The 15 Best Places To Live in Costa Rica For Expats in 2023
Costa Rica has emerged as a popular destination for expats seeking a high quality of life, stunning natural beauty, and a welcoming community. With its stable economy, excellent healthcare system, and commitment to sustainability, the country offers attractive options for expats, especially United States citizens, looking to relocate.
Are you interested in making the move to Costa Rica? Want to know the best locations to live? Do you find yourself curious about the typical cost of living in each city? Keep reading to learn more.
This Pacific Prime Latin America article ranks the best places in Costa Rica for expats to live based on a variety of criteria, such as quality of life, cost of living, and environment, and provides in-depth advice on what to think about before making the move.
Before we begin, please note that the ranking of these top 15 locations is based on a combination of factors that make a location desirable for expats. These factors include the quality and cost of living.
To provide more detail, we’ve listed the variables used to aggregate the overall rankings, including their explanations:
1. Cost of Living:
Affordability is a crucial consideration for expats. We have evaluated factors such as transportation expenses and the overall cost of daily necessities. We have calculated total costs excluding rent because of the relative nature of that expense (e.g., the number of bedrooms).
Please be aware that the average monthly expenditures in Costa Rica are estimated at USD $794 for an individual and USD $2886 for a family of four (not including rent). This median was determined using a total national sum of average costs obtained from the NUMBEO database.
Safety is a top priority when choosing a place to live. We have taken into account crime rates, political stability, and the overall level of security in each location. In this case, homicide and road traffic mortality rates are taken into account.
Good infrastructure contributes to a comfortable and convenient lifestyle. We have considered factors such as access to reliable utilities, transportation networks, internet connectivity, and the quality of public services.
Access to quality healthcare is essential for expats. We have assessed the availability of hospitals, clinics, and healthcare facilities, as well as the quality of medical services and the presence of English-speaking healthcare professionals.
5. Natural Beauty:
Costa Rica is renowned for its breathtaking natural landscapes. We have considered locations that offer proximity to beaches, mountains, rainforests, and national parks, allowing expats to enjoy the country’s abundant natural beauty.
6. Expat Community:
The presence of a vibrant expat community can greatly enhance the expat experience. We have taken into account the size and diversity of the expat community in each location, as well as the availability of social and networking opportunities.
The aggregation of all variables is then calculated into a livability score.
The Top 15 Locations for Expats to Live in Costa Rica:
1. San Jose – The Cultural Capital of Costa Rica
- Liveability Score: 66
- Cost of living: USD $1136
- Population: 342,000
San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, is a vibrant and bustling urban center nestled in the heart of the Central Valley. Known for its rich history, cultural heritage, and natural beauty, San Jose offers a unique blend of old-world charm and modern amenities.
The city is home to historic landmarks like the National Theater, which showcases stunning architecture and hosts a variety of artistic performances. Visitors can explore the charming neighborhoods of Barrio Amón and Barrio Escalante, known for their colorful houses, trendy cafes, and restaurants.
San Jose is also a gateway to the country’s breathtaking natural wonders, with easy access to national parks, volcanoes, and cloud forests. The city’s warm and welcoming atmosphere, combined with its lively markets and vibrant street life, make it a must-visit destination for those seeking a taste of Costa Rican culture and adventure.
2. Heredia – The City of Flowers
- Liveability Score: 63
- Cost of living: USD $879
- Population: 19,000
Heredia, located just a short distance from San Jose, is a picturesque city in Costa Rica known for its colonial architecture, lush green landscapes, and vibrant cultural scene. As the capital of the Heredia province, it offers a serene and tranquil atmosphere while still providing easy access to urban amenities.
The city’s historic center, with its charming cobblestone streets and beautiful buildings, is a delight to explore. Heredia is also home to Costa Rica’s renowned National University, giving the city youthful and intellectual energy.
Nature lovers will appreciate the nearby Braulio Carrillo National Park, which offers stunning hiking trails and breathtaking views. With its blend of history, natural beauty, and vibrant community, Heredia provides a captivating experience for visitors looking to immerse themselves in the authentic Costa Rican lifestyle.
3. Alajuela – The Land of Mangoes
- Liveability Score: 50
- Cost of living: USD $1021
- Population: 48,000
Alajuela, situated in the picturesque Central Valley of Costa Rica, is a vibrant city known for its warm hospitality, historical significance, and natural beauty. As the second-largest city in the country, Alajuela offers a harmonious blend of urban amenities and a laid-back atmosphere.
The city’s central park, Parque Central, is a hub of activity and a great place to relax and soak in the local culture. Alajuela is most famously associated with its proximity to Juan Santamaria International Airport, making it a common entry point for travelers exploring Costa Rica.
Surrounding Alajuela, you’ll find a picturesque countryside adorned with coffee plantations, mango trees, and breathtaking views of surrounding volcanoes. Whether you’re seeking historical sites, natural wonders, or a taste of authentic Costa Rican charm, Alajuela provides a memorable experience.
