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Costa Rica is an outdoor playground and a dream destination for any expat. People from all over North America and Europe have made the decision to live in Costa Rica for a laidback lifestyle where anything can wait until “mañana”.

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From lush rainforests to tropical shorelines, the scenery and quality of life in Costa Rica are hard to beat. Expats in Costa Rica are dotted across the country because there are so many appealing options when it comes to places to live and work in Costa Rica. 

Depending on your budget and priorities, different areas will tick different boxes. We love the endless sunshine and beautiful beaches of Guanacaste, but others may crave the crisp air of the mountains.

As of 2016, immigration data shows that nearly 500,000 expats have found their haven in Costa Rica, with over 90% of them being from North America

If you want to live in Costa Rica but aren’t sure what is the best place to retire in Costa Rica, read on! We share information on some popular expat communities and some off the beaten path gems too. If you’re someone that loves rugged nature with modern amenities, Costa Rica might be the perfect destination for you. 

Considering living in Costa Rica but want to get the low-down on everything from healthcare to speaking Spanish? Download all the information you need in our free Costa Rica travel guide!

Central Valley

The Central Valley is a popular choice for many expats living in Costa Rica. The mild and dry climate promises comfortable living year-round without the need for heating or air conditioning. Central Valley is also home to many of the country’s international schools, the Central Valley is the best place to live in Costa Rica with a family. It’s no surprise that almost 70% of Costa Rica’s population chooses to live here! 

Palmares Central Valley, live in costa rica
Town of Palmares in Alajuela, Central Valley. Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are a couple of towns that are particularly popular with American communities in Costa Rica. 

Escazú

Province: San José
Population: 14,815

Escazu, San Jose, Costa Rica
Overlooking Escazu

Situated just 9 km (5.5 mi) west of downtown San Jose, Escazú is one of Costa Rica’s most affluent communities. The suburb is perched on a hillside and has all the modern amenities you would expect to find in a city. Urban conveniences like shopping malls, restaurants, and entertainment are matched with essentials like hospitals and international schools. 

Some call Escazu Costa Rica’s Beverly Hills since it is home to many wealthy American and European expats. It’s probably the safest place to live in Costa Rica and has become a major hub for foreigners. It has all the charm of Costa Rica with all of the conveniences of the U.S. 

Its central location means you have access to all of San José’s city amenities. Living in Escazu is a great option for hosting visitors with its easy access to the airport, city and highway to the coast. 

Also, you’ll find local charm on the narrow streets lined with old churches in Escazú Centro. Meanwhile, luxury hotels as well as golf courses dot the rest of town. Moving to Escazu is perfect if you’re craving a city-feel without much culture shock. There are lots of families that call Escazu home and enjoy all the luxuries and entertainment that the city offers. 

On the flipside, skip Escazù if you’re looking to trade in North American life for a bit more pura vida. Naturally, the cost of living is more expensive here and stores and restaurants are much more Americanized. While some expats love city living, others might find the mountains and beaches to be more suitable  

Atenas

Province: Alajuela
Population: 7,546 

Nestled in the lush mountains of the Central Valley is Atenas, a smaller town known for iconic Costa Rican coffee. Athenas is located 45 minutes west of San Jose, about 30 mins from the international airport (SJO) in Alajuela. 

For years, oxcarts traveled through Atenas to bring coffee from the Central Valley to ports on the coast. The high altitude makes perfect conditions for growing sugarcane and coffee. It also boasts a temperate climate that’s pleasant all year round. High altitude also means no mosquitoes! Unsurprisingly, some describe this as the best climate in the world

Although it may seem remote, Atenas is only 1 hour from San Jose and 30 minutes to the airport. The main highway also gives quick access to beaches and is a central launch point to everything Costa Rica has to offer. 

In town, there is a strong expat community filled mostly with retirees and young families. Here you’ll find international schools, along with supermarkets, restaurants, and fitness classes. There are pharmacies and health care clinics in town but you’ll need to head to Escazu for hospitals and nightlife. 

