pura vida costa rica - costa rica lifestyle

Costa Rica lifestyle can be summed up in two words – Pura Vida. The expression, which translates to “Pure Life” in English, goes beyond its simple translation and is used to signify a variety of things such as “hello”, “good-bye”, “how’s everything?”, “ life is great!” and “take it easy”. This simple phrase describes how effortlessly the locals, or Ticos, embrace the simplicity of their lifestyles.

For visitors, this tropical paradise is a haven for those who have a deep appreciation for nature, wildlife, and tranquility. Locals and tourists alike, partake in Costa Rica’s beauty by trekking through jungles, hiking up volcanoes, and surfing the waves. As it is home to a substantial amount of the world’s most environmentally protected natural habitats, Ticos pride themselves in being some of the most viable and environmentally responsible people in the world.

Costa Rica is one of the 28 countries in the world without an army. In 1948, President Jose Figueres Ferrer abolished the country’s army in attempt to avert a civil war. Now known as a ‘civilized nation’, Costa Rica began propagating its funds to other areas such as educational, social, and health welfare for its citizens. The benefit of this has led to a community with a 96% literacy rate, sharp decline in fatal diseases, and a peaceful influence on neighboring countries.  Elementary and High school education is mandatory and free for children. The country has four state-funded universities, which are very competitive to gain admittance. The cost of attendance is around $200 per semester. A variety of private schools now exist to supplement the prestigious state universities. With 10% of GNP now going to health care, there are huge savings to gain while getting treatment done in Costa Rica. The country is known for high quality and low cost health care, plastic surgery procedures and life saving operations. Doctors are highly qualified and trained in their practices. In fact, many people from other parts of Latin America travel to Costa Rica in order to have their procedures done. Doctors are known to develop relationships with clients by spending time thoroughly answering questions, providing attentiveness, and occasionally making house calls.

TRAVEL in Costa Rica

You can travel to Costa Rica by land, sea, or air. Costa Rica has grown more accessible over the past decade with significant airport improvements. More specifically Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) and Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (LIR) have grown tremendously and opened their doors to new airlines, increasing flights to Costa Rica year after year.  Once you are in Costa Rica, traveling throughout the country can be quite an adventure. There are no addresses or street signs in Costa Rica. Dirt roads can take you anywhere you plan to go; and don’t worry much because paved roads seem to be popping up more frequently lately. You see everything on the roads in Costa Rica, from trucks and buses to horse and cattle. Driving laws for the most part are unclear and you are free to travel the open roads. For short-term visitors there are an abundance of car rental agencies to choose from. Long-term visitors quickly discover how expensive cars are to buy in Costa Rica and driving in isn’t cheap either. The cheaper travel options are most popular; ATVs, motorized scooters and bicycles are the way to go!

BANKING in Costa Rica

Visitors who stay in Costa Rica long-term may at one point decide to open up a bank account. While this is definitely possible, the process will take some time and preparation. Depending on what bank you select, the requirements and process will vary. Here is some useful advice to get you started:

Banks can be found almost anywhere in Costa Rica. Every town has at least one in addition to several ATM machines. You will definitely encounter a variety of banks so it is important to know how to distinguish them. There are two types of banks to choose from: National (State) banks and private banks and each has its own perks. Public banks generally have more security, as in insuring deposits, while private are less secure, so it is important to consider what your banking purposes will be. Are you only depositing and withdrawing small amounts for travel? Are you starting a business? Buying property? Moving assets?

Most people bank with national banks because they guarantee your deposit no matter how big it is. There are some disadvantages to using these banks such as long lines and waiting hours during peak times such as Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, and the 1st, 15th, and 30th of every month. You may also experience difficulty making withdrawals on time and transferring money quickly. A list of public banks includes Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Bancredito, and Banco Popular.

Private banks have their own perks. They generally have a better interest rate on borrowing and saving money. Interest rates around 10% are not uncommon. Private banks also provide shorter lines, faster service and more English speaking staff. Depending on your banking needs and level of risk, private banks may be well worth looking into. Some popular ones are Banco Cuscatlan, BAC San Jose, Banco Banex, HSBC, Banco Lafise, Cathay Banco, and Scotia Bank de Costa Rica.

