You guys are so lucky to live and work in paradise!
This is something we hear ALL the time when people ask us what our jobs are. I get this a lot more than Yeison since he grew up in Costa Rica and people are always surprised at how I managed to move to Costa Rica at 23 and work as a digital nomad the nearly 5 years I’ve been here.
Costa Rica is actually a fairly popular country in Latin America for digital nomads. Though it’s still not as cheap or efficient as many Asian cities like Chiang Mai in Thailand, if you love Central America and tropical weather, Costa Rica is a top choice for you.
Most digital nomads in Costa Rica stay for 6 months to 1 year and though living and working in paradise sounds so easy, there are many things you need to know before you settle down into the pura vida life.
Here is our guide to being a digital nomad in Costa Rica so you can decide for yourself if you want to experience digital nomad life in one of the happiest countries in the world.
The Ultimatate Guide to Being a Digital Nomad in Costa Rica
- Popular Towns for Digital Nomads
- Monthly Expenses
- Sim cards
- What to Bring
Popular Towns for Digital Nomads
If you’re going to be a digital nomad in Costa Rica, you’ll want to thoroughly research where in the country you want to live since it is very different throughout the country. Depending on your style of living, standards and needs, you’ll be able to narrow down the best place for you. Here are the popular towns for digital nomads in Costa Rica.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Limon
This funky little town in the Caribbean is popular with digital nomads who like the laid back beach life. It’s also great for those who like wildlife as this area is teeming with sloths, toucans, monkeys and all sorts of birds. Though a touristic town, you won’t find any high rise buildings but you will find all the services such as banks, pharmacies, laundry, etc.
- Pros: Small expat community so easy to make friends, a party town so always something going on, beautiful beaches, wildlife, easy to get around without a car. Able to find cheap places to rent ($300 for more rustic cabina up to $900 for a house).
- Cons: Far from the SJO International airport, closest local airport is 1 hour away, known for having a higher crime rate, not as many luxury or upscale places. Fast internet is not everywhere.
Jaco in the Central Pacific
A popular surfing town in the Central Pacific, Jaco attracts digital nomads who want to be close to San Jose, don’t have a limited budget and don’t mind crowds. For those who like luxury or having the same conveniences as North America, Jaco is the place to be. Read what it’s like to live in Jaco.
- Pros: Many luxury and upscale housing options, only 1 hour from San Jose, lively nightlife, great variety of fine dining, easy to get around without a car, wildlife, great surfing, 4g common
- Cons: Jaco is a party town so more prostitutes, crime and drugs, expensive rent, gets super crowded on weekends, not a very pretty beach
Playas del Coco in Guanacaste
Previously a small fishing village, Coco is now one of the most touristic and popular beach towns in Costa Rica for foreigners. This town is also ideal for someone who has a family as Coco is very family friendly. See if you should live in Playas del Coco.
- Pros: Big expat community so easy to meet people, easy to get around without a car, close to some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, wide variety of housing options, only 20 minutes from LIR airport, one of the sunniest places in Costa Rica
- Cons: Food is very expensive, limited restaurant options, mostly retirees and snowbirds, 4g is not common, lack of water, not much local culture
Tamarindo in Guanacaste
For digital nomads who want to be around other young digital nomads or expats, Tamarindo is an excellent option. Tamarindo attracts a younger crowd than Coco due to the incredible surfing in the area and better options for backpackers.
- Pros: Wide variety of restaurants, excellent surfing, huge population of foreigners, good nightlife, has its own local airport, gorgeous sunsets
- Cons: slow Internet in town, expensive rent, not a lot of local culture, super touristic, not super easy to get around by bus
San Jose (Escazu area) in the Central Valley
Though most people prefer living at the beach if they’re going to be a digital nomad in Costa Rica, some people like the city and want all the conveniences of city life if they are staying for a long period of time. Most people choose to live in Escazu as it’s a more upscale area.
