Do I need a passport to enter Costa Rica? Yes - The law requires everyone who comes to Costa Rica to have a valid passport. Before you leave home make sure your passport is up to date and doesn’t expire within six months of your arrival date; holders of passports that expire within that time frame may be denied entry into the country.
Do I need a Visa? Yes - (What is a Visa? A Visa is the formal permission to enter a country which is granted by the country.) In Costa Rica every non-citizen or non-resident entering the country is considered a Tourist, and those persons will be given a Tourist Visa by immigration when they arrive. The Visa is in the form of a stamp placed in the visitor’s passport, and the amount of time for which it is valid is hand written into a blank in the visa stamp. US and Canadian citizens do not need to apply for a Visa in advance, but some other nationalities do. Check the requirements for your country before traveling.
Do I need a return ticket? Yes - Costa Rica laws state that Tourists must have a paid, reserved way to leave the country before entering. This can be a paid ticket to exit the country by plane, bus, or other means. For those flying to Costa Rica, most airlines will not allow boarding a flight if the traveler does not have a return ticket or other proof of onward travel in their possession at the time of departure.
How long will my Visa be valid? - Tourists visiting Costa Rica, even those who intend to stay, are given a Tourist Visa for the declared time of their stay at the time of entry. The length can be up to 90 days, which is determined by the Immigration Officer at the time of arrival. DO NOT overstay the amount of time designated in the visa stamp in your passport. If you overstay and then leave, you might not be allowed to re-enter the country.
Note: Keep your passport, or a legible copy of your passport AND a copy of the Visa (entry stamp), in your possession at all times.
What else will I need? - Bring enough money to survive for a while. If you bring cash, declare it; up to $10,000 USD is allowed without question or penalty, but be sure to declare the amount or it can be confiscated. Most major credit and debit cards are widely accepted throughout the country, but make sure your card issuer knows in advance you will be using the card in Costa Rica. ATM machines are common. Be sure to inform your bank that you will be using your card outside of your home country.
Note: Travelers checks are NOT a good idea. Due to fraudulent activities in the past, most businesses will not accept them and banks may put a weeks-long hold on them before allowing the bearer to receive the cash.
A valid passport and entry stamp (Visa) are all that are required. Visas for up to 90 days are issued at the time of entry and the holder must leave the country within the time frame proscribed by the Visa. A simple departure and re-entry will be cause for issuance of a new Visa.
Note: Some persons residing permanently in Costa Rica regularly leave and return to the country every 90 days to obtain a new Visa. These are known as “perpetual tourists” and the practice is frowned upon by the Costa Rican government. At the time of re-entry, multiple Visas can be cause for denial of re-entry or can result in being assigned a new Visa expiration of less than 90 days. It is highly recommended that those persons who desire to make Costa Rica their home apply for legal residency as soon as possible.
ARCR has English speaking associate attorneys who can assist MEMBERS in completing all the steps needed for obtaining residency.
Also read FAQ #13. WHY SHOULD I APPLY FOR COSTA RICAN RESIDENCY?
Yes - Under Costa Rica law, a valid driver license from a person’s home country can be used to legally operate a vehicle in Costa Rica during the period their entry Visa is valid. Renewal of driver license validity can ONLY be achieved by leaving the country, re-entering, and receiving a new Visa.
Yes - All the major rental car companies (Hertz, Budget, Dollar, etc.) have a presence in Costa Rica, plus there are other, smaller companies which can also provide rental vehicles. Most have four-wheel drive vehicles available.
Tourists can drive in Costa Rica using a valid foreign driver license for the period of their visa. Vehicle renters will need to present a valid passport when they rent a vehicle. (Review FAQ #3 for more information about driving in Costa Rica.) Tourists should also carry their passport with them at all times. (A copy of your passport along with a copy of the Visa page will generally suffice for most day-to-day transaction.)
Different rental companies have differing age restrictions applying to renting and driving their vehicles. Rental rates can be very expensive and vary widely among different companies, so shop around. Some rental agencies may have disadvantageous rules regarding damages and some have exorbitant add-on charges not obvious at a glance, so be sure to read the fine print on the contract and beware of hidden clauses before signing.
Costa Rica is a semi-tropical country which is always warm, and the beach areas are usually hot. Therefore, light clothing such as shorts and T-shirts that wick away moisture and dry quickly are appropriate. If you plan a visit to the cooler mountain areas, long pants and a light jacket may be in order. Bring some comfortable walking shoes for trips into the jungle areas. During the rainy season (April – October) a jacket that repels light rain may be helpful.
Costa Rica does not have a strict dress code and casual is best for pretty much the entire country. At the beach, your wardrobe will consist mostly of shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. The cultural norms of wearing long pants and closed toe shoes in the cities are being eroded, but still respected by many Ticos.
Yes and No - It depends on many things:Retirees on US Social Security, or Canadians on the Canada Pension Plan, are attracted to moving to Costa Rica. Their biggest issue is that many don’t have any life savings and are living on their pensions. Can those people live on their pensions in Costa Rica?
Living in Costa Rica is not cheap anymore and what it costs an individual depends on their requirements and lifestyle. A lot of Tico families live on less than $800 USD per month, but they usually have lower expectations of their day-to-day necessities than most expats do. If you are a single person and you work hard at finding ways to save money, you can probably live on a smaller amount without any hardship. Keep in mind that moving to Costa Rica is not the same as moving to Corpus Christi, Texas, or Vancouver, B.C. Therefore, to determine the correct answer for you, it is important to do your homework and determine how much your expenses will be – before you move. Here are a few of the many issues to consider before making the decision if moving is right for you.
The move - The cost of the move is something many do not take into account. Those who don’t have any belongings, who hop on a flight and buy new underwear when they arrive, need to remember that every item they need after getting off the plane will cost money. And the price of many of those items may be a surprise; the prices in Costa Rica can be the same, and sometimes more, than they are back home.
Many people have things they need or want to bring with them. The key to what it costs to establish themselves here depends on what they feel they must bring with them. If it is going to be more than a suitcase or two, determine what those additional items will cost to transport. In the extreme, bringing all of your household goods and belongings can run into thousands of dollars (including the import taxes that must be paid).
Read FAQs #29 and #30 for more information about shipping household goods to Costa Rica.
Senior citizen health care - For older retirees, having proper health care can be quite important. US Medicare does NOT pay for treatments or other health needs outside the USA. Costa Rica has some of the finest hospitals and medical care in Latin America, and they are much less expensive than private care back home, but they still aren’t cheap. And without insurance it is, “pay-as-you-go.”
ARCR has dedicated, English-speaking insurance agents on premises who can help MEMBERS determine what kind of private health insurance policy is right for them.
Read FAQs #16, #17, #18, and #19 for more information about health care and insurance.
Housing - Housing in urban locations is much more expensive than in rural areas. Visit different areas of the country before making a final commitment. As you travel around, ask others who are already here for advice to find out which locations offer the lowest cost. Rent for a while before deciding on a particular location; there are many great areas 20 to 30 minutes from San José or the beaches with lower prices.
Read FAQ #25 for a discussion on choosing a living location.
Utilities - Electricity rates are low in Costa Rica (as compared to North American countries) but to live frugally, confine major use to off-peak hours, 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. One caveat, living at the beach and using air conditioning 24/7 can result in electricity bills in the hundreds of dollars per month.
Water systems supply clean, drinkable, and affordable water in Costa Rica and there are many ways of being efficient in using it.
To determine the cost for TV and internet, ask around about which cable company offers the best internet and cable TV packages in the area you are considering for your new home.
Read FAQs #42 and #43 for more information on television cable and internet providers.
Food - To save money on food, adjust to the local food and eat what Ticos eat; lots of fruits and vegetables, rice and beans, and products produced locally in the country and in Central America. Foods prepared and shipped from the US are much more expensive.
Clothing - If you cannot afford to travel and buy your clothing elsewhere, an alternative are the “Ropa Americana” stores. These stores import bulk lots of close-outs, out of season, or unsold inventory clothing, disposed of by the big US stores and chains.
Transportation - It is nice to have your own vehicle, but because every vehicle in Costa Rica has to be imported, and the import taxes are some of the highest in Central America, prices for vehicles are very high; you can expect to pay at least double what the same vehicle would cost in North America. Plus, gasoline and diesel fuel is much more expensive here. Costa Rica has an excellent bus system that provides a good alternative to a privately owned vehicle.
For more information about the various issues regarding transportation and/or buying and owning a vehicle in Costa Rica, read FAQs #31, #32, #33, #34, #35, and #36.
Residency - There are several advantages to being a resident, but keep in mind that the application process can cost several thousand dollars and take many months to be completed. Finding the right attorney is VERY important when it comes to applying for residency.
ARCR has associated English-speaking attorneys who can answer questions and assist MEMBERS with applying for residency.
For more information about applying for residency, read FAQs #13, #14, and #15.
