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If you are thinking about relocating to Costa Rica, the first thing you need to do is narrow down the location in which you want to live. Easier said than done! There’s so much information out there about where to live, but it’s hard to know where to move until you’ve experienced the place for a while.
The great thing about Costa Rica is that it is one of the safest places to live in Latin America, and the natural beauty of the country is second to none. It’s home to some of the best climates in the world, and the low cost of living compared to the United States can be a draw. You can drink the water, US dollars are widely accepted, and there are a lot of people that speak English.
The best couple of tips I’ve seen on how to make the decision about where to move in Costa Rica say not to buy any property until you have spent some time in the area. A great option can be to rent fully furnished places for a bit before you decide to buy a home. Another great idea is to move about the country as a housesitter so you get a sense of where you want to live before you get there.
However you decide to do it, this post will help you know the top areas to live in Costa Rica so you can take your research from there.
I moved to Costa Rica in 2001 to study abroad and ended up staying until 2004. I then married my Costa Rican college sweetheart and we moved to the US.
We’ve spent the past 20 years living either in Costa Rica or Denver, Colorado. In 2019, we even lived in Costa Rica with our kids for a year!
We have met countless ex-pats over the years, and heard so many stories (both good and bad) about living in Costa Rica. I’ll use that experience here to help you narrow down where to live in Costa Rica.
If you are looking for real-time Costa Rica Expat updates, I encourage you also to join the Expats in Costa Rica Facebook group.
Without further ado- here are the best places to live in Costa Rica.
It might seem obvious, but living in San Jose, Costa Rica has quite a few advantages. You are close to the Juan Santamaria International Airport, making international travel super easy. You are close to all the major public and private hospitals in case of an emergency, and there are so many people who speak English.
You’ll find proximity to popular beaches such as Jaco, and the proximity to the Caribbean coast of the country means access to gorgeous beaches even in the rainy season.
Other advantages of living in San Jose include access to public schools, private schools, and universities. This is especially important you are planning to raise kids in Costa Rica- and you can find our guide on moving to Costa Rica as a family here.
You’ll find fiber optic internet in almost all areas of the city. Add international shopping at the malls with brands like Victoria’s Secret and H&M, plus American restaurants and bars, you’ll hardly get homesick.
The cultural capital of Costa Rica is in San Jose- most major landmarks that are museums are in the city. Since there are many restaurants, grocery stores, and farmer’s markets you’ll find prices on food are cheaper than in other parts of the country.
San Jose also has a lot of multinational companies (many from the United States) that hire Americans and other ex-pats, (probably the most in all of Central America) making it easy to relocate with a job if you are not going the digital nomad route.
There are disadvantages too. Moving about the city can be tough- traffic is notoriously bad and there is near-constant road construction.
If you are looking for the quiet nature and clean air Costa Rica is known for, you’ll also find that lacking in the capital- think smog, noise, and lots of traffic.
The most popular neighborhoods for ex-pats to live in San Jose include Santa Ana, Escazu, and Barrio Escalante.
The Central Valley
Just north of San José, you’ll find the Central Valley- home to several smaller towns that are very popular with ex-pats because they have a cooler climate than almost anywhere in Costa Rica. In this section, I’ll go over the main communities in the Central Valley that are of interest to foreign travelers and relocators. These communities vary in drive time from between 30 minutes and an hour away from the capital of San Jose.
This sleepy little town near the Poas Volcano is home to a small but tight-knit ex-pat community. Downtown Grecia is most well known for its red tin church that was imported from Greece- hence the name Grecia.
Grecia has a bustling downtown, but is still a small town- the population is around 15,000. You’ll find a year-round farmer’s market, myriad restaurants, stores, and grocery stores. Many people love to live up in the hills around the volcano and come into town for what they need. Grecia is a great place to live. There is a large public hospital in Grecia too.
Next door to Grecia is Narajno. The towns are similar in size and offerings, but I would say there are fewer ex-pats in Naranjo than Grecia. Proximity to Grecia, San Ramon, and San Jose via direct public buses make this a popular place for ex-pats to live who don’t plan on buying a car right away.
