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Moving to Costa Rica: what you need to know before leaving



More and more people are thinking of moving to Costa Rica, dreaming of an idyllic life in the unspoiled paradise that is this small Latin American country. But such an adventure is not to be prepared lightly.

The residence permit, essential for expats in Costa Rica

Tourist status is not enough for an expat in Costa Rica

It is very easy for a foreign citizen to enter the country. No visa is required for stays of less than 90 days: a valid passport for this duration and a return ticket are enough.

But entering as a tourist is not enough to live as an expat in Costa Rica, because it does not allow to work or to open a bank account, and forces to leave the country after 90 days.

Things to know before moving to Costa Rica: obtaining a residence permit

One of the first things to know before moving to Costa Rica is that the residence permit is mandatory for all expats in Costa Rica, and the application should not be completed at the last minute because of the increasingly long processing times.

Obtaining permanent residence is only possible after several years spent in the country, or in case of giving birth to a child there.

Therefore, most of the expats moving to Costa Rica apply for the temporary residence permit, which is possible in the following cases:

  • Retired persons and pensioners with sufficient income
  • Persons married to a Costa Rican citizen
  • Persons employed by a Costa Rican company who cannot be replaced by a local worker
  • People who have created a business in the country
  • In case of investment prior to going to Costa Rica

The temporary residence permit gives access to the same rights as those of local citizens.

Working in Costa Rica as an expat

National workers have priority

In the majority of cases, moving to Costa Rica implies working there, which is not always obvious given the national preference policy that prevents the employment of a foreig citizen when a local can fill the position.

It is possible to try to live in Costa Rica without a work permit, as a volunteer, but this practice is increasingly being controlled and implies leaving the country and returning every 3 months.

The easiest way to live in Costa Rica and work there is to:

  • Find a job in the local subsidiary of an international company
  • Work remotely and receive your income from abroad

But this last practice does not automatically give you the right to temporary resident status.

Above all, forget the idea of working illegally during your time in Costa Rica: this could lead to your deportation. 

Is moving to Costa Rica a good idea?

Employment opportunities for expats in Costa Rica

Despite these difficulties, and whether you ask yourself if moving to Costa Rica is a good idea, the truth is that there are plenty of opportunities to work as an expat, especially for foreigners who speak a language other than Spanish:

  • Language teaching
  • Tourism
  • Hotel industry
  • Bars and restaurants
  • Call centers

Getting treatment in Costa Rica

A popular health care system

The temporary residence permit allows you to get medical care during your stay in Costa Rica, as it gives you access to the Caja (Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social). This universal health system managed by the State is ranked among the 20 best public health services in the world by the UN.

Membership is mandatory and provides access to free or low-cost care in modern public hospitals, including dental and optical care. Despite the high quality of the health services it offers, the Caja suffers from weaknesses:

  • Long waiting times for an appointment, which encourages people to turn to private facilities
  • Almost exclusive prescription of generic drugs
  • No coverage for repatriation
  • No coverage for care outside the country
  • Etc.

This is why it is recommended to purchase additional international health insurance when moving to Costa Rica.

Which international insurance use while living in Costa Rica?

These insurance plans have significant advantages:

  • They are managed exclusively in English
  • They give access to an English-speaking assistance
  • They cover health care anywhere in the world, including during stays in your home country
  • They allow you to add specific guarantees outside the health field for a more complete coverage (protection of luggage or airline tickets, civil liability, etc.)

In this regard, private insurances are generally highly appreciated for:

  • Their flexibility
  • Their simplicity of management
  • Their good quality/price ratio

However, the medical questionnaire is compulsory, which can lead to exclusions of covers in case of medical pre-existence.
To find the most suitable insurance when moving to Costa Rica, the easiest thing is to use an online insurance comparator. But whatever option you choose, it does not exempt holders of residence permits from the obligation to join the Caja.

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This is also interesting:

What countries should I move to? The best countries to move to are not the same for everyone! Finding the ideal destination depends first of all on what is expected on a personal level.


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