Internet banking is also on the rise as more banks are offering services online such as viewing account balances and statements, making transfers between accounts, paying bills, and ordering checks.

Opening an account

To open an account in Costa Rica, you will have to provide proper documentation. Depending on the bank, you will be required to provide a valid passport, a utility bill, reference letter from your current bank, proof of income, and/or U.S. tax reforms.


Costa Rica Money Colone

The official currency is the colon, or colones for plural, although American dollars are generally accepted everywhere. The exchange rate is about 510 colones per dollar. It is recommended to pay in colones whenever possible, unless something specifically requires dollars.

Cash checks are not accepted, not even at banks, so it is best not to bring them.

POLICE in Costa Rica

Although Costa Rica has no military, it is maintained by a series of police forces. The Ministry of Public Safety operates the largest force, La Fuerza Publica or “Public Force”. Their main priority is crime prevention.  You will see officers of this type wearing black or blue uniforms, sometimes accompanied by a bulletproof vest with the word POLICIA largely written across the chest.

The judicial branch of the government operates the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial, or ‘OIJ’. These officers are responsible for taking police reports and conducting investigations. Individuals working undercover are without uniforms, while those active in search and seizure and warrant enforcements wear black t-shirts with ‘PODER JUDICIAL’ or ‘O.I.J.’ written on them. To avoid scenarios with perpetrators duplicating the simplicity of OIJ uniforms,  ask to see the  badge or credentials before proceeding with an officer. Under any doubt, you have the right to request the presence of an officer from La Fuerza Publica and your property cannot be searched without a court order signed by a judge.

The Ministry of Transportation operates the transit police, whose main job is to control traffic and monitor traffic violations. These officers do not make arrests, although they may detain temporarily until police forces arrive. They are not legally permitted to search vehicles, homes or demand to see immigration documents. Their uniforms are black and white and vehicles are blue and yellow.

Other police officials that you may see while traveling Costa Rica include the Immigration Police (Policia de Migracion), Border Police (Policia de Fronteras), Drug Enforcement Police (Policia de Control de Drogas) and the Toruism Police (Policia Turistica).


Unless privately insured, travelers seeking paramedic attention in Costa Rica can become burdened by the difficult task of receiving assistance during emergency situations. It is highly advisable for older adults to seek consultation before relocating to Costa Rica because emergency medical services are vastly different in comparison to North America and European services.

Emergency Medical Service (EMT) is seriously underfunded in Costa Rican and provided mostly by the Cruz Roja (Red Cross). The government does very little to support these services and as a result, the emergency vehicles have limited supply; mostly just a bed, a bench and a few bandage and antiseptics. As a result of a lack of resources, 38% of calls made to the Costa Rican Red Cross go unanswered. There is no guarantee that the operator speaks another language in addition to Spanish and there is also no guarantee that they will respond to your emergency. Fortunately, there are private ambulance services that offer guaranteed services for an annual fee. The Emergencias 2000, located on the Pacific Coast, offers services with a reduced response time. Emergencias Medicas is located in the Central Valley and they offer similar services.

The Benemerito Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica is responsible for all fire protection and emergency services throughout Costa Rica. They fight forest fires, house and business fires, handle landslides, floods, rescues, and traffic accidents. Similar to Emergency paramedics, fire departments are underfunded and understaffed as well. In 2012, there are only 63 active fire stations throughout the country, supplied with 400 paid professional firefighters and 1,000 volunteers. Many places do not have fire hydrants so firefighters must make do with what water supply they have. During the dry season, the short staffed fire department experience trouble, as there may be incidents of more than one fire outbreak. In these moments, residents are often left to fight the fire until emergency services can arrive.

In case of emergency, dial 118 for Fire Department and Rescue units. Dial 128 for Red Cross.

EDUCATION in Costa Rica

In 1869, Costa Rica became one of the first in the world to make education both free and mandatory for students. Initiated by many former leaders such as first president, Jose Maria Castro, education and literacy are key components in Costa Rican lifestyles. Costa Rica is the most literate countries in Central America, with about a 96% literacy rate. In fact, during the 1970s, 90% of Costa Rican adults could read and write compared to 45-60% of adults from neighboring countries. Since the army was eradicated in 1948, more funding has gone to providing quality education for citizens. Primary and High schools are found in most communities, although over crowding is typical. For those who can afford it, private school growth is on the rise.

