Frequently Asked Questions
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT?
There is never a bad time to visit this beautiful country, as each and every day of every month and season has something to offer to those who live or visit. However, there are some considerations:
Costa Rica has two seasons: Wet (May-Nov) and Dry (Dec-April). Although north of the Equator, the seasons are reversed from those in the U.S. Wet season is considered Winter and Dry Season is considered Summer.
May-November is Winter. Most residents get their outside activities done in the morning, because it rains every day for 2-3 hours in the afternoon starting between around 1:00 and 3:00 pm. The country is lush, green and gorgeous during the Wet season. It's great to look forward to the soothing rain each day,right on schedule. September and October tend to be the "wettest" months of the rainy season.
December is the beginning of Spring and tends to be on the windy side and still a bit cool. Even those retiring from winter climates put on the sweat pants and jackets in the morning and evening. Visibility is outstanding, everything is in bloom (there's always SOMETHING in bloom!), the rain and clouds abate, even though a light shower once or twice per week can be anticipated. The afternoons are warm and basically sunshine ALL day long.
VACATION TIME? - Every month of the year has a lot to offer the general tourist and residents, alike. As September and October are quite rainy, land and mudslides are more common and can put a kink and aggravation both in land travel times and even intra-country air travel due to flight safety and precautions. Also, keep in mind the locals take vacation in December and the week before Easter. See below.
LOOKING FOR PROPERTY? - During the rainy season, you may not be able to see that "incredible view" because of the clouds, but you'll know all the problems with the roads. Dry season, it will be obvious what the view is. But the roads will be passable and dry. Better to look for property during the dry season (Dec- April), then come back in September.
EXPLORING BUSINESS? Don't schedule a trip in December thru January 10. It's "springtime and vacation season for the locals!" Kids are out of school, Christmas and New Year being celebrated and the entire country leaves for the family farm or the beach. The country more or less shuts down during this period. Even prospective key business contacts don't make exceptions to the tradition.
Holy week (Semana Santa) which is the week before Easter,ditto. It is the last hurrah before the rains start and the kids go back to school. Everyone leaves town, again.
WHAT ABOUT CRIME?
Always be a prudent traveler. Don't wear jewelry, don't carry the Gucci or Louis bag, and lose the Chanel sunglasses. No matter where in the world, it just isn't smart to bring attention to affluence. Don't wander around the street looking lost with a tourist map in hand. The bad guys can spot the unsure tourist immediately. So can the expats who have made Costa Rica their new home.
There are more incidences of violent crime on the Caribbean Coast and in San Jose, the capital city, although most crime everywhere is petty. San Jose, like almost every big city has bad areas. Also, urban/inner city poverty, breeds crime, which is why it is more prolific in and around the city. Taxi drivers will warn to keep the window rolled up. Again, the bad guys can spot a tourist, blindfolded, a mile away. There is razor wire around some properties in and around the city for a reason, even in what are considered "fine" neighborhoods. Many upscale housing communities are gate guarded for security.
Once out in the country, things change dramatically. The Tico people are painfully honest, helpful, receptive of foreigners and eager to please, assist and protect. Most in the city are like that, too. This doesn't mean they don't try to overcharge a gringo here or there! Also, Ticos simply can give bad directions, but not on purpose. They just want to help even if they don't know for sure, and so will give wrong directions. Add a language barrier and it can make for disaster. But, Ticos can be generously helpful. They will also take a visitor out the door, walk them down the street 3 blocks and deliver you to the desired destination! They, too, understand the language barrier and are eager to help.
Rules to follow: These are common sense rules of travel, anywhere. Be proactive, not reactive. Costa Rica is generally a safe country to visit.
1. Don't be flashy. Don't travel with or wear jewelry.
2. Walk around with meaning, direction and focus. Pickpockets and purse snatchers are the same the world over and can spot a mark.
3. Never carry original passport, only a paper copy - Carry two - one to keep and one to give away.
4. Never give a passport up to a police officer, only a paper copy.
5. NEVER offer a police officer a bribe and REFUSE when he asks one of you.
6. Always lock a vehicle, whether on the street or in a car park.
7. Never leave, camera, laptop, passport, anything of value, etc. in a parked vehicle. Cover luggage.
8. Park in an attended, fenced-in car park whenever possible.
9. If the neighborhood looks bad, it probably is. Get out.
10. A wrong turn can land someone TOTALLY lost. Don't drive unless you know exactly how to get there.
11. Drive at night only if the route is familiar and frequented and you've driven it before.
12. Taxis are cheap. If destination is unfamiliar territory, park the car in a car park and take a taxi.
13. Only take a red taxi with a yellow sign on the top with a number on the car, make them put down the meter arm. Offical taxis are safe.
14. Have a hotel receptionist or concierge write taxi instructions.
15. Never go anywhere without a phone number of someone who speaks English, and Spanish, who can offer directions back to point of origin.
