How to Ensure Your Retirement in Paradise Is All You Dreamed It Would be

Is Costa Rica your retirement goal? Are you tired of the cold weather and the hectic pace of city life, and can’t wait to make that move to the warm, tropical paradise that you’ve been dreaming about for many years? Or on the other hand, maybe you just moved here and want to make sure you continue to enjoy your new life in the sun. Whatever your situation is, you will want to avoid some of the challenges that may come up when living in another culture. Here are a few tips.


Before you buy a ticket, check to see if you need a tourist visa; U.S. and Canadian citizens don’t, but some other nationalities do.


Costa Rica laws say that visitors must have a paid, reserved way to leave the country before entering, and most airlines won’t allow you to board the flight if you don’t have a return ticket or proof of onward travel. You don’t want to arrive at the airport and be refused to board.  Costa Rican Customs has made the airlines ensure that you are legal, before you board their planes. So, always have proof of onward travel with you, whether it is a return flight to where you came from or to another country outside of Costa Rica. 


Make sure your passport is up to date and doesn’t expire within six months of your arrival date; holders of passports that expire within that time frame may be denied entry. Costa Rica Immigration will check your passport’s expiration date upon arrival and can refuse to allow you to enter the country. When that happens, the only option is to turn around and board the next flight back to your country of origin.


Tourists entering Costa Rica, even those who intend to stay, are given up to a 90-day tourist Visa, sometimes less. Do NOT overstay the amount of time designated in the visa stamp in your passport. An option if you plan to stay longer would be to leave the country for at least a few days, then return and you will be allowed another 90-day visa.


Bring enough money to last for a while. If you bring cash, declare it; up to $10,000 USD is allowed without question or penalty.  You can bring more than $10,000, but you will have to show the authorities at immigration where it came from, bank account statements etc. and explain why you are bringing it. It can be for daily expenses, buying furniture, a car, etc. 

Traveler’s checks are NOT a good idea. Due to fraudulent activities in the past, no one will accept them. And, banks will put a week’s long hold on them before allowing the bearer to receive the cash. I have had banks simply refuse to take them!

Most major credit cards are widely accepted throughout the country, but make sure your card issuers know in advance that you will be using them in Costa Rica. Nothing can make paradise more uncomfortable than having your credit card account frozen because of suspicion of fraud.

Pre-arrange your credit card payments ahead of time. That way you can use your credit (or debit) card for most of your payments.

As a non-resident, you’re allowed to have a simplified Costa Rican bank account with a maximum deposit of $1,000/month. You can use this account to pay utilities and other local payments. With a corporation, you are allowed to make larger deposits, etc. 

It is wise to plan ahead, as you do not want to get stuck in Costa Rica without having access to money. ATM machines are everywhere, but make sure your bank knows you will be using the card outside your home country. Without a ready method of obtaining cash, your retirement paradise starts becoming uncomfortable very quickly. ATM withdrawals, depending on your bank charges, are often the best way to access cash.  ATMs do have daily limits on how much you can withdraw, so learn which ones work best in your area, and plan around that. Most will give you $300; but some will give $500, in one attempt. Sometimes you can wait an hour or so and do it again… depending on the machine. 


We recommend “Costa Ballena” It’s located just an hour south of the popular beach town of Manuel Antonio and Quepos. It’s also known as the “Whale Coast”. Costa Ballena is slowly becoming famous for its pristine beaches and rolling green mountains that teem with wildlife, and a slower pace of life. Read our previous blog more information about the ballena coast.


If you are shipping your household good here in a container, you don’t want that container or its contents to be held up in Costa Rican customs. To avoid this ensure that you send your container with a complete and very detailed inventory.

It happens quite often that the items on the bill of lading don’t match the inventory made by the customs officer; a bed, for example, stops being a single article when disassembled by your movers, so list all pieces separately. If you don’t, they may hold your complete shipment. And list the items with used values. Sometimes you can end up paying extra import duties if you list them as NEW. The mindset is that everything you put in the container is USED!

Really ask around and think about what you may ‘really” need to live in Costa Rica…. figure that out, and yo may end up shipping far less than you first thought! 


Knowing some Spanish will make a huge difference when dealing with the local culture and the quality of your life here. You probably know more Spanish words than you realize, so you may already have a head start. But, if you want to adapt and have a good relationship with your new country, make the effort to learn at least one new Spanish word a day. There are some great Apps that you can download on your smartphone or tablet that can assist when communication is necessary.  Remember, you can learn another language no matter what your age is, and you do not have to be worried if it is not perfect. The locals (Ticos) will always appreciate your efforts to communicate in their native language and will help you.

Costa Rica is a beautiful and inviting place and has some of the most desirable weather in the world. This feature and the benefits that come with it, do require some adaptation on your part. Some advice; don’t make the error of thinking that everything you are used to where you came from will be the same. Costa Rica, although NOT a third world country, is still in many ways a developing nation. Be prepared for the differences and hurdles of living here, for at times it can be a little challenging! And do not worry, it is never that bad, and remember one thing, it was your decision to leave that hectic, ordered existence behind.

A very wise idea is to keep in mind that the country, its people and the culture will not, and do not, have to adapt to you; you must be open to adapting to them.

Bottom line do your homework and careful planning before you come and when you get here your piece of paradise will be everything you dreamed of. Always remember to breathe in the Pura Vida that Costa Rica is famous and known for.

For questions about this article or costa rica real estate contact one of our relocation specialists at C21 Ballena Properties!

Published by ajimenez

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