The country funded its first state-university in 1940 and now has four prestigious public universities, the University of Costa Rica, the National University in Heredia, the Technological Institute in Cartago, and the State Correspondence University. Funds for these institutes are as low as $200 per semester, but even so, many students who cannot afford tuition can receive scholarships. In addition to these universities, there are small private universities that are growing in popularity across the country. These universities are more expensive than their public counterparts, charging per unit or per class for attendance. Students who can afford the tuition opt for this choice for its more focused and shorter terms, although most public preference is for public universities.

HEALTH CARE in Costa Rica

On average, the life expectancy in Costa Rica is about 78 years and this is contributed to many factors such as the slower pace of living, non-preservative foods, and also having some of the best healthcare in Latin America. Currently, the public and private sectors are both improving in terms of new facilities, equipment, and staff training. There are about 30 public hospitals and five private hospitals in Costa Rica. Health care costs are cheaper than United States and European countries, costing under $60 per visit or house call.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) or the Costa Rican Department of Social Insurance in English, is in charge of the nation’s public health and welfare sector. Its responsibilities include providing universal low-cost healthcare to citizens and legal residents including check ups, prescription drugs, and major surgeries. Health programs are preventative in terms of vaccinations and fumigations, or healing, surgery, therapy or clinical. Citizens and legal residents partake in the benefits of CCSS by paying a fee taken out of their income check monthly. In terms of an emergency, no one-including travelers-are turned away from public hospitals. However, non-residents have to pay a fee for treatments in cash, monthly, or private insurance options.

Private health care, although not free, is still cheaper than what is found in the United States, costing between $80-100 per visit. Doctors here, often work during the ay at La Caja and maintain their private practices after work. Three main private hospitals are CIMA hospital in Escazu, Clinica Biblica in San Jose, and Hospital La Catolica in San Jose-Guadalupe.

Some citizens opt for private insurance through the government owned, Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS), which is the only authorized health insurance provider in Costa Rica.

Abortions in Costa Rica are severely restricted in the majority of all cases, with a few exceptions being to preserve the life or physical health of the mother. Abortions are illegal in terms of rape or incest.

If you are experiencing an emergency, the emergency number in Costa Rica is 911. Additional numbers are as follows: Police (1117), Firefighters (1118), Red Cross (1128), transit police (2222 9330), and drug control police (800 376 4266).

HOSPITALS in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is notorious for providing some of the most effective and affordable health options in all of the Americas. In fact, many tourists make arrangements to undergo procedures and surgery in Costa Rica because hospitals provide well-trained doctors, which are often much less expensive than those in North America. There are two options for health care in Costa Rica: Private and public. In the private sector, there are 5 hospitals, Cima Hospital, Clinica Catolica, Hospital Clinica Biblica, Santa Maria, and Santa Rita, with the first 3 being the most popular.

These 3 hospitals are part of the Joint Commission International (JCI), which means they volunteer to have the independent organization assess their facilities to determine if they meet the set of standards required for operation. Cima, which stands for Center for International Medicine Advanced is located 15 minutes from San Jose. This hospital is a popular choice among North Americans and other travelers because of its similarity to North American hospitals and also, English is widely spoken. Catholica is located in Guadalupe, San Jose. Although similar to Cima, it charges far less in comparison.

CAJA Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) is the nations public health sector. Similar to the social security program in the U.S., Costa Rican residents have a small percentage of money taken out of their salary for these services, allowing them to be100% covered for all services. In case of emergencies, tourists and travelers can also use CAJA to seek medical attention. Public hospitals are known to be quite overcrowded and a bit noisy. However, these hospitals also provide good medical care, sometimes even better than private hospitals. For example, Hospital Mexico is a first-rate trauma and cardiac center; it has performed heart surgeries that some private hospitals do not offer. Hospital Nacional de Ninos is the children’s hospital, which is known to be the best in Central America for children under 12 that have life threatening injury or disease. There are 25 public hospitals and 250 clinics throughout Costa Rica.