Are Costa Rican Banks safe? Yes - There are two types of banks in Costa Rica – private banks and national banks. Both conform to international standards and are quite safe. The national banks have more branches located throughout the country, and both types have ATM machines which access international banking networks. It is, therefore, easy to obtain cash for daily needs from accounts outside Costa Rica. Many bank ATMs have daily withdrawal limits, some as low as $100 USD per day, even though the home bank’s account withdrawal limits may be considerably higher.
Note: Although a bank in Costa Rica may have the same name, logo, and outward appearance as banks with the same name in another county, there is no corporate connection between them; Costa Rican banks use the name, etc. under franchise agreements with the foreign bank company.
How do I Open a Bank Account - Costa Rican laws define what kind of bank account can be opened by whom. Those on Tourist Visas are restricted to a special type of account specifically designed for non-residents. This type of account has limits on how much can be deposited and the balance which can be maintained, generally $1,000 USD maximum. (If your household consists of two people, you can open an account for each person and legally transfer a total of $2,000/month.) Residents are allowed unlimited accounts, however all large deposits will be subject to close scrutiny with the depositor having to supply positive proof of the origin of the money before it will be accepted by the bank. This rule applies equally to transfers from outside of the country as well as cash deposits.
Upon opening an account some banks will issue the account holder a debit card which can be used to make purchases against the account balance.
Opening a bank account in Costa Rica can be complex with the bank requiring much personal information such as passport data, local utility bills, proof of source of funds, and more.
ARCR offers MEMBERS a service to help them in opening a bank account. The assistance includes translation services and a personal escort to and from the location of a branch of the bank of your choice. (Some geographic limits apply.)
Is Direct Deposit Available? - Yes. Many persons desire to have their pension payments deposited directly to their Costa Rican bank account. Those kinds of automatic payments can be directed to a Costa Rican bank account through an intermediate US bank, which subtracts a small fee for the service. Three Costa Rican banks currently accept direct US deposits: BCR, Banco Nacional, and Scotiabank.
Can I Get a Safe-Deposit Box? - No. Due to Costa Rican laws, banks here do not offer safe deposit boxes to their customers. If you have valuable papers or objects you wish to store securely, a home safe or other device is advised.
Should I keep my bank account in my home country? - This is a personal decision. If you have regular payment or other financial obligations within your home country, it may be advisable to retain your account there. The internet makes access to external bank accounts and accomplishing many routine banking activities easy from abroad. ATMs, which are prolific throughout Costa Rica, allow convenient access for withdrawals from those accounts.
For more information on banking in Costa Rica, read the other questions in this FAQ section.
Major credit cards (Mastercard, Visa, American Express) are widely accepted by businesses throughout Costa Rica.
Should I keep my credit card from my home bank? - Credit cards presented for payment in Costa Rica will be widely accepted, regardless of the geographic location of the issuing bank. If you have already established automatic payments to be made from your existing credit card accounts, it may be simplest to retain those accounts.
Note: Most financial institutions charge the card-holder a fee for the card’s use outside the home country. This may be an “international exchange fee” and/or another transaction fee. In addition, the Costa Rican owner of the ATM or the card processing facility may apply a fee for the card’s use. There are some financial companies who will refund any charges applied by an outside bank or processor.
Note: Using a credit card for large purchases in Costa Rica can be problematic. The home financial institution which issued the credit card will often have multiple layers of consumer protection in place. Costa Rica is a legendary source for fraudulent credit card and bank transactions so, although an approval for a large withdrawal or transfer may have been previously given by a department of that institution, the separate fraud protection department may identify that the money as going to Costa Rica and intervene and freeze the transfer before it is released. Freeing the money for transfer can require numerous complex and difficult steps involving international telephone calls, emails, even a third party, all which must take place within a short time frame, before the money will be transferred.
Costa Rica has insurance companies which offer home, condo, vehicle, and healthcare insurance. Coverage is similar to those policies in North America and rates are generally lower.
For more information on healthcare insurance, see FAQ #16.
ARCR has a dedicated, on-site insurance office which can provide MEMBERS all types of insurance policies at discounted rates. Highly trained, English-speaking agents are on staff and can answer any insurance questions. Automatic payments for insurance can be arranged.
Yes - United States income tax laws apply to all American citizens, no matter where they live in the world. The filing date for those living outside the USA is different, but all other IRS rules, laws, and requirements remain in force. If your financial situation is complex, or if you just need help with filing, there are businesses in Costa Rica which have staff that are trained in US tax law and can assist you.
Under Costa Rica law, a current driver license from a person’s home country can be used to legally operate a vehicle in Costa Rica during the period of validity of their Tourist Visa (up to 90 days). The laws of the country DO NOT allow a person with a Tourist Visa to apply for a Costa Rica driver license.
Those persons who have been granted Costa Rican residency may, by appointment, on the 91st day after their last entry into Costa Rica (established by the most recent Visa stamp in their passport), go to COSEVI with their passport and cédula and apply for a Costa Rica license. The applicant must also have in their possession a completed medical exam form, a copy of their current driver license translated into Spanish, and a receipt for payment of the license issuing fees.
CAUTION: Persons who have obtained residency and who operate a vehicle using a foreign driver license more than 90 days after the date of their LAST entry Visa are doing so illegally and are subject to fines and penalties. Obtaining a Costa Rica driver license is the only way for those persons with residency to drive here legally.
ARCR offers MEMBERS a service to assist them in obtaining a Costa Rica driver license. The application procedure includes undergoing a physical exam as well as paying a fee. The ARCR service includes translation services and a personal escort to the appropriate locations to complete the licensing process. (Government charges, medical examination fees, translation services, and transportation costs are not included.)
The cédula is the Costa Rica National ID card. Cédulas are credit card-size plastic cards which contain a picture of the “owner,” as well as their vital data. All Costa Rica residents have a cédula and it is the primary form of identification used for most things.
Expats who are approved for residency in Costa Rica will automatically be provided a cédula, which differs slightly in appearance from the ones Ticos carry, but serves basically the same purpose.
Obtaining residency in Costa Rica is the ONLY way a non-citizen can obtain a cedula, all others must use their passport for identification. ARCR can provide MEMBERS with assistance in all aspects of obtaining residency.
Costa Rica law allows for Tourist Visas of up to 90 days. Those persons entering the country must depart the county on or before the date the Visa expires, and re-enter to obtain a new Visa.
There are three very good reasons to become a legal resident of Costa Rica:
Note: The laws of the country DO NOT allow a person with a Tourist Visa to apply for a Costa Rica driver license. Applying for residency allows a person to obtain a Costa Rica driver license.
Read FAQ #14 for more information about how to obtain residency, and FAQ #11 for additional information on how to get a Costa Rica driver license.
Note: Contrary to common folklore, persons DO NOT have to remain out of the country 72 or more hours before returning to obtain a new Visa; a visit to another country of only one hour is all that is legally required for the issuance of a new Visa.
Residency is a complex legal matter which has too many types and variations to go into details here. If you desire to obtain residency, consult with a qualified attorney about your specific circumstances.
Note: Some Costa Rican attorneys will claim experience in the residency process that they do not possess. ARCR has 23 years’ experience in residency procedures, if you already have someone to do the work for you, Do your due diligence and verify that the attorney has the claimed expertise by asking friends and neighbors for references.
Read FAQ #13 for more information about why one should obtain residency in Costa Rica.
WE AT ARCR have the knowledge and experience with our English-speaking attorneys to prepare, submit, follow up and approve residency for our MEMBERS.
Applying for residency in Costa Rica is a complicated and legally complex matter with multiple options and exacting requirements. To apply for residency, the expat should consult with an experienced attorney who can advise them about what type of residency best fits their situation, and then guide them through each necessary step.
ARCR has English-speaking attorneys who have extensive experience in assisting expats applying for residency. We work closely with our MEMBERS with additional assistance, such as providing personal escorts to official government offices and a referral to a licensed document translation expert. Applying for residency through ARCR can make the process smooth, easy, and pleasant.
There are two types of health insurance available in Costa Rica: the CAJA and private insurance.
What is the CAJA? - The CAJA is the common name for the Costa Rica Social Security system (CCSS.) Among other things, the CCSS provides and manages healthcare services to Costa Rican citizens and residents. The CAJA healthcare system is comprised of hospitals, clinics, doctors, and pharmacies, all of which are available to every citizen and resident at no cost (expats must pay a monthly membership charge. See below.) Healthcare is generally of the highest standard, however there can be delays in treatment for minor illnesses due to the high number of users.
The CAJA maintains a separate hospital exclusively for the elderly. Admittance for resident expats, is by referral from a CAJA doctor only.
How do I join the CAJA? - Joining the CAJA is mandatory when applying for residency. Non-residents, those on a Tourist Visa, are not allowed to join.
Expats joining the CAJA must pay a monthly payment (similar to an insurance premium) based on several factors, including age and income. The amount of the monthly payment is determined at the time of enrollment and can be significantly less than commercial health insurance payments.
ARCR will assist MEMBERS who are applying for residency becoming enrolled in the CAJA and obtaining the lowest monthly rate. However, those who prefer to “do-it-themselves” can take the proof of the acceptance of their residency application to a local CAJA office and enroll there. This may, however, result in a higher monthly payment. (All CAJA employees are Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers may find the enrollment process difficult.) ARCR MEMBERS can also enjoy a free service not available anywhere else; automatic monthly payments to the CAJA, billed directly to their credit card.
