FAQ’s

Crime

Is there 911 ?


Yes.  The general emergency number 911is available throughout the country.  Dialing 911 enables you to connect with medical, ambulance, police and fire services.  Please note that the official language of Costa Rica is Spanish and although the 911 operator might speak English it is not guaranteed!

How is the crime situation in Costa Rica?  Is it a safe destination ?

Petty theft is common but violent crime is rare.  Visitors should pay particular attention while using public transportation, and not leave personal belongings in rental cars.  You are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world (like New York City or Paris).  Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities so you shouldn’t expect a CSI type of investigation if your house is burglarized.  Use common sense like avoid walking alone down dark alleys at nights, same precautions you would take in any major city.  Don’t flash money around and leave the gold chains at home when you’re out walking downtown.

You can check the US Embassy crime alert section here:   http://costarica.usembassy.gov/uscitizen/the-threat-from-crime2.html

Culture

Do “Common Law” marriages exist in Costa Rica?

Common Law marriages, referred to as ‘imputed’ or ‘free union’ marriages exist in Costa Rica, where a man and a woman have lived in a union for three or more years, which is open, public, known and stable. Such a marriage or union shall have the same legal effect as a legally recognized marriage.

Can an expat be married in Costa Rica ?

 Yes, foreigners may be married in Costa Rica. Both civil marriages, performed by a Notary Public and marriages performed by a priest in the Catholic Church are recognized. Individuals of other religious denominations must resort to a civil ceremony. The rights and obligations which arise from the matrimony, take effect when the declaration of marriage is registered in the National Civil Registry.

How much should I tip in Costa Rica ?

By law a 10% gratuity tip for service is automatically added to your bill by restaurants so tipping is already figured into your final bill.  It is customary to tip an additional 5 to 10% if the service is very good.

A decent tip for baggage handlers at the airports, hotels is $2.00 per suitcase.

It’s also customary to tip tour guides and drivers if the service they provided was good.  It’s also customary to tip the grocery kid who carries out your groceries to your car 500 to 1,000 colones depending on how much groceries you have is fine.  It’s also customary to tip the “guarda” or guard who watches your car when you park 500 t0 1,000 colones will do. 

Are there any cultural things I should be aware of ?

Compared to other countries like the U.S.A., things move at a slower pace compared to most big cities in the U.S. or London.  Tardiness is expected and even coined as “Tico time” by expats.  You do have to be patient to live in Costa Rica.  Most expats go through culture shock while they become adjusted living the Costa Rican way of life.

Costa Ricans have long called themselves Ticos, in reference to the use of diminutives particular to Costa Rican speech.    

Personal space is a little shorter then what North Americans are used to, so don’t fret when you’re at line in the bank and you feel the person behind you is invading your personal space as you’re used to it

Driving

Is driving a good idea ?

It depends.  Driving in Costa Rica compared to other countries can be a very scary proposition for most.  Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world. The fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high. Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common. Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads. Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads are lined. Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches. 

Driving to the beaches in the Pan American highway can be frightening with cars passing when they shouldn’t and enormous drop offs into the mountain side with no shoulder and only a thin guard rail between you and the large drop to the bottom of the mountain.

If you have driven in other developing countries like in Asia or other Latin American countries you will be fine in Costa Rica.  If you have never driven in a developing country before and you’re coming down as a tourist our recommendation is that you do not drive in San Jose.  Once you’re out in the coast by the beaches driving isn’t as bad however the road conditions are even worse so beware the pot holes.  

Government

What are the official websites of the Costa Rican government ?