WHAT IS THE COST OF LIVING?
Overall, Costa Rica provides excellent value for those seeking "more bang for their buck." The exchange rate against the US or Canadian Dollar or Euro automatically puts those currencies at an advantage over the Costa Rican currency (the colon) for both visitors and retirees.
Taxes and insurance (both house and auto) offer very significant savings to those who live here, vs. the same in the U.S.
Cost of Labor (especially domestic) is VERY affordable. It is realistic and well within even the tightest of budgets to have a housekeeper and/or gardener at least full-time, if not only part-time.
Utilities are also lower, with greatest savings seen in both land-line and cell phones. High speed internet is about the same. Although electric cost per kilowatt hour is comparable to a U.S. average, the climate is such that heat is not necessary and air conditioning is seldom used except in very warm areas of this country, which boasts an average year-around temperature of 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Even in warmer coastal areas, ceiling fans are generally quite adequate.
Auto fuel (gasoline or diesel) is more expensive, around $5-6 per gallon. This price, of course, fluctuates with the international markets, as it would anywhere. Natural gas currently runs $14-$18 per tank.
Groceries and durable goods and clothing are dependent on individual tastes. Imported items will always cost more. If one chooses designer clothing, imported cheeses, wine, and certain brand name foods, the cost will be higher, just like anywhere. Equipment and machinery is mostly imported, therefore sales and import taxes are typically applicable, making these items more expensive.
The sales tax in Costa Rica is 13%. This applies to many goods; some services and most grocery items are exempt. Then add import taxes, when applicable, and averaging around 13% (can be higher or lower). The result is most imported goods carry a total tax (sales plus import) of up to 26%.
Construction Costs for both Labor and Materials are on the rise and have seen a steady increase over The last 3-5 years. According to the Tico Times (English language newspaper) these costs have risen 30-40% in the last couple of years. A small portion of this perhaps due to the greater availability of imported appliances and decorating accessories.
WHAT ABOUT QUALITY DENTAL WORK
Costa Rica has a history of "dental tourism". Why? Because the dental care is excellent, the dentists often have training in the United States, most speak English as they either learned it abroad, or need to communicate in English because that can be a large part of their patients. The equipment is modern, many specialize in dental implants and have their own dental lab, offer guarantees, even American owned and operated with local dentists. While exploring the opportunity of moving to Costa Rica and retiring, take advantage of a "dental vacation" and pay for that tropical trip with the money you'll save comparred to US prices - up to 70% less. Go here for recommended dentists in Costa Rica with testimonials and reviews to find the dentist of your specific needs.
RENT A CAR, HIRE A DRIVER?
Yes, Rent a Car. Be sure to have a good and current map. There are rentals available with GPS. Or bring your own hand-held unit. Get a good map and stay on the main roads in the light of day. Traffic in and around cities can be horrific during rush hour. For every exit off the highway, there is not necessarily a well-defined entrance back on.
Do not drive in the country without a cell phone and a 24-hr. emergency number to call. It is expensive, but worthwhile insurance. (US phone will not necessarily work in CR. Explore options before arrival).
Be sure to take beverage, snacks, bug spray, flashlight and a book on all road trips. One can be tied up in traffic or behind a car accident indefinitely.
Driving in Costa Rica is different from the U.S., Canada and Europe. Main highways are good, but side roads deteriorate rapidly. Nothing is clearly marked unless on the highway. Even someone seasoned to international driving might find Costa Rica challenging.
4-wheel drive - If determined to rent and drive about the country. Unless all your destinations are right off the main highway. Rent a 4WD vehicle. The scope, comfort and safety of a CR driving experience dictates a 4WD vehicle.
Yes, Hire a Driver.
Better, always as a newcomer (or even old-timer) to not drive in the city. Take a taxi. The price of a hired driver can often be comparable to or slightly more than that of a rental vehicle, except there is piece of mind, a local who will see to all needs, 4 hours of a precious visit won't be lost, because you're,..lost. He or she has their own cell phone (another savings), and it's a likely opportunity to make a new friend. A driver knows all the best places and people to satisfy the tourist needs. Most speak reasonable English.
One caveat: Cut the deal up front: Establish a daily fee for driver's service. If overnight, the tourist should pay for his food and lodging. Beware he might be getting kickbacks from selected destinations. It is, however, hard to argue menu prices and posted hotel rates. As long as the kickback comes out of the vendor's pocket, it doesn't matter. Quite simply, a driver offers peace of mind and some hand-holding. Necessary for the timid, recommended for most first-timers.
Public Transportation - To heck with a rental or a driver. The buses in Costa Rica run smoothly, efficiently and safely. Bus schedules are available (albeit in Spanish) on the internet. Be sure to look for "express" buses. If a little more laid back, open-minded, flexible and not on a "private car schedule" using the national bus system for transportation should not be overlooked. Or use in combination with, rental, taxi, driver, etc.