Full disclosure- my husband is from San Ramon and we lived there as ex-pats for a year with our kids. It’s my favorite town for ex-pats for many reasons which I’ll outline here. I think it’s the perfect place to live!
San Ramon has a temperate climate and downtown is easy to navigate on foot. There are several districts around the city that are popular with homeowners given the sweeping views of both the Pacific Ocean in places and the city below on the other side.
The ex-pat community in San Ramon is very close-knit- they have weekly breakfast meetings and local tours for hiking and beach trips. They have even organized themselves with the local chamber of commerce and have discount cards to use at many local shops, pharmacies, and restaurants.
San Ramon has a lot of great places to eat local food, and the weekly farmer’s market brings some of the freshest produce in the country downtown two days a week. The only downside to the town is that there aren’t great international schools here for those wanting to raise their kids here.
There are quite a few people in San Ramon who speak English given that a campus of the University of Costa Rica is located here.
Atenas is the closest central valley town to Jaco beach, and the hills around the town offer sweeping views of the coast.
Expats love it here as it’s known as the best, most temperate climate in Costa Rica. There is often real estate for sale here that includes all of the popular amenities for American ex-pats.
Atenas is a small town without a ton of schooling options for kids, but otherwise can be a great choice for those wanting to live a fairly quiet, rural life with easy access to the beach and the capital city of San Jose.
There is a small town around the lake from La Fortuna called Nuevo Arenal. Ex-pats seem to love to live here given the amazing wildlife spotting opportunities and the proximity to the Arenal volcano.
Nuevo Arenal has a close-knit community of Costa Ricans that extends to the ex-pat community as well. There is easy access to Guanacaste from this area of the country, and it’s a nice balance between tourist living and rural living.
Pacific Beach Locations
Many people want to live in beach communities when they move to Costa Rica, and you will find quite a few ex-pats living in all of the towns. Because of the rise of tourism and digital nomads, you’ll spend a lot more money living in beach towns than you do inland.
Foreigners who live in Costa Rica do tend to cluster in the following beach towns:
Tamarindo has a strong ex-pat community given its popularity as a beach town in general. You’ll find lots of international restaurants but minimal shopping or access to American products at a good price. Tamarindo has a weekly farmer’s market with ex-pat artisans, and you’ll be close to the Liberia International Airport (one hour) if you need to head home easily.
Tamarindo is also close to Playa Grande where many ex-pats live right on the beach and commute to Tamarindo for their grocery shopping and baking. There is no hospital in Tamarindo.
Playas del Coco
Playas del Coco is located near a ton of really fun, sleepy, and beautiful beaches. Since the town of Coco Beach has a lot of amenities such as shopping and restaurants, plus lots of housing close to the beach, many ex-pats flock to this area to live near the ocean but in a smaller town.
I haven’t experienced the ex-pat communities here firsthand, but I am reading a lot about the close-knit community of ex-pats in Playa Hermosa, next door to Jaco.
Jaco has grocery stores, tons of restaurants, and a gorgeous beach. There’s an international bilingual elementary school here too. But, Jaco is known as a party beach, and Spring Break-like crowds can be found here year-round.
Playa Hermosa is just a few kilometers away, and the ex-pats that live there are happy. Definitely worth a look if you are looking for a beach town that is fairly quiet and has close access to the Central Valley.
South of Manuel Antonio you’ll find Dominical, a sleepy surfing town that has a rocking ex-pat community. I haven’t actually been here yet, but I know that the couple from Two Weeks in Costa Rica blog has decided to make their home here and raise their kids here, so I am assuming it’s a good place for ex-pats to live. There seem to be several great international schools in this area, which attract young families if that is of interest to you.
Dominical is close to the larger town of San Isidro el General, which has good medical care and both a public and private hospital, making Dominical a popular option for ex-pats in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica.
And that’s it! If you have specific questions about planning a trip to Costa Rica or about your own personal move to Costa Rica, I am happy to answer them. You can book a phone call or video chat with me- no sales just advice at a reasonable cost. Half an hour with my can save you hours of research and headache!
Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!