- Pros: SJO international airport, wide variety of housing options, access to all the services, easy to get around by bus, excellent weather, Pricemart (Costco), lots of malls and movie theaters, easy to experience local culture, excellent variety of food, more fast Internet options
- Cons: Lots of traffic, downtown San Jose is not the safest place, traffic, super crowded, roads and sidewalks are not in good condition, more fast food restaurants, did I mention the traffic? San Jose is also not a very beautiful city so don’t expect to have sweeping panoramic city views like Hong Kong or Bangkok. There are no hi-rise condo buildings with amazing views on the 60th floor. Cell phone service can be super bad because so many people are using the same towers
Dominical/Uvita in the South Pacific
This part of Costa Ballena is for people who want to get away from the crowds of touristic Guanacaste but still want beach and mountain. Most of them live up in the mountains so it’s very quiet and peaceful and they can get a great view of the ocean.
- Pros: Not a super popular area for digital nomads/expats so quieter than Guanacaste towns, close to lots of natural landmarks, stays green most of the year since it’s really humid, excellent hiking, lots of wildlife
- Cons: 4g is not common, hard to get around without a car, 4×4 is required since most houses are up in the mountains, not super close to SJO airport and the closest local airport is Quepos or San Isidro de Perez Zeledon. Not a huge variety of housing options, also can be harder to meet people since there aren’t as many digital nomads/expats
Grecia in the Central Valley
Grecia is considered to have the biggest expat community in Costa Rica. It’s very popular with retirees who don’t like the extremely hot weather of the beach and still like to be close to San Jose. Grecia is known for having the “best climate” since it stays a nice 70’s to 80’s all year long.
- Pros: Excellent weather, close to San Jose, easy to get around by bus, large expat community, still good amount of local culture
- Cons: Grecia is getting super crowded due to the amount of foreigners and locals. Kind of boring, not a lot of night life or things to do and not many young digital nomads since they prefer to be on the coasts.
I know more people who do work exchanges or volunteer in Manuel Antonio than live there as digital nomads. Since Manuel Antonio is super touristic, there are many opportunities for foreigners to do some sort of work exchange. Many of them work in a hostel in exchange for free rent or volunteer.
For those who love the beach, yoga and surf. Though the popularity of Samara is growing a lot, it is still a fairly mellow, laid back beach town. It attracts people who are into yoga and surf and the town has many vegan/vegetarian and organic options.
Since the goal of a digital nomad is to make enough income to sustain their travel lifestyle, they want to keep their monthly expenses as low as possible. However, this is one of the reasons why most people don’t stay in Costa Rica very long as digital nomads as the cost of living in Costa Rica is not as super cheap as one may think. Yes it’s in Central America and our neighbors are much cheaper, but Costa Rica is an exception. For one couple, it’s easy to spend over $2500 a month and more.
Our monthly expenses run around $2000 a month but we aren’t the typical digital nomad in Costa Rica since Yeison is Tico. Costa Rica is more of our home than a temporary place to live and we do not live in a touristic town. However, we have similar concerns as a digital nomad: fast Internet and technology.
Here is an infographic of the breakdown of an average monthly expense for a digital nomad. Remember, this greatly depends on where you live and your standard of living. Being a digital nomad doesn’t always equal to living on a tight budget, but most of them prefer to keep costs as low as possible.
Remember that your monthly expenses will depend on your standard of living which I’ll cover in detail below.
Of course there are other expenses I didn’t factor in like clothes, extra travel, books, etc. but this is an average for the basics. I also didn’t add in electricity since this varies depending on where you live. If you live on the coasts, you’ll be using AC a lot which is not cheap. You can spend up to $300 a month on electricity for a small 70 square meter condo running 1 AC all day.
If you noticed one common con in the towns listed above, it’s the Internet. Internet is the Achilles heel of many digital nomads and a big reason why they end up feeling like Costa Rica is not the best place for them.
