Living in Costa Rica
Essential information for British nationals residing in Costa Rica, covering topics like driving, employment, the health system and schools.
This guide sets out essential information for British nationals residing in Costa Rica. We are unable to provide any guidance on general lifestyle enquiries apart from the information and links listed below. See our information on what consulates can and cannot do for British nationals.
If you are a British passport holder, you do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica. Upon entry, you will usually be given 90 days entry stamp. The practice of leaving and immediately re-entering is increasingly frowned-upon and it is becoming more common that immigration officers will give re-entrants a shorter period. The current practice regarding penalties for over-staying are $100 per month of overstay and possibly restriction on entering Costa Rica again within a certain period.
Moving to Costa Rica
Foreigners can apply for permission to work and for temporary or permanent residence. The process is complicated and professional help with applications is an advantage. For complete information, consult the Immigration Department’s website.
There is a state run health system, similar to the NHS, called the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS or “la Caja”). Residents may become members and contribute monthly. Cost is assessed on an individual basis. Tourists will not be eligible and should ensure they have adequate health insurance. British Nationals who are not members of the Caja will be expected to pay for treatment. It is not significantly cheaper to use a state hospital than a private one.
Costa Rican hospitals, both state-run and private, are of a good standard. The best-known private hospitals are the Clinica Biblica and Hospital CIMA. Even quite small communities may have a local clinic called the EBAIS giving basic preventative advice and some emergency care. Ambulances are run by the Red Cross (Cruz Roja) which is supported by charitable contributions. Some hospitals and private medical providers have their own ambulances.
There is a state education system of Escuelas (junior schools) and Colegios (high schools). The private sector is large and thriving. The state universities UCR, TEC and others are highly regarded and places are much sought-after.
Employment and recognised qualifications
Most employers will require employees to have gained the Bachillerato High School leaving certificate – employment options without this are limited. Those gaining undergraduate degrees in their chosen field are termed Licenciado. Costa Rican employers and institutions will recognise UK degrees from the recognised list, but will require them to be notarised, legalised by the legalisation office and translated.
There are very few, if any, local benefits available to foreigners. There is no joint tax agreement with the UK so intending migrants should be aware that their UK State Pension will not increase with inflation when they take up residence here.
It is now a requirement to have a Cedula de Residencia to open and operate a Costa Rican bank account. Accounts opened with a passport before this requirement came in may be frozen after a year’s period of grace if the holder cannot produce a Cedula de Residencia.
Registering with the Embassy
For the purposes of applications to the Costa Rican Immigration Department:
All applications for residency and some visas require proof that the applicant has registered with their own nation’s Embassy. In the past, for British citizens, this was done by printing off proof of registration from the online “Locate” emergency management system. This approach to emergency management was found not to be ideal and has been superseded. The “Locate” system is no longer operational.
There was an interim solution to the requirement for a “registration” document, by way of issuing letters from the Consulate, but this involved the applicant attending the Embassy with their passport and we have been looking for a more convenient solution for our citizens.
This solution now involves them accessing a very simple form via our Facebook page and receiving by return a printable certificate. Any citizen who does not have internet and/or email access is very welcome to contact us by telephone and we can produce a hard copy for them.
For the purposes of emergency management:
The practice of trying to maintain lists of British citizens present in the country has been shown to be ineffective. Many resident citizens do not register, for a variety of reasons. It has been found to be difficult for people to keep their entries up to date. There are also many tourists here for a very short time.
Experience in different crises around the world has shown that in the event of a crisis a large number of citizens present in the area have not registered. The details of many of those citizens who have registered have been found to be out-of-date. The move is towards a system where all affected citizens will be able to choose the method of contact that is most easily available to them and ensuring we can respond efficiently and effectively.
Driving licences and vehicles
Tourists can drive on their UK driving licence whilst legally here as a visitor. Residents must apply for a Costa Rican driving licence – this is a straight exchange – no re-test is currently required. Local driving licences can only be held if the driver also has resident ID (Cedula de Residencia). If driving on a UK licence, the visitor’s status must be current, otherwise the licence will not be valid. Car insurance in Costa Rica relates to the vehicle and not the driver therefore any holder of a valid licence will be insured to drive. Invalid licences (see above) would invalidate the insurance.
Guidance on bringing medication into country
Most medicines prescribed in the UK will be available in Costa Rica. Normally only antibiotics, narcotics and psychotropic drugs require a prescription. Pharmacies are widely available and the pharmacists highly qualified.
Sponsoring family members
Permanent or temporary residency is usually granted under several different categories, one of which is ‘links with a Costa Rican citizen.’ For more information, consult the Immigration Department’s website.
Please note that this information is provided as a guide only. Definitive information should be obtained from the relevant Costa Rican authorities.