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Moving to Costa Rica from the United States

It’s often been said that moving is one of the more stressful events in a person’s life. There are so many details to keep track of, deposits to be paid at new apartments (or loans


It’s often been said that moving is one of the more stressful events in a person’s life. There are so many details to keep track of, deposits to be paid at new apartments (or loans to obtain if buying a house), and people to coordinate; it can feel overwhelming. Moving to another country can add another layer of complication to that task. While I can’t help you out with making your arrangements for you, I can certainly give you some tips and advice that I’ve learned from moving here on two separate occasions.

The size and length of your move will obviously greatly determine what kinds of arrangements you need to make. Shorter term stays are much easier to account for than situations where you may be moving here indefinitely/permanently, but the tips below will hopefully help you when considering your move to Costa Rica.

  • Living Accommodations: Obviously, one of the first things you need to take care of when making a move is knowing where you are moving to. There are myriad real estate agents in Costa Rica to help you find the right options. Obviously, use your own contacts, do your homework, and check out who might work best for you. If you prefer to do most of the legwork yourself without a middle man, consider websites like Encuentra24. Also, check out the articles I have written about renting and finding rental options for more tips and advice on this process.

  • Movers: If you need to move furniture, electronics, closets full of clothes, kitchenware, etc. you’ll need to find a company that does international moving. Most of the big companies provide this service and prices will vary greatly depending on where you are moving from as well as how much you are moving.

It’s important to note that the movers will first box up your belongings and then pack those boxes into shipping crates which need to be inventoried by the moving company, so don’t pack up in boxes beforehand. I suggest consult your moving company for their suggestions/policies on this as I was not made aware of it before my move, and it meant the movers had to unpack everything and then repack it after doing the inventory which cost some additional time.

The time it will take to arrive in Costa Rica will obviously also vary depending on where you are located. I moved from Chicago, which meant it took about a month for my crates to arrive. If you are living in a land-locked part of the States or Canada, it’ll probably take a little longer. If you live on one of the coasts, it’ll probably take a little less time.

  • Customs: Another important thing to be aware of if you are moving goods from the States to Costa Rica is that when your crates arrive, they will need to be inspected by a customs official. They will look primarily for electronic items (TVs, stereos, cameras, etc.), but also for items that are illegal to import, etc. They then will issue a tax on certain items, so you may end up paying some extra money on the back end. Again, consult your moving company on what is allowed and not allowed to be imported into the country, and also about tax rates for imported items. This will be something to consider when you are thinking about what you want to move to Costa Rica, as it may help you decide what you want to bring and what you want to sell before moving here.

  • FBI Background Checks, Birth Certificates and Apostilles: If you are planning on living in Costa Rica permanently (or at least indefinitely), you should look into getting your residency here. Outlier Legal Services can obviously help you with this process, but one of the things that is always required is getting your FBI background check as well as a certified birth certificate. It’s always a good idea to check with an immigration lawyer beforehand to make sure that you are getting exactly the kind of documents that you need.

Once you get your documents, they need to be officially apostilled (this is an official stamp that proves the documents are authentic, which is accepted in most countries around the world including Costa Rica). The process for this varies from state to state, so again, a lawyer is your best bet for guidance on this process (or, for a fee, they can take care of the process for you).

If you know before you move here that you will need these documents, though, I highly recommend you get them before coming to Costa Rica. I currently have a friend from the UK who is having all kinds of troubles getting his background check from a distance and having to jump through many hoops to do so. Save yourself the headache and either get them while in country or hire a lawyer to get these documents for you.

  • What Should You Pack?

    • Clothing: Costa Rica is a tropical country and so you will never need heavy clothing (i.e.-parkas, long underwear, thick wool sweaters) and you will rarely need anything more than a light jacket or light sweater unless you live in some of the highest elevations. Even in the mountains during the day, I am personally usually comfortable in shorts (though I tend to run hot. If you run cold, bring a sweater or long-sleeved shirt). In short, leave those winter clothes behind, or at the very least, be prepared to stuff them into the back of your closet and never need to use them unless you’re visiting the States in the winter.

In addition, Costa Rica tends to be a fairly informal country. People almost never wear suits here, even for important business meetings. Sometimes you’ll see men wearing a tie, but even that is relatively rare. A nice button-down shirt (long or short-sleeved) is appropriate for men in most of the nicer restaurants and business settings. For women, having some nice skirts, pants, or blouses is important, but formal evening wear is rarely seen here. Be prepared to dress more casually here in general.

    • Electronics: As mentioned above, give some serious consideration to what electronics you may want to bring here. It’s a bit of a catch-22 in that electronics are extremely expensive to buy here, but importing them will also incur a tax. If you’re already using movers, it may not be a bad idea to bring your TVs, etc. and pay the tax rather than paying for entirely new electronics, but that being said, moving is always a good opportunity to downsize and this is a place to consider making some cuts.

    • Kitchenware: You can buy lots of inexpensive cups, plate, silverware, etc. at local stores. You can also find more expensive pots and pans and kitchen appliances in higher-end stores. That being said, you may have a hard time finding that special blender or food processor that you love down here. Options tend to be a bit limited, so if there’s a specific brand/model you need to have for your kitchen, it’s best to bring it down. Also keep in mind that if you want fine china, it’s best to bring yours (though you’ll want the movers to pack it well, obviously).

    • Furniture: Costa Rica has many wonderful qualities, but it’s not really known for its quality furniture. Sure, you can go to Sarchí and there are some nice wood tables and whatnot, but if you’re looking for a great leather sofa or a plush chair that is well-built and won’t fall apart quickly, you’ll probably want to bring your own. There are international stores where you can find U.S. quality furniture, but again, your options are somewhat limited. You won’t find many antiques down here, so if that’s your thing, you’ll need to bring your own. If you’re fine with run-of-the-mill furniture, you can buy it here. Otherwise, bring your own if you’re making that permanent move.

    • Documents: I’ve already touched on getting your birth certificate and FBI background check before coming, but make sure you bring any other important documents with you such as records of your tax returns, securities documents, your passport, driver’s license, etc. This probably goes without saying, but don’t forget those important documents for long term stays.

    • Personal items: The shopping options available in Costa Rica seem to be improving year to year. More international companies are arriving, and the local shops are becoming more sophisticated and better. That being said, I still like to go to the States once a year to buy things like clothes or a new laptop, etc. If there is something that you love to shop for in general, do a bit of research on buying that item here before moving here to see if it’s widely available. If not, consider stocking up before coming down.

Hopefully these tips and suggestions will help you when considering your move down to Costa Rica. The process can be a bit arduous, but once you get here, it can be well worth it. As I like to point out in many of my articles, remember that the settling in process can go through phases. You’ll likely go through that honeymoon period where you’re excited about being here, and then some realities will settle in that life here isn’t the same as in the States. Be patient. Learn to appreciate the differences, and even learn to do without some of the things you took for granted in the past. Add some new habits or tastes and expanding your comfort zone.

We look forward to welcoming you down here in Costa Rica and good luck with your move!



William Harris has lived in Costa Rica (on and off) since 2004. He has a Masters in Applied Linguistics and has worked in the ESL/EFL field for 20 years. His interests include writing fiction and poetry, playing bass, and traveling locally and internationally.

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  • Julia September 26, 2021

    Nice article. I agree with everything you suggested. We moved here 4 years ago. We filled a container yet somehow we failed to bring some items that we really could have used here. Like our gas powered pressure washer and generator, weed eater and other power tools. 2 of the 3 tvs we brought and all of our cd and DVD players are dead. The things we thought were important to bring turned out to be the least important. Electronics in general don’t do well in this climate. Its better to just buy them here. At least they’ll have a warranty. Good quality tools are almost impossible to find here too. Wish we had known. Oh well, Pura vida:)