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A Closer Look: Moving to San Jose

 San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica. Founded in 1738, it has become one of the most important cities in Central America. It boasts a population of over 1.5 million people and is one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the world. Since it is home to such a vibrant and growing economy, San Jose is a popular place for many American expats to live.

Before you move from the United States to Costa Rica, you need to learn as much as possible about the local culture, customs, and laws. Here are some things that you need to know for a successful move.

Benefits of Moving to San Jose

San Jose is the epicenter of Costa Rica’s culture and economy. It’s a quaint place to live, and home to about a third of the population. There are many reasons it's such a desirable city to move to.

Diverse Community

San Jose is the melting pot of Costa Rica. You’ll have the opportunity to meet tourists and expats from all over the world.

You can spend a lot of time in the tourist areas if you want to connect with people from various cultures. Over 2.2 million tourists traveled to Costa Rica in 2011, and most of them spent a good deal of time sightseeing in San Jose. Tourists enjoy speaking with natives and people from other countries, so it’s worth reaching out to them.

Thriving Economy

The economy of San Jose is currently booming right now. It’s rapidly transforming into a major manufacturing hub that produces textiles, electronics, and many other goods that are exported around the world. Agriculture is also a very strong industry in San Jose. Since we are becoming an increasingly global economy, American entrepreneurs are actively building relationships with San Jose businesses.

Cultural Opportunities

You won't run out of things to do or places to explore in San Jose. There are hundreds of tourist destinations, beautiful beaches to explore, and exquisite restaurants to dine in.

The Parque La Sabana and Precolumbian Gold Museum are two of the main tourist attractions, but there are hundreds of others. Even if you are living in the city, you won’t run out of tourist destinations to visit.

Exciting and Interesting People


The residents of San Jose are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. If you take the initiative to reach out, you can enjoy some very interesting conversations with them.

Perfect Weather

San Jose has beautiful weather throughout the year. It is about 3000 meters above sea level in the valley and the mountains are a bit higher yet. You rarely have to worry about being too hot or too cold.

Things You Need to Know Before Moving to San Jose

San Jose is a wonderful place, but moving there is still going to be a very big transition. Here are some things that you need to know before moving.

Understand the Visa Process

We encourage you to review the post we wrote about the Costa Rica visa process. You are legally required to apply for temporary or permanent residency if you plan to live in Costa Rica for more than 90 days.

This is especially important if you will be living in San Jose. You'll be more likely to attract the attention of immigration officials in the city capital, so make sure that your visa is in order.

Become Fluent in Spanish

Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. However, English is spoken in most tourist centers and business communities, so it’s easier to get by as an English speaker in San Jose.

However, it's still important to be fluent in Spanish if you want to make your life easier. Even in a tourist hub like San Jose, you will still have a difficult time communicating with the locals otherwise.

Wear the Right Attire

It's important to understand the customs of Costa Rica while creating your wardrobe. Costa Ricans tend to prefer dressing up for many formal occasions. You will want to have sets of both formal and casual attire.

Have Plenty of Money on Hand

If you want to move to Costa Rica under a rentista visa status, you will need to deposit at least $60,000 in a local bank. The bank will then disburse funds to you every month to ensure you have a steady income to pay your bills.

Saving up enough money to make your rentista deposit is the hardest part of the process. You shouldn't worry about running out of money afterwards, because the cost of living is about 55% lower than in the United States. Your monthly rentista income should be more than sufficient to cover your basic needs, since the cost-of-living index is so low.

However, still be realistic about your own lifestyle needs before making the transition. If you are starting a new business or paying off any debt you incurred in the United States, then you’ll need a larger cash reserve and stable income.

Work out a budget before moving to avoid any unexpected financial problems.

Be on the Lookout for Crime

The U.S. Department of State warns that crime is a serious problem in Costa Rica. It is even more of a concern in San Jose, since criminals tend to operate more heavily in tourist regions.

Take reasonable steps to protect yourself. Start by studying the area that you will be living in. Some areas in San Jose have much higher crimes rates, so you may need to take extra precautions to protect yourself.

Muggers and pickpockets are the most likely criminals that you will encounter in San Jose, particularly in tourist areas. Here are some tips to help you protect yourself:

  • Keep your money in different places on your person

  • Never carry more cash than you’ll need for each excursion

  • Keep your cards and important identification in one wallet, and have a “decoy” wallet with a few dollars that you can hand over if you are robbed (you may want to keep an older photo ID with a previous address for this purpose)

  • Try not to dress too nicely if you are going to areas with high levels of crime – you’ll be less of a target if you blend in well

Arming yourself may be an option if you are living in an area with especially high crime rates. It is legal to own a gun, but you will need a carry permit to take it out of the home.

However, many Costa Ricans are somewhat skittish about them, so it may be best to take other precautions unless absolutely necessary. You may be safer carrying pepper spray, because citizens are less apprehensive about it and you aren’t required to purchase a permit.

Know How to Seek Employment

You will be in a bit of a bind if you are living in Costa Rica and don’t have enough money to pay your bills. Consider getting a job to supplement your income. However, the process can be difficult. With a few exceptions, Costa Rica prohibits employers from hiring most expats that do not have permanent residency.

Here are some things that you’ll need to do if you need to work while living in Costa Rica:

  • Make sure that you have a permanent residence visa. This is more difficult to receive than a temporary visa, so make sure that you meet the criteria before moving if you intend to work.

  • You can try to file for a 12-month work permit. These permits are restricted to people that have very specialized jobs that cannot be filled by a Costa Rican citizen. Very few work permit requests are approved, but you may have a decent chance if you have a PhD or training in a very specific field, such as physics, certain medical practices, and computer sciences.

  • You will need to be highly fluent in Spanish to work almost any job in the country. It’s necessary to improve your Spanish speaking abilities significantly even if you speak it well enough to pass as a tourist.

  • You can’t set your wage expectations too high. Keep in mind that while the cost of living is lower, your buying power will be about a quarter to a third of what it would be in the United States. Remember that about a quarter of the country is living in poverty, so it’s necessary to have modest financial goals.

Working in Costa Rica can be challenging even if you earn a work permit or permanent residency. However, it can be worth the hassle if you need to boost your income to make ends meet.

What steps are you taking to move to San Jose? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below: