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A Closer Look: Moving to Alajuela

Alajuela is the second-largest city in Costa Rica, with a population of approximately 50,000 people. It is also a popular destination for expats.

Here are some things you should know if you're interested in living in Alajuela.

Brief history of Alajuela

Costa Ricans are very proud of their heritage, and expats should make it a priority to learn more about the history of Alajuela before moving there. Here’s a roundup to get you started.

Province Capital

Alajuela is the capital of the province of Alajuela. This region is home to two volcano national parks and attracts scores of tourists due to its rafting and wonderful attractions. As the province capital, Alajuela draws the majority of tourists venturing through the region.

Birthplace of Juan Santamaría

Juan Santamaría was a Costa Rican hero who sacrificed his life standing up to the filibuster William Walker. Walker was an American physician, lawyer, journalist, and mercenary who successfully overthrew the Nicaraguan government and tried to conquer other parts of Central America to expand his slave-trading business. His efforts failed due to the resistance of heroes like Santamaría.

Santamaría was born in Alajuela, and the city continues to honor him to this day. A large statue was built in his memory, and Alajuela hosts the largest celebration in Costa Rica every year in his name.

Previous Center of the Mule Trade

During the early 17th century, Costa Rica exported many mules to Panama. The national economy was heavily dependent on the mule trade, and Alajuela was the hub of the industry.

There was once a large bridge stretching from Alajuela to Panama to connect the trade industry. The bridge has since been taken down, but you can still find some of its remains near the Rio Grande River.

Important Facts About Alajuela

Alajuela is an amazing city, but it can take time for expats to grow accustomed to it. It’s a different experience than moving to San Jose, because Alajuela is much closer to the Juan Santamaría International Airport and tends to attract more tourists. Here’s what to consider before moving to Alajuela.

Lots of Tourist Activity

Alajuela is only 15 km away from the Juan Santamaria International Airport, the biggest and most popular airport in Costa Rica, so Alajuela welcomes the majority of Costa Rica’s tourists.

Decide for yourself whether you want to live in a large tourist area. It can be fun interacting with other U.S. citizens and tourists from around the world. However, the bustling crowds can make it difficult to enjoy your day-to-day while engaging with people who don't understand the language, rules, or customs.

Great Medical Care

Since Alajuela is one of the five main cities in Costa Rica, it has many excellent healthcare professionals and reputable pharmacies. Tourists and expats alike can expect to receive exceptional healthcare while in Alajuela, making it an ideal place for aging seniors to relocate.

Beautiful Weather Throughout the Year

Alajuela is located in the middle of the Central Valley. This region enjoys one of the best climates in Costa Rica. The weather is nearly perfect throughout the entire year. Alajuela’s temperature is almost always in the mid-70s, and you don't have to worry about the torrential downpours hitting the rainforests of Costa Rica, like in Limón.

Excellent Shopping Centers

Many expats mistakenly believe that Costa Rica is an underdeveloped country. However, commercialism is actually thriving in Alajuela and other communities in the Central Valley.

You can find both a Walmart and a Price Mart in the Alajuela shopping center. You won’t need to worry about doing without the creature comforts of home, as both stores import products from the United States.

The region also has several popular markets that sell fresh meat and vegetables.

Close Proximity to the Beaches

Alajuela is only about half an hour away from Playa Doña Ana, which is one of the nicest beaches in Costa Rica. The beach is kept very clean, has plenty of shade, and boasts beautiful waters.

While there are number of beaches near Alajuela that are made specifically for tourists, there are also some used primarily by native Costa Ricans. If you want to have a relaxed and natural experience, Alajuela is one of the best places to live.

Great Ways to Connect with the Community

Getting involved with local community service projects is a thoughtful way to connect with locals and build meaningful relationships. There are many fantastic opportunities for community service in Alajuela. For starters, there is a Red Cross in the area, and many schools welcome English as a Second Language instructors.

Growing Number of English Speakers

Like the rest of Costa Rica, Spanish is the primary language in Alajuela. However, a growing number of locals are perfecting their fluency in English.

Some locals are upset about the push towards English, and have started forming their own groups to preserve the Spanish language. Since so many Ticos living in Alajuela speak English, you can move there without learning Spanish. However, expats should still make a real effort to learn Spanish to show respect for their adopted homeland and natives.

Great Place for Soccer Fans

Alajuela is the place to live if you’re an avid soccer fan. The city is home to the Alajuela Soccer Club (also called La Liga), which is one of the most popular soccer teams in the country. You can also watch games at the Alajuela stadium every week.

Great Schools

Alajuela boasts one of the best educational systems in Costa Rica. It is also home to the Community Education and Abaca Con Amor projects, which serve to promote educational opportunities to underprivileged children throughout the country.

Children of expats are allowed to attend the schools. But expats can also look at schools tailored to expat children who may have trouble adjusting to the culture or aren't fluent in Spanish yet. The Pan American School and American International School are two reputable options if you don’t think the public Costa Rica school system is a good fit for your children.

Employment Opportunities

Unfortunately, many Americans have difficulty finding work in Costa Rica. Article 68 of Costa Rica’s Labor Code stipulates that employers must give preference to Costa Ricans:

“No discrimination with respect to salary, benefits, or any other labor conditions shall be made among workers. However, under the same conditions, Costa Rican workers shall have preference over foreign citizens.”

There are still opportunities for expats to find work, as the law doesn’t outright ban employers from hiring them. It simply states that the employer must choose a native Costa Rican if they are equally qualified.

Here are some of the potential jobs you may find:

  • Work in the ecotourism sector

  • Jobs teaching English

  • Employment in specialized fields of science or medicine

Job opportunities for foreigners are more plentiful in Alajuela, because it’s one of the largest cities in Costa Rica. You need to do your due diligence to find an employer willing to hire you.

Cleaning, cooking, and even working as a doctor are difficult jobs to find and can easily be filled by natives. However, there are plenty of opportunities in Alajuela if you have unique skills.

Modest Risk of Crime

Crime is a concern in many parts of Costa Rica, and Alajuela is no exception. However, crime is surprisingly low in Alajuela, compared to other large tourist cities.

Alajuela is still safer than San Jose and many other cities in Costa Rica. In fact, Alajuela isn’t even ranked as one of the ten most dangerous cities in the country, while San Jose and two other Central Valley cities made the list. Locals, tourists and expats alike should still be on guard wherever they live, but won’t experience any more crime than in other parts of Costa Rica.

There Are Great Neighborhoods for Expats

Dave and Monica Dolezsar, a family from Alberta Canada, recently shared their story about moving to Costa Rica. They had their child in San Jose, but eventually chose to move to Alajuela. They were initially concerned about the crime in the Central Valley, but eventually decided that Alajuela would be a safe place to live.

It’s easier to acclimate to life in Alajuela as an expat. There are a few different neighborhoods in the city that other foreigners tend to dwell in, such as La Giralda. Kim Walters from The Expat Blog states that Alajuela offers the perfect balance between rural and big city life. She points out that many expats are looking to escape the big city life, so they may prefer Alajuela to San Jose.

You shouldn’t have trouble meeting other Americans while adjusting to the local culture.

Easy Access to the Rest of the Central Valley

Many expats don’t purchase cars, because the customs tax on them is so high. Fortunately, you don’t need one if you’re planning on living in Alajuela.

Alajuela is about 13 miles from San Jose and it’s an easy trip to the capital. There is also a reliable public transportation system, making it relatively easy to get around the Central Valley.

Are you planning to move to Alajuela? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below: