Moving abroad can be very stressful. We remember what it was like getting ready for our big move to Costa Rica from Boston in 2013. Selling our stuff and condo, taking care of finances, and figuring out first steps when we arrived were just a few of the many things we needed to do. The only thing that kept us sane through the months of preparation was being organized and having a plan for what to do and when. In this post, we’ll give some guidance on when to start planning your move to Costa Rica and provide a moving checklist to walk you through the process.
When to Start Getting Ready for Your Move
We started taking concrete steps towards moving to Costa Rica a couple of years in advance and recommend this to anyone seriously considering a move themselves. There are a lot of things to plan for, especially financially, that can’t be accomplished in just a few months so the sooner you can start, the better. For example, since we aren’t retired and don’t have a monthly pension or retirement coming in, we knew that we would need quite a bit of savings to get us through until we figured out how to earn enough income through our website and books. We did some budgeting and felt comfortable with the amount we would have by early 2013. That timing also worked out well with our condo, since we knew that spring was the best time of year to sell.
Your situation might be totally different, but whether you rent or own, are retired or still employed, work for someone else or have your own business, you will probably still benefit from starting early.
On a personal note, we also found that sharing our plans with family and friends early on was very beneficial. A lot of people won’t take you seriously at first and think that moving to Costa Rica is just a dream that probably won’t happen. They might think that for a while, but then as you keep talking about it every time you see them for the next year or more, they’ll start to take it more seriously and be emotionally ready (or at least more so) when the day actually comes.
Here’s the list that we used to get ready for our move to Costa Rica.
6 OR MORE MONTHS BEFORE
Packing list. If you’re planning to move with only the basics, begin a list of what you’ll take. Think about what you’ll store, sell, or give away.
- Keep in mind that some items are much more expensive or difficult to find in Costa Rica. Here are two posts with more information: Our Eight (or 10) Suitcases; Packing for Your Move to Costa Rica – Advice from Expats.
Shipping. If you’re shipping your stuff, begin researching shipping companies. We didn’t do this so don’t have much advice to give but asking others who have used a shipper in the past is definitely a good idea.
Passports. Make sure you and your family member’s passports are current and not expiring in the near future. Costa Rica requires passports to be valid for at least six months in order to let you into the country. If you still have some time left on them, rest assured that they are easy to renew in Costa Rica through the US embassy in San Jose.
Pets. If you’re moving with pets, begin researching airline policies and what paperwork you’ll need. Keep in mind that some airlines don’t allow pets to travel at certain times of the year (e.g., if it is too hot).
- The requirements for bringing a pet into Costa Rica are provided on the Costa Rica Embassy website. For a good first-hand account from someone who brought their dog, check out this link.
Notification list. Start making a list of people to notify about your move. Businesses, banks, distant family members, the IRS, etc. You will add to the list over time.
Residency paperwork. If planning to apply for residency, figure out the process so you know what documents you need to obtain (background check, birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc.). These documents are much easier to get while you’re still in your old country of residence.
- Remember that timing is critical as the documents are only valid for a set time from issuance and some take longer to obtain (FBI background check). A good website to start your research is Association of Residents of Costa Rica.
Medical updates. Get physicals, bloodwork, and vaccinations. We got tetanus boosters and the typhoid and Hepatitis A vaccines (typhoid and Hep A are not standard for Costa Rica but we got them because we were planning to travel to other countries in Central America).
- Public health insurance, the Caja, is available only to legal residents. Start thinking about if you’ll pay out of pocket for health care or if you’ll want private or international insurance.
- If you have dental insurance and will lose it once you move, get any work you need in the immediate future done but know that it is very affordable in Costa Rica. We’ve found dental work to be cheaper in Costa Rica than what we used to pay in co-pays in the US. Once you get settled, you should have no problem finding a good English-speaking dentist.
- For eye glasses and contacts, exams are inexpensive but the glasses themselves are about the same price and contact lenses are more expensive, so stock up at home.
Credit cards/Bank accounts. Set up accounts that don’t charge for international use.
