Popular Destinations for Expats Moving to Costa Rica
Costa Rica has an incredible diversity in the types of places expats choose to live. From beautiful coast reminiscent of Southern California 20 years ago, to urban centers nestled in the stunning mountains, to lush tropical jungles cascading down into the Pacific, Costa Rica has something for everyone. People are moving to Costa Rica more than every before to find their permanent homes, second homes, and next investments. We recommend taking a trip to explore towns that may be of interest to you.
The StartAbroad Costa Rica Guide
Popular destinations for expats moving to Costa Rica
Popular Regions for Expats Living in Costa Rica
The South Pacific Coast
The South Pacific Coast
The South Pacific Coast features lush, tropical jungle covering mountains that roll directly into black sand beaches. Wildlife, including world-class birding, abounds. Although the coast is quickly developing, it is less developed than other parts of the country due to the highway being paved only in the last ten years. The national highway is the main thoroughfare, and life on the Southern Coast will probably mean that you shuttle between pocket coastal communities like Dominical, Dominicalito, Uvita, and Ojochal.
Because of its relative distance to San Jose (about 3 - 3.5 hours), a sense of self-sufficiency has developed. This translates to having access to locally produced, high-quality goods (think tofu and cheeses), and incredible produce of all varieties. The South Coast also provides relatively easy access to the Osa Peninsula, one of the last truly wild habitats in the world. Property is generally more affordable than the Gold Coast and the Nicoya Peninsula, although things are changing fast as more and more people discover the wonders of the South Pacific Coast.
The community of Ojochal is not directly on the beach, but built up into the lush mountainside. It is a more expensive, "boutique" living experience, but has incredible views and vibes. Four hours south of San Jose, and about 45 minutes north of the truly wild Osa Peninsula.
Dominical is recognized as a first-rate destination for surfers. The town itself is small but charming, and has access to quality adventure outings and amenities.
Uvita is a two-mile long town along the Coastal Highway. There are good grocery stores and amenities, but the real attraction is Mario Ballena National Park, where humpback whales can be spotted year-round.
San Isidro de General (Perez Zeledon)
For those looking for an area with cooler temperatures, more affordability, and a more local experience, San Isidro de General fits the bill. About an hour's drive up into the mountains, this town is bursting with local culture and a relaxed pace of life.
Central Valley, Costa Rica
The Central Valley
The Central Valley is home to the majority of Costa Ricans, and combines cooler temperatures than other parts of the country, easy access to mountain and ocean adventures, and all of the amenities of city living, including great restaurants and healthcare. The international airport in Alajuela, just outside of San Jose, also makes frequent travel convenient.
The Central Valley ranges from between 3000 and 5000 feet, and is extremely fertile, meaning that fresh produce abounds. You can choose the type of life-style you want, from big-city living in San Jose to the more bucolic, laid back country towns like Grecia or Atenas. Cities like Cartago are gateways to some of the best adventure tourism in the country.
The capital of Costa Rica, San Jose has lower temperatures than coastal regions, and combines great transportation, all of the amenities you could want, and easy access to mountains and beaches. Suburbs of San Jose like Escazu and Santa Ana are particularly popular with expats.
Located about an hour outside of San Jose, at the base of the Irazu Volcano. A great jump-off for many mountain-related outdoor activities, with cooler temperatures, and lots of historical sight-seeing.
"The cleanest town in Costa Rica" is about 40 minutes away from the international airport in Alajuela. Grecia is a hub for surrounding rural communities, and sits in the midst of impressive mountain ridges.
Atenas is 30 minutes from the airport, and about an hour from beautiful Pacific beaches. The climate is considered ideal. Here you can find country-side tranquility, natural beauty, and easy access to the amenities you need.
Manuel Antonio Park
The Central Pacific Coast
The Central Pacific is one of Costa Rica's most popular regions, and for good reason. Here you can find incredible wildlife viewing, beautiful beaches, and a variety of beach towns - from laidback surfing spots to bustling nightlife in Jaco - all within an easy drive to San Jose and its amenities. If you're looking for a combination of conveniences and laid-back beach culture, the Central Pacific is definitely worth exploring.
One of the closest beaches to the Central Valley with some of the best night life means this beach gets packed on national holidays. Considered the "Las Vegas" of Costa Rica, with a wide variety of amenities and access to incredible beaches.
Entrance to the world famous Manuel Antonio National Park. Quepos offers a great variety of restaurants, cafes, and nightlife options, as well as stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean.
A quiet surf town situated on a beautiful 7km stretch of beach in-between the famous Bejuco and Hermosa beaches. Explore the tide pools and walk along the rivers to spot the plentiful wildlife. The surrounding areas are lush with jungle growth, which lends itself to zip lining and canopy walks.