In fact, Costa Rica ranks as having one of the worst Internet speeds in the world with an average of 3.8 mbps and less than 2% of the country with 10 mbps and above according to Acamai.
If you rent an apartment, you will likely have to put Internet in yourself, most of the time Internet is not included. Kolbi, the main telecommunications company in Costa Rica charges around $35 a month for 6 mbps, Tigo another Internet company charges around $30. 3mbps is $28! Fiber optic has come to Costa Rica but it is not available in most of the country. Internet is expensive in Costa Rica.
If you want fast Internet, you’ll have to pay for it. A 10 mbps plan with Kolbi costs 26,800 colones a month which is about $48.
When it comes to public Wi-Fi, it’s almost impossible to find. Cafe culture is nearly non existent in Costa Rica (only 2 Starbucks and they are in San Jose), neither are co-working spaces. Many restaurants have their own Wi-FI but refuse to share the password as they don’t want customers to linger, they want people in and out so it’s very very rare to see people working on their laptops in public places.
Sim cards are super easy to get in Costa Rica and not very expensive. A pre-paid sim card is the way to go for digital nomads since it doesn’t make to sign up for a post paid plan and you can buy a chip for as cheap as $2 and put as much credit as you want on it. Most companies have data + calling plans that you can activate or you can simply use the credit as you go.
Unfortunately, don’t expect fast Internet speeds. 4g is in Costa Rica but coverage is sparse. A recent study of 4g LTE networks in the world ranked Costa Rica 67th with 41% coverage (better than Sri Lanka at 29%, worse than Guatemala at 57%).
This is what will take a huge chunk of your monthly budget: housing. Most towns have a variety of housing options but you need to keep 2 super important things in mind is how you are going to get around and how long are you going to stay.
You are most likely not going to buy a car during your time in Costa Rica so it’s best to live in town so you’re close to everything. And like they say, what’s the most important factor in real estate? Location, location, location.
Our Experience in Tamarindo arethe a
For example, we live about 5 kilometers away from Playa Tamarindo. Our apartment is not super big and is 1 bedroom/1 bathroom. We don’t have a pool, ocean view, a guard or even a working oven (we use a microwave oven). It’s a very “Tico” place to live, which means nothing fancy but it’s spacious for 2 people with limited stuff. We pay $375 a month plus utilities.
Apartments and houses in Tamarindo town can run from $600-1500 a month easily and some aren’t even that new or nice. The increase in price is due to the location. For example, one of our friends lives in a studio in Tamarindo and she pays $600 a month plus utilities for a 6 month contract. Another friend lives in a 1 bedroom apartment for $800 a month plus utilities.
Since we have a car, we don’t mind living further away from town but as a digital nomad, you most likely will not have a car so you want to be closer in town. If you’re renting short term during high season, don’t be shocked if you find places charging more than $1000 a month.
Our Experience in Jaco (2015)
When we lived in Jaco, we lived in a gated condo complex outside of Jaco in a small 2 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment. Our rent was $725 plus utilities (we paid 6 months in advance so we got a discount, original price is $850). Our friend who lived on the beach paid $2500 for his 3 bedroom, ocean view, very spacious condo.
How Much Will You Spend?
How long you’re staying will also greatly affect how much you spend on housing. A digital nomad staying 1 week will have a very different experience compared to someone staying 3 months.
Short term stay (less than 3 weeks)
Your options are hostels, couch surf or apartment rentals. If you plan ahead, you may even be able to find a house sit that works for you and that will save a ton on money. However, this takes a lot more work since you need to constantly be looking and though there are many house sits opportunities in Costa Rica during off season (May – November), there are even more people applying so it’s competitive.
Hostels in Costa Rica generally are clean and have a shared kitchen with a communal area. However, many of the communal areas aren’t conducive for working as they don’t have a designated working space. Wi-Fi is usually available although not the fastest. Some hostels have their own restaurant which you may be able to use as a working space since you are a guest.
