Planning a Long-Term Visit to Costa Rica

In this new era of work from home, many people are interested in spending extended periods of time abroad. If you’re comfortable traveling, it’s certainly a great time to get out and explore. But there’s a lot to think about when spending a month or more in a foreign country. In this post, we’ll let you know about some important things to consider if you’re planning a long-term visit to Costa Rica.

Planning Long Term Visit Costa Rica

Visa Status

The biggest thing to be aware of when spending a prolonged amount of time in another country, like Costa Rica, is how long you will legally be allowed to stay.

Costa Rica’s 90-Day (Maximum) Visa

When you enter Costa Rica, you will be given a temporary tourist visa. As is typical, this will be in the form of a stamp that is marked on your passport. For citizens of many countries, including the United States, Canada, and many European countries, the tourist visa can be for up to 90 days. After 90 days, you will need to leave the country and reenter to get a new visa stamp with a new end date.

In the past, people did “border runs” to renew their visa. These were quite simple. You just had to go to the nearest land border, either in Panama or Nicaragua, spend a few hours there, and get stamped back into Costa Rica.

Visa Run Paso Canoas
The Paso Canoas border between Costa Rica and Panama

Nowadays with Covid, things are more complicated. Costa Rica’s land borders are currently closed to tourists entering the country. They will remain so until at least April 1, 2021. That date could very well be extended even further.  

So now, the easiest way to renew a tourist visa is to fly to another country in Central America, like Mexico. Or to somewhere in the US with cheap flights, like Florida. This can add expenses onto your trip if you plan to stay more than three months so be sure to keep that in mind.

Upon entering Costa Rica, you’ll need to comply with current Covid entry requirements. The major requirement is that you need to show travel insurance coverage that meets specific criteria. See our Traveling During Covid-19 post for more details.

You’ll need the insurance coverage for the full amount of time you want to stay in the country. So, if you want to be here for 90 days, you will need 90 days’ worth of insurance. This can bring up the cost of a visit, but there are many affordable options. See our article on FAQs About Costa Rica’s Required Insurance for some inexpensive options for travelers from North America as well as the rest of the world.

Options for Extending Your Visa

Besides renewing your tourist visa by leaving the country, you also can apply for legal residency in Costa Rica if you want to live here. This is quite a bit of work and takes time (usually more than a year to complete the process). So, we only recommend it if you are serious about relocating to Costa Rica for many years.

For a general discussion about the categories of residency and details on the application process, see our article, Applying for Residency in Costa Rica Without a Lawyer.

Picking a Home Base

One major decision point for most people thinking about a long-term visit to Costa Rica is where to stay.

Chances are, in between Zoom meetings, you’ll want to do some exploring and check out Costa Rica’s amazing sights.

A good way to see several different areas is to pick a centrally located home base. Here are some good options that will give you flexibility to see and do a lot.

Central Pacific Coast

The central Pacific coast stretches from approximately Jaco south to Manuel Antonio. This is a popular area because it’s a reasonable drive from the San Jose Airport, at 1.5-2.5 hours depending on exactly where you stay.

If you choose Jaco, Manuel Antonio, or somewhere in between like Esterillos or Bejuco, you will be able to access the entire region. There is a lot to see and do here, including beaches, rainforest hikes, wildlife viewing, and adventure activities like zip lining and whitewater rafting. From Jaco, the Monteverde Cloud Forest is a reasonable drive away (about 2.5 hours) and would make for a nice weekend getaway as well.

Ocean View Manuel Antonio
Ocean views in Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast

You’ll also find a wide selection of vacation rentals in this region.

For more information on the central Pacific coast and its towns, read our separate post, Central Pacific Coast, Costa Rica: Regional Snapshot.

Guanacaste Province

If you’re looking for mostly beach time, the northwestern province of Guanacaste may be a good fit. This area of the country is known for its many gorgeous beaches. There are lots of good spots for surfing but also swimming and splashing around.

Guanacaste has less hiking and some activities are farther away. It can get very hot and dry during certain times of year when rain is infrequent (February through April). But early to mid-rainy season (May through early September) is gorgeous and green.

