temperatures are cooler here at 3000 ft.  Daily temperature ranges from 65-85.  The roads curve and turn and life is quieter here than San Jose. San Jose, however is only 30 minutes away so you still aren’t far from medical care and shopping. Also the beach is only 45 minutes away.

Sarchi  is a destination for every guided tour in Costa Rica because it is famous for its oxcarts. There are many gifted craftsmen in this area. Besides oxcarts, this region has several furniture stores filled with beautiful handmade furniture. Sarchi and its neighborhoods consist of about 15,000 in population. Lots of expats live here. One reason is the great supply of housing whether is a rental or home ownership. And the prices are very reasonable.

Grecia is smaller than Sarchi at a population of 5000. However it considered to be the cleanest city in Costa Rica. It has a wonderful central plaza and

Here are some videos on Sarchi and Grecia:

Sarchi Ox Carts
Sarchi Handmade Furniture Store
Great View of Grecia and Valley

Some real estate sites:

Real Estate Grecia
Go Dutch Realty


Atenas costarica, DSCF8160

Photo Courtesy of PaulT at Flickr

Atenas has a population of about 8,000. It is situated on the central valley’s western edge surrounded by mountain and coffee.  It is about half way between the beach and San Jose. This area has gotten more attention lately as an expat destination. Small new developments are springing up. Property prices are reasonable and the town is quiet. When we thought of moving to Costa Rica this area really appealed to us because of its location.It is also suppose to have the best climate in the world. AARP designated Atenas as a top destination for retirees.

Some videos on Atenas:

A Good General Video on Atenas

Some real estate sites:

Atenas Best Climate
Atenas Realty


Jaco costarica, DSCF8137

Photo Courtesy of PaulT at Flickr

Jaco’s beach is  2.5 miles long. We stayed there a couple of nights in 2008. Great community feeling. Jaco is your typical beach town. It has lots of good restaurants, hotels, surf shops, ATV rentals, some nice art shops, grocery stores, hardware and tourist shops. Jaco has about 10,000 population. The beach is easily accessible and there are numerous restaurants, shops and all the basic necessities. There is plenty of housing here as condos are going up as well as housing developments. It is about a hour by car to San Jose and the closest beach to San Jose.

December-April temps can usually be found around 95 as it is the dry season. Night time temps slightly lower. The coast has high humidity all year long.

When we stayed in Jaco, we stayed at Hotel Poseidon. I would highly recommend it. They had quiet small clean rooms. Swimming pool, great breakfast and dinners. And just one block from the beach. The owners are from Colorado.

Good Websites on Jaco:

The Jaco blog

Videos of Jaco:

A Drive Through Jaco
Main Street Jaco
Jaco Market

Real estate sites:

CR Beach
Jaco Costa Rica Property

Tamarindo and Flamingo Beach

Tamarindo beach costa rica, Costa Rica 308

Photo Courtesy of Kate Webster at Flickr

Tamarindo,Flamingo Beach and nearby beach communities are on the northern pacific of Costa Rica. This area is often refered to as the Gold Coast. These beach communities  are now easily accessible from the United States by flying into Liberia which is about 1 hour away. These small beach communities are thriving with lots of expats. Condos and new subdivisions are continually being built to accommodate the influx of expats. Tamarindo has a population of 5,000 and growing.

I have to note here that  several roads into Tamarindo are not paved and have huge potholes. This is an example of a huge development of a town without the infrastructure being in place first. This is home to many “gringos” who love the beach life, wonderful sunsets, good restaurants and water activities.

Flamingo Beach is farther north and smaller. The population is 3000 also, however Flamingo Beach is a much quieter town. Beaches here are great and expansive. Less touristy, this was one of my personal favorites.

Some great sights on the area include:
Liberia Costa Rica

Flamingo Beach
Sunset on Flamingo Beach

Realestate prices here are all over the place:
Costa Rica 1 Realestate
1st Costa Rica Realestate
Flamingo Beach

Other areas of interest for living in Costa Rica

I could develop an entire website on Costa Rica and all the opportunities here. But that has been done. I will mention a few other places worth investigating:

Quepos, Golfito, Playa Hermosa, Nosara, Dominical, Osa Peninsula, Monteverde, Alajuela and Arenal Lake area.

Cost of Living in Costa Rica

A typical budget for 2 in Atenas:

  • Rent $600
  • Electricity $90
  • Telephone $30
  • Water $20
  • Butane $10
  • Groceries $300
  • Cable/Internet $25
  • Eating Out $130
  • Health Insurance (Caja Public Health Care $ 84 for 2)
  • Transportation(Bus or Taxi) $30
  • Misc medical expense $75
  • Misc expense $100

Total $1494.00

A typical budget for 2 in Nosara:

  • Rent $300
  • Electricity $85
  • Telephone $30
  • Water $20
  • Butane $10
  • Groceries $250
  • Cable/Internet $25
  • Eating out $100
  • Health Insurance (Caja Public Health Care $84 for 2)
  • Transportation (Bus or Taxi) $50
  • Misc med expense $75
  • Misc expense$100

Total $1129.00

Again these budgets are for renting. If you owned you would need to pay property tax and take out insurance and do other maintenance as required.

