Are you considering moving to Costa Rica from the UK?
One of the world’s most desirable expat destinations and one of the most popular retirement havens in Central America, Costa Rica’s is blessed with infinitely exotic landscapes including lush jungles bursting with wildlife, blindingly beautiful beaches, and brooding, misty volcanoes.
This is the country where people use the phrase ‘pura vida’ — meaning ‘pure life’ — to greet each other and as a positive response in all type of situations, demonstrating their free spirit and zest life, love and appreciation of their incredible natural surroundings, and their hospitable, easy going manner.
Understandably many UK expats are tempted by the idea of living a high quality of life in this endless tropical paradise and tax haven.
If you’re one of them here’s our guide to the most important things you need to know if you’re thinking of making a move to Costa Rica…
- 1 Costa Rica Visa Requirements for Brits
- 2 Way of Life in Costa Rica
- 3 Cost of Living in Costa Rica
- 4 Popular Areas for Brits
- 5 Jobs in Costa Rica for British Expats
Costa Rica Visa Requirements for Brits
If you just want to test the water with a visit to Costa Rica without committing to moving there directly, you’ll be pleased to hear that UK citizens can enter Costa Rica for stays of up to 90 days as a tourist without having to apply for a visa.
Passports should be in good condition without damage, and you must have at least six months left on your passport before its expiration or you will be denied entry.
You must also provide proof of onward travel out of Costa Rica within the 90 day period of your stay.
If you’re not of retirement age you will need have some other form of income, which for most people means getting a job.
In order to have the right to stay and work legally in Costa Rica it is necessary to apply for an employment temporary residence permit.
However, Costa Rica’s immigration laws are very tight, and an employment TRP will only be granted to Brits filling specific roles in certain companies which have been specially accredited by the immigration department.
These companies act as sponsors during your stay, and you will be required to leave Costa Rica as soon as your contract with them expires.
That said, once you do have proof of a firm job offer, plus a statement from your new employer that explains the reasons why you as a foreigner are uniquely qualified for the role instead of a Costa Rican, you will be required to make a US$100 deposit and take the receipt for this to the immigration department where you can finally collect your employment TRP. This process can be lengthy and it may take up to 6 months for a temporary resident permit to be processed.
As another option, expats may live in Costa Rica and telecommute to jobs in other countries, but they must be paid from outside Costa Rica and their employer must not have connections to the country.
There are a few different options for Brits when it comes to achieving permanent residency in Costa Rica.
If you’ve got the cash you can make an investment of a minimum of $200,000 in Costa Rica in a business, commercial, or residential property under the ’Inversionista’ program.
Retirees can also apply for permanent residency under the ‘Pensionado’ program, provided that they have proof of an income at a minimum of $1,000 from a life long pension from a recognised and approved source.
Brits with permanent residency under the Pensionado scheme are prohibited from working in Costa Rica as an employee, but they are permitted to receive dividends from a company that they own.
Those who are not yet of retirement age can find their way to permanent residency under the ‘Rentista’ scheme. This scheme is for UK citizens and other foreigners who live in Costa Rica for at least four months a year, and who either have a guaranteed, stable, and provable income of at least £2000 a month originating from another country; or who have made a deposit of at least US £46,500 into a Costa Rican bank.
Rentista residence status must be renewed every two years, at which time you will have to submit proof that you continue to receive at least £2000 a month income, or make a further £46,500 deposit.
Once you have completed at least three years of residency, it is then possible to apply for Permanent Residency, although this can be a lengthy process and may take as long as a year to finalise.
Way of Life in Costa Rica
For energetic expats who love nature and the outdoors, Costa Rica is perfect.
Whether it’s the adrenaline rush of hurtling down white water rapids, cresting world class surf, catching some rays on the beach, hiking through rainforests festooned with flora and fauna, or myriad other activities, there’s something here for everyone to enjoy.