- ATM/debit cards: Most US banks charge fees for using a foreign ATM and an additional fee if you get out local currency (3% or more of total amount in foreign currency conversion fees). For withdrawals from our checking account in the US, we opened a Capital One 360 Account, which provides free ATM withdrawals in foreign countries. We’ve heard Charles Schwab is also good.
- Credit Cards: To avoid foreign transaction fees, we ended up going with the Bank of America Travel Rewards and Capital One Venture Rewards cards. Neither of these charge fees for foreign transactions and they’re both rewards-based so we redeem our miles for free airfare.
Legal stuff. Talk with your lawyer/accountant/tax planner about all legal ends that need to be tied up like wills, etc. Think about if your will needs to be updated to reflect changes in assets due to selling your stuff.
Home projects. If planning to sell, finish any projects around the house that will increase your property value.
Selling stuff. Begin selling higher priced items you plan to get rid of so that you’re not scrambling and get nothing for them right before you move. Craigslist and Ebay are two good options.
Read up. Spend some time on blogs and books written by expats who have made the move to Costa Rica themselves. Their first-hand accounts will give you the best insight into what to expect during those first months of your adventure. Here’s a link to a list of books we think you’ll find helpful.
1-2 MONTHS BEFORE
Yard sales. Start organizing your stuff for a yard sale if you’re planning to get rid of a lot. We had two yard sales: one a couple of months out and another right before we put our condo on the market.
Selling your house. Start talking to a real estate agent if you plan to sell your house. Figure out temporary housing in between the sale and your moving date.
Finalize shipping plans. If you’re using a shipping company, pick a company and start working with them on the details of how the process will work.
Pick your departure date and buy plane tickets.
- If you’re planning to bring your stuff in suitcases like we did, make sure your airline doesn’t have a baggage embargo in effect during the time you’ll be traveling.
- Don’t rule out first class when considering your options. It might actually be cheaper since many airlines let you have free bags, which can be over the standard weight limit.
- If you’re bringing your pet, figure out if you need to buy their tickets simultaneously with yours. Some airlines require this.
Plan your first days in CR. Figure out where you will live, even for only the short term. We stayed in an affordable bed and breakfast for the first week and searched for temporary housing when we arrived. It is typically easier to find housing once you have boots on the ground. Arrange transportation from the airport in Costa Rica to your new place.
Pets. If you’re bringing a pet, be sure that its rabies vaccine is current. Rabies vaccines must be administered between one and 12 months before departure.
- Contact your banks and ask them to mark your accounts for use in Costa Rica (sometimes checking/debit cards and credit cards must be requested separately). Get their toll-free customer service number for international calls.
- Get new cards if any are set to expire soon and checks if you’re about to run out.
- Cancel any accounts you don’t want anymore.
Renew driver’s license. If your driver’s license expires soon, renew it. It’s easier to renew when you’re still in-country. This is especially important if you’re planning to stay in Costa Rica on a tourist visa for some time, as you can’t get a Costa Rica driver’s license anymore unless you have residency.
Cancel insurance. Arrange for cancellation of medical, dental, life, and other insurances once you have moved.
Make last minute purchases. Purchase any items that you’ll want to bring (e.g., unlocked cell phone, other electronics that are much more expensive in Costa Rica).
2-4 WEEKS BEFORE
More shipping. Confirm all details with your shipping company.
Pets. If you’re bringing a pet, make an appointment with a licensed vet in your state to receive your international health certificate.
Communication. Set up Skype and/or magicJack so you have a way to communicate with friends and family back home. If you’ll have a good Internet connection, the magicJack app for iPhone works great to call the US and is free.
Software. Download any computer software or files you may want. Your Internet speed might be a lot slower in Costa Rica. Adding music to your computer’s library or converting your CDs into MP3s is also recommended.
Sell your car. Cancel insurance, return license plates and electronic toll devices.
Set up mail forwarding service. We use St. Brendan’s Isle and have been happy with the service. They receive our mail at an address they provided us in Florida and scan it so that we can read it online. We pay for each scan and by weight to have it shipped to Costa Rica or to family or friends who are visiting.
