Planning Your Move
Planning an international move to Costa Rica is all about organization and understanding logistics. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare, and do as much research as possible into all moving minutiae. Consider the following:
Save yourself some stress: don't leave things until the last minute. You'll need at least six months to prepare for your move. Print out our moving checklist, and add your own items as they arise.
You've most likely set a moving budget, which will cover airfare, extra luggage, hotels, shipping, packing materials, a rented storage unit, and more. The cost of moving is different for everyone, but doing adequate research will allow you to uncover unexpected costs and set a realistic budget.
For big ticket items, like plane tickets and international movers, shop around. One shipper could guarantee you only $1,000 in customs duties while another estimates $3,500. Don't leave time-sensitive items, such as gathering documentation required for residency or renewing passports, to the last minute. Expedited services are costly and will add to your bottom line. Most importantly, factor in some wiggle room – 5-10% of your total budget – into your expenses. If you don't have any last minute or surprise costs, treat yourself to a nice dinner in Costa Rica!
Banking & Finances
Before you move, make sure to either pay off debts – bank loans, credit card balances, etc. – or set up your accounts for automatic bill-pay or online banking. Set aside a lump sum of "settling-in money," which should be calculated based on your projected moving and at least three months' worth of living expenses. You should also put aside contingency funds, in case of medical emergency, job loss or other unforeseen circumstances. Finally, talk to your accountant about how to file income taxes from abroad, and how Costa Rican residency will affect your bottom line.
You'll need to decide whether you want to ship your belongings to Costa Rica, bring only what you can carry as luggage, or start completely fresh upon arrival. If you choose to ship items, you have two major options: hire an international mover to ship your belongings via container, or pay a company to ship individual boxes (usually for a flat fee, regardless of weight). Air freight is another option, so contact your airline regarding their cargo policies; you may be able to ship up to ten boxes per person for $100-$200 per box. Building your household from scratch also has its benefits, including a low-stress move. Once you arrive, head to Sarchi or Palmares to commission custom-made furniture at bargain prices.
About six months before you relocate, begin collecting documentation. Make sure your passports are valid for at least three months after your arrival in Costa Rica. Check insurance coverage, and if it extends to Costa Rica, print out a list of what medical facilities and hospitals are included within your international network. Ask the doctor's office for copies of medical records and vaccine history, especially for children. If you'll be applying for residency, collect all corresponding documentation; this can take awhile, so give yourself plenty of time.
Moving can be hard on children, but there are several things you can do to make the transition easy for them. Let them help with the packing, and take their opinions into consideration. If they insist on taking a certain item, consider packing it; the comfort of familiar objects will help your kids to feel at home.
Contact your children's schools to notify them of your move. Request their school records; you may need them in Costa Rica. Update vaccinations. Have your kids collect the addresses and emails of their friends, and set up a computer to use Skype or some other video chat software. When you're researching where to live, factor schools into the equation. The Central Valley is home to several bilingual and English-language schools, and giving your kids at least a year to adjust to a new language will help ease their transition into a new culture. Look for a family-friendly neighborhood, and if you're interested in a gated community, choose one with facilities like a playground or pool.
First and foremost, research which airlines will allow pets to travel with you. Be sure to speak with an airline representative, as several companies have blackout dates and additional requirements to allow pets onboard. Your pets must also meet all import requirements, which include current vaccinations and a pet health certificate. It can be difficult to find an airport hotel that accepts pets, so start your search early. Home rentals and aparthotels are an excellent alternative, and often flexible regarding furry visitors. Even if no pet policy is stated, don't hesitate to ask if your four-legged family members are welcome.
Whether you're considering several towns or just one, it's very important to test-drive your potential home. Plan to rent for at least six months – one year is recommended – before you purchase a home. Costa Rican neighborhoods are different than the ones back home, and you never know which one will best meet your needs. It can be tricky to rent a home from abroad, so it is a good idea to line up an aparthotel or short-term vacation rental as a home base for the first few weeks. From there, you'll have plenty of time to explore potential neighborhoods and available rentals without feeling pressured to commit to something before you're ready.
Decide whether you will want a car in Costa Rica. In general, the country's public transportation is inexpensive and efficient. Taxis are also economical – less than half the price of cabs in major U.S. cities – and are convenient when you don’t want to take the bus. If you don't own a car, rental vehicles are always available for trips around the country. If you do plan to drive, you'll have to decide whether you'd like to import a vehicle or buy locally.