Choosing to move abroad is a big decision that can bring new excitement and energy to your life. If you've selected Costa Rica for your new home, there's so much to look forward to. From the pleasant climate to the incredible wildlife to the slower, more enjoyable pace, expats easily fall in love with this tropical Central American country time and time again.
As with any move, you'll also have a lot to learn about how things work in your new surroundings. There's no doubt that parts of the transition will be seamless, while others may take adjustment. Consider these important factors if you're thinking about making the move to Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has an impressive public school system that extends throughout the entire country, including the most remote of areas. This robust educational system is not just a point of pride among locals; it has been named one of the leading public school systems in the world. Interestingly enough, it has outranked the United States on more than one occasion.
The school year in Costa Rica is based on the traditional coffee-picking season, with classes beginning in mid-February and ending in early December. If you're moving to Costa Rica with school-aged children in tow, you will be pleased to discover a large selection of world-class private schools as well.
In the most popular relocation areas, including the Central Valley, Guanacaste, and sizable towns such as Jacó, Quepos, and Limon, parents have their pick of a variety of learning environments in schools of all sizes. Many private schools follow the U.S. calendar, with students being off from classes during July and August, so travel to and from the States during this time doesn't interfere with their studies. Some schools have implemented the prestigious International Baccalaureate structure, which promotes critical thinking and international mindedness.
Other schools follow a U.S. curriculum, with students graduating with the equivalent of a U.S. diploma. Parents can rest assured that their children will graduate as responsible citizens prepared for university attendance after graduating from one of these well-respected schools.
Costa Rica offers its residents low-cost healthcare through a national insurance program known as the Caja. The network covers all aspects of healthcare, including routine check-ups, testing, surgical procedures, emergency medical attention, and more. Foreigners applying for residency in Costa Rica are eligible (and sometimes required) to join this network at their own expense.
Expats have their choice of coverage options through reputable insurance companies, like Cigna or Aetna. You may opt to save money by selecting an international coverage plan with a high deductible, using that coverage only for emergencies. Many expats choose to receive medical care from private hospital networks, which offer a superior level of service at surprisingly affordable rates. CIMA, Clínica Bíblica, La Católica, and San Rafael Arcángel all provide world-class medical care in modern facilities, much like you would find in the U.S. Quality medical care costs a fraction of what it does in the U.S., which means it is possible to pay out of pocket in many cases.
Owning a Vehicle
Costa Rica has a growing network of modern expressways and roads, making it easier than ever to travel from one point to another both quickly and efficiently. Expats who make the move will want to learn more about the pros and cons of bringing a vehicle with them versus purchasing a new vehicle after they've arrived. It's important to note that the taxes and fees associated with importing a vehicle are extremely high. Vehicles, both new and used, hold their value very well in Costa Rica, which translates to higher purchase prices.
Be prepared to pay significantly more for a vehicle than what you would expect in the States. Additionally, it is highly likely that a purchase will be made in cash, in the presence of an attorney. Opening a bank account in Costa Rica takes some time, patience, and the right combination of paperwork. Fortunately, there is a strong and easy-to-navigate public transportation network, particularly in San Jose and its environs, which means getting around while you handle these automotive needs should not be difficult.
Once a vehicle has successfully been imported or purchased, there are two necessary annual registrations that owners must keep up to date. The Marchamo is a national vehicle registration that is updated at the end of each calendar year, along with payment of a fee, which is determined based on the value of the vehicle. This mandatory Marchamo provides basic liability coverage in case of an accident. Car owners can elect to purchase additional coverage from an independent insurance agency as well. A thorough vehicle inspection, known as the Riteve, is required once per year.
As touched upon above, opening a bank account in Costa Rica is not as simple as it is the U.S. In some cases, foreigners are first required to create a limited liability corporation, which typically costs between $500-$900. Then, the bank account and associated banking is managed in the name of that corporation.
The two most popular banks are the Banco Nacional and Banco de Costa Rica, and both have lots of ATMs. You may want to seek the guidance of a lawyer to navigate the process and establishing themselves in terms of banking, car ownership, investment management, and other areas.
Fortunately, Costa Rica has seen a tremendous amount of growth in the number of offerings available for phone, cable, and Internet over the last few years. Residents can choose from a variety of providers for landline and mobile services. High-speed internet is easy to obtain in most populated area, though service in more rural areas can be a challenge.
As far as television providers, both cable and satellite services offer robust package options, with many channels being available in English. Favorite movie channels, such as HBO and Cinemax, plus sports, music, and other popular channels, are widely available as well.
While Costa Rica is a warm, tropical country, there are many vastly different microclimate zones to choose from when selecting your new home. For example, in San José, it's not uncommon for locals to wear long pants, sweaters, and jackets during the green season, from April through November.
To the contrary, communities along both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are consistently warm, with temperatures in the 80s and up into the 90s year-round. In the remote Osa Peninsula, rainfall is to be expected at any time, while the northern Guanacaste region is known for being particularly dry from December through April.
Individuals and families who are selecting a relocation destination in Costa Rica have their choice of climates, including factors like humidity, amount of rainfall, and temperature.