Guanacaste Green Season
Playa Flamingo in Guanacaste looking lush and green in rainy season

Guanacaste is a huge region. For a detailed breakdown of the different areas, read our post, Guanacaste, Costa Rica: Regional Snapshot.

Central Valley

If you’re considering moving to Costa Rica now or at some point in the future, many people look at the Central Valley. This is the mountainous region in the interior of the country. It has lots of gorgeous valley views. This area is where most of the population lives.

The Central Valley is appealing because of its proximity to San Jose Airport, good medical care, shopping, and all the conveniences. It also has nice weather. In many areas, it doesn’t get too hot or too cold, but remains a pleasant 70-80° F (around 24-28° C).

From the Central Valley, you can do a lot of day trips. Some fun ones are La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Poas Volcano, Irazu Volcano, Catarata del Toro (waterfall), and coffee tours.

There are also some interesting archaeological and historical sights. Some near Cartago are Guayabo National Monument, Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels), and Las Ruinas de la Parroquia (the Ruins of the Parish).

Downtown San Jose is the cultural center of Costa Rica and has a lot to see and do. Things we’ve enjoyed are the bustling Central Market, National Theater, and museums like the pre-Columbian Gold Museum.

The Central Valley has many options for a home base. If you want easy access to the beach and day trips to other popular areas, stay on the western side. From places like Grecia or Atenas, you can get to Jaco on the central Pacific coast in a little over an hour.

Locals Atenas Parque Central
The central park in Atenas in Costa Rica’s Central Valley

For weekend exploration, Manuel Antonio’s lush rainforest is about 2.5 hours from the Grecia/Atenas area. And La Fortuna, with Arenal Volcano and the natural hot springs, are also about 2.5 hours away. You could visit Monteverde to see the cloud forest from here as well (it’s about a 2-hour drive).

For more information, including other options for towns to stay in, read our separate post, Costa Rica’s Central Valley: Regional Snapshot.

Finding a Rental

Once you have picked a home base, it’s time to find a rental. This is one of the biggest challenges for most people.

Although rentals in the Central Valley are usually very affordable, that’s not always the case at the beach. Many people rent their beach homes out short term at a high rate and mostly get rentals of a week or less. But it is still possible to find something affordable.

Note that prices are much lower during the rainy season (approximately May to end of November). During peak rainy season (September through early November), you can get some really good deals.

Short Term Rentals – 1 to 3 Months

If you’re coming for a few months or less, websites like Airbnb are probably your best option. Some hosts give discounts for week- or month-long rentals. And it never hurts to message a host directly to see what they can do for you. We have had very good luck getting discounts for longer term stays.

Something else that has worked for us is contacting the property directly through their website. A lot of times, the house name will be included in the Airbnb description. If you Google that, sometimes owners have separate websites set up where you can book direct. This saves them Airbnb fees, so they can offer you a lower rate.

Keep in mind that if you go this route you won’t have the protection of Airbnb in case something goes wrong with the rental. So we recommend it only for listings that have very good reviews and you feel good about.

Vacation Rental Central Valley
A vacation rental in the Central Valley

Long-Term Rentals – 3 Months or More

If you’re coming for a longer stay, you have more flexibility. Prices are much lower for a long-term rental. These are usually considered one year, but even six months can be appealing from an owner’s perspective since they would only be dealing with you instead of several different short-term renters. So definitely try to negotiate.

One place where you can find long-term rentals online is Facebook. We recommend joining a locals’ group for whatever area you plan to stay in. You can search Facebook’s groups for the towns you are considering. Groups have all different names but are commonly called “[X Town] Classifieds” or something along those lines. These exist for almost every major area where expats live. Sometimes people post listings on these groups or on Facebook Marketplace.

You also can go through a real estate agent. We have done this before and don’t think we paid too much of an inflated price. But that’s not always the case.

One good approach to finding a long-term rental is to rent something short term for when you first arrive, for a couple of weeks or so. Then you can go around and check out what’s available in person. You’re much more likely to get a better deal this way. This will also let you meet more locals in the community you want to be in, and maybe find something through word of mouth.

Internet

If you’re like most people, you will need a solid internet connection that can support multiple people working online at once. Luckily, Costa Rica has come a long way in terms of Internet. In most popular towns, high-speed cable, fiber optic, or satellite internet is available. Just last year (2020), Costa Rica doubled its fiber optic internet coverage.