Where can I purchase private health insurance in Costa Rica? - There are several private health insurance providers in Costa Rica. Health insurance can be cheaper than in other countries, but can be expensive or unavailable if pre-existing conditions are an issue.
ARCR has a dedicated insurance office on premises with trained agents who can assist MEMBERS to purchase private healthcare insurance at a reduced cost.
Note: Many foreign health insurance providers will NOT pay claims for medical treatment in Costa Rica, and some private Costa Rica hospitals will not accept those policies for payment; they require the patient to pay up front and seek reimbursement from their insurance company on their own. A few North American insurance companies WILL pay for treatment outside their home areas. Check with your insurer.
Both private and CAJA hospitals offer excellent care. Many physicians who practice at the private hospitals are also CAJA doctors, and vice versa. Private hospitals offer more amenities than CAJA hospitals, but at a commensurate increase in cost.
Yes - The Red Cross has facilities in most communities and provides critical care and ambulance service from the patient’s home or accident site to the nearest CAJA hospital, when necessary. There are also private emergency care and ambulance services available for a monthly fee.
CAJA facilities will accept all patients for emergency services. There may be fees associated for non-residents.
Note: An additional service that may be useful to some expats is “travel insurance.” This can be a supplement to insurance purchased in other countries which can be used when the insured is outside their home country. Some insurance policies also cover the expense for emergency evacuation (by aircraft) back to the insured’s home country. Inquire with your insurance provider before leaving to determine what services are included / available for your policy.
No - Medicare CANNOT be used outside the US.
Maybe - Only one hospital system in Costa Rica will accept Tricare insurance for payment, and it requires that patients have met their deductible before billing Tricare. Very few doctors will accept Tricare for payment. The general rule for Costa Rican doctors and hospitals is that the patient must pay in advance and seek reimbursement from Tricare directly.
For those veterans and others entitled to Tricare who receive their regular medications from the DoD pharmacy by mail, it can be VERY difficult to comply with the requirements for the DoD pharmacy to dispense the prescribed drugs – a new prescription must be submitted annually by a doctor who is a licensed US physician with a DEA number. There are a very few doctors in Costa Rica who meet those requirements.
Importing medications into Costa Rica (from the DoD or other pharmaceutical providers) is another hurdle for the veteran expat.
Read #22 in these FAQs for a complete discussion about importing prescription medications.
Possibly - However, persons should be aware that some common prescription medications available in other countries are NOT sold in Costa Rica, and those sold are sometimes marketed under different brand or generic Spanish names. Persons should also be aware that the dosages of some medications sold in Costa Rica may be different than those available elsewhere. Some drugs common in other countries are not sold at all in Costa Rica. To determine if your medications are available in Costa Rica, go to a local Costa Rica pharmacy and make inquiries about the availability of the drug.
The short answer is yes. However, there are complications to that process that must be taken into consideration before attempting to have medications shipped to Costa Rica.
To receive a shipment of a prescription medication, a multi-step process must be undertaken by the recipient to comply with the rules of the two Costa Rica governmental agencies which must approve the importation and assure that correct import duties are collected. Upon the receipt of a package containing prescription medications:
1) Customs will request a copy of the original shipper’s invoice from the recipient, which shows the price paid by the recipient. This is used to determine and collect import duties.
2) The agency that is part of the Ministerio de Salud (Ministry of Health), which is responsible for approving the drug’s entry into the country, must approve the importation. To accomplish that they will require the recipient provide a “Certificate of Need,” which must be prepared by a licensed Costa Rican doctor. These certificates can be obtained from most physicians at a small cost and each certificate is valid for six-months.
Those documents must be supplied to the Costa Rica agencies via the shipping service importing the medications.
Recipients should be aware that some drugs are more difficult to import than others. An example is Xanax, which Costa Rica classifies as a psychotropic drug and therefore requires a higher level of scrutiny before importation is allowed. In those cases, besides the Certificate of Need, importation approval necessitates an additional step; the recipient must make a personal visit to the Ministerio de Salud offices and being interviewed by a doctor, explaining why the drug is needed.
Maybe - Many drugs and healthcare items which are sold over the counter (OTC) in the USA or Canada are not available in Costa Rica. Examples are Nicorette gum and PoliDent denture adhesive, which are not available here. Many other common products are similarly not sold in this market, however, some are. If a particular brand or type of OTC medication is important to you, a query about availability should be made at a local Costa Rica pharmacy.
Possibly - There are stores called macrobioticas in most neighborhoods around the country which sell many types of herbal supplements. Some supplements, however, are not available. Private importation of supplements is problematic, as they are generally prohibited by law.
This is a personal preference. Costa Rica has over twenty recognized micro-climates. Each one has a different temperature range, from hot days and nights (beach areas), to warm days and cooler nights (mountains), and in between. In addition, there are multiple cultural options, from the highly developed and sophisticated ambiance of San José, to the tourist-centered life in some areas of the coasts, to the laid back tempo of the small towns, to the primitive life of an isolated home in the jungle. The smart person will move around the country periodically and sample all of the possibilities before making a final decision about where is most suitable for them.
Should I rent or buy? – Rent first! Many people come to Costa Rica and make the mistake of immediately buying a home or property before they know the country and if they fit in here. Spend at least one rainy season here and get to know the climate and country before making a decision. Some experts say that as many as half of the people moving to Costa Rica leave within three years, possibly for health, financial, family, or other personal reasons. Others simply find that Costa Rica is not for them.
Choose your ultimate location wisely. Determine if the area you think you like offers the lifestyle that you are looking for. Ask yourself, is it important to have access to healthcare, North American style shopping malls, cultural events, or to be near other expats who speak your language? And, before you purchase land or a home in the middle of nowhere, think about things like the fact that Costa Rica has a long rainy season; will you be happy having to drive miles on a muddy, rutted road to get to and from your home just to get groceries half of the year? Do you really want to wake up at dawn every morning to the screeching of monkeys?
Consider, if worse comes to worse, how hard will it be to re-sell your investment – you have to find a buyer who likes the area and location as much as you do. It can be very difficult to sell a “unique” or isolated property. There are those who didn’t think this through and have become trapped in Costa Rica by an asset they can’t liquidate.
Before you rent, ask the landlord if you can pay your rent with a US or Canadian check. Foreign checks will take a while, up to weeks, to clear.
Possibly -There are two types of “corporations” commonly used by expats in Costa Rica; Sociedades Anónimas (SA) and Sociedades de Responsabilidad Limitada (SRL). Many expats form one of these types of corporation, usually a SA (a SRL is more often used for businesses), for protecting their assets (homes, vehicles, etc.)
The reason most expats form a corporation is to legally isolate their asset(s) from claims which could arise from a legal action brought against them. In short, a home cannot be claimed as an asset for collecting damages resulting from a vehicle accident (assuming the vehicle and the home are in separate corporations).
Incorporating a Costa Rica corporation is easily accomplished, but must be done through an attorney.
Those who wish to form a corporation to protect their assets should be aware that there are annual taxes on corporations which must be paid to the government or fines can result. There are also legal requirements for maintaining the corporate records which must be followed.
Those persons wishing to form a corporation should consult with an experienced attorney who can advise them on the type of corporation which will best suit their situation and objectives.
ARCR has English-speaking attorneys who can advise and assist MEMBERS in completing all the steps needed to form a corporation.
Optional - If you have rental property in the US and receive tax or other important notifications at that address, AND if you have someone reliable that will forward those things to you, it might be a good idea to keep that address active. If you only receive incidental mail at that address and you rent a Costa Rica post office box, then you can notify friends, relatives, and businesses of the address change and have them send those items to you at that new address.
A popular second option is to subscribe to one of the many commercial forwarding services available. Those services will provide a US address for you to use and will forward any mail and packages they receive at that address to you in Costa Rica.
For more information on receiving mail and utilizing forwarding services, see the FAQ #28.
There are two ways expats can receive surface mail (letters and packages) in Costa Rica:
1) The Costa Rica postal system (Correos) is a modern and reliable service for delivering mail into, within, and out of Costa Rica. All communities of significant size and population have a Correos postal facility. Most offices have small mail boxes in their facilities which can be rented very reasonably (by the year) to receive mail from overseas or inside Costa Rica.
Using the Correos can, however, create difficulties when receiving an international shipment of packages, both from commercial outlets (like Amazon) or private individuals. Each inbound shipment will need to be processed through Costa Rica Customs so that import duties can be collected. Payment of these duties and retrieving the package can be an expensive, involved, and complicated process with the Correos, requiring the recipient to travel to a central location, which may be an inconvenient distance away from their home.
Sending outbound mail and packages from Costa Rica is a simple, easy process via the Correos. Mail tracking, which functions worldwide, is available. Postal fees are reasonable and the service is efficient.
