How to find a place to live in Costa Rica: Part 2

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After living in Costa Rica for several years and moving around the country, always looking for nice affordable places to rent, I feel like I have learned a lot. I’ve done things right and also made plenty of mistakes and I’d like to share this knowledge on finding a place to live in Costa Rica with prospective or newbie expats. If I’ve left anything out, or you have a different experience to share, please tell us about it in the comments below.

The first part of this article about finding a place to live in Costa Rica can be found here. It discusses the first 2 steps: choosing a town, and setting up a temporary residence. The last two steps are below: determining a budget and living situation, and how to search for a place to rent in Costa Rica.

living in costa rica, in the mountains

Living in Costa Rica, in the mountains, is awesome. It’s peaceful, the people are friendly, it’s safe, it’s beautiful, it’s inexpensive. The only downside is that you will be further away from a city center where your job is likely located, so you are looking at a 30 minute to one-hour commute in a car, one way.

Step 3.
Determine your budget and decide whether you will live in Costa Rica alone or with roommates.

You need to decide whether you are going to live alone in a studio or small apartment or share a slightly larger apartment or house with a roommate.

Most people in Costa Rica live with roommates, so it is more difficult to find an affordable studio apartment, but not impossible. In the Central Valley, nice single-person furnished dwellings with utilities included run from about $350 up while you can get a 2-bedroom apartment for $500 up.

You will be asked to put ½ – 1 whole month’s rent down as a security deposit and it’s an unfortunate common practice for landlords to keep this no matter whether you damaged the place or not. So don’t budget or depend on getting the deposit back in case they refuse. A way to try and get around this is to insist that your deposit be used as the last month’s rent.

living in Costa Rica, in San Jose

Living in the middle of San José, Costa Rica is not for everyone. It’s expensive compared to the surrounding towns in the Central Valley, it has less wildlife, it’s dirty, and there is a high crime rate. BUT it’s incredibly convenient and has a lot of culture and a great nightlife.

Step 4.
Look for a place to rent in Costa Rica.

When shopping around, find out what the monthly rent is and what that includes: furniture, water, electricity, cable tv, internet.

Unfurnished apartments in Costa Rica often come without ANYTHING in them. This means no fridge, no oven, maybe even no closets… nothing.

Water and electricity rates can vary wildly depending on the town.

Find out what the average is by asking the neighbors. Utility rates also have staggered fees – if they reach a certain amount, ICE starts charging more per unit. For example, if the prospective rental place has air conditioning, a dryer and a pool, the electricity and water can be anywhere from ~ $100 – $400+. If there is no dryer, AC, or pool, the electricity and water can be as low as $10 a month or even less. Cable TV and internet are about $60 a month for 1mb, the companies do have sales like buy 6 months at half price.

living in a nice gringo-style house in costa rica

Houses in wealthier neighborhoods, like Cariari, are nice to live in, but come with a price. A room in a place like this comes with a pool, a contemporary kitchen and bath, 4 to 5 roommates, and runs about $450 a month.

Take the time to check any prospective places out during the day as well as at night.

Some neighborhoods change drastically when the sun goes down. When you first arrive to Costa Rica, the neighborhoods can look very similar, but after being here a while you will notice how different they actually are.

Ask around about the reputation of a neighborhood before you sign a lease. Take note of the businesses in town and what time they close, who your neighbors are, what the neighbor’s houses look like, and transportation.

If you have a car or bike, you need a secure place behind bars to park it.

If you are planning on getting around on the bus, ask a few people how often it runs and whether or not it is reliable. I’m serious about asking at least a few people – sometimes Ticos will tell you what they think you want to hear instead of what is reality. It’s their way of being polite.

Most furnished places come with a washing machine, but no dryer. You don’t need a dryer in Costa Rica, but you do need somewhere to hang your clothes to dry. Make sure the prospective place has a sunroom or a space outside to hang clothes. The sunnier and windier, the better. I can’t stress this point enough. I’ve met too many musty-smelling gringos, pobrecitos, who are living in an apartment and trying to dry their clothes in the dark over the course of several days. Peee-uuuu!!!

Begin your search by looking at the rental ads. Not all landlords are going to put an ad online, so your search is going to involve a lot of footwork.

  • Walk around town and look at for rent signs posted on the gates of houses
  • Check flyers at grocery store bulletin boards
  • Look online: Costa Rica craigslist and Mercado Libre Costa Rica
  • Look in the classified section of the printed newspapers
  • Tell everyone you know in Costa Rica that you are looking, this is not an independent venture. Quite frequently, someone will be planning on moving out and you can snatch their place up before it even goes up for rent publicly.

Once you find a place, don’t settle on the advertised asking price – bargain the price down! Most landlords are expecting this, so they have jacked the advertised price up $20 – $100. You can bargain down the monthly fee or for services to be included in the rent. If they won’t budge on the price, don’t cry… you just need to work on your bargaining skills, which should improve the longer you stay in Costa Rica.