The laid back Costa Ricans — known as Ticos — themselves are a peace loving, friendly lot, who believe in protecting their glorious natural environment.
Family is at the heart of the Costa Rica lifestyle, with family events being major social occasions and an excellent excuse to party.
The life expectancy here is also higher than average, which is largely down to the healthy lifestyle and a passion for sports such as football and surfing.
Expats living in Costa Rica get to benefit from the perfect combination of western comfort in a laid back paradise, along with a varied lifestyle that will ensure you never get bored.
Unsurprisingly there are close knit expat communities all across the country, but expats should also bear in mind that this is a predominantly Spanish speaking country, so if Brits want to integrate to the fullest it is best to make an effort to learn the language.
There is no train network in Costa Rica — largely owing to the challenging terrain — so the the main ways of travelling long distance are limited to bus travel, driving, or taking a plane.
Bus travel is extremely cheap, but buses can be crowded — particularly on more popular routes. There are two classes of local bus — directo and colectivo. As you may infer from the name, directo buses are faster and more direct, making fewer stops between destinations. Colectivo buses on the other hand can be very slow. Local buses are also fairly basic in general and don’t have toilets on board, and timetables can also be unreliable as they are often subject to sudden changes. Air conditioned tourist shuttle buses are a pricier but classier bus travel option, and they will pick you up directly from your hotel and cover routes to the most popular tourist destinations.
Air travel is a fast, convenient, and fairly affordable option for getting quickly from A to B — particularly in the case of reaching more remote areas. Sansa, Aerobell, Skyway and NatureAir are Costa Rica’s main domestic carriers, and offer regular flights from San José, although flights are subject to frequent changes and delays due to weather conditions.
For getting to really out of the way locations, it can be a good idea to consider chartering a flight on an air taxi, which can be a good solution for large groups.
In towns and cities buses and taxis are the way to get around. San José has metered taxis, but elsewhere you’ll have to haggle a good price for your fare before you set off. Taxis can also be hired by the hour, half day or full day.
Driving in Costa Rica
Driving can be an excellent way to get around Costa Rica, particularly if you like to get off the beaten track and explore under your own steam.
Outside of San José there is very little traffic, and main roads are fairly well maintained. Many minor roads however are badly potholed and poorly surfaced, and any road can suffer from problems cause by inclement weather conditions such as flooding and landslides.
If you’re going to be venturing into out of the way places, your best bet is to be driving a 4WD vehicle. To hire a car or motorbike in Costa Rica, you will need a valid UK driving licence, and if you stay longer than 90 days you will also be required to apply for a Costa Rican driving licence. You will also need to be more than 21 years of age.
Weather in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has one of the most diverse climates in the world and is made up of many different climate zones.
There are two main seasons — a dry season, often called high season, and a rainy season, also known as the green season.
Overall the average annual temperature in Costa Rica is between 12° and 27° Celsius, with the hottest months being between February and April, and the coldest being September through to the end of November. The months with the heaviest rainfall are September and October.
In contrast to the rest of Costa Rica, the country’s Caribbean coast to the east has a microclimate which means that September and October are in fact its driest months.
The Monteverde highlands are misty, cold and foggy almost all year round, while the Central Valley has possibly the best climate in Costa Rica, with an average temperature of around 22°C which is tempered by cool coastal breezes.
The Central Pacific region has a tropical climate with a short and moderate dry season, but a very intense rainy season in southern areas, with maximum average temperatures of 31°C. in general though you can expect the weather in Costa Rica to be sunny and warm for most of the year.
Cost of Living in Costa Rica
A major perk of living in Costa Rica is the low cost of living compared to the UK — which includes low taxes and significant tax saving for expats which can make your money go further.
In fact, recent studies suggest that living in London is a staggering 92% more expensive than living in Costa Rica’s capital city San José.
Groceries and fresh produce such as tropical fruit and freshly caught fish are both delicious and affordable here, and the local restaurants are also tasty and inexpensive. Foreign food items on the other hand, are pricier.
