Oh, how many times have I seen people move down here and have no idea what they are doing. They have no idea of what paperwork is needed to immigrate here. They think they can come down here and just get a job. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not like moving from one state to another; this is a completely different country. There are different laws and regulations. Know what type of residency you want. Know that you are not going to be able to work right away, if at all. Pay here for work is a fraction of what it is in the US. Also, please note that Costa Rica is the most expensive country to live in in Central America. If you want to continue the same lifestyle that you have in the US, you will probably find it more expensive to live here. But if you want a more simple life, without all the “stuff”, it will be less expensive.
For us, it is cheaper to live here. Our mortgage payment is around $265, depending on the exchange rate. We don’t use A/C so our electric bill is around $32, we also use a gas stove. Gas for the stove is about $11 ever couple of months, you have to buy the bottle like you do for your gas grill and exchange them out. When I am not cooking, I actually turn the tank off. I do this so if something happens it will not leak, cat breaks the line or an earthquake hits and the line gets knocked off. Our internet is $32 a month, and our water goes between $6-8 a month. Our mandatory insurance we have to pay for the public system is around $100 a month; this is based off of our income as pensioners. We also have a car payment of around $330 a month, but we got a four year loan. Cars down here are very expensive and hold their value for years. I have seen some beaters that are over 10 years old going for $8,000, that is with four wheel drive though. Our groceries for the week can go anywhere between $80-125 for the two of us. We drink a lot of milk, which is about $2 a half gallon. I noticed at the supermarket it was a little cheaper to buy a half gallon than a gallon of milk. We also eat a lot of cereal! Fruits and veggies are really cheap here, which helps. I have also never seen carrots as big as what they are here. I can get a pineapple straight from the farm for just over $1. Now, these prices are just for the area that I live in. Please keep that in mind. I live in a small town, not even close to the beach, not a lot of tourists, and very few expats. There are less than 10 expats that live in my area, including my husband and I.
About that immigration paperwork. You will need your birth certificates, certified and apostille. You will need a background check, certified and apostille. If you are married you will need your marriage certificate, certified and apostille. If you are a pensioner, you will need a letter from your company or from Social Security stating that it is a life time benefit of at least $1,000, certified and apostille. You will need a copy of your entire passport, you will need passport photos, you will have to be finger printed down here. You will also need a letter, written in Spanish on why you want to live here. You will have to have patience also. We used a small office that is not very busy, I did all of our paperwork myself without an attorney, and we had our residency in six months.
You have to maintain temporary residency for at least three years before you can switch over to permanent residency. While you are a temporary resident, you cannot work. You can own and operate a business, but you cannot work for a wage. So, don’t think that you are just going to go out and apply for a job. You can, but it’s not legal. If you work for a company that is sending you to Costa Rica for work, that is different. They should do all of your paperwork for you and have your work visa with no problems.
There are other types of residency that you can apply for other than the Pensionado status. I have not personally dealt with those so I do not have a lot of information on them. Google is your best friend when it comes to finding information about moving here. There is a group called the ARCR that has a lot of great information, I would recommend checking them out. But please, do your research. I have had people message me asking me how to get their background check because they already moved here and didn’t know they needed one. Or people come down here and not know that since they have not applied for residency that they have to leave the country every 90 days. Also, that 90 days is not a guarantee either. You may get to the border and the border guard is having a bad day and decide to only give you 14 days. It happens. Another thing, you can drive here on your US license but only for 90 days. You can only get a Costa Rica drivers license once you have residency. So, if you have submitted your paperwork to immigration and don’t need to leave the country but you are driving, you will still need to leave to keep your US license active here. Once you hit that 90 day mark, you are no longer allowed to drive on a foreign drivers license.
Do your research. Make sure you have all of your paperwork before coming here. Once you are here, make it a top priority to get your paperwork in to immigration, don’t wait! There may be something that you missed and will need to get before turning everything in. Make copies of everything! Immigration will need a copy of everything and keep copies for yourself. Scan it all and put it on a flash drive in case you need it again. You never know if something will get lost. Make copies of all your receipts for your deposits, scan those too.
Until mañana, Pura Vida!