Gobierno Facil – this is a portal of all government information and site links. Direct translation is “Easy Government”. Website: http://www.gobiernofacil.go.cr

Asamblea Legislativa – Website address: www.asamblea.go.cr

Casa Presidencial – Website address: www.presidencia.go.cr

Comisión Nacional de Emergencia – Website address: www.cne.go.cr

Consejo Nacional de Producción- Website address: www.cnp.go.cr

Correos de Costa Rica – Website address: www.correos.go.cr

Consejo de Seguridad Vial (CSV) – Website address: www.csv.go.cr

Diario Oficial La Gaceta – Website address: www.gaceta.go.cr

Dirección General de Aviación Civil – Website address: www.dgac.go.cr

Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería – Website address: www.migracion.go.crhttp://www.migracion.go.cr

Gobierno de Costa Rica – Website address: www.go.cr

Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social – IMAS – Website address: www.imas.go.cr

Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE) – Website address: www.ice.go.cr

Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas – Website address: www.icd.go.cr

Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (INA) – Website address: www.ina.ac.cr

Instituto Nacional de Seguros – Website address: www.ins.go.cr

INFOCOOP, Instituto Nacional de Fomento Cooperativo – Website address: www.infocoop.go.cr

 Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería Website address: www.mag.go.cr

Ministerio de Comercio Exterior (Comex) – Website address: www.comex.go.cr

Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes- Website address: www.mcjdcr.go.cr

Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio – Website address: www.meic.go.cr

Ministerio de Educación Pública – Website address: www.mep.go.cr

Ministerio de Hacienda – Website address: www.hacienda.go.cr

Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transporte – Website – www.mopt.go.cr

Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto – Website address: www.rree.go.cr

Ministerio de Planificación Nacional y Política Económica – Website address: www.mideplan.go.cr

Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía – Website address: www.minae.go.cr

Poder Judicial – Website address: www.poder-judicial.go.cr

Procuraduría General de la República de Costa Rica – Website address: www.pgr.go.cr

Programa de Simplificación de Trámites – Website address: www.tramites.go.cr

Promotora de Comercio Exterior de Costa Rica – Website address: www.procomer.com

Registro Nacional – Website address: www.rnpdigital.com

Servicio Civil – Website address: www.sercivil.go.cr

Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras (Sugef) – Website address: www.sugef.fi.cr

Superintendencia General de Valores (Sugeval) – Website address: www.sugeval.fi.cr

Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE) – Website address: www.tse.go.cr

Immigration

Immigration FAQ's

What are the residency requirements in Costa Rica ?

Residency status is available in different formats, depending on the applicant’s qualifications and requirements.  

The “permanent” residency status means that you can both reside and work in Costa Rica, since it is usually granted without limitations.

Temporary residency may be granted to individual under different categories.  The 3 most common temporary residency categories are :  Pensionado (retiree),  Rentista (income recipient) and Investor (inversionista) . 

“Pensionado” and “Rentista” residency may be granted to individuals who can demonstrate an offshore fixed income from recognized sources. In the case of “pensionado” status, the individual must show a fixed monthly pension income of US$ 1,000.00 or more. With respect to “rentista” status, the individual must show a fixed monthly income of US$ 2,500 or more. Working is usually not permitted with either the “pensionado” or “rentista” status.

“Investor” residency status was created to attract investment capital to Costa Rica. This status may be granted to individuals who invest US$ 200,000.00 or more. 

In each residency category, a specific set of notarized documents is required from the applicant’s country of origin, which is more easily obtained prior to traveling to Costa Rica. Upon arrival in Costa Rica, an applicant should retain the services of a lawyer specializing in residency applications to complete the process.

Marriage

Do “Common Law” marriages exist in Costa Rica?

Common Law marriages, referred to as ‘imputed’ or ‘free union’ marriages exist in Costa Rica, where a man and a woman have lived in a union for three or more years, which is open, public, known and stable. Such a marriage or union shall have the same legal effect as a legally recognized marriage.

Medical

Is there 911 ?


Yes.  The general emergency number 911is available throughout the country.  Dialing 911 enables you to connect with medical, ambulance, police and fire services.  Please note that the official language of Costa Rica is Spanish and although the 911 operator might speak English it is not guaranteed!

Will Medicare Cover Me in Costa Rica ?

No.  Social Security Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States.

What are my Costa Rica Health Insurance options ?

Costa Rica essentially has two medical insurance programs. The basic program, known as the Caja, provides 100% coverage for all medical procedures and prescription drugs, through the public hospital and clinic system, in various locations throughout Costa Rica. Under this coverage, you will be assigned a doctor on an available ‘first come, first served’ basis, and long waits may be experienced, for non-emergency medical attention. Premiums are generally lower for this coverage, and are the coverage that the majority of Costa Ricans are subscribed to.

