What to know before your move from Canada to Costa Rica

7 Things to know and do before moving from Canada to Costa Rica

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If you’re thinking about moving from Canada to Costa Rica, there are things to consider before taking the plunge. Costa Rica’s stunning landscapes and friendly atmosphere make it an appealing place to live. This small Latin American country offers diverse attractions, including beautiful beaches, tasty food with fresh fruits and vegetables, and its famous rainforests and national parks, like Manuel Antonio National Park, perfect for hiking and wildlife enthusiasts.

While Costa Rica provides a high quality of life, it’s worth noting that living costs, especially in the capital city of San Jose, can be relatively high. Before you make the move, do your homework by researching the country, understanding the legal requirements for residency, and consider the following tips to ensure a smooth transition.

Moving to Costa Rica: Everything to know and do

What to know before your move from Canada to Costa Rica

1. First steps before moving to Costa Rica

Visa requirements

If you are planning to move to Costa Rica permanently, your first step should be to contact both the Embassy of Canada and the Embassy of Costa Rica to obtain the necessary visa.

There are two popular visa options for long-term stays:

  • Pensionado Program: To qualify for this visa, you need to have a monthly income of at least $1,000 USD from a lifetime pension.
  • Rentista Program: You must demonstrate a monthly income of at least $2,000 USD for a minimum of two years or deposit $60,000 USD into an approved Costa Rican bank recognized by the authorities.

Alternatively, you can enter Costa Rica on a tourist visa or perpetual visa, which allows you to stay for 90 days. After the initial 90 days, you must leave the country and can re-enter for another 90-day stay. If you plan to work, study, or volunteer, it’s advisable to obtain a Canadian work or student visa.

Before you move, schedule an appointment with your family doctor and dentist for a regular check-up to ensure you are in good health.

Another important step is to check with the Canadian Revenue Agency to make sure you have fulfilled all your tax obligations. While finding a job before your move can be beneficial, it is not a strict requirement. Costa Rica offers a public health system considered one of the best in Latin America, which can significantly ease any health-related concerns.

Finding a job 

If you’ve already secured a job before your arrival in the country, the first step is to get in touch with your new employer to inform them of your arrival. They will provide you with guidance on the next essential steps you should take.

To search for jobs in Costa Rica, you can explore online job portals such as Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, local newspapers, and professional networking websites. Networking with expatriate communities and local businesses can also be a valuable strategy to find employment opportunities.

Getting there 

If you’re considering traveling to Costa Rica from Canada, it’s important to explore your transportation options. Flying is the most convenient option, with major Canadian airports such as Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) and Vancouver International Airport (YVR) offering international flights to Costa Rica.

On average, a non-stop flight from Toronto’s YYZ to Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose, Costa Rica, takes approximately 5 to 6 hours, while the flight from Vancouver’s YVR to SJO takes around 7 to 8 hours.

For road travel within Costa Rica, you can consider renting a car or using local transportation options.

What should I look for in an International Moving Company?

Shipping goods from Canada to Costa Rica may seem challenging, but it becomes easier when you hire one of the best international moving companies in Canada. Keep the following points in mind when you begin your search for an international moving company:

  • Check customer reviews.
  • Ensure that the mover is registered and licensed to handle the job. Beware of potential scams.
  • Confirm that they have insurance to cover any damage to your goods.

Car shipping to Costa Rica

Unless they have a significant emotional attachment to their vehicle, most Canadians choose to leave their vehicles behind when moving to Costa Rica due to the import fees. However, if you’re determined to take your car with you, you can still look for car shipping companies.

A reputable car shipping company will be able to help you from A to Z with the process of moving your car.

Must dos before your arrival 

Moving to Costa Rica is an exciting and life-changing adventure, but thorough preparation is necessary for a smooth transition. Here are some must-dos to consider before your arrival:

  • Costa Rica offers a diverse climate, from hot, tropical weather to cooler, mountainous regions. Research the specific climate and pack accordingly, don’t forget essentials like sunscreen and insect repellent for the tropical areas.
  • Ensure all your legal documents, such as passports, visas, and permits, are up-to-date and in order.
  • While many Costa Ricans speak English, learning some basic Spanish will be immensely helpful in your daily life.
  • Research the cost of living in Costa Rica, including housing, groceries, transportation, and healthcare, to budget accordingly.

