Costa Rica’s General Information

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When Costa Rica was discovered Columbus called it Rich Coast for all the jewelry the inhabitants wore which made him believe that this was a fantastic discovery. Indeed, it was Rich Coast but what they did not know was they were giving it the right name but for other reasons. The richness was in ecology, rich in the flora and fauna with thousands of species of animals and plants. With the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica is well known for its peace and prosperity in the Central American area. The “Ticos”, as Costa Ricans are known, are very friendly and love to live in peace and with no worries. The historical events, visionary leaders, steady democracy, strong social and educational systems and the abolition of the army in the mid 20th Century contributed to the development and idiosyncrasy of this tiny but beautiful country. Thanks to the established political and social stability, Costa Rica is a peaceful and prosperous nation, safe for foreigners and locals.

Living in Costa Rica

When foreigners read, learn about or visit Costa Rica they fall in love with this small but beautiful country, its friendly people and the relaxing way of living. They begin thinking about moving to Costa Rica to enjoy the exotic beaches, wonderful weather and incredible flora and fauna.

It could be as an investor, a retiree or just as a company employee, Costa Rica always offers something attractive for you.

It is true that we are a country in developing stage; however, we offer and provide the necessary facilities you have or need back home with a twist you can get used to. Life here, somehow goes slower than in other countries thou not too slow. There is a mixture of relaxation and business, modern but easy way of living that characterizes Costa Rican people. Our advice is to leave all the stress and rush before coming here if you want to really enjoy this tropical country and its customs.

This is a country that embraces foreigners and invites them to come and join our way of living but wants it to be respected. Costa Ricans are friendly, outgoing by nature and love to share what we have with others since we consider it nice or worth enough to be shared.

Although we know the importance of progress, we just do not rush it or stress on it. This might get a foreigner stressed at the beginning but with time he ends up getting used to it. That’s why we have our expression “Pura Vida” (Pure Life) that implies “Why to worry”, “I am ok as I am”, “l am having fun”,” l’ll be ok” , “l’ll do that tomorrow”.

Good reasons for living in Costa Rica

  • Stable democracy

  • Good infrastructure for tourism and exports

  • High level of literacy and education

  • Nature oriented

  • Freedom of speech, beliefs and others

  • Equal rights in owning properties for foreigners

  • Not many migratory requirements

  • No army

  • Fiscal exemptions

  • Lower cost of living

  • Excellent service systems in electricity, health, banking, water and telecommunications.

  • Private enterprise support and incentives

The Government

Costa Rica is a democratic republic divided in seven provinces and headed by a president elected by the people every 4 years as well as a congress elected the same way. There are three powers that preside: the Executive conformed by the President, two vice presidents and cabinet of 17 ministers, the Legislative conformed by 57 deputies and the judicial one with 22 members. There are regional governments that rule each province which are San José (The Capital also) Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Puntarenas, Guanacaste and Limón. It is a neutral country and got unarmed in 1949. The death penalty was abolished in 1882 and people have enjoyed peace and freedom since the democratic guideline was established in the nation in 1889. Oscar Arias current president won the Peace Nobel Prize in 1987 and the country became a great place for human rights’ organizations to set their headquarters.

The Economy

Costa Rica’s economy is powered by tourism mainly although the country is big exporting agricultural products such as coffee, pineapple, sugar, dairy products among others. A factor that is currently changing the economy is the flourishing Real Estate market. This activity is in constant growth with the construction of hotels, condominiums and residential developments and all the secondary activities around these. It is a boom now -a-days especially on the pacific coast and the Central Valley.

The official currency is the Colón; however, dollars are widely accepted but in low denomination like 20-dollar bills as well as travelers checks and credit and debit cards. The banking system is very modern. You can find bank branches all over the country plus a wide web of automatic tellers, even ATM and PLUS. You do need an authorized ID with picture to make any transaction.

Multinational corporations find Costa Rica attractive because of the solid telecommunications network, its very well educated workforce, and the high standard of living. It is not hard for a foreigner to start a company as many have already done it. They can work in tourism, restaurants, real estate, education and more though.

Another plus for investing in Costa Rica is that as a foreigner, regardless of the nationality, you can have the same rights on property owning as Costa Ricans. This country is one of the few with this policy in Latin America. Costa Rica does not tax the out-of-country income you can have. Also all other taxes are lower than in the US. The property taxes are a fix tax of the sixth-tens of one percent of the stated value.

The cost of living is lower than the one in the US yet not that different. In some aspects it differs a lot like in house maintenance. Personal services are very affordable in contrast with products like clothing, cars, technology which are usually higher in price.

Regarding employment Costa Rica gives job priority to Costa Ricans and residents. It requires a work visa for any foreign person to look for a job here.