The second medical insurance program is a private medical insurance coverage purchased from the either the  National Insurance Institute (I.N.S.) or any of the other authorized private insurance companies.  Insurance premiums are based on age, a medical examination, and a disclosure statement detailing your prior medical history must be completed. Insurance coverage may be denied for pre-existing medical conditions. Under this coverage, medical treatment is dispensed through a number of private clinics and hospitals in Costa Rica.

Pets

Can we bring our pets with us ? What is the process and cost to do this ?

Yes. Dogs and cats will not be an issue.   Other exotic animals depend on the species so check the Costa Rican consulate or embassy. 

It’s best if you bring your pet (dog and/or cat) with you when you travel to Costa Rica in the same airplane as cargo, if allowed.  If you have the proper paperwork you’ll easily be able to walk them through customs with you.  If you ship your pets separately as cargo you will need other paperwork such as an invoice and your pet might be in customs for a few days so it’s best to bring your pets with you in the same airplane. Check with your airline since they do have blackout dates during the summer due to the warm temperatures.

Important – You will need to present the Costa Rican customs officials a certificate of health for your pet.  You can get these forms from your veterinary.  Simply call them and let them know you’re taking your dog/cat to Costa Rica and they will know which forms to fill out so you can take it with you on your trip.  Do not forget to do this!  If you travel with your pet without the proper paperwork your pet will not be allowed into the country.  It will be quarantined in these large kennels in customs for day’s even weeks for observation before they release it and you will not be able to visit your pet.  Get the paperwork from your vet.  It’s easy and fast and you will be able to walk your pet through customs with you into Costa Rica without issues.

Real Estate

Questions about Real Estate

Is Title Insurance necessary ?

Title Insurance is an American creation which has made its way into the Costa Rican real estate market because of the custom and habit of the American consumer of using it in the United States.  Costa Rica has a national property recording system which assigns each property a title number and then records against that title number any affectations such as liens, mortgages, encumbrances, easements against that title.  Any individual can view the title report for a property via the online database of the National Registry.   Since Costa Rica follows the doctrine of first in time first in right which means that documents that were not recorded against title at the time you purchase a property cannot be charged upon an innocent buyer who purchased in good faith.   

When purchasing title insurance in Costa Rica just be sure to read the exceptions to coverage for the particular property that you are purchasing to ensure that there will be coverage for those events that you are purchasing coverage for. 

How do I find a good real estate agent ?

The best way to find a real estate agent is to ask expats living in Costa Rica to recommend one that they had a good experience with. There are also several Costa Rica online forums where people share their experiences. Real Estate agents do not require a license so the quality of the agent varies significantly. Some members belong to a voluntary association known as the Costa Rican Board of Realtors but word of mouth and checking references is the best way to find a good real estate agent.  It will also be to your advantage to use a real estate agent who has been living in Costa Rica for several years and in the area you are interested in buying property.

Schools in Costa Rica

Are their English language schools in Costa Rica?

Yes.  There are several “international” schools that follow U.S. style curriculum in English and even mirror the U.S. school schedule since the local Costa Rican schools are off during the Costa Rican winter (April-November) the opposite of the U.S. school system.  There is also a British School (Colegio Britanico)  for expatd from the UK and a German school (Humboldt). 

American International School Pre-K – 12  website: www.aiscr.com

Blue Valley School Pre-K – 12  website: www.bluevalley.ed.cr 

British School Pre-K –12  website: British School of Costa Rica

Country Day School Pre-K – 12 website: www.cds.ed.cr

European School Pre-K – 12  www.europeanschool.com

Lighthouse School K-12  website:  http://www.lighthouse.ed.cr

Humboldt School Pre-K – 12  website http://www.humboldt.ed.cr/

International Christian School Pre-K – 12  website: www.icscr.net

Lincoln School Pre-K – 12   www.lincoln.ed.cr

Marian Baker  website: www.marianbakerschool.com

Pan American School Pre-K- 11  website: http://panam.ed.cr

Taxes

I am a U.S. Citizen resident in Costa Rica. Do I need to file taxes in Costa Rica ?

