Top 10 Expat Communities in Costa Rica

By: Kim Walters

Top 10 Expat Communities in Costa Rica

There are many things to be considered when moving abroad.  Each person has different wants and needs that will directly effect where one should consider relocating to here in Costa Rica.  I failed in this department when it came to us taking the big leap from Maine to Costa Rica.  The only thing I considered was that the girls wanted to be at the beach.  When I did my exploration trip in June 2012 my focus and visits were only to beach towns.

It's been just over a year and we are still in Costa Rica but in a different location than where we started out. In hind sight these are some of the things that I would have considered before leaping; size of the town, size of expat community, location to bigger cities, temperature and public transportation.  With taking those things into consideration the places I would have visited would have been drastically different.  

Here are 10 towns/cities that seem to be popular destinations to the expat population here in Costa Rica, broken down by region.

Central Valley

The climate in the Central Valley is one of its biggest draws.  On average the temp in the Central Valley is in the mid 70's with cool breezes off the mountains.  Another draw is its central location to the big city and its already built in expat community with many social clubs and lots to do!

Grecia:

Population:  15,457
Distance to San Jose:  45 km

Grecia has been voted several times as the "cleanest town in Latin America" and it certainly lives up to its name.  Grecia is a medium sized town but small enough to be safe and friendly yet big enough to have a decent size expat community and plenty of services.  You can find many expats as well as locals hanging out in the main square or wandering about the Central Market.

Alajuela:

Population:  50,000+

Distance to San Jose:  17 km

Alajuela has been called a mini San Jose as well as the City of Mangoes.  Alajuelas Central Park is lined with Mangoe trees (hence the nickname) providing shade for those that have congregated to catch up on the local happenings.  Expat's can be found here sharing information about local apartments for rent or where to find the best deal in town.  Even thought this is a town of 50,000, a day at the plaza in the heart of the city can give it more of a small town feel. Saturdays are a great day to get out there and meet your neighbors at the big open market.  Expats find that Alajuela is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city.  

Escazú:

Population:  15,000

Distance to San Jose:  12 km

Escazú is one of the oldest settlements in the country and is also one of the most prestigious places to live in Costa Rica.  Residents here love the fact that they are only 15 minutes away from the big city but worlds apart in terms of atmosphere.  This town is also home to the big Multiplaza where you can conquer all your shopping needs as well as catch a movie.  There are many expats that have made this their home which insures that you will have plenty of neighbors who speak your language.  The convenience and variety of shopping establishments enriched with the many different cuisine options makes this an ideal expat location.

Central Pacific Coast

The climate on the Pacific coast is completely different then the Central Valley.  Temperatures are on average in the 80's and 90's, very humid with a distinct wet (May-Nov) and Dry (Dec-April) season with some rain just about every day, even in the dry season.  

Jacó:

Population:  10,000

Distance to San Jose:  2 hours

Jacó is a Pacific Resort Beach town, full of souvenir shops and surfers.  Ease of access to San Jose and the airport are the big attraction for expats who surf and love the beach.   Jacó is continually growing which is also increasing the not so positive aspects of the town like drugs and prostitution.  The negatives do not take away from this being a expat location mostly due to the growing business opportunities to be had here.

Quepos:

Population:  7,500

Distance to San Jose:  3 hours

Quepos is a charming fishing town that has not lost its Tico authenticity.  It is a low key alternative to the gringo packed trail not far beyond.  The town center is a bustling little town with many little shops, restaurants and gallery's situated on the beach front.  7 km south you can find the Manuel Antonio National Park, a big attraction for tourists.  This area has some of the pretties white sand beaches as well as the biggest variety of flora and fauna.

The Southern Zone

Climate in the Southern zone is the same as the Central Pacific; hot, humid and tropical rain forest like. Temps in the 80-90's, often with a daily shower and a very wet wet season.

Uvita:

Population: 2,500

Distance to San Jose:  4 hours

Uvita is a small but very pretty beach town.  This area is known as one of the most serene, unspoiled areas of Costa Rica.  The small community has grown over the past few years to include several banks and super markets, a health and dental clinic and a feria every Saturday morning. You will often find folks on a leisurely stroll along the beach.  

The Gold Coast

The climate in North Pacific is has the most sunny days and least rainfall of anywhere else in the country.

Tamarindo

Population:  3,000

Distance to Liberia:  1 hour -5 hours to San Jose

Tamarindo is the top surf destination in Costa Rica giving the town a young, chill, laid back vibe. Tamarindo went from once being a small fishing village to the most developed beach on the peninsula.  This fun little town has almost all amenities needed, if you can't find it here it is only a hop, skip and jump away from Liberia where you can get just about anything.  You will find expats from all different parts of the world hanging out in hammocks or walking their dogs all along the beach.