Atenas is a well-connected mountain town that’s accessible by bus and is very safe. It’s a great option for a relaxing lifestyle with incredible views without a big city price tag. Some even consider it one of the best places to retire in Costa Rica. Additionally, it’s a coffee lover’s wonderland! 

If your dreams of moving to Costa Rica involve action and nightlife, Atenas probably isn’t the best place for you. Most expats settle here for peace and quiet. 

Cartago 

Province: Cartago
Population: 160,457 

Cartago is one of the oldest towns in Costa Rica and actually used to be the former capital. Thanks to an eruption of the country’s tallest active volcano, the Irazú Volcano, the town was partially destroyed in 1823. Nowadays, Cartago is a historic town filled with local character that’s more populated with Costa Ricans than expatriates.  

cartago costa rica

The town hosts a massive religious pilgrimage each August to Our Lady of the Angels Basilica. Every year, the event attracts people from all over the country. Cartago residents have access to many amenities, without having to go into San José. Things like government offices, museums, and hospitals are all accessible by car or bus. There’s also an IMAX Cinema in town. For shopping, Walmart and a few natural organic stores offer lots of selection. 

Only an hour away from SJO airport, Cartago has a convenient central location with great weather. The mountain views over the Orosi Valley are stunning and make for cooler temperatures. The mountains in Costa Rica are much more comfortable for those who don’t like the heat!

Cartago is a good choice for those who want to be surrounded by nature without sacrificing city life. There are many national parks and botanical gardens around that fit in with the lush green landscape. However, the cooler and rainier days aren’t a favourite among expats seeking a sunny escape. If you’re comfortable settling into your new Central American life without a big expat community, Cartago might be the place.          

Grecia

Province: Alajuela
Population: 17,000

Picture this, a quiet escape in the foothills where every day sits around 80°F/26°C with a cool breeze. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? This is Grecia, a farming town perched on a volcano surrounded by mountains. Some say it’s even the cleanest city in Latin America!   

Known to be the car capital with 63 dealerships, Grecia is a popular choice for expat life in Costa Rica. Just 30 minutes from Alajuela International Airport, Grecia has a small-town feel close to all amenities. There are several communities and neighborhoods that are particularly popular with the expat community including El Cajon and San Isidro

live in costa rica
Grecia signage at the Big Red Church, Grecia Town Center

Most expats and ticos (local Costa Ricans) live in the surrounding hills taking advantage of the great real estate value in the area. Some say the real estate costs in Grecia are 30% lower than in other popular towns in Central Valley. Homes in Grecia boast great views and convenient city access. There is a huge feria in town. Other amenities, like health care, shopping malls, pharmacies, and supermarkets can be found just 20-30 mins away. 

Grecia is the perfect choice for those seeking a strong expat network but don’t want to live in a tourist destination. Because of this, the cost of living is reasonable and tourist pricing isn’t an issue.

If the mountains aren’t your thing, Grecia might not be the best fit. It’s not far from the beaches or city but makes for a quieter life surrounded by hills of coffee and sugarcane.      

Santa Ana

Province: San José
Population: 11,320 

Living in San Jose, Costa Rica can be busy and not the life expats picture for their relocation. Similar to Escazu, Santa Ana is an affluent suburb in the foothills. It’s just 15 minutes outside of San Jose and makes for the perfect escape. Nicknamed the Valle del Sol, or “Valley of Sun,” Santa Ana is a quaint local town with modern amenities.

The weather in Santa Ana is warmer and drier than in San Jose and Escazu. This makes it a favourite for expatriates in Costa Rica. Home to all the malls, golf courses, restaurants, and shops you’d want, this suburb is gaining popularity. 

The real estate market is very hot in Santa Ana with many high-end expats and families buying property here. It’s great if you’re living in Costa Rica as an American that wants to enjoy the fantastic healthcare system. Hospitals are a stone’s throw away and you have easy access to San Jose central if need be.  