If you are reading this and have had experiences searching for and renting places in Costa Rica, please share your experiences in the comments below.

Happy hunting!

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20 Responses to “How to find a place to live in Costa Rica: Part 2”

  1. September 22, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Great article Erin

    If you are not using a dryer, then you really need to get used to ironing clothes. An iron is a Tico version of a dryer.

    I happen to be selling a gently used Whirlpool dryer for a very reasonable price. Anyone interested?

    • Erin Morris
      September 22, 2012 at 9:57 am #

      If you have mostly girl clothes, I’ve found Suavitel, the liquid fabric softener, gets wrinkles out as long as you hang them up immediately in a location with at least a small breeze. However, those slacks that guys wear are a b*tch to magically suavitel the wrinkles out of and Daniel you are right – get used to ironing! …or add it to your fabulous housekeeper’s duties. Housekeepers in Costa Rica are awesome.

      • September 22, 2012 at 11:00 am #

        Ironically, if you buy clothing in Costa Rica you will likely have to iron it. However, I am a big fan of wrinkle free dockers, which are ready to go as soon as they get out of the dryer. Not sure how it would work on the line.

        As far as the maid is concerned, some people consider their maid is the “washing machine”. I never saw it done by hand in a tub until I came to central america.

        • Erin Morris
          September 23, 2012 at 10:54 am #

          I learned quite a few tricks for washing clothes when I lived with Ticos. Maybe I should write about that…
          As far as buying clothes here, I buy the cheap $5 shirts and dresses and those come out fine on the line…until they begin to fall apart. Ropa Americana stores have some good finds, leftover Goodwill stuff. I think guys just have a harder time in general with buying wrinkle-free clothing. Maybe it’s because it’s made from thicker threads to hold up better? No sé…

  2. wolfie_cr
    September 22, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    comment below mostly for areas outside San Jose “metro” or heredia/cartago/alajuela capital cities.

    keep in mind that landlines do take time (and this can be a LONG time) to be installed …if at all available….nowdays this is not as important as it once was unless your option to get internet is via DSL

    if you are in a ‘sort of remote’ location availability of internet may be a problem. in CR most of us get internet via either cable or DSL (which requires a landline)

    internet via phone (GPRS/EDGE etc) is available almost anywhere a cellphone signal exists……BUT the quality of it can go from terrible to ‘acceptable’ depending on the area /time of day

    if you need internet to work for example its probably a good idea to either see it in action OR check if there is cable coverage (with internet of course, as having cable tv doesnt mean internet through is available) before committing to a place

  3. Michael Lipkin
    September 22, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Hi Erin,
    Thanks for the great advice. My wife and I want to retire to CR next year.
    We have 2 trips to CR planned, just to be sure.
    We plan to rent, maybe not have a car.
    So far, preferred places are Grecia, Atenas.
    Wanted to connect, since you are a great source.
    Saludos,
    Michael

    • Erin Morris
      September 22, 2012 at 10:06 am #

      Nice to meet you :) Grecia and Atenas are GREAT places to retire to. If I were retired, I would probably live in Atenas, although I’m ridiculously happy in San Isidro de Heredia right now…
      Check on the Costa Rica blogs on my resources page. Some of the authors there are retired in the exact area you want to be in. pura vida :)

      • Michael Lipkin
        September 23, 2012 at 11:38 am #

        Thanks Erin,
        Nice to meet you too.
        Atenas is certainly tempting. That’s one place we will go on our tour.
        Then we might spend a couple of weeks there and a couple in Grecia over the winter as an experiment in living in CR.
        Keep up the great work.
        Michael

    • Wayne Harrison
      September 22, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Mike, are you on Facebook? My wife and I are making our first due diligence trip in Diciembre.. We’re three years out from moving, so I like to try and find people moving ahead of us to learn from their experience. https://www.facebook.com/WayneLHarrison

      • Michael Lipkin
        September 23, 2012 at 11:34 am #

        Wayne,
        We will definitely keep you posted on our progress
        I’m not on Facebook, though.
        Feel free to email me directly at lipkin.michael@yahoo.com
        (To all others, please no ads or promotional emails.)
        Mike

  4. September 22, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    Great advice Erin. Far too many expats looking for housing are getting ripped off falling for internet ads from realtors. The best deals are word-of-mouth or the bulletin board at the local supermercado.

    • Erin Morris
      September 23, 2012 at 10:55 am #

      I love the name of your website. Chunche is my favorite Costa Rican word!

      • September 24, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

        We do too! “Chunche” was one of the first pure Tico words I taught my husband on his first trip to CR. Its that multipurpose word for things, that just sort of rolls of the tongue.

  5. September 23, 2012 at 4:52 am #

    Thanks for the tips! I see that you say a 2-bedroom apartment can be found for $500+, so does that mean that each person would pay about $250?