4. Cartago – The Ancient Metropoli
- Liveability Score: 48
- Cost of living: USD $981
- Population: 23,000
Cartago, located in the central highlands of Costa Rica, is a city steeped in history and cultural significance. As the former capital of Costa Rica, it holds a special place in the country’s heritage. The city is home to a revered pilgrimage site and one of the most important landmarks in the country.
Visitors can explore the ruins of the ancient Santiago Apóstol Parish Ruins, which offer a glimpse into the city’s colonial past. Cartago also boasts beautiful parks and gardens, such as the Jardín Botánico Lankester, renowned for its orchid collection.
The surrounding countryside is dotted with picturesque coffee plantations and offers opportunities for outdoor adventures like hiking and biking. With its historical charm, religious significance, and natural beauty, Cartago invites visitors to immerse themselves in Costa Rica’s rich cultural heritage.
5. Puntarenas – The Gateway to Nicoya
- Liveability Score: 46
- Cost of living: USD $884
- Population: 41,500
Puntarenas, located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is a vibrant coastal city known for its stunning beaches, bustling boardwalk, and lively atmosphere. As the largest province in the country, Puntarenas offers a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy.
The city’s expansive beachfront is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports, while the Paseo de los Turistas boardwalk is lined with restaurants, bars, and shops. Puntarenas is also a gateway to the beautiful Nicoya Peninsula, home to pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and abundant wildlife.
Visitors can explore nearby national parks like Manuel Antonio or go on a thrilling boat tour to spot dolphins and whales. With its coastal charm, natural beauty, and vibrant culture, Puntarenas is a popular destination for those seeking a tropical beach getaway in Costa Rica.
6. Liberia – The White City
- Liveability Score: 44
- Cost of living: USD $987
- Population: 67,000
Liberia, situated in the northwest region of Costa Rica, is a bustling city that serves as a gateway to the country’s renowned Guanacaste province. Known as the “White City” due to its whitewashed colonial-style buildings, Liberia offers a charming blend of history, culture, and outdoor adventures.
The city’s central plaza, Parque Central, is adorned with beautiful trees and serves as a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. Liberia is a convenient starting point for exploring the stunning beaches of Guanacaste, where visitors can indulge in water sports or simply relax under the sun.
The nearby Rincon de la Vieja National Park provides opportunities for hiking, wildlife spotting, and soaking in natural hot springs. In proximity to beaches and access to national parks, Liberia offers an exciting and diverse experience for those seeking to explore Costa Rica’s northwest region.
7. Limon – The Caribbean Pearl
- Liveability Score: 42
- Cost of living: USD $1048
- Population: 60,700
Limon, located on the eastern coast of Costa Rica, is a vibrant city renowned for its Afro-Caribbean culture, stunning beaches, and lush rainforests. As the capital of the Limon province, the city offers a unique blend of cultural diversity and natural beauty.
Visitors can enjoy the vibrant Central Market, sampling Caribbean cuisine and tropical fruits. Limon boasts stunning beaches like Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, perfect for sunbathing, snorkeling, and surfing. The rainforests are biodiverse and offer opportunities for wildlife spotting and hiking.
Limon’s annual Carnival, a celebration of Afro-Caribbean heritage, is a colorful event that showcases vibrant parades, music, and dance. With its rich cultural tapestry and stunning natural surroundings, Limon provides a captivating and authentic Costa Rican experience.
8. Tamarindo – The Golden Coast
- Liveability Score: 39
- Cost of living: USD $1371
- Population: 8,000
Tamarindo, located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province, is a popular beach town known for its pristine beaches, world-class surfing, and vibrant nightlife. With its golden sands and crystal-clear waters, Tamarindo offers a paradise for beach and water sports enthusiasts.
Surfing is a major attraction, with consistent waves that cater to both beginners and experienced surfers. The town boasts a bustling atmosphere with a variety of shops, restaurants, and beachfront bars where visitors can enjoy local cuisine and tropical cocktails.
Tamarindo is also a gateway to exploring natural wonders, such as the Las Baulas National Marine Park, where you can witness nesting sea turtles, or the stunning Wildlife Refuge, home to diverse flora and fauna. Whether you’re seeking adventure or relaxation, Tamarindo offers both bliss and charm.
9. Santa Teresa – The Surfer’s Paradise
- Liveability Score: 38
- Cost of living: USD $999
- Population: 3,000
Santa Teresa, located on the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is a laid-back beach town renowned for its stunning beaches, world-class surf, and bohemian atmosphere. With pristine white sand and turquoise waters, Santa Teresa offers a paradise for water sports enthusiasts.
With consistent waves, Santa Teresa attracts surfers from around the world. The town itself exudes a relaxed and bohemian vibe, with yoga studios and organic cafes dotting the streets. The tropical rainforests and diverse wildlife of Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve are also accessible from Santa Teresa.
Whether you’re looking to catch the perfect wave, indulge in wellness activities, or simply unwind in a tranquil beach setting, Santa Teresa offers a unique and rejuvenating experience in Costa Rica.