The People, Language and Education

With a population of about 4,000.000, “Ticos” are mainly descendants from early Spanish settlers. There are also some indigenous people but in reserves in remote areas of the country. The people on the Caribbean coast are mainly descendants from Jamaicans and there are other population groups like Chinese, North Americans, Europeans and other Latin Americans as well that have moved to Costa Rica looking for employment.

Costa Rica has one of the highest rates of literacy in Latin America with 96% even biting bigger industrialized and richer countries. Since there is no army the 28% of the total income of the country goes to education which is compulsory and free since 1869. Although public education is free there are hundreds of bilingual private schools in which English, French, German, Italian, Dutch and Chinese are taught. There is a wide number of Universities spread all over the territory. Public schools also have several languages as part of their studies.

Costa Ricans are in majority catholic but there is great freedom of religion and beliefs.

The Climate

Costa Rica is a tropical country situated between 8 and 11 degrees above the equator.  It has only two seasons: dry and rainy. The dry season with very little rain is generally between mid November thru April and the rainy or green season lasts the rest of the year - May through November, but still offers an average of about 5 hours of daily sunshine.  The Caribbean coast doesn’t have this extended dry weather and stays green all year round with more humidity.  The Central Mountain Region (San Jose) is more temperate, like spring-like weather.

Because of the altitude (1150m or 3772ft), San José has a cooler climate.   It has simply wonderful weather all year round.   The average temperature ranges in San Jose are from 57 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In December it changes to 63 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit.  National Geographic rates it some of the best climate of the world! 

The sea level coasts are hotter, with the Caribbean averaging 70°F at night and over 86°F during the day.  The Pacific side is a few degrees warmer, but the humidity is generally less, so it tends to be more comfortable. 

The "Gold Coast" or The North Pacific Region has a large number of hotels. It has a drier and sunnier climate.   This area is formed mainly by the Guanacaste Province. The area along the Central Pacific is greener, because of more rainfall, and then going more to the south towards Dominical and further, it rains even more and is more humid.  

Geography and natural resources

Costa Rica’s territory extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea with approximately 200 miles and borders with Nicaragua to the North and to the South with Panama. The land portion is 20 thousand sq miles. The country’s landscape and climate vary tremendously from province to province. This little country manages to satisfy the taste of thousands of travelers visiting it each year.

This green jewel is shaped by mountain ranges, thick forests, valleys, rumbling rivers, sandy beaches, powerful volcanoes, and many micro-climates. There are about 12 life zones from cloud forests to tropical dried forests, from wetlands to mountains above 1,300 feet high.

The Central Valley is the center of Costa Rica not only because of its geographical location, but also because of its culture and economic activities.

The valley has an altitude that goes from 3,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level.  The volcanic soil makes it very fertile and ideal to grow all kinds of products and the world’s best coffee. More than half of Costa Rica’s population (4 million people) lives in the Valley not only because of the economic activity but also for its perfect year-round spring-like climate. The capital city of San José is located there as well.

The conservation areas in the country conform the 30% of the territory, more than any other country in the world. There are more than 190 national parks and biological reserves in every corner protecting its exuberant wild life which makes of this country the emerald land in Central America.

The recent construction industry has provided a wide variety of housing for all tastes and many gated communities, especially in Escazu, Santa Ana, Heredia, Ciudad Colon and Alajuela.

Getting To and Around Costa Rica

Citizens from any country in the world need a passport to enter the county. Children cannot enter with their parent’s documents. People from US, Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and South Africa do not need any visa and are allowed to stay for 90 days. Also Central Americans do not need visa except Nicaragua and they get a 30-day permit and Panamanians get 90 days.

Passports need at least a month of remaining validity but in some airline counters require a six-month validity to travel to Costa Rica.

All visitors need to show a round trip ticket to be accepted in migration offices be it by plane, boat or bus. The visitor’s visas can get renewed by leaving the country for 72 hours and entering again; however, all foreigners should fix their visas to a legal resident status within a reasonable period of time.

If your children are born in Costa Rica and you have residency you will be asked for advanced departure permission from the Immigration Bureau Ph: 2299-8100.

By air

Costa Rica has three international airports being the “Juan Santamaría” the biggest and the most important. Located in the Central Valley it receives flights from any country and all kinds of planes. The Tobías Bolaños, a smaller airport close to the main one is more for local flights, but gets international flights only from Canada and the US. Finally, the Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia, (Northern Province). This one facilitates visitors the access to Guanacaste directly and save them a 5-hour drive. There is also a domestic network of internal airports, airstrips and airlines that serve the travelers needs to get to popular destinations.