Costa Rica Home Purchase Information 

You can own your own home in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica you will find a wide range of housing choices. You will find reale state sites with mansions for sale, condo’s and Tico homes. I would say more than anywhere else, Costa Rica is a development meca of new high rise condo’s and gated communities. Everywhere you look there is construction going on.

Costa Rica has developed a register of properties called Folio Real. It is a listing of all properties and their details. Before you buy make sure that  you have a title search done. This will show all data on the property, including area, ownership, boundaries, location, mortgages and other liens. If you are thinking of buying a condo, please note that Costa Rica has its own law regarding condo purchases, obviously called “Condominium Law.” This has its own set of regulations with regard to the developer and the maintenance of the property. You can find out more details at this website:buying real estate in the country of Costa Rica. If you are thinking of buying on the coast, remember that Costa Rica law states that the first 50 meters above high tide is considered public land. The next 150 meters is considered a restricted zone. You can lease the 150 meters with lots of paperwork ,but generally this means you can’t build on that portion of the property. This is not an uncommon law in most countries, but worth mentioning here.

Realtors in Costa Rica are not governed by any authority in the country. This means that virtually anyone can be a realtor and present themselves as one without any certification. The best way to find a competent and good realtor is by word of mouth from others who have purchased here.

There are numerous costs with a purchase, including a 3% transfer tax(in Colones). The real estate agent usually represents both the seller and buyer in the transaction and the agents fees are usually paid for by the seller. However, all other closing expenses are usually divided in half with each party paying the same share, including the 3% transfer tax. Other fees will be incurred such as attorney fees, notary fees, public registry fee, document stamps and title insurance.

It is very difficult to get a mortgage in Costa Rica unless you are doing business here and earning an income. People with money earned outside the country are generally not eligible for a home loan.

Local governments collect property tax annually here. The normal amount for tax is .25% of the registered value of the property. This is considerably lower than most other Latin American countries. So a home that is valued at $150,000 would pay a property tax of only $375.00 per year. Not bad.

Most homes here do have hot water and air conditioning. Although there are no building codes, some subdivisions here are built to American standards. Most homes are on public water systems that provide good drinking water.

Country of Costa Rica Residency Requirements as of August 2012

For most of us there are only 3 residency visas available. I will break down all of them here. A a note, Costa Rica is constantly changing its requirements. A few years ago, foreigners who lived here were told that the new residency laws would not grandfather in current residents and that everyone would have to conform and reprove to the new guidelines. There was an uproar, as many people would have had to leave, since they could not prove the new requirements for income. The government then changed its mind and decided to allow those who had already had their Visa.


This is for people who have retired or have a lifetime pension in the form of an annuity. You must prove an income of at least $1000 a month from either a pension or a retirement fund that has a lifetime payment of that amount. Your spouse and dependants under 18 can be included in this amount. In order to keep this type of residency, you must remain in the country at least 4 months per year.  You would not be able to work under this visa, however you can own a company and receive dividends from it.


Requires proof of $2500 a month for 2 years , guaranteed by a financial institution or a deposit of $60,000 USD in an approved Costa Rica bank. These amounts cover spouces and dependants. Again, you must remain in the country for 4 months per year. You can not work, but can own a company and get the proceeds from it.


You must invest $ 200,000 in a business or approved investment. Example would be property, stocks and bonds. With this visa you must be in the country at least 6 months a year.Your spouse and defendants can come under this amount. Your income from the investment is allowed and you can own a company and receive its dividends.

You can stay in Costa Rica 90 days with the tourist visa. If you need to extend this you must submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration. Extensions are not always granted. They are done on a case by case basis. It is not recommended to use this as a way to live permanently in Costa Rica. Some people just leave the country for 72 hours every 89 days. Again this is not a good way to live in the country.

 Requirements for these Visas:

  • Police certificate- Stating good conduct from your last place of residency. These are required for all applicants and should be valid for 6 months.
  • Birth certificate-Required again for all applicants
  • Marriage certificate
This usually costs $1100 per family head and $1100 for spouse for the inital visa.
All documents must be notarized if they do not have any official seal. If you have any doubt notarize everything. Then these documents must all be Apositilled. This is done at your Secretary of States office. Every state has one.
Once you have received your residency permit you must submit proof every the Costa Rican government every year that you are still getting this money. Yearly renewals will cost $150-$250 dollars per person.

After 3 years you can apply for unrestricted residency for any of the above visa’s. Costa Rica has a really good service that keeps up on all the changes. They can help you get your Visa. For more information go to ARCR for the country of Costa Rica.

Shipping Your Belongings:

Remember that Costa Rica will charge you certain duty taxes on things you bring into the country. Electronics are taxed the highest, easily 50% of the value. Books are never taxed. Other exclusions include Personal effects such as clothes, shoes, purses, personal videos, cd’s, Dvd’s, personal pictures and paperwork. Even hand tools for household use. All other items will be taxed.

Pets can be brought into Costa Rica:

Dogs and cats are not quarantined when entering Costa Rica.  As long as you have the proper paperwork. You will need a certificate from a US Dept of Agriculture certified vet who will have the proper paperwork you need.

This paperwork should also be validated by the CR embassy in the US nearest you. Your pet must have current shot within 30 days of the trip and rabies shots must be over 30 days but less than one year old.

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