Mail forwarding. Request mail forwarding with the local post office.
Unsubscribe from mailing lists. Cancel magazines that you no longer want, and notify those you wish to keep of your new address.
E-bills. Arrange to begin receiving your bank, credit card statements, and any other bills you’ll still have electronically so that you can pay them online.
More residency. If applying for residency, make sure you have all of your documentation.
Records. Get copies of medical and dental records, including histories of vaccinations.
Banking documents for CR. If planning to open a bank account in Costa Rica, get letters of reference from your US banks. Keep in mind that it is now difficult to open a bank account in Costa Rica unless you are applying for residency or form a Costa Rican corporation.
Notify employer. Give previous employer new address for next year’s tax forms.
2 WEEKS BEFORE
Living arrangements for CR. Finalize plans for where you will be living in Costa Rica.
Documents. Make copies of all important documents or store on the Cloud, like Google docs. Put them in a separate location from the originals.
Utilities. Contact utility companies (phone, cable, internet, electric, gas) re: cancellation of service.
Safety deposit box. If you have a safety deposit box, think about if you want to empty it or put anything new in it.
Proof of onward travel. Buy onward tickets to show proof that you will be leaving Costa Rica within 90 days of your arrival to satisfy immigration requirements.
1 WEEK BEFORE
Pack suitcases. Make a list of last-minute items to add the day or two before departure.
Inventory suitcases. We made separate sheets for each suitcase that listed the contents so that we knew what was in each bag. This was really helpful for the first couple of weeks when we were in temporary housing and living out of our suitcases. Taking photos can also help. If you’re shipping your stuff, inventorying is even more important.
Enjoy! Eat your favorite foods and sip your favorite drinks because you might not find the equivalent in Costa Rica. Oh and cheers, this is really happening and it’s going to be an exciting adventure!
This list has been modified from moving checklists on The Real Costa Rica and CostaRica.com.
Have something to add? Let us know in the comments below.
Moving to Costa Rica? Here are some more posts you might find helpful:
- FAQs About Moving to Costa Rica: Answers commonly asked questions about obtaining residency, cost of living, internet reliability, etc.
- Buying a Car in Costa Rica: The process and our experience buying a car.
- Where We’ve Lived in Costa Rica: Our pros and cons on the different places we checked out before settling down in the Southern Zone.
Thanks for this list, it was super helpful! We’re only 3 months away from leaving the US for Uvita and have SO MUCH to do but there were some good items here that I would have forgotten all about.
Nice to hear from you again, Marianne. Glad our tips were useful and best of luck with your move. It’s coming up fast!
I’m planning on retiring on a pension and staying in CR so I’m worried about the onward travel ticket. There’s not really a way to prove this because the process starts in CR. What would you recommend? Thank you and nice blog!
Hi Jason, You can start the residency process from the US or wherever you live now. But even if you don’t, you just have to show a plane ticket back to your home country when you come to CR. Many people do a refundable ticket and cancel it after they get into the country. Once you start the residency process, you only need to leave every 90 days if you want to drive in CR. You should also read our FAQs About Moving to Costa Rica post.
I think the ticket you MIGHT be asked to show by the airline is EITHER a ticket BACK to the US, or an ONWARD TRAVEL ticket out of CR within 90 days, unless you have CR residency.
Well written. From someone who has also made this jump, you got it exactly right on.
Is there anything you wish you would have purchased prior to moving to Costa Rica that is very hard to find there? Or heard similar complaints from people that recently moved there?
We are a family of 4 with a toddler and 5 year old. We plan to move to the Uvita Area in August. Your website has been extremely helpful. Thank You
Hi Tom, We have a post on exactly this topic. Please see Packing for Your Move to CR: Advice from Expats. We wrote that post before we had kids. Now I’d add to definitely bring toys, clothes for the next size up, and any other toddler gear. All of this stuff is much more expensive and the quality is not as good. We stock up on clothes for our son whenever we’re in the States, and when people come visit us, we often have them bring things for him too.