Playa Hermosa:

Population:  Less than 1000

Distance to Liberia:  20 minutes -5 hours to San Jose

Playa Hermosa is one of the nicest beaches of the area with its tranquil grey-sand and stunning coastline. You will find condos and hotels scattered throughout the hills and wandering vendors selling coconuts and souvenirs along the beach.  There are an abundant amount of services in the town from shopping, food and drink to tourist activities.  Playa Hermosa is the least busy beach in this area. 

Arenal:

Arenal temperatures are cooler with fresh mountain breezes and lots of rain.  They say they have two seasons; wet season and really wet season.  Most people living in this area carry an umbrella with them at all times. You can expect a shower on a daily basis but you can also expect that the sun will shine!

La Fortuna and surrounding area:

Population:  10,000

Distance to San Jose:  3 hours same to Liberia

La Fortuna is home to the Arenal volcano and all the tourists that come with it.  Most expats that come here start some sort of business that revolves around the tourist trade.  Even with the big tourist pull, La Fortuna has managed to retain it's small town feel.  La Fortuna has many good places to eat, several grocery stores, bars and banks.  You can find local expats mingling at the Lava Lounge.  There are many things to do in the area to keep yourself entertained and there is nothing better than ending your day with a dip in one of the local hot springs.

Nuevo Arenal:

Population:  3,000

Distance to San Jose:  4 hours -3 hours to Liberia

Last but not least!  Nuevo Arenal is where we currently reside.  Nuevo is a charming little town with a fairly large expat community of Americans, Germans and Canadians.  We have two grocery stores, a clinic, dentist and vet, two banks, three bakery's, a gas station, two hardware stores and two butchers.  If you are not able to find what your looking for in town, Tilaran is only a short 30 minute drive and will probably have it. You can find most expats hanging out at Iguanas on the main strip.  There are many expat activities going on through out the week like poker on Tuesday, Bridge and walking club on Wednesday, Gringo breakfast on Thursday and various other groups and meetings!

Make sure you do  your homework and visit the different areas before settling on a place.  If possible I would recommend staying in several areas for several months at a time to get a real feel for the area before buying.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingKim Walters is an American expat living in Costa Rica. Blog description: A blog about a single mom, 3 amazing kids, travel and family! My name is Kim, I am a mom of 3 amazing kids. My world revolves around my children....I am a single mom and love every minute of it! We have lots to share with you and hope that you will take a look around and follow us on our current journey!
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Contest Comments » There are 66 comments

SJ Begonja wrote 10 months ago:

I had zero idea that so many expats lived in SO many places in CR. Thanks for the info.

Constance wrote 10 months ago:

Great introduction and information about ex-pat areas in Costa Rica!! Very informative and really thorough!!

Greg Seymour wrote 10 months ago:

As an expat in Grecia I kind of wish you would leave it off the list….Grecia is perfect the way it is and has plenty of expats - lol. We find the weather and views unbelievable. On our due diligence trip we look at several of the beaches in the North Pacific but chose the cooler, at least temperature wise, mountains.

Casey Bahr wrote 10 months ago:

Greg, at least she pretty much dissed (and missed) our lovely La Zona Sur. That ought to keep out the riff-raff! :) Kim, good luck in the contest. Looks like there are three of us from Costa Rica so we will all be winners. Pura Vida!

Frankaboutcroatia wrote 10 months ago:

Kim, this is a very good overview of Costa Rica's expat towns. Grecia sounds perfect. Maybe Greg will see more expats soon :). Good luck in the contest!

Adelina wrote 10 months ago:

Wow, I had no idea there were so many expat communities in Costa Rica. Good to know.

Sharon wrote 10 months ago:

Thanks for this informative post. I have heard a lot of those names in relation to Costa Rica, but didn't know anything about them before.

Dianne wrote 10 months ago:

Excellent writeup but you missed the lovely town of San Ramon. 3 minutes to town and you have ocean views. A university, a full hospital, lots of cultural events and a good sized , very active expat community. Small town feel. Beautiful climate of the Central Valley not as warm as Grecia or Atenas.

Lunaguava wrote 10 months ago:

Great overview! We'll return to this post once we get closer to Costa Rica - a few places sound suitable to our relaxed (read lazy) lifestyle. Sorry Greg... Good luck and enjoy the pura vida!