2) There are multiple commercial mail forwarding services available. These forwarding services have offices throughout the country where your mail will be delivered and retained until you pick it up. Forwarding services are generally reliable, though mail may be delayed a few days before arriving in Costa Rica.
These services can be faster and more convenient than sending items through the Costa Rican Correos, however they can be more expensive; the forwarding services charge by the weight of the item. Forwarding service companies are generally more convenient for receiving packages which are sent from outside Costa Rica because they have their own dedicated Customs Agent, which can make the importation process smoother and faster. Mail forwarding companies are also set up to process the import (Customs) requirements and duties efficiently, and will notify you of the package’s arrival and processing by email, collect all import duty and forwarding charges via your credit card account, and deliver the package to you at the office you have designated for your deliveries.
See FAQ #22. regarding additional requirements for importing medications.
Before deciding on which service to use, investigate where their offices are located and which one will be convenient for you to use.
Note: Forwarding services CANNOT accept outbound letter mail or packages – the Costa Rica Correos (national postal system) is the only resource for sending outbound mail.
ARCR can assist MEMBERS in establishing an account with a mail forwarding service. The service includes translation services and a personal escort to the appropriate locations to complete the process. (Transportation costs are not included.)
This is a personal decision – and one which may deserve deeper thought than is at first obvious. Certainly everyone has some items with which they “cannot live without” and bringing them is a given. But the selection of what other items are to be shipped, and what are not, deserves a practical, unemotional examination of what those items are. Some important considerations are:
1) Costa Rica is a semi-tropical country. How will your furniture and other household items stand up to the heat, humidity, and potential insects? Mold and fungus can also be a problem.
2) If your list of “can’t live withouts” includes family heirlooms, what will happen to them? If you are unavailable, will there be someone who can pack and ship them home to family member if the time comes?
3) “Priceless” antiques also need a second thought. North American and European antiques are not widely prized (or affordable) by Ticos in general. How will those items ultimately be disposed of, if necessary; will they be sold, shipped – or thrown in the trash?
4) Most common household items are easily replaced here. Is the expense of packing, shipping, and importing the ones you already have worth it? Does starting a new life mean you should bring all the things from your old life with you?
5) Typical housing in Costa Rica is generally much smaller than the size home to which North Americans are accustomed. Will there be enough room in your new home for everything you might bring?
If you decide to bring some or all of your household goods with you, there are numerous international shipping companies who will pack and ship your household goods for you, no questions asked. The question to ask yourself first is, “Should I bring them?”
Information on shipping household goods can be found in FAQ #30.
There are several businesses in Costa Rica which specialize in shipping household goods and / or vehicles to and from Costa Rica. Selecting which one to use is a personal preference. Some companies can provide complete services, including packing, shipping, importing (into Costa Rica) and delivery to your new location. Some will provide estimates and / or give you information about import duties and costs. A diligent web search using the key words, “household goods/shipping/costa rica” will provide several options for further research.
Excellent! All the public transportation options common in first world countries are available here (although “public transportation” is somewhat of a misnomer – all bus lines are owned and operated by private companies).
Buses: Costa Rica is covered by a comprehensive network of local buses. Most are based out of San José, are inexpensive, and visit even the most remote local areas. The buses are generally clean, modern (though there are still some converted school buses used in the more remote areas) and maintained in good repair. Local buses do not run on a strict schedule, but all lines make frequent runs with multiple buses, so missing one can generally mean only a very short wait until the next one comes along.
Longer trips to outlying cities or neighboring countries are handled by several different, separate bus lines. These are ultra-modern well equipped buses (with air conditioning and televisions) which can efficiently take the traveler to almost any of the more distant destination, inside or outside the country.
Taxis: Every community has multiple taxis; there are privately owned taxis (called Pirate taxis) and the “official” red taxis (those who service airport customers exclusively are orange). San José has literally thousands of the red taxis, whose meter rates are determined by law, which will take you anywhere in the local area for a reasonable cost. Outlying communities also have red taxis which operate in their local areas. Rates for pirate taxis may be less than the red taxis and rates can sometimes be negotiated.
Uber: Costa Rica has seen an explosion of Uber-style taxi services in recent years. These services operate exactly the same as they do in other countries; they require a “subscription” that automatically bills fares to a previously established credit card account. Uber drivers, many of whom speak English, are polite and their vehicles are modern, safe, clean, and efficient.
Are taxis safe? - Without question. Red taxis and Uber are as safe to use as their counterparts are in any other country. Nowhere in the world is every situation 100% safe 100% of the time, but in Costa Rica the local population uses both types without hesitation. This is not to say that the pirate taxis are unsafe, but there is a greater possibility of having a dispute over the amount of the fare with them.
Optional - Owning a vehicle in Costa Rica is a matter of personal choice, not necessity; public transportation can provide for most transportation needs (Read FAQ #31 for more information on public transportation). Some outlying locales, however, only see bus service once or twice a day, so for those living in remote areas a vehicle is more of a necessity. And, of course, there are some areas which are so remote that bus service doesn’t exist at all. For those wanting more freedom of movement, owning a private vehicle can be an advantage.
Choosing what kind of vehicle to own depends somewhat on the location where one chooses to live and/or travel. Most major roads are paved and generally a basic car will suffice. But for those who like to explore the back roads, or who live in less developed areas, a hardier vehicle like a SUV may be more appropriate.
Four-wheel drive is not a necessity for most areas. The type of driving and location where the owner chooses to live, plus the conditions encountered during the rainy season, should be the prime consideration in making a decision if 4WD is required. For most, 4WD is a back-up safety feature that is there if needed.
Fuel prices in Costa Rica are relatively high by North American standards, and economy may be an issue for some. Electric and hybrid cars are becoming more common, but consideration of purchasing these kinds of vehicles should only be made by those residing in the urban, more populous areas.
Vehicle prices in Costa Rica are generally much higher than those found in North America, and transfer and ownership expenses can come as a shock to some. For more information on purchase prices and ownership expenses, read FAQs #35 and #36.
Yes, but . . - Driving a treasured vehicle to Costa Rica may seem like an exciting adventure for the hardier individual, HOWEVER, TRANSITING SOME AREAS OF CENTRAL AMERICA CAN BE EXTREMELY HAZARDOUS. Driving it may be cheaper than shipping, but can end up costing you more. Driving your vehicle to Costa Rica is strongly not advised!
Optional - The total cost for importing a vehicle to Costa Rica, including shipping costs, hiring the import agent to get it properly imported (inspected and licensed), and with the import duties figured in, can be roughly equal to buying an equivalent vehicle here. Said another way, a $10,000 vehicle can cost upwards of another $8,000 to import, including the charges for the services required to make it legal after it arrives.
To find out how much the import duties (not including shipping or import agent fees) for your vehicle would be, go to: www.hacienda.go.cr/autohacienda/autovalor.aspx Google search cannot find this address
Importing a vehicle comes with a second set of potential problems which can be avoided by buying locally because:
1) Many Costa Rica new car dealers will flatly refuse to work on any vehicle that was not originally purchased in Costa Rica (Nissan, Chevrolet, Honda, for example.)
2) Vehicles built for sale in the US and Canadian markets are often mechanically and / or functionally different from identical appearing vehicles sold in the Latin American market; sometimes systems mandated for inclusion in North American market vehicles are not incorporated in those sold outside North America (some safety and emission control systems, for example). Other things like a US standard engine were never offered in Costa Rica.
These things can lead to larger problems if an imported vehicle needs repairs and / or parts. Costa Rican dealers do not stock replacement parts for non-Costa Rican models, and will not usually go out of their way to order them. Costa Rican sources for replacement parts for US spec vehicles are not common and the only solution may be to obtain the part(s) elsewhere and have them shipped here. There is a time penalty involved with that strategy, plus the expense; in addition to the purchase price and shipping costs, imported parts may be assessed import duties. Those charges can double the price of the part.
Additionally, sometimes obtaining the correct part from a US supplier can be difficult because, even among US market vehicles, manufacturers are sometimes inconsistent in the parts they use, making running changes during a model-year production cycle. Obtaining an incorrect part can add significant time while a vehicle is out of service while a second part is ordered. Plus, the incorrect part is difficult to return.
It is understandable that some people have a vehicle in which they have sizable investment and / or to which they have an emotional attachment. However, it is wisest that the owners harden their hearts (and wallets) and leave it behind.
Note: No matter how a vehicle arrives in Costa Rica, all vehicles must pay the import duties. Those driven in must be inspected, licensed, and duties paid within 90 days of arrival or they can be seized. If a vehicle has not complied with the importation laws, and is taken out of the country, it CANNOT be brought in again at a later date.
Most vehicle purchases by expats are cash deals. (Information about obtaining purchase money is covered later in this FAQ.)
When the buyer and seller have agreed on a price, and the money is available, the buyer should have a reliable mechanic of their choice (not the seller’s mechanic, for obvious reasons) inspect the vehicle. If the vehicle is satisfactory the next step is to go to an attorney to complete the transfer.
Why do I need an attorney? In Costa Rica all that is needed to make a vehicle ownership transfer is a Notary Public. However, 99% of notaries are attorneys. An attorney / notary is required because of the laws of Costa Rica. The buyer should select the attorney, not the seller.
