Whether you’re building your listing of New Year’s resolutions or have had “moving to Costa Rica” on your life list for years, the new year is a great time to start planning for life in paradise.

Because – we’ll be honest – there’s a lot to consider, plan, and complete. From your initial research to unpacking your bags, our comprehensive checklists have you covered.

12+ Months Before Moving to Costa Rica

scenic beauty among top reasons for moving to Costa Rica

Whether you’re a meticulous planner or the kind to wing it, you’ll want to do at least some preliminary research before moving.

Because there are considerations. Not the least of which include, where will you live? (Specifically, where? “The beach” or “the mountains” is an incredibly catch-all term with hundreds of specific answers each!) How will you support yourself? What kind of lifestyle does your budget cover? Etc. etc. These are practicalities of life and they’re something that should be considered before you pick up and move your entire life. Even if it is to paradise.

Read Our Costa Rica Blog

We’re experts in moving to and life in Costa Rica, so it was only natural that we’d start a blog.

There, you’ll find topics that cover almost every aspect of life in Costa Rica, from the beaches of Guanacaste and gated communities to meaty posts on what to expect regarding the cost of living, buying a car, residency in Costa Rica, private schools, Costa Rican Spanish, building a home, closing costs, and moving with kids.

Read a Book (or 10)

If you’re more the type to pick up a book than to read a blog, then you’ll be happy to know that there are dozens if not hundreds of great choices on moving to Costa Rica, living in Costa Rica, and flourishing in paradise.

We’re not naming names but some of our favorites involve first-hand accounts of life in paradise. While they’re often not so much instruction manuals as they are memoirs, these books offer great perspectives on the ups and downs, bumps and all-out potholes you might encounter in paradise. The best preparation for your move is an honest perspective!

Of course, there are also how-to books, manuals, and more. Some are hybridized with memoirs. Truly, there’s a book for every taste, so go forth and find the one (or ones) that suit you best.

Consider Your Residency Options

If you plan to stay long-term in Costa Rica, you’ll want to secure Costa Rican residency. Only, it may not be quite as simple as you think: Even if you qualify, you’ll have to spend a few weeks/months pulling together the required paperwork.

So, do your research. Know where you fall. And then, get in touch with an experienced residency lawyer better understand the requirements. Because no resident has ever said, “I wish I’d left my residency preparations until the last minute…”

Contact Shipping Companies

If you plan to move to Costa Rica with more than a suitcase, now’s the time to start this research. (Shipping a full container is usually a five-figure expense.)

Even when you’re not even close to being ready to move, you can be close enough to start budgeting. So, consider what you’d like to ship down (including any vehicles) and then, get in touch with several international shipping companies. Ask for quotes and be sure that those quotes include shipping, logistics, and import duties. (Duties can be high* and without this inclusion, you won’t be seeing the full picture.)

*A new residency law, which has been approved but is not yet in place, looks to provide an exemption on import taxes for household items, including whole containers, on their first import. (Any following imports would be subject to standard import taxes.)

Likewise, if you plan to take just the basics and buy everything locally, then begin a list now of what you plan to pack. You may be surprised at how quickly things add up to packing volume! (And if that’s the case, you’ll know to look for an airline that allows extra luggage or even moving boxes.)

Consider Airline Pet Policies

Speaking of airlines, if you’ll be relocating your pet family to Costa Rica, then you’ll need to get started on these preparations well in advance, too.

For starters, some pets, like birds, cannot be imported to Costa Rica. And for the ones that can (like cats and dogs), only certain airlines allow pets (and even fewer allow them in the cabin or without a pet broker). What’s more, depending on the breed and season of the year, there may be restrictions. Etc. etc. – there’s a lot to know and understand, so now’s the time to start.

Join Online Discussion Groups

Facebook and other online discussion forums can be incredible resources for on-the-ground opinions from the people who have gone before you. Search your favorite discussion network for keywords along the lines of moving, life, or expats in Costa Rica, and you’ll find a wealth of options.

That said, be forewarned: There are a lot of grumpy people in these forums. Maybe they woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe they’re still stuck back “home,” unable yet to move. Maybe they’ve had a bad experience. But, as with online reviews and other opinions, the thrilled and the angry are the most vociferous.

Costa-Rica-ResidencyDon’t let one post sway your decision-making: Read a lot, read often, and read for many months. The majority typically reverts to the mean – in other words, to a mostly balanced view of all thing life and moving to Costa Rica.

Renew Your Passport

If you’re anywhere close to your passport expiration date, now’s the time to renew! (Depending on your passport country, renewals can currently take months.) Also check your driver’s license expiration date (and renew, if necessary)!

3-6 Months Before Moving to Costa Rica

Costa Rica residency call paradise homeTime really flies, doesn’t it!? Blink and you’re already beginning a the-move-is-nigh countdown.

Whittle Down Your Desired Locations

By now, you’ve done enough research to have a handle on the kind of life you’d like in Costa Rica. And that starts with location: Beach or mountains? (Remember, The beach is hot and the mountains can be borderline cold (60ºF / 15.5ºF at night feels a little different without heat!). Between the two, though, you’ll find your just-right happy spot.