Maybe.  Costa Rica taxes income earned in Costa Rica.  If you are a US citizen and you have earned income from Costa Rican sources you will have to register with the Costa Rica tax department and file a local income tax return.  If you DO NOT receive any income from Costa Rican sources then you do not have to file a Costa Rica tax return.

travel

How is the weather and seasons in Costa Rica ?

Costa Rica is a tropical country situated between 8 and 11 degrees above the equator.  It has only two seasons: summer and winter also known as the dry and green/rainy season.   The dry season with very little rain is generally between late December and April and the green or rainy season is between May through November.

Like the Southern Hemisphere, Costa Rica’s seasons are reversed relative to the U.S. and while the U.S. and Canada are going through a cold and snowy winter in December through April Costa Rica is enjoying summer. 

Temperatures vary little between seasons.   The main influence on temperature is altitude.   San José at 3,772 ft has a very nice climate all year around.   Average temperature ranges in San Jose are from 57 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit in December to 63 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit in May.  National Geographic rates it some of the best weather in the world.

The weather at the lower level along the sea level is much warmer, with the Caribbean averaging between 70°F at night and over 86°F.  The Pacific side is a few degrees warmer but less humid.

Records and Averages in the central valley in San Jose

Month   Avg. High   Avg. Low Avg. Precip.
January 75.0° F     58.0° F 0.60 in
February 76.0° F     58.0° F 0.20 in
March   79.0° F     59.0° F 0.80 in
April   79.0° F     62.0° F 1.80 in
May   80.0° F     62.0° F 9.00 in
June   79.0° F     62.0° F 9.50 in
July   77.0° F     62.0° F 8.30 in
August   78.0° F     61.0° F 9.50 in
September 79.0° F     61.0° F 12.00 in
October 77.0° F     60.0° F 11.80 in
November 77.0° F     60.0° F 5.70 in
December 75.0° F     58.0° F 1.60 in
How much should I tip in Costa Rica ?

By law a 10% gratuity tip for service is automatically added to your bill by restaurants so tipping is already figured into your final bill.  It is customary to tip an additional 5 to 10% if the service is very good.

A decent tip for baggage handlers at the airports, hotels is $2.00 per suitcase.

It’s also customary to tip tour guides and drivers if the service they provided was good.  It’s also customary to tip the grocery kid who carries out your groceries to your car 500 to 1,000 colones depending on how much groceries you have is fine.  It’s also customary to tip the “guarda” or guard who watches your car when you park 500 t0 1,000 colones will do. 

Can we bring our pets with us ? What is the process and cost to do this ?

Yes. Dogs and cats will not be an issue.   Other exotic animals depend on the species so check the Costa Rican consulate or embassy. 

It’s best if you bring your pet (dog and/or cat) with you when you travel to Costa Rica in the same airplane as cargo, if allowed.  If you have the proper paperwork you’ll easily be able to walk them through customs with you.  If you ship your pets separately as cargo you will need other paperwork such as an invoice and your pet might be in customs for a few days so it’s best to bring your pets with you in the same airplane. Check with your airline since they do have blackout dates during the summer due to the warm temperatures.

Important – You will need to present the Costa Rican customs officials a certificate of health for your pet.  You can get these forms from your veterinary.  Simply call them and let them know you’re taking your dog/cat to Costa Rica and they will know which forms to fill out so you can take it with you on your trip.  Do not forget to do this!  If you travel with your pet without the proper paperwork your pet will not be allowed into the country.  It will be quarantined in these large kennels in customs for day’s even weeks for observation before they release it and you will not be able to visit your pet.  Get the paperwork from your vet.  It’s easy and fast and you will be able to walk your pet through customs with you into Costa Rica without issues.

Is driving a good idea ?

It depends.  Driving in Costa Rica compared to other countries can be a very scary proposition for most.  Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world. The fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high. Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common. Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads. Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads are lined. Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches. 

Driving to the beaches in the Pan American highway can be frightening with cars passing when they shouldn’t and enormous drop offs into the mountain side with no shoulder and only a thin guard rail between you and the large drop to the bottom of the mountain.