    I’m curious because on the website for a TEFL school, the “shared apartment” accommodation option was listed as being $400. The apts are in San José, so I understand they’ll cost a bit more, but is this too much? They do find the place and put you in with another student in the same program.. so maybe the cost is higher for that reason? :/

    • Erin Morris
      September 23, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      I wouldn’t pay $400 each to share an apartment with someone unless it included utilities, at least one meal a day, a housekeeper, my own bathroom, a pool… shoot even for $300 a month you can rent a room in San Jose that provides housekeeping and a meal. Where exactly in San Jose is it?
      I wouldn’t stress about it too much if you are only going to be there for a month while you look for other housing because the TEFL school obviously has a relationship with those people and they will be good connections to have. Plus it will be nice to live with people from your school. Does it include transportation to and from the school? It might be high because they have certain apts reserved for the school and they are not full year-round. The school is probably getting a cut of that rent. You should try asking for a discount. Everything is negotiable.

  6. September 24, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    So many things to look for… it’s good to know what to try to find to avoid getting screwed! Thanks!

  7. October 1, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    So good to know! I don’t know their exact location (probably x meters from such-and-such former land mark) lol but they’re a 5-10 min. walk from the school, which is in the San Pedro district. I think I’ll stay with a host family that month though. Luckily the school will help with the apt. search, and I’m sure the family will have some good tips as well! Thanks!

    • Erin Morris
      October 2, 2012 at 11:36 am #

      San Pedro is a great place to stay while you search because it is so centrally located. A lot of people choose to stay there because of the convenient location and the nightlife. For me personally, though, it’s too much city, not enough wildlife. Good luck with your search!

  8. Dana
    January 12, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Hi Erin! SO glad I stumbled across your wonderful website……I have been researching a move to CR online for several months; but I have fond the information somewhat limited. I also have tried on numerous occassions to contact the various consulates/embassies here in the US. I am hoping that you and/or your many subscribers can answer ( at least some) of the many questions I still have. I do need to say that, unlike most who plan for years and/or make several trips to CR, I decided to simply “hold my nose and jump right in”, This is a little stressful, but my gut tells me it is something that I ‘need” to do and now. So, at this point, I am planning to head down by Mid- Febraury. I am a single woman in my 40’s who will only be accompanied my my cat ( i need some info on that as well – the cat, that is, though the single “scene” is of interest as well!) Here are some questions; any help woiuld be incredibly appreciated!!!!!
    1- Since I won’t have a car ( due to the duty you have to pay); will I be able to travel somewhat easily throughout CR- especially while I decide where to eventually rent? Are there realtors or tours or individuals that can help? So far the one “tour” I came accross was for aboUt 1 week and was at least $2,000!
    2- I have tried Using Craigslist for temporary and/or long term rentals and they all have attempted to scam me by telling me I need to wire money to their accont in CR! Are there any legitmate realotirs that won’t take advantage of a gringo like me ( either before or when I get to CR)?
    3- I thought I would like to live near or at the beach; perhaps Jaco…..is that a dcecent choice? Of course I am looking for a safe , nice area with a good number of expats.
    4- I have been trying to figure something out in regards to work- though I have a long history in the hospitality industry, I am also a paralegal ( in NJ). Any sggestions as to some options ( i.e. Teaching English – best way to get TEFL certification (online/at campus; attending Law School and/or furthering my legal education; tourism/hospitality positions; and finally obtaining internet work).
    5- I am a bit confused as to the medical insurance available to ex-pats. I am pretty sure I will want private insurance; but I can’t get a cost and I don’t know how to go about doing this ( also -any issues re: pre-existing conditions?) btw- my medical issues and the costs involved are a big reason why I want to move to CR.
    6- Can you give me the worst case scenario for a monthly budget for one person ( all inclusive)?
    7- Best options for air travel to and from Us and CR?
    8-I have read a great deal about the pension program…..however, I have a different type of situation. I receive $2400 a month in permanent alimony ,,,,,would this qualify me for this or any other program?
    9-Are there any ways to go to Costa Rica that may be more economic and have added benefits ( i.e. medical tourism ( something I would LOVE to actually work in as well; health and wellness programs/yoga retreats;attending school;volunteering, teaching english;living rent free in exchange for work of some type ( w/o being paid or paid very little)
    10- I have a great idea for a business ( involving tourism and the hospitality industry), but don’t really have the capital; though I don’t know how much I would really need anyway. Any ideas on how to obtain this capital ,once I am there?
    11-I do think that your comments and ideas about finding a temporary place to stay while I learn more about the different cities is a grat idea, bt, again, this has been difficult to do with any legitamate entity?
    12-FINALLY – Am I totally crazy for doing this????? ( i.e.:alone;never having been there before? So “quickly”? Not completely fluent in Spanish?,etc) LOL! Still, something tells me I need to go there and that if I don’t , I will always regret it.

    I am SO sorry that I have bombarded you with ALL these many questions……I am simply very desperate to get all the info I need as qickly as possible so I can get there and enjoy LA PURA VIDA WITH ALL OF YOU!

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    Dana

    GRACIAS!

  9. January 25, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    Thank you so much for your blog posts, they are very helpful for research.

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