Utilities are affordable, and being a warm country there is little call for heating. The cost of public transport is also very low.
Brits who are on a tighter budget or trying to keep down costs may want to base themselves further out from the major cities, as costs are even lower in these areas.
Take a look at this couple’s cost of living calculations:
Housing costs in Costa Rica are highly variable depending on city, location, size of property, and other factors.
San José is the most expensive place to live — along with luxurious coastal properties — but rent in Costa Rica is generally very reasonable and lower in cost than the UK.
A one bedroom apartment in the city centre in a nice location costs around the equivalent of £370 per month, which is significantly lower than an equivalent property in Britain.
Costa Rica benefits from a fantastic healthcare system, with both public and private healthcare systems, however public healthcare is only available to expats who are registered as legally resident.
Unfortunately, whilst the public system is to a very decent standard, it is overstretched, resulting in long waiting times for treatment. Most expats tend to opt for private healthcare which vastly speeds up waiting times and gives access to a superior level of medical care and facilities. Private healthcare can either be paid for upfront, or by taking out a private health insurance policy.
Free education for children is of a high standard in Costa Rica, and can be a great way for children to integrate into the community.
However schools are Spanish language only, which prompts many expats to choose private education at an international school for their children instead.
Many of these schools follow the UK curriculum, but fees can be costly, ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 per school year. Tuition fees are normally paid in U.S dollars.
Popular Areas for Brits
The star of this seaside town on the Nicoya peninsula is the stunning, far stretching beach which has helped make Tamarindo a top destination for surfers and revellers alike.
The town is full of luxury clubs, bars, shops and restaurants, and the area is littered with drop dead gorgeous beauty spots.
This upscale suburb of San José is affluent and cosmopolitan, and it benefits from quick and easy access to all the culture and entertainments of the capital city.
It has a heavily westernised ambiance, with a ton of excellent restaurants, bars, boutiques, and cafés, but retains that laid back Costa Rica vibe.
Vibrant and pumping San José is a hotbed of culture and entertainment, with some fine examples of colonial architecture scattered amongst more contemporary buildings.
Take a stroll around the colourful local markets, indulge your tastebuds at one of the city’s gastronomic restaurants, expand your mind at the many museums and art galleries, or dance until you drop at some of Costa Rica’s hottest nightclubs.
Occupying an idyllic location between verdant forest shrouded mountains and sparkling wild beaches, Uvita is a wonderful little town in close proximity to nature, and has become well known for its marine reserve which is visited every year by majestic humpback whales.
The charm of this Costa Rican beach town is only added to by its spectacular mountainous backdrop, and its white sand beaches.
The area is a surfer’s paradise, and the sleepy town with its smattering of bars and restaurants males for a perfect, peaceful escape.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast boasts a wealth of natural treasures, including the incredible Gandoca Manzanillo wildlife refuge which is home to countless species of exotic birds, animals, and insects.
At the edge of the reserve lies the wonderful fishing village of Manzanillo with its glorious white sand beaches lined with swaying palm trees and selection of excellent restaurants, bakeries and laid back beach bars.
The thriving multicultural community of expats in Ojochal have wisely made it their own, and it has the largest percentage of foreigners living there than nearly any other town in Costa Rica.
Blessed with beautiful beaches frequented by rare turtles and an extraordinary culinary scene, Ojochal is not to be missed.
Jobs in Costa Rica for British Expats
As previously mentioned, finding a job in Costa Rica as an expat can be a challenge and competition can be stiff, but that doesn’t mean that Brits wanting to live and work there are short on options provided they have the right set of skills.
English teachers are always in demand, and fields such as IT, telecommunications, engineering, mechanics, finance, translation, and web based employment are all possible choices.
Tourism and environmental based positions are also available. The Costa Rican government is also keen to welcome business startups that wish to invest in the country, so entrepreneurial expats can do well here.
Are you considering a move to Costa Rica?