The Nicoya Peninsula
The Nicoya Peninsula
The Nicoya Peninsula is a beach-goer's dream. Sitting just below the famed "Gold Coast," the Nicoya peninsula has some of the most isolated and beautiful beaches the country has to offer. Drier than the South Coast, the Peninsula is home to the under-appreciated "dry forest" habitats. Beyond beaches, you can get your fill of wildlife and have plenty of adventures in the national parks.
Historically home to Costa Rican cowboys and large cattle ranches, there are plenty of horseback riding and adventure activities to engage in. You can choose between resort-towns, like Montezuma, more laid back beach vibes in Sámara, or up-scale expat havens, like Nosara. Towns like Sámara are about 2 hours from the international airport in Liberia.
A blend of spiritual center and outdoor adventure, Nosara offers everything an expat relocating to Costa Rica might want. You can combine morning meditation at a world-class yoga center with a day in the world-class surf-breaks. About 2.5 hours from the international airport, Nosara is accessible and has the amenities you're looking for.
Located on the southern tip of the peninsula, this is a remote but booming location. Remoteness is part of the appeal, but Santa Teresa packs in all of the outdoor activities you could want, including great birding, with trendy bars and restaurants, and a growing party scene. Nearby Mal Pais offers a quieter town that's especially good for surfing.
Montezuma is located in the south of the Peninsula, and can be a bit difficult to reach. This has led to an "off-the-beaten-path," bohemian culture. You can find a strong expat community, good restaurants, lush forest, and great beach-going here.
Samara is relatively less developed, and less "resort-y" than some other towns. It features a great blend of local and expat cultures, with great restaurants, and a beautiful stretch of public beach.
The Gold Coast
The Gold Coast
The 400-mile stretch of beaches in Northern Guanacaste is known as the Gold Coast. It is one of the most popular areas for relocating Americans due to its incredible beaches, waterfalls, high-end hotels, variety of dining and adventure options, dry forests, lush tropical jungles, and great waves.
Depending on the type of experience you're looking for, you can find what you want. Well-developed towns with all of the amenities you want, to more laid-back experiences in the less developed-northern section. Proximity to the international airport at Liberia is a major plus. Real-estate is more expensive in this area relative to other sections of the country, but you are more likely to find exactly what you're looking for.
One of the more developed beach towns in Guanacaste, Flamingo combines high-end amenities and hotels with great views, a stunning beach cove, and easy access to an international airport.
Tamarindo is a major hub in Guanacaste. It features the largest beach town, plenty of restaurants and nightlife, several international schools, and is a bustling tourist destination. It is one of the most popular spots for expats to land in the country, and is a beginner-surfers mecca due to long-stretches of beach with gentle waves.
Hermosa is only about 45 minutes from the international airport at Liberia. It's a smaller town with a lovely beach, and is conveniently located to the more bustling Cocos. One of the real draws of Hermosa is the availability of all types of water-adventures. Snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, and kayaking options abound here.
Lake Arenal is an 85-square kilometer lake in the North of the country. It sits in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano, which dominates the view in the surrounding area. Stocked with machaca and rainbow bass, Arenal is a popular sport-fishing destination. Hikes around the lake abound, where you can catch glimpses of some of Costa Rica's most famous animal inhabitants.
Water sports, like paddle boarding, windsurfing, and kayaking are accessible, and sunsets over the lake are breath-taking. Easy access to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, one of the most popular adventure-destinations in the country, is an added bonus. Thermal activity from the volcano also create thermal pools, so you can take advantage of the hot springs in the area.
About 2.5 hours from the San Jose airport and 1.5 hours from Liberia airport, you can still find good real-estate deals in Arenal. Although La Fortuna is quite developed at this point, towns like Nuevo Arenal and Tronadora have smaller expat communities that blend in more with the local feel.
Centered on a charming town square, La Fortuna combines nature, access to adventure, and a mountain town feel. Through La Fortuna you can access any type of adventure you want, including zip-lining, canopy tours, volcano hikes, waterfall excursions, hot spring relaxation, birding, and more, making it a very popular tourist destination.
Located on the international highway, and about 10 minutes from lake views, Tilarán is a major farming zone for cattle, horse ranching, coffee, peanut, and macadamia production. It has retained its local character, while still providing great vistas with easy access to the lake and outdoor adventure activities. If you'd like to be on the lake, check out the small nearby towns of San Luis or Tronadora.
Across the lake from Tilarán, Nuevo Arenal provides spectacular views with small town charm. This side of the lake receives significant rain, making the surroundings incredibly lush and full of birds. There are a number of good restaurants and a welcoming expat community.