In terms of cost of living in Costa Rica, this definitely isn’t the place if you’re on a shoestring budget. Santa Ana is becoming a hotspot for upscale grocery stores, medical clinics, and private schools. It’s a popular pick for families who want a comfortable balance between a Costa Rican experience without a lot of culture shock.          

 

Central Pacific Coast

The beaches of the Central Pacific Coast are popular for locals and expats alike. They’re the closest beaches to the city and make up the most developed coastal area in the country

Jacó

Province: Puntarenas
Population: 11,685 

Coined the “Vegas of Costa Rica,” Jacó is one of the most energetic beach towns you’ll find in the country. It has a great food scene with bustling nightlife and endless water activities. It’s developed and laidback at the same time, with all the amenities you need to live comfortably without big centers. 

Moving to Jacó is a popular choice for young people who want to live in Costa Rica for sand and surf. It’s the perfect experience if you’re a solo traveler looking to socialize and enjoy the water. Because of the easy access from San Jose, this is where the locals come for a weekend away.

Despite its reputation as a party town, Jacó also has many family-friendly activities too. Surfing, fishing, and snorkeling are all great ways to enjoy the turquoise waters of the Pacific coast. If you’re visiting on a trip, try and catch the weekly surfing competitions on Playa Hermosa. This is one of Costa Rica’s most famous surf beaches for a reason! 

Another great thing about Jacó is that it’s home to the largest LGBTQ+ community in the country. The energy in town is lively, exciting, and never boring. Jacó is the best city to live in Costa Rica for fun and parties but it certainly doesn’t promise tranquility.          

Quepos/Dominical

Province: Puntarenas
Population: 19,858 

Best Surfing in Costa Rica: Playa Dominical from above

Quepos is a popular tourist destination in Costa Rica and is the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park. The park is one of the most popular in Costa Rica and is a favourite for travelers of all ages. The area also offers lots of other activities like horseback riding, zip lining and surfing for those seeking a bit of adventure.

The town of Quepos is not an expat hub, but more of a small town that serves as a hub for the neighbouring areas of Dominical and Uvita. Quepos is where the locals go to find essential amenities like a bank, a clinic, or a supermarket. There is also a  domestic airport nearby.

A 40-minute drive down the coast’s Southern Zone will take you to Dominical. This gem is a laid back town with a top surfing beach. Locals and expats love the chill vibe down here because it’s not as developed as other places in the country. While Jaco has resorts and hotels, Dominical still has dirt roads with a much more relaxed feeling in the air.

Dominical and the rest of the Southern Zone has a humid climate and is particularly attractive to those who want to play on the beach during the day, but enjoy a cooler climate in the evenings. The hills around Dominical rise sharply from the coast creating dramatic views and offer a breath of fresh air (literally) to residents of this area. The area offers lots of yoga and outdoor activities. 

It’s one of the more favourable destinations for young foreigners with a free-spirited and organic lifestyle. However, it’s probably not the best option if life at a sloth’s pace seems a little too slow for you. 

North Pacific aka Gold Coast 

The North Pacific earns its title as the Gold Coast because it gets lots of sunshine and barely any rain. It’s covered in picturesque beaches and is one of the best places to live in Costa Rica for expats. You’ll have to come for a visit and see that the pura vida is contagious! 

Tamarindo

Province: Guanacaste
Population: 4,000

Best beaches in Costa Rica
Empty beach in Playa Tamarindo – one of Costa Rica’s top tourist hot spot

Chances are if you’ve ever looked into expat communities in Costa Rica, you’ve heard of Tamarindo. A stunning and bustling beach town, Tamarindo has one of the warmest and driest climates in the country. The white sand beaches hug the coast with tons of outdoor activities for those in search of an active lifestyle

Because of its popularity, Tamarindo is quite developed and attracts many tourists. It’s 1 hour away from Liberia International Airport and is home to lots of restaurants and great nightlife. There are plenty of amenities in town: banks, supermarkets, restaurants, cafes, coworking spaces, salons, as well as a few clinics. The nearest private hospital to Tamarindo is located an hour away in Liberia. 