2. Upon your arrival in Costa Rica

Must dos right upon your arrival

  • Secure Housing: Whether renting or buying, plan your housing ahead, factoring in location, amenities, and budget.
  • Healthcare Options: Long-term expats should choose between the national healthcare system (CCSS) or private health insurance for quicker access and English-speaking doctors.
  • Get a Driver’s License: Obtain a driver’s license at any COSEVI office.
  • Neighborhood Familiarization: Learn your neighborhood and note emergency numbers for safety.
  • Communication Services: Consider securing a cell phone and internet plan.

Find a home 

If you haven’t secured lodging prior to your arrival in Costa Rica, your first step upon getting there would be to contact a real estate agent to assist you in quickly finding a place to live. You can also explore various websites, such as Encuendra24 and Casa Busco, to help you find your new home.

Housing in Costa Rica is generally affordable, but the cost depends on the location. For example, one of the most budget-friendly housing options is a studio apartment, typically starting at $400 CAD, which includes water, electricity, and internet. Keep in mind that the closer your new residence is to the city, the higher the cost will be.


Costa Rica provides universal healthcare to all its citizens and residents for $80 CAD – $325 CAD a month, depending on several factors such as age and income. You may also want to look into the following insurance: 

  • Private health insurance.
  • Car insurance.
  • Life insurance.

Setting up your cell phone 

Setting up a cell phone in Costa Rica is a simple process for expats. First, ensure your phone is unlocked and compatible with local networks. Next, choose a mobile provider like Claro, Kolbi, or Movistar, which are among the most well-known mobile and internet providers.

Purchase a prepaid SIM card while providing your passport for registration, and review their mobile plans. Don’t forget to save important numbers, such as emergency services, your mobile provider’s customer service, and the Canadian embassy in Costa Rica.

Getting a driver’s license 

Obtaining a Costa Rican driver’s license requires meeting age and documentation criteria, such as being at least 18 years old, and holding a valid temporary or permanent residency card. Tourists cannot get a Costa Rican driver’s license, only residents and citizens. Afterward, follow these steps: 

  • Attend a mandatory First Aid and Road Safety Course.
  • Obtain a medical certificate from a certified doctor.
  • Gather essential documents, and apply for your license at a COSEVI office. The process includes a written and practical test, with the written test available in multiple languages, including English and French.

Note that you can also homologate your foreign driver’s license without taking the driving test, as long as you receive approval from the Dirección General de Educación Vial and validate your driver’s license.

Setting up a bank account 

When moving from Canada to Costa Rica, one of your first financial priorities should be setting up a bank account. To get started, reach out to a local bank and schedule a meeting with a bank agent who can guide you through the process.

They will assist you in providing the necessary documentation, including proof of identity and address, to open your bank account. This crucial step ensures that your finances are properly organized, allowing you to pay your bills and handle transactions in Costa Rica colón, the country’s official currency.

Additionally, maintaining bank statements will help you monitor your financial activity and manage your funds effectively during your stay in this beautiful Central American country.

3. Best places to live in Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers a variety of attractive places to live, each with its own unique charm and appeal. Some of the best places to live in Costa Rica, known for their quality of life, and natural beauty, include national parks in proximity to the capital city, San Jose. These areas not only provide an excellent quality of life, but also the opportunity to save money while enjoying the convenience of city center amenities.



San Jose

The capital city with access to cultural amenities, healthcare facilities, and hub for jobs.


Suburb of San Jose, offers a mix of modern living, shopping, and a popular choice for expats.

Santa Ana

Suburb of San Jose, offers a pleasant climate, various amenities perfect for families.


Beach town on the Pacific coast, perfect for surfers and those seeking a laid-back coastal lifestyle.

Puerto Viejo

On the Caribbean coast, with beautiful beaches, and a diverse expat community.


A serene spot for foreign students and expats, boasting city views a bit away from the center.

Setting up home services 

In Costa Rica the Internet and TV services are offered by private companies such as Claro, Kolbi, and Movistar, with speed and availability varying by location. These companies also provide mobile phone services, offering options for both prepaid and postpaid plans. 

Utility services like electricity, water, and gas are typically managed by government-owned or regional utilities, which may have regional differences in billing and reliability. 