If you have driven in other developing countries like in Asia or other Latin American countries you will be fine in Costa Rica.  If you have never driven in a developing country before and you’re coming down as a tourist our recommendation is that you do not drive in San Jose.  Once you’re out in the coast by the beaches driving isn’t as bad however the road conditions are even worse so beware the pot holes.  

How is the crime situation in Costa Rica?  Is it a safe destination ?

Petty theft is common but violent crime is rare.  Visitors should pay particular attention while using public transportation, and not leave personal belongings in rental cars.  You are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world (like New York City or Paris).  Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities so you shouldn’t expect a CSI type of investigation if your house is burglarized.  Use common sense like avoid walking alone down dark alleys at nights, same precautions you would take in any major city.  Don’t flash money around and leave the gold chains at home when you’re out walking downtown.

You can check the US Embassy crime alert section here:   http://costarica.usembassy.gov/uscitizen/the-threat-from-crime2.html

What is the legal age to drink alcoholic beverages in Costa Rica ?

The age of majority in Costa Rica is 18 years old – which is also the legal drinking age.

How much does it rain during the rainy season ?

Below is the average rainfall for several cities.  Even during the rainy season you can still enjoy sunny, warm weather since the average pattern is for sunny mornings and days with most of the showers in the afternoon or evening.

Average yearly rainfall for selected cities:

San José:    60-80”

Tamarindo: 60-80”

Puntarenas: 60-80”

Jaco:           120-160”

Quepos:      120-160”

Limon:       120-160”

Golfito:      160-200”

Is there 911 ?


Yes.  The general emergency number 911is available throughout the country.  Dialing 911 enables you to connect with medical, ambulance, police and fire services.  Please note that the official language of Costa Rica is Spanish and although the 911 operator might speak English it is not guaranteed!

Are there any cultural things I should be aware of ?

Compared to other countries like the U.S.A., things move at a slower pace compared to most big cities in the U.S. or London.  Tardiness is expected and even coined as “Tico time” by expats.  You do have to be patient to live in Costa Rica.  Most expats go through culture shock while they become adjusted living the Costa Rican way of life.

Costa Ricans have long called themselves Ticos, in reference to the use of diminutives particular to Costa Rican speech.    

Personal space is a little shorter then what North Americans are used to, so don’t fret when you’re at line in the bank and you feel the person behind you is invading your personal space as you’re used to it

What is the electrical voltage in Costa Rica ?

120V, 60Hz

What are the custom regulations when traveling to Costa Rica ?

Customs duties are not charged on personal luggage.  Costa Rican law requires that baggage be examined and that travelers submit customs declarations listing all articles acquired abroad.  Costa Rica prohibits the importation of  fruit, vegetables, meat, meat products, biological products and seeds. In the case of families, one declaration can be filled out by the family head.  At the airport there are generally only 2 or customs declaration lines so be patient during the peak season to clear customs.

When is the best time of year to visit Costa Rica ?

That depends on you.  The high tourist season known as the “high season” runs from December through April which is Costa Rica’s summer so there is little to no rain and a lot of sunshine.  This is also when the beaches are crowded, everything from lodging, food, and airfare is more expensive.  But it’s also when things are a bit livelier especially at the beaches.  During this time you should make reservations 3-6 months in advanced and at least 12 months during Christmas, New Years, and Semana Santa (Holy Week).  It’s popular because of the weather especially when it’s cold and snowing in places like the east and the midwest of the United States.

The low season is May through November there still plenty of sunshine and warm weather but it does rain starting in mid-afternoon and the evening.  The rains produce lush tropical gardens which is very beautiful. The low Season typically features sunny mornings followed by rain showers in the late afternoon.

We prefer the low season since the beaches are not crowded, you don’t need to make advanced reservations (although it’s recommended), and prices are 20-50% less than during the high season. In our opinion the best time to visit is during mid-July, a break in the rainy Season, called “El Veranillo,” occurs, and the region experiences a few weeks of dry conditions.  So you get to enjoy summer type weather at winter prices.