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.
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.
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.
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, Mercado Libre Costa Rica, Encuentra24, AirBnB, VRBO, (Use my special link to get $42 off your first AirBnB stay)
- 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.