Moving to Costa Rica? I just did and, gosh, I already have a couple of opinions. Surprise, surprise. There is tons to consider, of course, but in the great scheme of Things To Know When Moving to Costa Rica, the two most important are Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Thing 1 addresses real estate in Costa Rica and the burning question: to buy or not to buy?
If you haven’t already bought, there are critical items to consider before taking the plunge. We know too many people who bought before they had all the information they needed and have come to regret it. Costa Rica is completely wonderful and enchanting. Compared to some areas of the world, Costa Rica real estate seems practically free. Buying in is almost irresistible. Contain yourself. Think.
Every reliable expert will tell you to live here for at least six months (we'd say a year) before purchasing. A long time resident told us we would
want to live in every town we visited. So far, he’s been right on the
money. Thank goodness we didn't buy property right away!
Spend those first six months (to a year) traveling around the country, staying in compelling areas for long enough to get a good taste. Every area has its advantages and disadvantages. You can't take anything for granted. The two big considerations for choosing location are availability of services, and the weather.
Make a list of what you need, then find out if you can get it. Like: can you get hi-speed internet? Any internet? There are some areas that can’t, even some that aren’t remote.
What about utilities, particularly if you are considering buying a lot and building a home. Is there electricity available in your area? Where does your water come from? Is it plentiful? Are phone lines available? Can you get cable TV, or just satellite? Can you get satellite? How about cell phone service?
And the basics: how are the roads in your area? The bridges? Where is the nearest hospital? Are there doctors, dentists, casinos, chiropractors, massage therapists – whatever you need – local to you?
Costa Rica has two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season, December thru April, is the high tourist season. It won’t rain for 5 months. The wet season is, um, wet. It would not be wise to make a long-term decision having seen only one season in a place. You could regret it. We know people who have and do.
Altitude is a big factor in the weather: you can live at sea level (sweaty), you can live 8000’ above it (cold and damp). We live at about 3500’. The weather is perfect for us, never too hot, often cool enough for long sleeves. We don’t need ac here, it’s heavenly. But a little higher and we would be in the clouds a good deal of the time. We would not like that, but didn't realize it was a possibility. Just didn’t occur to us.
Costa Rica has 90 different mini-climates, each with its own flora, fauna, range of temperature and wildlife. You can live anywhere. Are you really going to decide where you will spend your golden years after only a few short visits to the country? Can you know after a 10-day tour, a brochure and a sales pitch exactly which spot will be the Sweet Spot?
Get the lay of the land from a resident’s point of view first. Rent a house. Then visit each of the distinctly different regions of Costa Rica: the southern Caribbean side nearer the Panama border, the wilder northern Caribbean side, the densely populated Central Valley, the southern Pacific coast, the Osa Peninsula, the northern Pacific coast, the Nosara peninsula, the Lake Arenal area, the southern central mountains.
Even if you already know you need the services of the central valley around San Jose, like we did, there are at least 30 distinct choices right around here!
Remember, too, Costa Rica is not a big country. You don’t have to live ON the ocean to ENJOY the ocean. In San Jose, we are two hours from the beach on the Pacific side and 4 hours from the Caribbean. You don't even have to live near the ocean to SEE the ocean! You can see the ocean from most mountaintops around here.
Don’t shortchange yourself. Renting a house, even a furnished one, is easy and relatively inexpensive. Test the waters. Take your time.
P.S. If you are working with a real estate salesperson who is advising you to buy “before prices go thru the roof,” find another salesperson. Prices are soft here, the gold rush is over. That’s another post, but I’m working on it. Until then, buyer beware! If I were working this market – and I’m not – I’d say “Don’t buy now unless the deal makes absolute sense to you.”
P.S.S. If you do find that perfect deal, make sure you have a lawyer and/or advisor you can trust (you have to have a lawyer to buy real estate here). DON’T rely solely on the seller’s lawyer or the salesperson’s lawyer. No matter how nice and friendly that person is. Just DON’T.
Thing 2 comin’ up. Stay tuned!
Really, *really* good advice, there! There are so many things about CR that are different from the USA or Canada or wherever, and to compound the culture shock with new-home shock is almost too much for anyone.
And I’d just like to second your “furnished houses are cheap” consejo: they really, really are! I’m probably getting a 3BR 2BA furnished home in a safe neighborhood for $400/mo. I love CR! 😉
Get two attorneys (one to do the deal and another to check the Registry to make sure the first one did his/her job correctly). Get your prospective property surveyed yourself and don’t take ANYTHING for granted. There is no “disclosure” here. Buyer Beware? it’s more like Buyer be damned afraid and check EVERYTHING. I learned the hard (expensive) way.
Thank you, Tica Macha! U.S. residents are used to having everything handled pretty much above board, and legislated to within an inch of it’s legality… you can’t trust everyone but there is recourse, no squatters, none of that “right of possession” stuff, no title hanky panky or very little.