Jeff Villwock wrote 10 months ago:

Kim, incredibly helpful. As you know I'm planning on moving to Costa Rica next Fall and will be taking an initial trip in March. This helps in putting together the areas I want to see. Thanks !!!

Samantha wrote 10 months ago:

You forgot Playas del Coco! Well Playa Hermosa is close enough :) Very true article and informative for all those who are trying to decide where to make their next chapter in life. Good job Kim !

Beth wrote 11 months ago:

Wow, there are a lot more expat communities than I would expect in Costa Rica! Thanks for all the info

Sarah Bennett wrote 11 months ago:

Great list, Kim! I wasn't aware of there being so many expat communities in Costa Rica and this goes into great detail :)

Don wrote 11 months ago:

Very informative post. It's information like this that is so helpful to anyone who is considering a move to this beautiful country. Well done!

Guy And Ros wrote 11 months ago:

Thanks Kim for doing the leg work for us and keep up the good work!

Gary & Stephanie wrote 11 months ago:

We chose Arenal to retire after numerous "vacations" to Costa Rica. Love it here. Thanks Kim

Jen Seymour wrote 11 months ago:

Kim - highly respect you for moving here as single mom with your daughters. I have to side with Grecia though - I love it here and think it's the best! Cool temp's and small-town, non-touristy feel to it. Good luck!

Jessica Wray wrote 10 months ago:

This is exactly the kind of post I look for when planning to move abroad. The expat community can differ so much depending on what city you are in! I bet CR is a fantastic place to spend some time living :)

Lisa Bunn wrote 10 months ago:

Great overview of some of the many wonderful places to choose in this amazing Country. Good luck with the competition, you have a great writing style!!

Megan Claire wrote 10 months ago:

Thanks for this! We're heading to COsta Rica next year for a prolonged period of time so this has been really helpful :)

Carla Bashaw wrote 10 months ago:

Great Information Kim, however I am still content with living in the USA!

Travelboulevard wrote 10 months ago:

Now that's what we call a great article! It's always a pleasure to read about your adventures. Keep up the good work! Hugs from Jempi & Nina :)

Jempi & Nina wrote 10 months ago:

Love to read about your adventures Kim. Keep up the great work! Happy hugs from Jempi & Nina

Sarah Bailey wrote 11 months ago:

Oh wow how interesting - sometimes I wonder about moving abroad - dream of a different life I'm not sure where I would want to go though.

Elizabeth C. wrote 11 months ago:

I did not realize how extensive and well connected the ex-pat communities were abroad. My husband has often talked about selling it all and "running away." Thanks for the thorough run down of Costa Rica's expat communities.

Leona Martin wrote 11 months ago:

I have never visited CR...wow I didn't realize that various countries settle here as well as Costa Ricans. I've never really studied up on CR, but had no idea that the population in some areas are pretty high. Thanks for sharing and you are right when you want to go abroad...research. This is great for those that are looking to head to CR whether visiting or moving.

GossipMoms wrote 11 months ago:

I would love to see you win Kim, your personality rocks, keep up the great work that you are doing

Sherrie W. wrote 10 months ago:

I am heading to Costa Rica in a few months! My boyfriend lives there and I may end up in one of the communities you mentioned :)

Jayne Townsley wrote 10 months ago:

I knew a family that stayed in Costa Rica for over a year to go to language school before moving to Chile and they loved it there.

Paula A Redden wrote 10 months ago:

Nice work on all you've done this last year Kim and kids!

Brenda Goodwin wrote 10 months ago:

Great info Kim!Good luck on this and always enjoy your posts!!

Tiffany Redman wrote 10 months ago:

I've lived in 5 different areas of Costa Rica and so far, I've found a great expat community in each place. Oh how lucky we are to live in Paradise and to share this adventure with each other!

Pat Jones wrote 10 months ago:

Visiting family now in Nuevo Arenal-what an amazing country this is!

Emily wrote 10 months ago:

Good information! We've bounced from Atenas, to Grecia, back to Atenas, and next to Playas del Coco. Lots of beauty in this amazing country.

Emi Galli wrote 10 months ago:

We live in Costa Rica from more than 20 years. Congratulation Kim, great job!!!! ;)

Naseerjan wrote 11 months ago:

Great info Kim! I have never visited CR... thankyou...kim

Sooraj Jan wrote 11 months ago:

kim .. you send me great information... iam interested....fist time iam seen about costarica...

Sourav Jan wrote 11 months ago:

kim... thanks for sharing the link...iam impressive about arenal... good work...

Jissmon wrote 11 months ago:

kim .. you send me great information... iam interested....fist time iam seen about costarica...