Some areas do have reliability problems, though, even with some of the larger providers. It varies greatly by region and is mostly a congestion issue.

Speed can vary even from property to property within one town, so be sure to inquire at the specific rental you’re looking at.

Because of these periodic issues, we highly recommend choosing a rental home that isn’t too far from a backup Internet source. Sometimes the Internet or electricity goes out for maintenance or because of bad weather, high demand, or for seemingly no reason at all. Having a cafe or hotel nearby to serve as an emergency backup is a good idea. After all, you don’t want to miss any big meetings and have your co-workers gossiping about how you are probably out at the beach!

Transportation

Although it is possible to get around by local bus and taxi/Uber in places like the Central Valley, you’ll have the most flexibility with a car. A car will let you explore. That last-minute weekend getaway to the beach or day trip into the nearby mountains will be possible, on your schedule.

San Vito Area from Above
Road tripping into the mountains

If you’re planning a short-term visit, renting a car usually makes the most sense. Some companies offer monthly discounted rates so be sure to shop around. These may include discounts on Costa Rica’s required insurance as well.

For example, we have a monthly discount for our readers through Adobe Rent a Car. The rates are usually quite a bit lower than their regular daily or weekly rates, and they give you a break on some costs. Basic liability insurance is included as well as Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) insurance. They also provide free maintenance like oil changes and have other benefits (free second driver, car seats, surf racks, etc.). Here is a link to our Monthly Car Rental Discount page with specific pricing and more information.

For longer stays, it may be worthwhile to buy a car and then sell it when you leave. Although cars are very expensive in Costa Rica due to high import taxes, they retain their value. That means that you will still get a good price on a car you’ve used for a year when you go to sell. Anyone can buy a car in Costa Rica, including non-resident foreigners.

For more information on the car-buying process, read our post, Buying a Car in Costa Rica. This covers our experience purchasing several different vehicles over the years.

Phone 

While less and less people rely on a phone connection these days, if you need to keep your number active in Costa Rica, you probably have some options. Many cell phone carriers have international options. For example, you may be able to temporarily pay a little more per month to be able to receive and make phone calls abroad. Some carriers also allow you to make and receive calls abroad if you are on a WiFi connection. You just need to activate WiFi calling in your phone settings.  

If you aren’t able to get your current number to work in Costa Rica, you can set up various online numbers that will work. We use the Magic Jack App, which gives us a US number and allows us to call the US from Costa Rica. It’s around $10 per year. There is also Google Voice, which is newer, free, and gives you a unique phone number to use as your own.

Have More Questions? Need More Help?

If you are planning a long-term visit to Costa Rica and need more help, feel free to reach out through our Video Chat Service. For $100, we can talk for an hour to help with any logistics. We’ve been virtually meeting with many different people about their plans and would be happy to do the same for you. Here is the link to our page where you can learn more about this service.

Conclusion

Costa Rica is a great place to spend a few months while you have the flexibility to work and do school from home. Visas are fairly flexible, making it easy for most people to stay for up to 90 days without having to do any special paperwork. And although it takes a bit of planning to organize a month or more away from home, the wonders of the country, from its tropical beaches to lush rainforest and abundant wildlife, make it all worthwhile. We hope this post helped with the planning for your long-term visit to Costa Rica.

Are you planning a long-term visit to Costa Rica and have a question? Feel free to ask us below.

Looking for more information? Check out these posts on living and traveling in Costa Rica:

Money Matters: Currency, Exchanging Money, and Tipping in Costa Rica Get advice on using your credit card in Costa Rica and find out if you need to bring any local colones.

Best Time to Visit Costa Rica: Learn about Costa Rica’s different seasons and when is a good time to come.

House Sitting in Costa Rica: House sitting can be a great way to save money while traveling long term. Learn how it works with this post.

Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials If you’re coming for a while, be sure to stock up on sunscreen and insect repellent. Read our packing post for more essentials that are costly or hard to find.

Moving to Costa Rica: 7 Years Abroad – Our most recent post about what it’s like to live in the land of pura vida.

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