From there, it’s time to get specific. Choose a few towns that you think will fit your needs. Then, research further. Ask questions in your favorite forums. Watch videos. Read a blog post or book by someone who lives there. Try to get a feel for each, and begin forming your location shortlist.

Start Searching for Housing

Once you’ve decided on a specific where – or a few specific wheres, if that’s the case – then it’s time to start window-shopping for housing.

Because, while you may not (although you may) be ready to secure a lease or purchase a home before you’ve even touched down, searching for a home will provide a window into local availability, Costa Rica real estatepricing, and options. And, especially if there are deal-breakers on your list – for example, you have to be within walking distance of the beach or near a certain school – this pre-moving to Costa Rica house research can help further whittle down your list.

Pack & Prepare to Send Your Shipping Container

If you’re shipping down a container, now’s the time to get your ducks in a row. In non-COVID times, shipping and delivery can take several weeks; with COVID, the entire process can be significantly lengthened, especially on the Costa Rican Customs (Aduana) side of things.

Ask your shipping company for a current timeline (and always bank on the outer range). Be sure you have created a container packing list. Start boxing. Do all the things. Because your home-side moving day is closer than you think!

Residency Paperwork & Logistics

If you’re applying for residency, the 3-month mark is probably when you’ll begin sending out for your required paperwork. (That way, your residency will be ready or almost ready by the time you arrive.)

Among other items, you’ll likely need your official birth certificate, FBI criminal record, marriage certificate (if applicable), and more, all duly apostilled (state or federal), and translated into Spanish (and stamped) by one of the country’s official translators. All this, within a very specific document validity window. It’s a tightrope walk so, again, speak with your lawyer!

Start Networking

Whether it’s your real estate agent (we’re a friendly bunch) or people you’ve connected with in online forums/discussion groups, it’s almost never too early to start networking in Costa Rica.

We think of these online-to-real-life friendships as a kind of emerald (because… green!) parachute for Costa Rica: When you hit the ground here, you’ll hit it running – with acquaintances who will soon become confidants, guides, and friends. And you’ll be so glad you made those connections.

1-2 Months Before Moving to Costa Rica

public private healthcare in Costa Rica

Time is getting short. Within just a couple of months of your move, you’ll be wrapping up more time-sensitive preparations. These include:

International Banking

Even if you’re opening a Costa Rican bank account, you’ll likely want to have access to your other home bank account, too.

Call your bank. Ask about account access abroad, international wire transfers, and ATM fees. Familiarize yourself with online bill pay and other banking, in case you need to make home country payments from Costa Rica. 

If your bank is difficult to work with from abroad, consider opening one of the now-many online bank accounts, often with no foreign transaction fees or foreign ATM withdrawal fees.

Pre-Move Logistics

From friends and family to your credit cards and post office, there are a lot of people and places that need to know you’re moving. Also, get in touch with your shipping company to be sure you’re still on schedule.

Now is also the time to request your (and anyone else who’s moving) medical and dental records, to be shared with the practitioners you select locally. Be sure you’re up-to-date on recommended vaccines, especially if you have children who will be attending Costa Rican public or private schools. And if you’re moving with a pet, be sure that your four-legged friend’s rabies vaccine is current; they must be 30+ days out from vaccination, by move day.

You may also want to begin looking into medical insurance options, if you plan to purchase insurance. (Learn more about your public, private, and mixed medicine options in Costa Rica.)

Clean & Clear Out House

If you haven’t packed away all your worldly goods, then now’s the time to start selling and/or donating anything you haven’t deemed absolutely necessary for day-to-day survival. (You can even pre-sell certain more desirable items and make them available to pick up at a later date!)

☑ Check In With Your Lawyer

Before you leave your home country – before you are no longer a quick phone call, mailbox, or notary’s signature away from your home country! – check in with your experienced attorney, to ensure there’s no more paperwork to collect. Trust us – if there is, you’ll want to have everything wrapped up while you’re still local to your home country offices and organizations.

Begin Cancelling Services

Certain services (ex. your cell phone, Internet service, car insurance, etc.) can be pre-canceled. It may even be advantageous to do this in advance, as if you wait until the last minute, you could be stuck paying a couple extra $hundred in last-month fees you’re not there to enjoy.

This may also be a good time to sign up for your favorite VOIP phone service (ex. Skype, Google Voice, MagicJack, etc.), so you can make and receive calls to a home-country phone number.

Stay Tuned for our Moving to Costa Rica Checklist, Part 2!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Moving Checklist (1 month out to unpacking your bags in paradise!), coming next week!

In the meantime, if you have questions, we have answers! Whether you’re already well on your way to moving to Costa Rica or just dipping your toes into research, we’d love to help you explore the possibilities of life in the tropics.

At Blue Water Properties of Costa Rica, we’re committed to you. Not to selling you a property or spamming you with all the options, but to helping – genuinely and with good intent – to match you to the perfect property for your needs and wants. We thrive on relationships and promise the fastest communication and best services in the industry.

At Blue Water Properties of Costa Rica, we’re proud to offer some of the best Costa Rica real estate. We have both condos and homes, land and businesses for sale.

Go ahead – try us. Give us a chance to show off our expertise – and wow you with the possibilities! We look forward to it.