SO, YOU ARE MOVING TO COSTA RICA. NOW WHAT? A PRACTICAL CHECKLIST

When you arrive in Costa Rica, there are many items which need to be addressed, if you have not done so during your earlier visits. 

1.  BANKING. Banking in Costa Rica can present real challenges. First, you need the assistance of a lawyer to get this done.  Next, try to do business with a privately owned bank and not one of the government banks as you will get much better service and wait less in line. Once you learn the ropes, then you might want to venture into one of the government banks and see the difference. Online banking is very good in Costa Rica and allows you to pay all your bills, including cable, electric, water, internet, etc.

2.  CAR(S) It costs an exorbitant amount of money to ship a car and pay the requisite Costa Rica taxes on it.  Further, car models sold in the U.S. and Canada are different than those sold in Latin America.  So, getting parts can present a challenge at times.Buying a new car is expensive as there is a 30% import tax. If you decide to buy a new vehicle, make sure to get a warranty. Warranty and service agreements are usually only for up to two years.  You will want to purchase your vehicle from a larger, local dealership with its own service and parts department. Purchasing a used car has its own risks. There is no Carmax or Auto Nation in Costa Rica. Used cars are usually sold owner to owner.  Before buying a car you will need to have it checked by a mechanic for its function and by an attorney to make sure the title is good.  The sale of stolen cars is common and you will lose all your money if you purchase one. So, you can’t take any chances.  Due to the aforementioned import tax, the market for used cars is expensive as well.

3.  INSURANCE. You may need several kinds of insurance including car, property, and health which are discussed separately.

Automobile Insurance Car insurance in Costa Rica is cheaper than in North American, but not cheap.  You can create additional protection by placing your vehicles in a separate corporation to protect your assets.  You will need an attorney to do this who will advise you as to your costs.

Property Insurance There are two schools of thought when it comes to property insurance in Costa Rica.  As the weather here is rather consistent, damage from hurricanes, tornadoes, and ice storms are not likely.  If you live by the shore, a tsunami is possible, but far from probable. Whereas, the volcanic nature of the Costa Rica leaves some areas prone to volcanic or earthquake damage. So, your particular housing location will dictate your potential risks, which are nominal in most cases.  Property insurance is available from the government which is cheaper than private policies, but covers less.  Many homeowners do not carry property insurance as used household items are worth little and the risk of large scale property damage is minimal. For these reasons, you will need to determine how much risk you wish to assume.

Health Insurance If you become a resident, you can enroll in the Caja (national health insurance) which will provide for most of your health needs, but you will be subject to specialist and procedure availability. If you want a higher level of care, you will need to get a private health policy or pay on your own.  Private health policies are acquired through an insurance broker and can cover you both her and abroad (called “ex pat insurance”). These policies are cheaper than similar policies in the US, but still not cheap.  Otherwise, health treatment costs are less than in the United States if you choose to pay directly.

4.  RESIDENCY Many people move to Costa Rica and never get residency.  They are perfectly content with going on “border runs” every 90 days where you leave the country and return immediately thereafter. This gives you another 90 days of tourist visa stay. So, it is common to be a perpetual tourist. Many aspects of seeking residency are addressed in the posted “Residency in Costa Rica” article on this site.

5.  PROPERTY MAINTENANCE You may need an assortment of help for your property including a gardener, housekeeper, guard, pool cleaner, and exterminator. You can do any of these yourself except for the professional extermination which is necessary unless you want to share your home with lots of the local creepy-crawlies and scorpions. Finding good help is done by asking your friends and neighbors for references. There are plenty of local people who are skilled in these trades and are looking for work.  Their cost is not expensive, but you may need to provide tools, supplies, and transportation for them. Full-time help comes with liability in the form of having to pay social security and health costs for your employee.  You will need an accountant to help you with this.

6.  PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE Again, findings doctors, dentists, and accountants should be done by references provided by your family and friends.  There are good and bad practitioners which you will need to determine for yourself along the way.

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