Kannan wrote 11 months ago:

thanks having a good information about costa rica..thank you kim

Muria wrote 11 months ago:

Great information! We sure do miss Kim but we are glad she's having such a great time!

Paula wrote 11 months ago:

Costa Rica is a gorgeous country (I am from neighboring Guatemala). I am not surprised at all that so many expats live there.

Lexie Lane wrote 10 months ago:

These communities are quite small! Sometimes I think our lives here would be different if we lived in smaller communities. Thanks for this breakdown and letting us know a little about it.

Vishak wrote 10 months ago:

Good information! We've bounced from Atenas, to Grecia, back to Atenas, and next to Playas del Coco. Lots of beauty in this amazing country.

Wood Arts Universe wrote 10 months ago:

Great Blog!!! I have never been to Costa Rica.. May be will go next year..\r\nThanks for sharing

Kim Miller wrote 10 months ago:

I would LOVE to be an expat! I have lived all over the US, but dream of living abroad. Very good tips on finding the right community. It was interesting reading about the different ones in Costa RIca!

Karen @TheMissingNiche wrote 10 months ago:

Great blog! I recently read 2 books written by ex-Pats in Costa Rica. Interesting stuff, although I could never move!

Curby Aardvark wrote 10 months ago:

I have never left North America; this all just seems like some dream for a guy like me. xD

Trisha Grimes wrote 10 months ago:

These all sound like great expat communities! I didn't realize Costa Rica had so many!

Fabulous Perks wrote 10 months ago:

I had no idea there were so many expat communities in Costa Rica. Now I know... Thank you so much for sharing!

Fabulous Perks wrote 10 months ago:

had no idea there were so many expat communities in Costa Rica. Now I know.. Thanks for sharing! http://fabulousperks.blogspot.com

Lindsey Wagoner wrote 10 months ago:

Kim I admire all that you are doing right now, you believed in something and went for it, it has enriched both you and your girls lives and what a learning experience! Love the wondering Walters and I enjoy all the blogs and pictures posted, because of you I will make it to Costa Rica someday! Soon!! Belize was our first choice but I must go to Costa Rica now!!

Carla wrote 10 months ago:

This is excellent information! I have always wanted to visit Costa Rica! So beautiful :)

Becky wrote 10 months ago:

I've never been there, but sounds great! I'll know where to look if we decide to go :)

Malia wrote 10 months ago:

I've heard Costa rica is beautiful. I'd love to visit there one day.

Jennifer Van Hus wrote 10 months ago:

What an interesting post! I have never been to Costa Rica so this is all new information to me! It sounds like you and your daughter are on an amazing adventure!

Tessa Castro wrote 11 months ago:

I found your blig entry quite inyteresting and informative. I've never been to Costa Rica but you make it sound like fun and resourceful place to visit.

Jennifer Williams wrote 11 months ago:

I have never been there but it it is amazing to think that there are that there are very few people living there. I would love to visit just for that reason alone.

Hannah Cole wrote 11 months ago:

You are an amazing person Kim and so brave for choosing to make the decision to make the move and change that will enrich the girls lives forever! Great Blog and very informative!

Eileen wrote 11 months ago:

It is nice to read about places around the world where there are expat communities. This would surely lessen the stress of homesickness. I love the way you have written such an informative article about these communities in Costa Rica.

Denice wrote 10 months ago:

Great summary on many of the top locations where expats settle down. So many towns to choose from, but a great high level summary of many of the diverse locations. A little something for everyone :-)

Katherine Bartlett wrote 10 months ago:

I never heard of any of these. Thanks for the post!

David Astad wrote 10 months ago:

Does anyone have information on moving companies to use for moving to Costa Rica?

Wanderingwildman wrote 8 months ago:

I have been thinking about moving to Costa Rica. I am currently in Taiwan. This is a perfect way of laying things out. Any advice for finding out info about the music/arts/live performance community as I am a stand-up comedian?

Kelly wrote 7 months ago:

Hi Kim, Thanks for the valuable info. We were in Tamarindo. Isn't the san jose airport about 1 1/2 - 2 hours away from Tamarindo? You stated 5 hours. Could you please clarify this for me since we will be moving soon to CR. Thanks.

Juan Eduardos wrote 3 months ago:

Many of our American expat neighbours (who have been living in Costa Rica on Social Security pensions for years), have not been able to absorb the 45% increase in Caja premiums, the cost of electrical power, and the overall increase in everything else in Costa Rica, so they've gone back to the states. Costa Rica has become the most expensive place in Central America to vacation and retire, mostly due to the high import taxes imposed by government. Costa Rica is a great country to retire in if you can afford it.

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