Paying the purchase price. (Opening a bank account in Costa Rica is possible, but restrictions apply. Read, “How Do I Open A Bank Account In Costa Rica?” in FAQ #7.)
As stated earlier, for expats, most purchases are cash. Almost certainly, a purchase from a private party will be “cash on the barrel head,” that means the buyer will bring cash to the closing, based on the previously agreed price. There are some options besides cash for transferring the money between buyer and seller, but they can be problematic:
1) Transferring the money via an international bank transfer. Transfers are best done between two banks within Costa Rica, or between two banks outside of Costa Rica. International money transfers from a buyer's US bank to a seller's Costa Rican account, for example, can be frustrating because the transfer is expensive and can take a long time to accomplish. (Expect a one-to-three-week delay before the money is made available.) Additionally, the receipt of funds is often difficult for the buyer to verify in Costa Rica. And, although the buyer may have “cleared” a sizable withdrawal/international transfer with their home bank, there can often be other difficulties:
A) The buyer’s home bank will often have multiple layers of consumer protection in place. Costa Rica is a legendary source for fraudulent credit card and bank transactions so, although an approval for a large withdrawal / transfer may have been previously obtained, a separate fraud protection department may identify the money as going to Costa Rica and therefore intervene and freeze the money before it is released. Freeing the money for transfer can require numerous complex and difficult steps involving international telephone calls, emails, and, on occasion, a third party, before the money is transferred. (And not just one call or email, but a series of them, all having to take place within a very short time frame.)
B) The Costa Rican bank may refuse a large money transaction (importing over $10,000 USD requires the Costa Rica bank to obtain documentation verifying that the source of the funds is valid; that it is not “drug money” or from another illegal source) and some banks simply won’t get involved.
2) Another option that many try is to use a debit or credit card for obtaining the money for the purchase. This can also be difficult to accomplish (for the same fraud prevention reasons listed above.) Additionally, most Costa Rica banks have a limit on the amount of funds they will disperse to a single person in one day or at one time (some ATMs are as low as $100).
3) PayPal is another option. However, most Costa Rica residents or businesses do not have PayPal accounts.
Logically, the physical transfer of the vehicle is not usually completed until the money is available to the seller; that could leave them without a vehicle or money for a period of time, and the opportunity for theft can make a seller nervous; most dealers / individuals won’t put themselves in that position. On the other side, the buyer doesn’t have the money or the vehicle, and that makes them nervous too.
Thus, cash solves all those problems.
What happens at the attorney’s office? To complete the purchase, the buyer and the seller go to an attorney’s office, both parties with their Passports and / or Cédulas, and the original papers for the ownership of the vehicle. The buyer should also bring sufficient cash to pay the transfer taxes and the attorney fees. (The usual procedure is that the buyer pays all attorneys fees and the transfer taxes. That can, however, be negotiated.)
At the attorney’s office the attorney will go on-line to the National Register and determine:
1) The seller’s valid ownership of the vehicle, and,
2) If there are any outstanding debts (liens, traffic fines, unpaid back taxes, etc.) against the vehicle. Those debts MUST be paid before the ownership transfer can take place. The debts are usually the responsibility of the seller and the attorney can collect any outstanding amounts at that time, possibly from the proceeds of the sale.
The attorney will also compute the sales taxes and total transfer fees, including the charges for their services, which must also be paid at that time. (The taxable value for transfer is set by the taxing authority, the Hacienda, and may have NO reflection on the sale price of the vehicle; tax values are generally higher than sales prices.)
Note: There are NO “standardized” valuations given to similar makes and models of vehicles by the Hacienda. Each vehicle is valued individually and widely different values can be given to two identical vehicles. Thus, a separate calculation must take place for every transfer.
Note: Attorney fees are determined by a national schedule. Some attorneys have been known to ignore that schedule and charge different amounts than the schedule specifies.
Note: All the amounts for the transfer tax and attorney fees can be determined ahead of time by giving the chosen attorney the license plate number of the vehicle being purchased and asking for the total amount of cash needed for paying the transfer, taxes, and attorney fees that will be needed at closing.
The attorney will complete all the necessary documents, both parties sign, all fees and the purchase money is paid to the seller and the attorney. The information entered in the attorney’s computer is recorded at the National Register almost immediately, so before leaving their office the attorney will print out a document that shows the buyer’s information as recorded in the National Register – this paper is good for all aspects of owning and operating the vehicle. The parties shake hands, keys are given, and everyone is free to go their separate ways. Elapsed time for the sales / transfer transaction is about one hour.
The original paper documents prepared by the attorney and signed by the buyer and seller must be physically taken by the attorney to the National Register, where they are processed by hand (the documents must be certified, stamped, etc.) That process generally takes the National Register from one to three weeks to complete before the originals are returned to the attorney, who then gives them to the buyer. That means that the buyer will have to return to the attorney’s office at a later date to obtain the final, registered documents. (Other arrangements, like mailing them to the buyer, can be made.)
Can I finance a vehicle purchase in Costa Rica? Possibly, but not likely. The type of purchase process people are most familiar with, making a down payment and financing the balance, isn’t often an option for expats – most expats do not have a credit standing here (and credit from other countries is not acceptable) thus, banks and car dealers simply don’t offer any expat financing. With used cars, it might be possible to find a lot that will carry their own “paper,” but the odds are slim.
Besides the usual gas, oil, repair, and insurance expenses, there are two other annual charges a vehicle owner will be required to pay; the Marchamo and the Riteve inspection.
What is Marchamo? - The Marchamo is the annual tax for renewal of the vehicle’s license and registration. Sales of Marchamos take place for EVERY vehicle in Costa Rica in December each year. At that time the taxes on the vehicle for the coming year, as determined by the Hacienda (the Costa Rica taxing authority) must be paid. Late payment will be subject to interest.
The value given a vehicle by the Hacienda is used to determine the amount due for the Marchamo. This valuation is specific to each vehicle and not necessarily uniform (this means that two 100% identical vehicles, with no differences of any sort, may be assigned completely different valuations for tax purposes).
When the Marchamo is paid, a document is issued which also includes a portion that is used with a window sticker (this is the equivalent of a decal put on a license plate in some countries). This sticker is displayed inside the upper, right hand area of the windshield.
How do I get a Marchamo? - The Marchamo can be purchased at multiple locations; banks are the most common, but some private businesses will also collect the tax and issue a new Marchamo.
What is a Riteve inspection? - RTV (Riteve) is the name of the Spanish company that holds the contract with Costa Rica to construct inspection stations and conduct vehicle inspections.
Once every year, each vehicle in Costa Rica must undergo a rigorous safety inspection. The due date for an inspection is the month corresponding to the last number of the vehicle’s license plate number, ie; 1=January, 8=August, and so on. A successfully passed inspection will result in the issuing of a decal which is placed on the inside, upper right hand area of the vehicle’s windshield. The decals are color coded for the year of expiration and contain, in the center area, the month and year the inspection expires.
How do I get a Riteve inspection for my vehicle? - An inspection can be conducted at any one of the thirteen inspection stations around the country. The vehicle must have an appointment. The operating hours of the inspection stations are from 6 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Saturday (except national holidays). The locations of the various inspection stations, and the form to reserve an appointment time, can be found online at: https://www.rtv.co.cr/obtener-cita/#top (The website and instructions are in Spanish.)
When do I make an appointment for my vehicle? - Appointments can be made anytime up to 30 days in advance of the month of expiration (an inspection expiring in May can be conducted at any time in April). Expired inspections can be scheduled at any time. Appointment times are not strictly adhered to – being up to one hour early or one hour late does not usually affect the success of keeping the appointment. Anyone can make the appointment and deliver the vehicle for inspection, but to complete the online inspection reservation, the person making the appointment must know the vehicle’s license plate number, and include their cédula or passport number, telephone number, and email address. If a scheduled appointment is missed, a new reservation can be made the second day after the original appointment date.
At the online reservation site, select the inspection station closest to you. It is advised that the exact physical location of the chosen inspection station be determined BEFORE actually going to the appointment.
What does Riteve inspect? - The first step for having vehicle inspected is to park in one of the spaces outside the station office. The person presenting the vehicle for inspection must take the vehicle ownership papers inside and present them to one of the clerks. That person must also show the clerk either a valid passport or current Costa Rica cédula.
The clerk will examine the papers and check the information on their computer. After the clerk has verified the data they will generate an inspection slip and the driver will be instructed to go to a second window where they will pay the inspection fee. Payment can be either in colones or via credit card. After payment the driver will be given a payment receipt and the inspection slip. They can then return to the vehicle and drive it to the rear of the building where they select and enter one of the lines for the six inspection bays. (Diesel engine and 4WD vehicles may have a special line.)
As you approach the inspection area, wait for an inspector to call you forward before you enter the building. He / she will take the inspection slip, ask to see a valid driver license, and begin the inspection. Follow the inspector’s instructions. (There may be a difference in the order of the items inspected, but all items listed below will be inspected.)