Living in Tamarindo, Costa Rica is all about the beach. Although there is no housing directly on the beach, the town is super walkable. The residents of Tamarindo are a mix between retirees and digital nomads. There are also a lot of families since there are so many international schools.   

Naturally, lots of people want to live in Tamarindo so the cost of living is on the higher side. It’s not to say you need a lot of money to live here, but rent and daily expenses are significantly higher than other beach towns. Tamarindo offers options for luxury living and if you’re an expat that doesn’t speak Spanish, you’ll be just fine here. 

Tamarindo can be one of the best places for expats in Costa Rica because of the strong community. There’s a big American and European influence that can make a new resident feel comfortable in their new country. On the other hand, you might want to move to Costa Rica to soak up an entirely new culture. If that’s the case, a less touristy part of the country might be a better match. 

We’ve been semi-based just outside of Tamarindo for years now and love to share our insider’s tips!
Don’t visit Tamarindo, Costa Rica without
reading our guide.       

Playas del Coco

Province: Guanacaste
Population: <1000

Guide to Ecotourism in Costa Rica, live in costa rica
Playa del Coco, Costa Rica

Playas del Coco, or just Cocos as most residents call it, is a popular beach town for expats and locals. It’s a much smaller town than Tamarindo with small neighborhoods scattered throughout. The beaches here are more suitable for fishing than swimming or surfing like in other parts of Costa Rica. 

Cocos has a convenient location that’s just 30 minutes from the Liberia airport and city center. Here, residents have greater access to medical care and affordable housing options. The smaller, more relaxed vibe attracts many retirees seeking that quintessential beauty of beach living. 

In town, there are mostly small businesses and souvenir shops. But, residents have access to supermarkets like Auto Mercado if they can’t find what they need at a farmers market. Coco is very family-friendly and the beach is a go-to for those exploring the Gold Coast of Guanacaste.

You’ll find that many local Costa Ricans live in town too. It has all the beauty, safety, and amazing weather as Tamarindo with much lower costs. It’s a great option for living in Guanacaste, Costa Rica if you’re keen on a quiet and relaxed life. But, if you’re craving a bit more action, you’ll probably prefer Tamarindo.          

Nicoya Peninsula

The Nicoya Peninsula is all about embracing the incredible Costa Rica quality of life. The experience here is less about partying or shopping, and more about wellness and healthy living. This philosophy leads to longevity, which is why the Nicoya Peninsula is considered one of the world’s five Blue Zones. Residents here live longer than anywhere else due to good eating habits, physical lifestyles, and strong relationships.  That’s why, it’s one of our best places to live in Costa Rica. 

Nosara

Province: Guanacaste
Population: 5,791

Locals at Playa Pelada. Nosara. Costa Rica
Sunset at Playa Pelada
in Nosara

Nosara is a Costa Rican gem where people guide the way to a healthier and more sustainable way of life. The area is largely protected by the national park system so you won’t find mega-resorts or condos lining the beach. Instead, it’s surrounded by pristine, undeveloped beaches that boast amazing surfing.

In going with the Blue Zone lifestyle, you’ll find lots of great restaurants focused on sustainable and nutrient-rich foods. It’s also one of the yoga capitals of the country where you’ll have no trouble finding a tranquil studio. This attracts expats searching for an organic way of living who are in no hurry about…pretty much anything. 

Nosara also has good international schools and attracts a family-friendly crowd. The expat network is largely retirees and families, particularly those passionate about preserving the environment. If you’re considering moving here, note that there is a much smaller inventory of homes. Because of the demand, housing costs can be more expensive.    

The town is quite spread out, so getting around is harder. ATVs and motorcycles are the expats’ and locals go-to methods of transportation in Nosara. They have become a part of the Costa Rican culture in this region. Paved roads are a newer concept so you’ll have to get used to a bit of dust in smaller communities! In Nosara, you have a small-town vibe with some modern amenities. Think high-speed internet, pharmacies, a health care clinic, and restaurants. 

