15 Key Pitfalls to Steer Clear Of When Retiring in Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a stunning country with beautiful rainforests, volcanic peaks, and charming beach towns. It has become a famous destination for retirees seeking a relaxed and peaceful lifestyle known as “Pura Vida,” or pure life. However, retiring to this paradise can come with its challenges. Here are 15 mistakes to avoid to ensure a smooth transition to your dream retirement.

Rushing the Move

Aaftab Sheikh/Getty

Don’t let your excitement cloud your judgment! Costa Rica requires residency visas for extended stays. Research the different visa options thoroughly,  understand the legalities involved (like proof of income and healthcare coverage), and plan well in advance. The application process can take months, so give yourself ample time to avert any last-minute hiccups.

Ignoring the Language


Invest in language learning resources before your move, even if it’s just the essentials for daily life. Beyond easing up your grocery shopping adventure and ordering at restaurants, language skills will help you communicate with locals, build friendships, and help you feel more integrated into your new community.

Underestimating the Cost of Living

Andrzej Rostek/Getty

Costa Rica’s reputation as a budget-friendly haven has metamorphosed. To escape a financial squeeze, factor in all your expenses, including healthcare, housing variations (beachfront vs. mountain towns), and the cost of imported goods. Create a realistic budget that considers dining out, entertainment, and potential travel within the country.

Isolating Yourself


Savor the vibrant expat communities in your chosen area. Join local clubs or volunteer organizations to connect with others with shared interests. Building friendships not only combats loneliness but also provides insight into a new home from a local perspective.

Going Gringo Glam

Dennis Alberto Gonzalez Salas/Getty

Costa Rica loves simplicity and eco-consciousness. Ditch the flashy displays of wealth and blend in with a more modest lifestyle. Respect the local culture by dressing appropriately and forgoing conspicuous consumption. Remember, Pura Vida is about living well, not living large.

Underestimating Healthcare


Costa Rica has a good, universal healthcare system. However, it differs from many North American systems. Inquire about public and private health insurance plans that best suit your needs. Consider supplemental insurance for potential medical situations requiring specialists or treatment outside the public system.

Ignoring the Rainy Season


The wet season (May to November) brings lush greenery and cooler temperatures but can also disrupt travel plans and outdoor activities. Consider the rainy season when choosing your location – some areas experience more intense downpours than others. Jump at the opportunity to cozy up with a good book or sift the vibrant cultural scene during these times.

Forgetting the Paperwork

mirsad sarajlic/Getty

Bureaucracy is a fact of life in Costa Rica. Be prepared for paperwork, permits, and appointments. Patience and a good translator are key! Gather all necessary documents well in advance and expect some back-and-forth with local authorities. 

Driving Headfirst into Traffic

Stephanie Campos/Getty

Costa Rican traffic can be chaotic, with a mix of cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, and even the occasional wandering cow. Rent a car initially to assess your comfort level behind the wheel and familiarize yourself with local driving habits and road conditions. Consider alternative transportation options like buses or taxis for some of your daily needs.

Neglecting Home Security

dejan Jekic/Getty

While Costa Rica is generally safe, petty theft exists. Learn about the security measures in your chosen neighborhood. Invest in basic home security features like sturdy locks and good lighting. Be mindful of your belongings in public places, and do not carry excessive amounts of cash.

Expecting North American Service


The Tico (Costa Rican) pace of life is slower. Accept the “mañana” (tomorrow) attitude and adjust your expectations for service timelines. Restaurants might take longer to serve you, and appointments might not run on strict schedules. Learn to appreciate the relaxed atmosphere and enjoy the opportunity to slow down.

Ignoring Cultural Nuances


Respect local customs, dress codes, and social etiquette to prevent misunderstandings. Learn to be mindful of things like appropriate clothing for religious sites.  

Being a Know-It-All Gringo


Humility goes a long way. Be a respectful guest in your new home, open to learning the local way of life. Resist the urge to make patronizing comments and compare everything to how things are done back home.  

Living Beyond Your Means

Andrzej Rostek/Getty

Costa Rica might be cheaper than your home country, but unexpected expenses can arise. Make room for hidden costs like property taxes, medical co-pays, and utilities. Don’t rely heavily on credit cards. Stick to a realistic spending plan to ensure your retirement dream doesn’t become a financial nightmare.

Forgetting to Relax and Enjoy

Dennis Alberto Gonzalez Salas/Getty

Connect with nature, go for hikes in the rainforest, or simply relax on the beach with a good book. Enjoy the lifestyle you came for. Pura Vida is not just about location; it’s about a state of mind. Take the time to unwind. 


Leave a Reply