Station #1: The engine is shut off and the hood is opened. The vehicle VIN is checked against the inspection slip to verify the correct vehicle is being inspected. The engine compartment will be checked for signs of non-standard modifications and that the car battery is properly secured (an unsecured battery is an automatic FAIL). They will also assure that all front exterior lights, including the turn signals, emergency flashers, driving / fog lights (if equipped) work properly, and that the headlights are securely mounted and function. In the rear, the license plate and back-up lights, brake lights, turn signals, and emergency flasher lights must operate. The windshield washer / wiper system is checked for operation; wiper blades are inspected to assure they are in good condition and that the washer system operates. An excessively cracked windshield is cause for a FAIL.
The driver’s door will be opened and the driver asked to exit the vehicle temporarily. Inside, the inspector will check to see if the steering wheel and column are securely attached to the vehicle and if the brake pedal has looseness and proper stroke. He will record the mileage on the odometer on the inspection slip. It may be determined if the turn signals cancel by turning the steering wheel, and the horn must work. The inspector will check that all seat belts (one for each position shown on the registration), which must be accessible to the inspector and are not tucked under a seat, lock and unlock properly, and are secured to the vehicle floor. Side window mechanisms (power or manual) should operate.
Outside, all tires must have serviceable tread life and be in good condition. The complete tire and wheel assembly must be inside the fender line, the wheels must have a minimum number of lug nuts, and wheel alignment is checked. Door mounted mirrors should be securely attached to the vehicle. The presence of a gas cap will be checked and the back hatch on SUVs may be checked for proper latching.
Station #2: The vehicle’s wheels (separately, front first, then rear) are placed on vibrating platforms and a computer checks the function and condition of the shock absorbers / struts.
Station #3: Headlights (both high and low beam) are checked for operation and proper aim.
Station #4: All brakes (front / rear / parking) are checked for proper operation. First the front wheels of the vehicle are driven onto a set of rollers and the inspector has the driver depress the brake pedal firmly. A similar procedure is accomplished for the rear and parking brake systems. Any significant differences between the left and right side brake operation, front or rear or hand brake, is cause for a FAIL.
Station #5: The car is driven over a pit where the underside is examined. The left front wheel is driven onto a plate and, upon instruction from an inspector underneath the vehicle, the brakes should be applied / held / released while the inspector shakes the vehicle and looks for any excessive wear in the steering mechanism and / or suspension joints and bushings. With the brakes released, as part of the inspection, the driver will be asked to rotate the steering wheel from side to side several times. The complete underside of the vehicle is checked for corrosion and signs of excessive leaks (engine oil, transmission, brake system, etc.) and/or loose parts. Once the front suspension inspection has been completed, the driver will be asked to roll the vehicle forward until the left rear wheel is on the metal plate. A procedure similar to that conducted on the front suspension will be accomplished on the rear suspension. The exhaust system is checked for attachment, integrity, and lack of leaks.
Station #6: This is where exhaust emissions are tested (at some inspection sites this is done at Station #1). Standards are inflexible. The minimum allowable emissions are based on the date of import of the vehicle (as shown on the registration) NOT the date of vehicle manufacture. Example: A 1966 Mustang imported into Costa Rica in 2012 must meet the emission level requirements for 2012. The test also assesses the efficiency of the catalytic converter.
Before beginning the emissions test the inspector will require that the engine be shut off and the hood opened. The engine oil level will be checked (low oil level is cause for the inspection to be halted and a FAIL will be given). After restarting the engine a probe is inserted in the tailpipe and the driver is asked to accelerate the engine to 2,500 RPM and hold it there. If the vehicle is not equipped with a tachometer, one will be provided. After a period of time at 2,500 RPM the inspector will instruct the driver to allow the engine to return to idle, after which the probe will be removed.
Separate procedures are conducted for diesel powered vehicles but follow the same general scheme.
After completion of the final step, the inspector will issue the driver a form which shows any defects found. There are two categories of efects; LEVE, which is given for an item which needs attention but isn’t serious enough to prohibit issuing a “pass.” A GRAVE (which is a FAIL) denotes item(s) which MUST be repaired / corrected before a new inspection sticker will be issued.
If no GRAVE items were found, the inspector will issue a new inspection decal for the vehicle’s windshield. If any GRAVE items were discovered, the owner has 30 days to have the correction / repair made. After repairs are completed the vehicle must be re-inspected. Re-inspection can ONLY be conducted at the same station which issued the initial GRAVE. Making an appointment is advised. If the re-inspection is accomplished within 30 days following the first inspection, only the failed item(s) will be re-inspected. If over 30 days have elapsed since the first inspection, a complete new inspection will be required. The fee for all re-inspections is one-half the original inspection fee.
CAUTION: Under the law, ONLY a mechanic is authorized to operate a vehicle which has received a GRAVE until a new inspection has been passed.
Yes - Costa Rica based commuter airlines have a safety record equal to those of airlines in other countries.
Expats wanting to sell a vehicle in Costa Rica face several hurdles. Knowing about them ahead of time can make the process easier.
Market - Unless you are a fluent Spanish speaker, your number of potential buyers is severely limited to English speakers. It is not impossible to sell your vehicle to a Costa Rican, but having a trusted Spanish speaker to assist you in all aspect of the negotiations will make things much easier. Be prepared for an offer less than your asking price – nobody wants to pay the asking price, no matter how fairly it has been set.
Setting a price - How do you determine what a fair price is, or even the average market price others are asking for vehicles similar to yours? “Asking around” may get you an idea of what others have paid, but that doesn’t really represent the broader market. The best answer (and price resource) can be found online; there are several websites which have listings of used cars and prices in Costa Rica. The largest is http://www.crautos.com/ which lists thousands of privately owned vehicles for sale, with prices and basic information about the vehicles being offered. The site contains an easy to use search function which can narrow a search down to an exact model and year, and / or those with specific characteristics. (The site is in Spanish, but easy to figure out how to use.) Be aware that the prices listed are “asking prices” and can range from 10%-15% higher than the price the seller is willing to take. Consider that when setting your price.
Many sellers have emotional attachments to their vehicles – they know how well (or poorly) their vehicle has served them and unconsciously figure that into their asking price. Further, they know what maintenance or upgrades they have made, and may hope to recoup some of those expenses at the time of sale. Those things have no value to a buyer – what the buyer wants is a good vehicle that is priced fairly in the market.
NOTE. When dealing with Costa Rican buyers, be prepared for a low-ball offer. Many will assume that an expat seller will be in a distressed situation and will take any offer. Also keep in mind that many Ticos are not skilled negotiators, will balk at trying to trying to find a “happy medium,” and will stop making offers after the first price reduction a seller might make. Set your price taking that in to account beforehand.
Advertising - Once you have decided on a price, letting people know your vehicle is for sale can be difficult, particularly if your target market is restricted to English speakers. The traditional method of placing a sign on the vehicle and either setting it out in a high traffic area, or driving it around, does work, but comes with language and communication difficulties. Advertising your vehicle on online bulletin boards websites, or social media frequented by other English speaking expats is the most likely way to reach a buyer. Be sure to include photos and represent the features of the vehicle (engine and transmission type, mileage, condition, recent upgrades, and price) honestly, as they are important to attract buyers. One website that has been successful for some is Craigslist. Go to: https://costarica.craigslist.org/?lang=en&cc=us for the English language version for Costa Rica.
Concluding the sale - Once an agreement to purchase and a price have been arrived at, the next step is to close the deal. Read FAQ 36 for a complete description of how the purchase money can be paid or transferred, and the legal and financial requirements for conducting a transfer of ownership.
What else should I know? - Selling and transferring a vehicle in Costa Rica comes with some legal requirements about which those from other counties should be aware. Foremost is the requirement that the seller (or their legal representative) must be physically present at the time of the transfer. An alternative, if the owner will be out of the country or is otherwise unable to attend the transfer proceedings, is to have a Power of Attorney (POA) prepared which authorizes another person (a legal representative) to conduct the sale and sign for the owner. The POA must be prepared and finalized by an attorney in Costa Rica, not from a location outside of the country.
WARNING! In Costa Rica a POA gives the holder complete and unrestricted legal authority to do ANYTHING they desire with the vehicle – they can transfer it into their own name without payment, sell it to a friend for 1,000 colones, sell it and keep the money, or just keep it and drive it themselves indefinitely – and that can mean forever. In cases where that happens, Costa Rica law makes it extremely difficult for an expat to make a recovery – a legal claim can take years to process through the courts, cost more than the vehicle is worth, and in the end the court can determine that the seller knowingly took the risk and granted the party the POA with full authority to do as they please with the vehicle, and therefore is not entitled to any compensation. The bottom line is that granting a POA to anyone should be done with extreme caution.
What other precautions should I take? - Selling a vehicle in Costa Rica can come with some hazards. Here are a few precautions you should take:
- Do not allow a potential buyer to drive your vehicle without you or your representative being present and in the vehicle with them.
- When a test drive is being made, do not allow a third party (a friend / mechanic / etc.) to ride along.