By Sea

About 200 cruises carrying more than 300,000 passengers visit Costa Rica every year. Marinas are also becoming more popular and there are some along the pacific coast provided with amenities, and all services.

Ports of entry:

  • North Pacific (Playas del Coco): immigration ph: 2670-0216, Radio ahead (VHF16) before arrival, wait for an hour for response.

  • Central Pacific (Puntarenas): immigration ph: 2661-1446, Radio ahead (VHF16) before arrival, wait for an hour for response.

  • South Pacific (Golfito): immigration ph: 2775-0423

  • Caribbean Coast (Limón): immigration ph: 27-98-3836, Radio ahead (VHF16) before arrival, wait for an hour for response.

By car

Of all the 7 countries in Central America, Costa Rica has the 30% of the road infrastructure. You can travel from Canada to Panama on the Inter-American Highway and a trip can last 8 days from Texas to Costa Rica at least. Make sure to get the proper insurance in each country and specific driving rules. Costa Rica-Nicaragua border open Mon. - Fri. from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sat-Sun from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Costa Rica – Panama borders open Mon. - Sun. From 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Immigration office for borders Ph: 2677-0064.

In Costa Rica seatbelts are a must and baby car seats too. Your car gets a 90-day visa too and you can drive it throughout the country with your license. You can renew this visa once. After that you need to get your vehicle nationalized and pay the taxes.

Costa Rica might not have great roads indeed, but they will take you anywhere you want to go. The main roads are in good condition and the secondary ones are fairly good although you can find some that are a little bit adventurous. Be careful since not all roads are marked for night driving, bridges tend to be narrow and sometimes they have no railings. Watch for the yield sign (CEDA) because it is hardly respected. You can get road maps everywhere: hotels, car rentals, gas stations, souvenir stores.

There are plenty of car rentals to choose from in case you do not bring your own car. You can find these rentals not only in San José but also in all main towns.

Speed limit is from 45 to 90 k.p.h. and traffic officers have radars and you can get a ticket from $12 to $150. They are not allowed to collect money under no circumstance, just ask for the ticket. If your car is “Nationalized” you should get a permit from the National Registry Ph: 2224-8111 to get it out.

By bus

You can literally go anywhere by bus. The public transportation system is excellent and main routes have high end quality buses. Most routes depart from San José to the main destinations, but some times you need to board a local route service to get where you are going. You ether pay the bus driver in the city buses or buy the ticket at the bus station for far destinations. Some companies allow buying tickets in advance or make reservations. As in any country, watch you luggage and keep the tags in a safe pocket. There are also transportation companies that provide shuttles from town to town to avoid going to the main city to switch buses. You can travel directly from Chiapas (Mexico) to Costa Rica with a Costa Rican bus company and they will help you with all the borders paperwork.

Tourist facilities and Activities

In Costa Rica there are hundreds of hotels for all tastes and budgets from Backpackers to five-star luxury hotels. Being a tourist-oriented country, Costa Rica has developed an enormous infrastructure of hotels, tour companies, restaurants, amenities and all kind of services around this activity. More recently the “Vacation Rental Service” which Properties in Costa Rica also provides.

This tiny country offers unlimited entertainment such as adventure and cultural activities: Surfing, sailing, kite boarding, snorkeling, hang gliding, diving, horseback riding, bird watching, deep-sea fishing, hiking, tubing, canopy, rappel, windsurfing, turtle nesting, white water rafting, swinging, bungee jumping, golf and many more. Thermal waters, volcanic eruptions, spas, casinos are also other activities that you can enjoy as well as theater plays, museums, shows, historical sites, “Turnos” (town- community festivals), bullfights (we do not hurt the bull), crafty towns.

There are so many things to do that one or even two weeks are never enough time to do them all. But, one thing is for sure, you will never get bored.

Health Care

With a life expectancy of 65 pretty close to the US, Costa Rica boasts of its health care system. It is one of the best of Latin America and the best in Central America. The Governmental Bureau of Health has done an extremely successful effort to keep tropical illness eradicated or controlled. Every employee must be affiliated to the social security system that is very efficient. Children under 18 and elderly people above 65 are automatically affiliated by the state in case they cannot afford the fee or have no family that can pay for them. All foreigners have the right to get basic health care or emergencies even if they are not legal. You can find public hospitals and clinics all over the country.

Regarding private health care, Costa Rica is on the list of the best in plastic surgery, optical care and dental works in the continent. Educated physicians and general personnel plus excellent facilities with low cost is what make of these medical centers outstand from others in Latin America.

FUENTES:
Exploring Costa Rica 2008/09
The Tico Times
Almanaque Mundial 2008
Edicion 51 televisa
Inside Guides, Dicovery Channel
2003 edition

 

 

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