10. Manuel Antonio – The Jewel of the Pacific
- Liveability Score: 37
- Cost of living: USD $1111
- Population: 4000
Manuel Antonio, located on the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is a popular tourist destination known for its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and abundant wildlife. The highlight of the area is Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the most biodiverse parks in the country.
The town of Manuel Antonio itself offers a range of accommodations, restaurants, and souvenir shops catering to tourists. The area is also known for its wildlife and adventure activities, including animal spotting, zip-lining, white-water rafting, and horseback riding.
11. Jaco – Costa Rica’s Party Central
- Liveability Score: 35
- Cost of living: USD $1245
- Population: 10,000
Jaco, situated on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is a lively beach town known for its vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches, and surfing opportunities. The town offers a mix of modern amenities and a relaxed atmosphere, making it a popular destination for both locals and tourists.
Jaco Beach is a hub of activity, with its long stretch of golden sand and a variety of water sports available. The town itself is filled with restaurants, bars, and shops, offering a lively and energetic atmosphere. Nature lovers can explore nearby national parks, such as Carara National Park, which is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna.
12. Dominical – Costa Rica’s Hidden Gem
- Liveability Score: 33
- Cost of living: USD $1032
- Population: 700
Dominical, located on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is a laid-back beach town known for its pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and excellent surfing conditions. The town offers a tranquil and relaxed atmosphere, attracting visitors seeking a quiet escape.
Dominical Beach is famous for its consistent waves, making it a popular spot for surfers of all levels. The surrounding area is rich in natural beauty, with nearby waterfalls, hiking trails, and wildlife. The town itself offers a selection of restaurants and accommodations, catering to the needs of visitors.
13. La Fortuna – La Adventure Capital
- Liveability Score: 30
- Cost of living: USD $1132
- Population: 15,000
La Fortuna, situated in the northern lowlands of Costa Rica, is a charming town known for its proximity to the Arenal Volcano and its natural hot springs. The town offers a blend of adventure and relaxation, making it a popular destination for nature enthusiasts.
The Arenal Volcano National Park provides opportunities for hiking, wildlife spotting, and enjoying stunning views of the volcano. Visitors can also relax in the nearby hot springs, which are naturally heated by the volcano’s geothermal activity.
14. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca – Costa Rica’s Jungle Beach Town
- Liveability Score: 28
- Cost of living: USD $1116
- Population: 12,000
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, located on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, is a vibrant and eclectic town known for its laid-back atmosphere, stunning beaches, and Afro-Caribbean culture. The town offers a unique blend of tropical paradise and cultural diversity.
The town itself is filled with colorful buildings, reggae music, and a variety of restaurants and bars. Visitors can also explore nearby national parks, such as Cahuita National Park, which is home to a coral reef and abundant wildlife.
15. Montezuma – The Bohemian Paradise
- Liveability Score: 26
- Cost of living: USD $1035
- Population: 3,500
Montezuma, located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, is a bohemian beach town known for its artistic vibe, beautiful beaches, and waterfalls. The town offers a laid-back and alternative atmosphere, attracting artists, musicians, and nature lovers.
Montezuma Beach is a popular spot for sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling. Visitors can also hike to nearby waterfalls, such as Montezuma Falls, which offer refreshing swimming holes. The town itself is filled with unique shops, art galleries, and vegetarian restaurants, creating a vibrant and eclectic atmosphere.
Costa Rica offers a wealth of opportunities and a high quality of life for expats seeking a change of scenery. The top 15 locations listed in this article provide a diverse range of options, each with its own unique charm and advantages.
By considering factors such as cost of living, safety, infrastructure, healthcare, natural beauty, and the expat community, you can make an informed decision and enjoy a fulfilling expat experience in Costa Rica.
Having said this, it is equally important to remember to take into account the specific needs and preferences of you and your family, especially when it comes to health insurance. Healthcare must be prioritized, and all potential roadblocks must be removed before a move to any country.
Pacific Prime Latin America is here to help you find the right insurance, whether you need retiree health insurance or expat health insurance. With over two decades of experience, we can guide you to the insurance policy that best suits your situation and your budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most popular destinations in Costa Rica?
Popular expat destinations include Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepos, and Esterillos Oeste, all located along the Central Pacific Coast. While the region offers beautiful scenery and attractions, the humidity and occasional heat can pose challenges compared to the more temperate Central Valley.
Where is English commonly spoken in Costa Rica?
English is primarily spoken on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica due to its population’s Jamaican heritage. The descendants of Jamaican immigrants have settled in this region, resulting in a significant number of English speakers with a Caribbean accent.
Are expats generally happy in Costa Rica?
According to a survey by InterNations, the majority of expats living in Costa Rica 94% rate their overall quality of life as excellent or very good. This satisfaction level is notably higher than the global average of 81%.
- The 15 Best Places To Live in Costa Rica For Expats in 2023 - October 9, 2023