There are clinics and a small airport in town, but you’ll have to drive to Nicoya for bigger amenities. Nosara is one of the best places for expats to live in Costa Rica if quality of life is key. Also, it’s a much slower-paced lifestyle that might not be as enticing for some. 

Santa Teresa

Province: Puntarenas
Population: 2,500

Backpacking in Costa Rica: Main road in Santa Teresa, live in costa rica
Main road in Santa Teresa

For some, daily life in Costa Rica revolves around catching the best waves and topping it off with yoga. If this sounds tempting to you, you’ll probably want to check out Santa Teresa. This beach town is a tourist hotspot where people come for the adventure and never leave

Santa Teresa living is all about embracing Costa Rica’s wildness. Here, you can enjoy the landscape, wildlife, and beaches that make the country so special. The town has only recently started to develop thanks to celebrity investments putting it on the map. Believe it or not, Santa Teresa didn’t even have electricity until the 90s!

An expat living in Costa Rica would choose Santa Teresa if they’re a health-conscious person who enjoys a bohemian lifestyle. The town is very relaxed. There aren’t paved roads so most people travel by ATV or by motorcycle. 

There are hostels, pharmacies, and car rentals in town but this isn’t a place filled with modern conveniences. 

Traveling to Santa Teresa is a bit of a trek (4 hours from Liberia Airport), and because of this, there is a much smaller expat population so knowing Spanish is very helpful. Despite its remoteness, it has many international tourists wanting to see what the hype is about. If you have your own wheels, you can hop over to Mal País for a quieter village away from tourists.

Clearly, Santa Teresa can be a dreamy beach escape for some but a nightmare for those who prefer city life. So, the lifestyle isn’t for everyone.

Caribbean Coast

Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is a haven for getting away from North American living and into unspoiled nature. The weather is certainly not like Guanacaste because the rainy season lasts most of the year. But, this leads to beautiful shorelines and a vibrant community with Caribbean flair.  

Puerto Viejo 

Province: Limón
Population: 2,000

Guide to Visiting Puerto Viejo Costa Rica, live in costa rica
Beach views at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo is a fishing village turned tourist hotspot. The lifestyle here is all about healthy living and enjoying the fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish of Central America. You won’t find big resorts or high-end condos, but instead, thatched-roofed huts and bamboo bungalows.

The Caribbean Coast is the most undeveloped area of Costa Rica. This relaxed charm attracts people from all over the world. There’s a large Jamaican and European population who want to get away from the urbanization of the Pacific Coast. There are also hotels, restaurants, banks, and small shops in town. But, you’ll have to travel to Limón for access to a hospital and airport. It’s a 90-minute jaunt with a bus service that operates daily.

Puerto Viejo is another of Costa Rica’s yoga destinations where people come seeking spirituality and wellness. Knowing Spanish here isn’t essential but always helpful. 

Bikes and scooters are also popular in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. They are a great way to explore the untouched beaches. Similarly, real estate here is more about blending in with nature and maintaining a very non-commercial presence. The humid, rainy climate really sets the Caribbean Coast apart from other parts of Costa Rica. Some people prefer the cooler cloudy days, but it’s definitely not ideal if you’re seeking endless sunshine.

The unspoiled atmosphere here attracts many birdwatchers and the nearby wildlife refuge is a highlight of any trip. Puerto Viejo is also home to many young U.S./Canadian nomads and hippies living in Costa Rica for its natural beauty.   

READ MORE: Moving to Costa Rica: Essential Facts and Tips from Locals & Expats

Before You Decide to Live in Costa Rica…

Come for a visit and see for yourself! Instead of hopping on Facebook and asking for opinions, test the waters on your own. Of course, there are pros and cons to every destination and some people’s lifestyles jive better in places than others’. 

If you’re thinking of taking the leap and moving to Costa Rica, take 1-2 months off and come down. Meanwhile, you can rent an Airbnb in a few different places and see how you like it. This way, you can meet the locals and get a feel for the communities. Consider it hands-on research for discovering the best places to live in Costa Rica!   

Have you spent time visiting or living in Costa Rica? What town did you feel most at home in?

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