Something important to take note of is that air conditioned businesses are not common. Most of the restaurants in Costa Rica are open air which can be a problem for your equipment. We run heavy programs like Adobe Premiere to edit hundreds of gigs of videos and photos and it takes a heavy toll on our laptops when it’s 90 degrees out.
This is why most people opt for apartment rentals, even if it’s more expensive. They will have more security, comfort and efficiency than staying at a hostel.
Mid term stay (1-5 months) and long term stay (6+ months)
Airbnb and local listings are the way to go. You can also go to a real estate office but generally those can cost more because of the agents commission.
If you find a place you like on Airbnb that you want to rent for long term, contact the owner directly. Do NOT book your stay on the Airbnb website because you will be charged extra Airbnb fees. Talk to the owner directly to set up a contract.
Facebook is also your best friend in these cases. Each touristic destination has their own real estate and rentals group like Tamarindo Rentals, Puerto Viejo Rentals, etc. There you can post your request for an apartment and find available listings. I highly recommend putting notifications on them as rentals go fast, especially in high season.
Don’t forget to check Craigslist which is not dead yet in Costa Rica. We found some good listings for Jaco on there.
Costa Rica’s public transportation system can take you all around the country from San Jose or Liberia but routes are few and long. The upside is that it’s cheap. You can go from coast to coast for $20.
As a digital nomad, you’re probably only planning on staying in one area and not traveling the entire country. Even so, it still depends on where you will stay. In Playas del Coco, you can walk or get a bike so even if you live a little outside town, it’s easy to get around. Same goes for Puerto Viejo and Tamarindo. In Dominical/Uvita, if you pick a place up in the mountains, you have to have a car and a 4×4. Or find a place that is in town but there aren’t as many options.
You can find taxis everywhere in Costa Rica so that’s an easy solution if you need to go to the market or do errands. Uber is in San Jose with a few in Jaco, Quepos and Guanacaste (Liberia, Tamarindo).
Food is not that cheap in Costa Rica unfortunately, no matter which part of the country you are in. To eat cheap, your best options are sodas (traditional Costa Rican restaurants) or bakeries. A typical lunch on average is $6 at a soda.
Costa Rica’s food scene won’t blow anyone away but with the huge influx of immigrants the past several years, you can find more variety. Italian, Mexican, Argentinian grill and American are the most common cuisines. Sadly good Asian food is nearly impossible to find outside of San Jose (and even the ones in San Jose are so-so). Expect to pay $$$ for anything not Costa Rican. A personal pizza is easily $15, Argentinain grill $40-50 per person.
Thankfully, fresh vegetables and fruit are everywhere. Many towns have a feria (farmers market) every weekend where you can get local produce and specialty items. If you visit a touristic one like the feria in Tamarindo, you’ll find produce to be a lot more expensive than if you visit the feria in Villarreal, the local town outside Tamarindo.
2 dozen eggs cost around $2, a kilo of tomatoes is $3 and two kilos of onions are $3. Mangoes, pineapples and cantaloupe are very cheap since they are grown here. But not all produce is cheap, avocados are very expensive in Costa Rica (~$7 a kilo), as well as cheese. If you buy local cheese, it’ll be around $3-4 but if you want quality cheese like gouda or blue, you can pay up to $10 or more and more for a small block.
Meat is also expensive in Costa Rica and there isn’t a huge variety of cuts. If you like seafood, find a fish market and you can get fresh fish for a good price.
One of the reasons why digital nomads choose Costa Rica as a temporary home base is the myriad of fun activities to do. Spend your weekends hiking in the national park or chasing waterfalls, end your day with happy hour on the beach. Surf in the morning, party at night. The options are endless.
In touristic towns, particularly the beach areas, bars are everywhere and great value since many of them offer happy hour. Some bars have happy hour from 11 Am -7 pm! Beer is around $2 and mixed drinks around $5 and some offer 2×1.
