Walk into any coffee shop or bar in Costa Rica and ask for people’s stories, you’ll never be disappointed. Costa Rica has been the #1 destination for expatriates and tourists from the United States for decades, and the trend doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. Those who come to Costa Rica do so for wildly different reasons. At any tourist bar, you’ll find people who claim the best waves for surfing are here in Costa Rica. At the same bar, you’ll meet a group of scientists studying rainforest animals and extreme athletes looking for a high-altitude adventure. If you find an area frequented by indefinite expats and Costa Rica residents, you may run into a retired couple looking to turn slim savings into a life of comfort, and a young family starting up a business and raising a family.
There are hundreds of stories from tourists and expats in Costa Rica, but in recent years, a third category of incomers has developed: long-term visitors. These long-term visitors come to Costa Rica for a stay not devoted purely to tourism. They typically stay for 4 months to a year, and have a purpose in mind for their trip. Long-term visitors are not permanent like the expats, but are not as temporary and carefree as the tourists either. Planning your long term stay in Costa Rica creates certain challenges, as living as a tourist will burst your budget, but you’re not planning for a lifetime either. Fortunately, there are many examples before you which show that a long term stay in Costa Rica is not only possible and economical, but can be the experience of a lifetime.
Why Come for a Long-Term Stay?
People often come to Costa Rica for a long term stay when they find themselves at a crossroads. Costa Rica is a beautiful, well-developed, and modern country which is just an easy plane ride away from the United States, so living here can extremely convenient. Many students who need a concentrated atmosphere to study for an upcoming exam, such as the Bar exam or the GMAT, rent homes in Costa Rica. They can study for their exams in a relaxed and happy atmosphere, while spending less money on day-to-day expenses and experiencing everyday life in a tropical country. New graduates often look for internships and work-abroad opportunities. They take advantage of a year of tropical adventures, returning to their home countries as seasoned professionals. Yet others even work this into their career plan, working in their home countries for a couple years, then spending time volunteering or working remotely from Costa Rica. Whatever your reason is, a long-term stay in Costa Rica can be extremely rewarding.
Picking a City
Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, complete with 12 distinct microclimates, ranging from white sand beaches to rainforests, lowlands, cloudy mountains, and volcanoes. Whatever your preferences, there’s a city in Costa Rica for you. While the climate makes up a large part of your comfort, it is not the only factor that needs to be considered. If you came to Costa Rica for a quiet, concentrated environment, you don’t want too much distraction. You need to study for your tests or finally start your book, so aim for a beach or mountain town, but stay out of the bustling cities. For those looking to work online from home, steady internet will be a big factor, so it’s best to stay out of the mountains and the cloudier parts of the country. The beach towns and Central Valley cities will be your best bet. When defining your location goals, consider weather, access to services, internet signal, and the business of the city.
Lodging is extremely important, but thanks to developed internet communities, rather easy to find. Long-term visitors can’t stay at hotels or hostels for their entire trips, but aren’t looking to furnish a house either. Search online for lodging options through Facebook groups and Costa Rican forums. It is extremely common throughout Costa Rica to rent fully furnished rooms complete with utilities by the month. Houses in Costa Rica are traditionally colonial style, which means many rooms and large living spaces. People will rent and furnish houses with the hopes of renting rooms to visitors like yourself. Aim for houses where you will have lots in common with your housemates. This will make for a more dynamic living experience and will help you navigate your new, temporary country. It’s best to book a room before you come, but try to just book one month. During the first month, you’ll meet lots of people and find even more housing opportunities. This will give you time to find a location that is perfect for your goals. Keep noise levels, proximity to the center, rates, and access to the kitchen and living areas in mind when looking for lodging.
If you are planning a long-term stay in Costa Rica, it’s best to eat like the locals. Water is potable in Costa Rica, and while some people complain of some irritation while acclimating to the local water, it is short-lived and not remotely dangerous. It’s best to get used to the water and foods from the beginning. From there, things get very good. Costa Rica’s enormous biodiversity effects how you eat. During your stay, you will most likely try more types of fruits and vegetables than you have in your entire life. Go to the local markets and buy everything that looks interesting, keeping in mind the availability of superfoods. Start cooking from your house, and get used to road side grills, cafeterias known as “sodas,” and market shopping. If you eat like the locals do, you’ll enjoy amazing tropical dishes, may experience a boost in your state of health, and will probably come way under-budget on your food line.
Fortunately for the long-term visitor, it is not necessary to have a car in Costa Rica. This small country enjoys a well-developed bus system and inexpensive taxis fill the streets. Once you find your new home, stop by the bus terminal to get a copy of the routes. You can take the bus to any part of the country and can navigate your town by walking, intra-city bus routes, or by taxi. You can even purchase a used bike for your stay, as this will be easy to sell before you leave. Understand that you’ll probably be walking a lot during your time in Costa Rica, and keep proximity to the city center in mind when looking for your lodging.
You may be on your way to Costa Rica for quiet, alone time, but you are going to want a community of friends at some point. This goes for those coming for a specific job as well. As great as your co-workers may be, having outside friends is always a plus. Luckily, this again will be easy. Expats and long-term visitors have multiple internet forums where they post advice, events, outings, and classes to join. You can take a dance class, weekly yoga session, join a gym, or look for a weekly volunteering opportunity to create your community. Regardless of your reason for coming to Costa Rica, you’ll want someone to see the city with on your off-days. Through online forums you can hear of housing options, music or art events, and even long-term job opportunities. You’ll also receive valuable advice for making the most of your time in Costa Rica. As daunting of a task as making friends can be, Costa Rica has a familial culture that rubs off on every visitor. Invitations for dinner parties and nights out will come more quickly than you expect.
Speaking Spanish in Costa Rica is not necessarily a must. The country is well-developed and well-educated, and finding an English-speaking professional will never be an issue. In some of the more tourist-centered towns, English may even be the more commonly spoken language. If you want to take full advantage of your time in Costa Rica, however, learning some basic Spanish is for the best. You can try free online language services, but you should really take advantage of your time in Costa Rica to enroll in some top-of-the-line, inexpensive classes. Spanish schools are on every corner, and you can enroll in a class for around $7 an hour or less, depending on where you stay. You can learn how to introduce yourself, ask for directions, order off a menu, count money and ask for change, and even how to engage in basic conversation. This will make your time much easier in Costa Rica and learning Spanish in an immersion environment will prove to be much more successful than those high school classes you took in the past. You will make new friends and return to your home country with the basics of Spanish under your belt.