Essential Tips For Living Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Below is an assortment of tips on living in Costa Rica.  These are some handy things we’ve learned by living here.  Enjoy!

Almost all prices in every store are negotiable

Americans are not accustomed to going into stores and having to haggle over the prices.  However, in Costa Rica you will find that most all prices negotiable. This is something that locals know, but many Gringos do not until they have lived here for a while. The normal discount is between 15 and 20%. Shortly after I first got here, I bought a dresser with mirror for our bedroom and the list price was 70,000 colones (about $140 at the time). I didn´t know to ask for a discount, and, if I had, I would have been able to get it for $28 less. You should ask how much something costs, and then after they have told you, you should ask how much it is with the discount. ALWAYS ask for a discount for higher priced items such as furniture and appliances. In San Ramón, there are stores that have one price on the price tag and when you turn it over and look on the other side, it has the lowest price they will go on that item.  These discounts apply to services as well, especially vehicle service.  When you get your bill, ask them what the cash price is without a “factura” — receipt.  The price will often be at least 10% lower.  However, without a receipt, you might sacrifice the ability to make a claim on any warranty.  So, I recommend that this be done only for routine services and not for major service that includes a lot of expensive parts.

If you see something you like and want, BUY IT!

Stores don´t stock items like they do in the U.S. and the inventory is always changing. That means, if you see something you like, chances are, that after it is sold out you will never see it again.  So, if you like it, buy it. And buy as much or as many as you think you will need or want.

Companies don´t send out bills like they do in the States, so the responsibility is yours to remember when they are due

The best advice we can give you is to write down on a calendar every month when your bills are due – electricity, phone, cable and water.

Paying bills is not as difficult as you read on the Internet

Actually, there are so many places that you can pay bills, that you almost never have to wait in line. Some of the places that accept payments are the Camera de Commercia (Chamber of Commerce), certain pharmacies, supermarkets and banks. You can also set up online banking depending on the type of account and bank.

There are virtually no street names in most of Costa Rica, particularly in towns outside of San José

This makes it very difficult to find places and to give directions. This can be, at the very least, frustrating and could also be perilous in case of an emergency. As soon as you move, learn how to give explicit directions to your house or apartment — in Spanish!

You can buy one unit of a lot of things, and bulk purchases don’t always mean a discount

For example, you can go into a pharmacy and buy one aspirin.  Or into a hardware store and buy one screw or nail. This is actually rather handy, because you don´t have to waste money on buying more than you need.  Additionally, when buying at places like PriceSmart or Hipermas, very often bulk buying is only for convenience.  For example, the price per unit is normally the same for one carton of milk, as it is if you buy a whole box of 12 cartons.

Pedestrians do not have the right of way — and watch where you are walking

As a pedestrian you should be extra careful because in Costa Rica; cars, not pedestrians have the right of way.  So you need to be especially vigilant when on foot.  Additionally, please watch where you are walking; Costa Rican streets and sidewalks are notoriously hazardous:  potholes, cracks, slipper tile near store fronts, etc.  Costa Rica is not a litigious country, so do not expect that you can sue a store owner, or building owner for failure to upkeep.  Courts routinely throw out these types of law suits.

Cargo/transport/moving trucks queue up every day in the same place and are available on demand

Since many Ticos don´t have means of transport, there are cargo trucks which can be rented very easily. For example, in San Ramón, there is a street where all the moving/transport trucks line up all day every day. If you need something to be moved, you can just go to the line and find someone who suits you and for a couple of dollars, they will come and load and move whatever you need. We moved a one-bedroom apartment in two hours for $30.00.

All U.S. citizens must declare all foreign bank and financial accounts with a balance of $10,000 or more to the U.S. Department of the Treasury

If you have bank or financial accounts in a foreign country with an aggregate balance of more than $10,000 as of December 31, you must file form TD F 90-22.1 with the U.S. Treasury Department by June 30 of the following year. You can find the form with all instructions at

Keep your garbage outside or take it out before you go to bed

This may sound strange, but kitchen waste attracts bugs. You can go to bed at night and wake up the next morning with all kinds of bugs crawling in and around your garbage can. Best to take out the garbage every night or either leave it outside.

Buy bug repellent and after-bite relief at the pharmacy and keep it on hand.

Since there are many bugs in Costa Rica,  you are bound to be bitten at some point. My favorite repellent is the cream version of a product called C-Van; you can buy this for $3 at any pharmacy and it lasts for months. Quadriderm is a great cream, it takes away the redness and itch overnight and can be purchased at any pharmacy. There is also a massage lotion called Tei-Fu, which is also good for bites but also good for aches and pains. A good Sunblock with an SPF of 60+ is Helioblock XL Total.  The cheapest product for anti-itch following mosquito bites is a popular item called Cofal — for $1, this product is similar to a light BENGAY and takes away the itch in less than 10 minutes.

Most Costa Ricans have two last names

In formal situations such as on business cards and signs, you will see names like ¨Maria Cecilia Ramirez Gonzalez.”  First name, middle name and then two last names. The first last name, in this case, Ramirez, is the father´s surname and the second last name, Gonzalez, is the mother´s surname. In an informal environment, this lady would refer to herself as Maria Ramirez (using her father´s surname). Therefore, sometimes if you give someone your first, middle and last names, they will drop your last name and think that your middle name is your last name. I have had doctor´s do this when they write a prescription for me. When women marry, they may use their first name and the husband´s last name in social occasions, but all legal documents remain in the legal format that I described above.

For those of you already living in Costa Rica, please Please send us YOUR tips!


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