To ensure the best service for your specific needs and location, thorough research is essential, as service quality and options can vary across the country.

Should you rent or buy?

The choice between renting and buying in Costa Rica is influenced by the country’s lower cost of living compared to Canada. However, it’s important to note that while Costa Rica is less expensive than Canada, it may not be the cheapest country in Latin America.

Additionally, you should consider that certain cities and suburbs within the country are more expensive than others. For example, the capital city of San Jose and the suburbs of Escazú and Santa Ana tend to be pricier. 

Whether it’s housing, groceries, transportation, leisure activities, personal expenses, or even clothing, Costa Rica offers substantial savings. Given this, finding a rental apartment or purchasing a home in Costa Rica is relatively straightforward. Simply connect with a real estate agent or search online in the previously mentioned areas, and you’re on your way.

4. Cost of living in Costa Rica


Monthly cost

1 bed apt rent outside city center



Numbeo’s grocery list ($70.66 multiplied by 4)



Electricity, heating, cooling, water, garbage


Internet with 60 Mbps


Transit pass



Meal, taxi, movie


Gym membership 




Numbeo (Sept 2023)

Where can you buy groceries in Costa Rica?

Wherever you are in Costa Rica, you will likely find fresh fruits and vegetables in its stores. Most grocery stores accept both USD and Costa Rican Colones. The most popular grocery stores in Costa Rica include Auto Mercado, AM/PM, Maxiconsumo Cash & Carry, and PriceSmart. Additionally, you can explore farmers’ markets like La Feria del Agricultor in San Isidro de El General or Mercado Central on Avenida Central.

What to Expect from your new life in Costa Rica?

Anticipate a quiet and picturesque life in this country, replete with stunning scenery and warm, welcoming people.

You’re bound to be charmed by the vibrant local culture. So, why wait? Costa Rica awaits your arrival!

5. The weather in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a diverse climate, known for its “Pura Vida” weather, which means a pure life. In the Central Valley, the climate is mild, while coastal areas, especially on the Pacific side, offer a tropical experience.

Costa Rica experiences distinct rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season usually lasts from May to November, and the dry season occurs from December to April. This climate diversity makes Costa Rica a year-round place to enjoy its lush landscapes and natural beauty.

6. What to do as a local in Costa Rica

As a local of Costa Rica, you can enjoy a wide range of activities that allow you to immerse yourself in the country’s rich culture and natural beauty. For outdoor enthusiasts, exploring the country’s national parks and hiking trails is a must. If you’re near the Pacific or Caribbean coastlines, you can indulge in surfing and water sports such as snorkeling and scuba diving in places like Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio, and Puerto Viejo.

Costa Rica also hosts cultural festivals like Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the Festival of Lights in San Jose, offering vibrant celebrations that showcase the local culture. Costa Rica’s renowned coffee culture invites enthusiasts to tour plantations and savor some of the world’s finest coffee. 

Most importantly, locals embrace the “Pura Vida” lifestyle by taking time to relax and appreciate the simple pleasures of life in this beautiful country.

7. Fun facts about Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica, despite its size, stands as one of the world’s most biodiverse countries.
  • The “Pura Vida” lifestyle in Costa Rica symbolizes a laid-back, friendly, and positive approach to life.
  • Costa Rica boasts over 150 identifiable volcanic formations, with active ones like Arenal, Irazú, Poás, Rincón de la Vieja and Turrialba.
  • Costa Rica boasts many Blue Flags, symbolizing clean and eco-friendly beaches.


Moving to Costa Rica offers a chance to embrace a captivating Central American nation, where breathtaking natural beauty, welcoming communities, and a harmonious mix of modern living and serene landscapes create a unique and unforgettable experience.

As you plan your move, start by researching international moving companies. Costa Rica awaits, ready to welcome you to its exceptional fusion of nature and city life.


Widgets Magazine


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Ann Nacario

The author

Meet Ann – our head writer with a knack for making moving and city living a breeze. From the many details of moving to picking the perfect moving company, she’s your guide. Ann has a friendly yet detailed approach to ensure your move goes off without a hitch. When she’s not writing about relocation, it will always be on her mind, but you’ll catch her spending time with her three furry friends.

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