Many digital nomads prefer to live by the beach because there are so many things to do and plus, who doesn’t want to experience the beach life in Costa Rica? Depending on which beach you’re at, you can fish, surf, SUP, swim or snorkel. Tamarindo, Jaco and Dominical are surfing beaches whereas Coco is a fishing village. Puerto Viejo has decent snorkeling. Samara is great for kayaking and swimming.
If you’re in the Central Valley cities, you can grab a bus or Uber to popular spots like Poas Volcano National Park. From San Jose, you can bus to every main town so you can easily go on weekend getaways to the Caribbean, Arenal, Guanacaste or Manuel Antonio.
Since Costa Rica is a touristic country, there are a ton of tours to do. Go ziplining, horseback riding, canyoning, white water rafting, hiking, surfing, cave exploring, sunset sailing and more.
Tours are expensive but I highly suggest setting aside a part of your budget for them because they are crazy fun. Go ziplining in the cloud forest, horseback ride on the beach, SUP to a white sand beach, sail back under the sunset – you can’t do any of those things if you don’t go on a tour.
Tours prices depend on what it is. A ziplining tour costs around $75, a sunset sailing tour is $85 and white water rafting is $100. Prices also depend if you have your own transportation, if you don’t it will be more expensive.
For exercise, gyms in Costa Rica are around $50-70 a month for a membership and classes are $7-10 per session. You’ll find that most people like to get their fitness on outside though. We bought a used surf board for around $250.
The best way to network in Costa Rica is to join the Facebook groups like Expats in Costa Rica or finding the Facebook page of the town you’re living in and seeing what’s going on that week. Networking works largely through the events put on for tourists which makes it easy to meet people.
Costa Ricans are very outgoing and friendly people so even if you know a little bit of Spanish, it’s not too hard to meet locals. And when you meet one local, they’ll introduce you to everyone they know.
USA and Canada passport holders can stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days on a tourist visa. Digital nomads in Costa Rica do a visa run every 3 months if they’re staying for longer and most people pop over to Nicaragua or Panama for a short visit. You can do a one day visa run.
What to Bring and Other Important Things
Here are some extra thoughts about being a digital nomad in Costa Rica.
- Bring extra battery packs. It is common in rainy season for the power to go out. Buying a surge protector is not a bad idea either because of this reason.
- Voltage is 110 in Costa Rica so bring several convertors/adapters if you need to as they’re not super common in supermarkets.
- Anything that has to do with technology is very expensive in Costa Rica, up to twice as much as the US so take extra care in your electronics. Bring plenty of USB cords, Apple cables, HDMI cables if needed and don’t lose your external hard drives, memory cards and CF card readers. Bring a laptop case and waterproof phone case.
It may seem like being a digital nomad in Costa Rica isn’t all that cracked up to be due to the bad Internet and expensive cost of living but on the other hand, you get to experience the pura vida life surrounded by friendly locals and a plethora of incredible natural landmarks.
Sure we don’t have an impressive city skyline but we have breathtaking waterfalls, volcanoes, beaches, rivers, mountains and jungles. Instead of working inside a 50 story skyscraper, you get to work in the jungle surrounded by toucans, monkeys and sloths.
Live on the coasts and your only traffic is the herd of cows in the middle of the street. Wake up every morning to monkeys, catch waves in the afternoon and end every day watching the sunset on the beach. Get your fill of Vitamin D with nearly year round sunny weather.
That’s a unique experience you can’t get anywhere else!
Thinking about moving to Costa Rica permanently? Check out my living in Costa Rica stories!
I hope this guide helps you gain more insight into the life of a digital nomad in Costa Rica and gives you a better idea of how much you’ll spend. It is definitely a country for those who don’t mind a slower pace of life and want to escape city life.
I absolutely love that we can surf/hike in the morning, work all day and then relax in our hammock at night. Or watch the sunset from our favorite hill. Or go to one of the dozens of beautiful beaches nearby!
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