Avoid the 9 Common Traps New Expats Fall Into When Moving to Costa Rica


 But first:

Quick Background on my story with Moving to Costa Rica…

In September 2015, during my career as a social worker in the United States, I decided to shake things up and relocate to the beautiful haven that is Costa Rica. I was yearning for something more out of life, and so I sold my possessions and set off on this tropical adventure. My arrival wasn’t without its share of challenges, some of which we’ll discuss in this article.

My first hiccup was choosing my home; a locale perched atop a large hill, a solid 30-minute uphill walk away. My second hiccup wasn’t securing reliable employment beforehand. Oh, younger me assumed I’d figure it out (not a strategy I endorse now!). I also battled with the culture shock of not being fluent in the local language.

I initially thought living in Costa Rica would be cheaper than the US, but I hadn’t accurately gauged the cost of living in this new country. Early weeks saw me battling a slew of insect bites and a struggle to find familiar items. Internet outages were frequent, and I was clueless about how the healthcare system worked. Looking back, it’s easy to say that my initial move to Costa Rica didn’t quite go as planned… not by a long shot.

However, I’m a firm believer in the power of perseverance, timely assistance, and the healing power of time itself. All these factors combined led me not just to survive, but truly thrive in this new locale, both personally and professionally. I welcomed a beautiful daughter to the world in 2017, founded a successful business, fostered a heartwarming sense of community and finally found my groove in Costa Rica.

Vacation vs Reality:

Reasons Why Expats Leave

1. Employment: Making money is difficult

2. Culture: Culture shock

3. Cost: Most expensive in the region

4. Language: Learning Spanish

5. Nature: Weather, bugs & animals

6. Shopping: Limited options

7. Infrastructure: Road conditions, power outages & slow internet

8. Healthcare: Slow OR expensive

9. Education: School system

10. Safety: High regional crime rate


1. Choosing an area in Costa Rica that is NOT a good fit for your needs

Selecting the right area in Costa Rica is crucial for a successful expat experience. Different regions offer varying climates, amenities, and costs of living. Take your time to research and visit different areas to find one that aligns with your needs and preferences. Consider factors like proximity to healthcare facilities, schools, and local markets.


2. Not Knowing Legally How to Stay in the Country

Some move to Costa Rica without even considering the legal ways of how they can stay. It’s important to understand the residency categories and different types of visas that the country offers prior to coming.

3. Thinking you can Get a Job in Costa Rica

It’s quite difficult to get a work permit in Costa Rica (and most of the jobs offered, don’t pay that well). You can only legally work after you have become a permanent resident which takes years to obtain after you have already gotten your temporary resident.

However, you can start your own business or buy a business but must hire local labor.

What about working as a digital nomad? YES You can work legally online from your computer and this is an option many choose.


4. Falling Victim to Gringo Pricing

The most common ways new expats get ‘Gringo Priced’ in real estate, with legal fees, and vehicle purchases (and 3 ways you can avoid it).


1. Talk to other expats to get a reference point on prices, and always get 3+ bids / options when you’re new here.

2. Go based off of personal referrals of someone who has used a company

3. Always try to pay in colons (not USD), from the very start.

4. Never pay upfront. For certain jobs, write up a simple contract or make a video so both parties have the same understanding. Example: panel beating job ($1,200). Pool bar ($5,000)

5. Not Learning Spanish

At A Bare Minimum…


• Learn through language apps and by watching Spanish television and listening to Spanish music

• Expose yourself to the language more in everyday life

•Practice your Spanish with the locals

6. Impulse Real Estate Deals

Avoid impulse real estate purchases. Take your time, a lot more land / homes are for sale than it appears.

•Usability: Regulations can limit usability and expansion options

•Advice: Work with reputable international real estate agents / attourneys only

Rushed sales: It’s a buyers market

Due diligence: Check everything

Know your rights: Real estate laws

7. Not Planning your Days Correctly

Avoid delays by planning your errands early in the day and early in the week. Afternoon rains and busyness of others getting off work at the end of the day can cause delays and frustrations while trying to get things done. Also keep in mind that things take longer to do in this country most times and patience is an important part of life here in Costa Rica.

8. Thinking Vehicle Ownership will be the same as your home country

Vehicle cost 25-30% more in Costa Rica.

Buying a new car is expensive due to high import taxes

Toyota, Hyundai are the most popular brands followed by Nissan, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Honda. Parts will be more accessible for these brands therefore maintenance costs will be lower.

9. Overestimating the Justice System

Costa Rica may have minimal law enforcement in certain areas, and the justice system may not always deliver the expected results. It’s crucial to be cautious and proactive in ensuring your safety and protecting your legal interests.

Here’s my question to you: What if you could avoid all of these major pitfalls?

While moving to Costa Rica offers incredible opportunities, it also comes with its unique set of challenges. By being well-informed, taking your time to make decisions, and seeking advice from experienced professionals in the field, you can avoid these common traps and make your transition to Costa Rica a smoother and more enjoyable experience.

I’ve put together TWO amazing programs as a solution! 

Author’s Bio:

Hi! I'm Sarah Elena

Sarah Elena, CEO of RelocateNow and a seasoned Relocation Expert with over 8.5 years of experience living in Costa Rica, brings a wealth of knowledge in helping individuals move to this tropical paradise. Her personal journey and professional background have shaped the company into a trusted resource for comprehensive relocation services, emphasizing cultural integration and community connection.

Sarah's approach extends beyond logistical support; she has built a robust network of legal experts, real estate agents, and cultural advisors dedicated to ensuring clients not only relocate but thrive in Costa Rica. Recognized in international living circles, her leadership has positioned RelocateNow as the premier choice for those seeking a transformative relocation experience.


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