- If the buyer requests a third party mechanic inspect the vehicle, don’t allow the buyer to take it to the mechanic, deliver the vehicle to the mechanic yourself.
- Do not meet a potential buyer at night or in an isolated location. Any meeting should take place in a well populated and public area, like a mall parking lot, etc.
- Women selling a vehicle should always have a male friend along.
- If you do not speak Spanish well, and if the buyer or their third party mechanic are non-English speakers, always bring along someone who is a fluent in Spanish.
Yes - For expats it is very difficult. Many new arrivals are shocked to learn how protective Costa Rica is of its labor force; the rule of thumb is that “if a Tico can be found to do the job, hiring an expat to do it is forbidden.” There are two exceptions to that law:
If the position requires specialized or unique skills, and a Tico with those qualifications isn’t commonly available, an expat can be hired to fill the position. However, to legally employ the expat the employer must apply for a “Work Permit” for the person to be hired. Many employers are not willing to go through that process because it requires extensive paperwork and expense, and can take up to six-months for the Work Permit to be issued. And, under the law, the employee cannot actually perform the work at that position until the permit is issued.
Costa Rica law does allow foreigners to earn money in Costa Rica by purchasing and owning a business, but it prohibits them from working as an employee of that business; for instance an expat can open or purchase a beauty shop but they cannot work as a hair dresser, receptionist, or at any other position in that business. Another example is that a foreigner can purchase a bar but is prohibited from working as a bartender. In both cases, the owner must be “hands off” – they cannot answer the phone and make appointments or manage the business on a daily basis; a Tico must be hired to fill those positions.
In either case, those persons found violating the labor laws will be required “to leave the country,” (voluntarily deported) usually within 30 days, regardless of the social or financial investment or commitments that person may have in Costa Rica, or face being imprisoned.
There is one way an expat can legally generate an income in Costa Rica; there is no prohibition for persons to work remotely from within the country. That is, a person can have a business outside of Costa Rica which they operate via internet, and / or telephone, such as booking birthday parties in Montana or doing marketing consulting with taffy manufacturers in Europe. However, if the income from the business is directly deposited in a Costa Rican bank account it will be subject to Costa Rican income taxes.
If you have read FAQ #38 you may have learned that Costa Rica has some different labor laws. Even hiring part-time laborers, such as a maid or gardener, exposes the “employer” to some very specific employment laws, this can result in large, unanticipated expenses. Therefore, before hiring any part-time or full-time employee, you should consult with an experienced attorney who can advise you of your legal obligations and how to best protect yourself from lawsuits.
ARCR has English-speaking associate attorneys who have extensive experience in assisting MEMBERS with interpreting and understanding the Costa Rican labor laws for hiring full and/or part-time help.
Costa Rica has a wide variety of social, entertainment, and cultural activities available. There are several wonderful museums with high quality historical and cultural exhibits. Movie theaters abound and often show the most current movies with English dialog and Spanish subtitles. Costa Rica boasts a world-class symphony orchestra, and top-line pop artists and groups frequently give concerts in Costa Rica. There is an active Little Theater Group for expats, as well as many social and fraternal clubs, ranging from the American Legion Posts to a Wine Club, with much in between.
MEMBERS of ARCR receive a top notch, professional bi-monthly magazine, El Residente, which contains a list of many of the social and fraternal groups of interest to expats. The list is complete with information on where and when the groups meet and how to contact them for more information. Check out El Residente here: http://www.arcr.net/el-residente-magazine/
Yes - There are three different telecommunication companies which provide 4G cellular service throughout Costa Rica. All offer various packages with either pre-paid or monthly rate structures. Cellular service for every company is not available in every part of the country and the companies sometimes provide their service in differing geographic areas. Researching which company provides the best service in the area where you will be is recommended before subscribing.
Will my US cell phone work in Costa Rica? - Maybe. Some US companies “lock” their phones so they can only be used with their proprietary network. If you have a locked phone ask your cellular service provider to unlock it before leaving (unlocking a US cell phone in Costa Rica is difficult). Once you have obtained a chip which allows your unlocked phone access to a local Costa Rican network, you will possibly be able to use that phone here.
Those who already have an international phone connection through their US network will be able to make international calls.
Where can I get a Costa Rican chip for my cell phone? - All Costa Rican cellular service providers will supply you with a chip and a local phone number at no cost (look for offices of ICE/Kolbi, Claro, or Movistar). Additionally there many businesses which are authorized network dealers and will provide you with a chip (and Costa Rican phone number) for use on the network you choose.
Be aware that if you desire international phone access on the local network you subscribe to, you will need to specifically request it (at an additional charge). Those who have “WhatsApp” installed on their phones will be able to use it on Costa Rica networks for international text and voice calls.
An option is to buy a cheap phone in Costa Rica, complete with SIM card and temporary service plan. For those who don't mind spending the money, you can buy everything you need at the airport in Costa Rica. Cheaper prices are available from one of the hundreds of stores, kiosks, or street vendors all over the country.
Note: Costa Rica uses an eight digit number for their phone systems, as do other Central American countries. The country area code for Costa Rica is 506 and a local phone number will look like 506-xxxx-xxxx.
Costa Rica has several cable TV service providers and the availability and quality of service can vary from location to location. Each provider has strengths and weaknesses and each may offer different features at competitive prices. Not all companies serve all areas of the country. Each will come to your home and install all the necessary components (modems, cables, splitters, etc.) Persons should ask friends and neighbors living in the locality where they plan to reside about which company is the best in that area, their cost, and the reputation for service and reliability.
What does cable TV cost? Prices for various cable TV packages are similar to companies in the US.
Internet service is usually bundled with cable TV service. Costa Rica has several service providers and the availability and quality of service can vary from location to location. Not all companies provide service to all parts of the country. High-speed (fiber-optic service is generally available in the Central Valley area of the country, other areas may or may not have high-speed service available. Frequent service interruptions are a fact of life in some areas.
What does internet service cost? Each provider has strengths and weaknesses and each may offer different features at competitive prices. Each will come to your home and install all the necessary components (modems, cables, splitters, etc.) WIFI is often included. Prices can vary widely. Persons should ask friends and neighbors living in the locality where they plan to reside about which company is the best in that area, their cost, and the reputation for service and reliability.
Yes - All classes in Costa Rica public schools are taught in Spanish. There are, however, many private bi-lingual schools for children available. These schools range from economical to exclusive and very expensive. The majority of bi-lingual schools are located around the Central Valley and the Guanacaste areas, but some other outlying areas have them also. An internet search using the key words “costa rica schools for americans” will result is a list of schools which teach in English.
Note: A publicly funded school bus system does not exist in Costa Rica – all “school buses” are privately owned and charge for the transportation of children to and from schools.
It is helpful - Costa Rica is a Spanish speaking country. Many persons here speak some English, particularly in the tourist areas, but if you leave those areas and go out into the general population most Ticos do not speak any English. Therefore, knowing some Spanish can be helpful.
You should be aware that Costa Rican Spanish differs somewhat from the Spanish spoken and taught in other countries, so what you may already know might not work too well here. Costa Ricans appreciate those who try to speak their language and will go out of their way to accommodate and assist those who attempt to use the language.
Spanish is not hard to learn and there are dozens of schools, teachers, and other sources (including computer and on-line resources) that can teach Spanish to those wishing to become fluent in the language.
What if I need a translation? - 100% of ARCR staff are English speakers, as well as being fluent in Spanish. All will be pleased to assist MEMBERS when an unofficial translation is needed. If the necessity arises for an official translation, ARCR also has a government licensed associate who can accomplish the necessary translation process.
Most Costa Rican attorneys are also Notary Publics; therefore an attorney is required to be used to complete many routine legal actions. Most do not speak English.
There are many, many attorneys in Costa Rica, all with varying levels of expertise, experience, skill, and honesty. It behooves the expat to extensively research an attorney’s reputation before hiring one.
ARCR has reliable, English-speaking associate attorneys who can assist MEMBERS with any legal need.
48. How good are handicapped facilities in Costa Rica?
Facilities for handicapped are mandated, but are currently in a stage of development; they are not universal:
– Ramps for entrance onto sidewalks or into buildings / stores are not in place in many locations.
– Most newer, and only some older, homes and businesses have bathrooms with handicapped facilities.
– Some modern stores provide motorized shopping carts for handicapped persons.
– Reserved parking spaces for handicapped person’s vehicles are designated (but the reservation is often ignored).
Some drawbacks are:
– Sidewalks, where they exist, are frequently severely uneven and not passable by wheelchairs or persons on crutches or walkers.
– Doorways are often not large enough for passage of a wheelchair.
– Automatic (remotely triggered) door openers are rare.
– Only some public buses are equipped to handle handicapped persons.
Persons with severe handicaps should be guarded about planning to visit or move to Costa Rica, and make at least one exploratory trip to determine if life here would be feasible for them before moving here.
In case of an emergency, contact your home country embassy. Every traveler and resident should register with their embassy when they arrive in Costa Rica. The United States Embassy has a program called STEP where a person can record their emergency contact information online . This will enable the embassy to be able to contact the traveler if there is an emergency back home, or notify the person’s relatives should an emergency occur while they are in Costa Rica. Check with your country’s embassy to determine what type of similar program they may have.
Costa Rica is as safe as any other country, safer than some. Every country has “bad neighborhoods” and every country has crime. Costa Rica is no different. Common sense should keep the visitor safe and sound:
-Do not go out alone at night.
-Do not wear expensive or flashy jewelry or watches.
-Do not visit areas known to be higher crime neighborhoods.
-Do not expose cameras, laptops, cell phones,etc. except to use them.
-Do not leave ANYTHING in sight in a rental car; rentals are easily identified and become targets of opportunity. Always lock important items (cameras, laptops, purses, luggage, etc.) in the trunk or stow them in a location where they cannot be seen from the outside of the vehicle, even when there is a guard present.
-Always lock your vehicle, even when you are only going to be away for a “moment”.
-Do not hike or explore remote areas alone; always go with an adult ‘buddy’.
-Do not visit remote beaches, no matter how inviting they may appear.
-Do not park in remote areas at beaches.
-At the beach, do not leave items (passports, wallets, bags, cell phones, etc.) unguarded at any time. Money, passports, and vehicle keys in particular should always be kept under constant, close watch.
-Learn the procedures for dealing with a rip current at the beach. Most Costa Rican beaches are not posted and do not have life guards, and many are subject to rip tides.
-When walking in a crowded area, men should carry their wallets to a front pocket, women should wear their purses with the strap over their heads.
-Do not roll down car windows at a stop light if someone taps on the window or tries to talk to you.
-At restaurants, do not give your credit card to the server to pay the bill; if they server does not have a remote credit card terminal to process the bill at the table, pay at the counter.
-Do not sign a credit card receipt without first reviewing the charges and total.
-When fueling your vehicle, always exit the vehicle and verify the pump was reset to zero before fueling begins.
-Never leave your hotel room balcony door ajar for “a little air circulation” while out of the room.
-Always double check your hotel room door to assure it is locked before leaving the immediate area.
-Do not leave valuables out in your hotel room for maids or cleaners to see. If the hotel has a safe, use it.
The national monetary unit of Costa Rica is the colone. Colones are issued in both paper and coin form. The paper bills consist of ¢1,000, called a “mil” (Spanish for 1,000) or “un rojo” (because of the bill’s red color) to ¢50,000, however the ¢20,000 is the highest normally in distribution. Coins range from an almost valueless ¢5 to ¢500 (“quinientos” Spanish for 500)) and are quite heavy for the higher denominations.
American dollars are widely accepted throughout almost all the tourist areas and most elsewhere in Costa Rica. The exchange rate fluctuates daily and when American dollars are used for purchases, they can suffer a poor exchange rate as the rate will be calculated by the person you are doing business with – and always in their favor. You will always receive change in colones, and often less than you expect.
A rule of thumb is to double the amount in colones and move the decimal point. Here are the most common bills and their estimated USD equivalent using that method:
Note: The higher the bill, the more inaccurate the above rough exchange rate will be. For example, at an exchange rate of ¢550 for each US dollar, a ¢20,000 bill will equal only about $36 instead of $40.
Taxi drivers, and smaller businesses are not likely to do the math based on the actual daily exchange rate and, if paid in dollars, may base the transaction on the “rule of thumb” rates shown above.
Where can I exchange money? There are different ways to deal with changing money in Costa Rica. The airports offer exchange locations, but at VERY unfavorable rates. Banks will gladly exchange dollars for colones at the posted daily exchange rate, with your passport for identification. Colones are also available from every ATM in the country (if you’ve authorized your card for use internationally.) Keep in mind that usually only debit cards, and not ATM cards, work. ATM machines can be found throughout Costa Rica and in most (but not all) tourist destinations, therefore it can be wise to carry some local currency with you.
Note: Some of the banks in Costa Rica limit daily withdrawals for foreign ATM / debit cards. You can, however, go into the bank to get larger amounts.
Keep in mind when using an ATM that some banks outside Costa Rica charge a “foreign transaction fee” for international use. Most Costa Rican also banks charge a fee for use of their ATM machine. And, in addition, you may be charged by your home bank for using an out-of-network machine to obain foreign currency. Check with your bank before you leave about the different fees.
Tipping is less customary in Costa Rica than in some other countries like the United States.
At restaurants, a 10% gratuity is always included in the bill. Sometimes it is a separate line item called servicio (service) that you can see on the bill. Other times, the 10% is included in the menu prices (sometimes the menu will state this but not always). Although it can be hard to tell if service is not listed separately, know that it is included somewhere and you are indeed being charged.
As for leaving more than the 10%, the locals usually don’t and servers don’t expect it, but leaving a little extra for exemplary service is always appreciated.
Note: Some people complain of slow service (and tip accordingly) because it took “so long to get the check.” Keep in mind that servers will usually not bring the bill unless you ask for it because they think it is rude to kick you out. Just ask and they will be happy to bring it.
For someone who is taking you on a guided tour like to a national park/reserve, it is nice to leave a tip since they’re sharing their knowledge and expertise with you. Ten to 15% is a standard range.
Costa Rica is NOT an island! - It is one of the smallest countries in Latin America, often confused with the island of Puerto Rico. It is bordered on the north by Nicaragua and on the south by Panamá. About the size of the US state of West Virginia, Costa Rica boasts over 20 micro-climates, and is one of the most biodiverse locations on the planet.
While not an island, the hundreds of miles of coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea offer world renowned beaches for swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing, and surfing.
First-time visitors may not be familiar with the term Tico (male) or Tica (female.) This is how Costa Ricans refer to themselves and is in no way a derogatory term. Ticos and Ticas enjoy abbreviating words and adding diminutive phrases at the end of words; for example, Ticita, indicating a small or young Tica. It is a very friendly country but may cause confusion for the beginner Spanish speaker because some words are used differently than in other Spanish speaking countries.
Note: The abbreviation “Nica” is often heard when referring to persons from Nicaragua. This may be considered an impolite or rude phrase in certain circumstances. It is advised that the newcomer avoid using it.
Yes - There are neighborhood gyms located throughout the Central Valley. There are probably more gyms per capita in Costa Rica than in the US. Gyms are quite popular and are reasonably priced. There are several Gold’s Gyms in San José. a World Gym in Escazu, and most tourist hotels and resorts will offer a gymnasium facility.
Yes - There are, however, age, legal, and health requirements that must be complied with.
To ship a pet, it must be older than eight weeks and the animal must have a health certificate which shows that the pet is healthy and has all current vaccinations. The certificate is only valid for ten days and should not expire before the pet reaches Costa Rica.
Before departing the USA or Canada - A dog or cat must be examined by an accredited veterinarian who must declare that the pet is healthy. To enter Costa Rica the animal must have an up-to-date vaccination for rabies which must be given at least 30 days prior to the day of departure and be good for at least one year. (Costa Rica does not recognize the three year rabies vaccination.) Some other vaccinations may be required depending on the country of origin. If the pet is traveling from the USA, the veterinarian must be USDA certified or, if from Canada, they must be accredited by the CFIA. Certificates of the vaccination(s) must be prepared by the veterinarian, who completes the standard Health Certificate; in the US this is USDA APHIS Form 7001.
Other possible vaccinations which are available, but are not required for entry into Costa Rica, are:
Dogs: distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus (DHLPP), and bordetella.
Cats: feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (FVRCP).
Arriving in Costa Rica - When a pet is traveling in the aircraft cabin with its owner, notice should be given to Costa Rica veterinary officials so they will be available to inspect the pet upon arrival of the flight. All domestic dogs and cats must be free of evidence of disease communicable to humans when examined at the entry airport, and if the animal is not in apparent good health, further examination by a licensed veterinarian may be required at the pet owner’s expense.
The owner will also need to have a personal letter stating the pet’s market value or a document that proves its value, such as an invoice. Or, you may provide this information on the Veterinary Certificate.
All pets must, within 14 days of entry, be examined by a licensed Costa Rica veterinarian who will complete the Veterinary Certificate for Costa Rica. An alternate copy translated into Spanish is also required.
If the pet travels as checked baggage or cargo and is not on the same flight as the owner, an import permit is required and you must use a licensed import company to clear customs. For more information on pet importers, do a web search using the words “animal shipping to Costa Rica.”
To make the customs process as easy as possible, the import company needs a copy of the passport of the person importing the animal, a copy of the passport of the person receiving the animal, and that person’s phone number and address in Costa Rica. They also need a copy of the animal’s valid health certificate and vaccinations, and information of the animal’s flight reservation.
Note: The Costa Rica airport customs office is only open during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, and pets arriving on weekends cannot be retrieved until the following Monday. If your flight arrives at night, you will have to wait until the next day. The customs clearing process can take several hours, so plan accordingly.
Additional information - Airlines which transport pets have very specific requirements for transporting them inside the airline cabin or as checked baggage or cargo. Check with your carrier to determine their regulations and charges.
For the safety of the animals being transported, they may not be tranquilized, drugged, or muzzled.