Updated: Apr 21
Many people question ways in which they can move abroad and earn a living in a new country. In Costa Rica, we are very fortunate to have several ways in which to become a resident but not all offer the opportunity to work. For example, the pensioner, whereby proving your monthly pension income, you are eligible to live in Costa Rica. However, this type of residency does not give you permission to work.
There are other options for residency that involved the ability to earn a living, such as:
Rentier: is the one who receives a passive income from a lucrative activity, must prove a minimum personal income from rent of $2,500 per month for 24 months. Or could deposit $60,000 in bond and receive an income of $2,500. With this residence, the Rentier and direct family can live in Costa Rica, but the family as a dependent will have working restrictions.
Executives: this applies to the employee who has been relocated by the global operation of their company in Costa Rica.
Investor: applies to a foreigner who makes an investment of not less than $150,000.
Costa Rica also allows residency for people who’ve given birth to a child within the country, have relatives with Costa Rican citizenship or have married a local citizen. In addition, the country offers a digital nomad 2-year residency and an investors residency. Work visas are common within tech companies as well as the private education sector, however, if you are hoping for a work visa it will be the company in which you’ve been employed who will be required to sponsor you. Each type of residency or visa varies with respect to your ability to work within the country thus, we suggest speaking to a lawyer directly for more specific details.
Foreigners can own a corporation and start a business in Costa Rica given they hire local staff. (Read more about starting a business in Costa Rica via our blog.)
1. Boutique Hotels
Small hotels including bed and breakfast businesses are common throughout Costa Rica. According to Central American Data, there are roughly 2,500 hotels. Approximately 1.7 million people visit Costa Rica each year.
Hotel operations vary in size from a few rooms to large multi-key developments. Hiring a professional agent who knows the hotel market in Costa Rica should be your first stop. The price of a hotel will vary depending on the location, date it was built, and the infrastructure, however, you should be looking at the cost per room/key as a starting point for assessment.
While beaches are popular destinations, don’t assume that they are the only locations to buy or build a hotel business. While beach towns like Tamarindo, Dominical, Uvita, Jaco, are “hot spots” there are also fantastic opportunities off the beaten path and often with a lot fewer vacancies because they benefit from the local economy all year round, rather than the few months of high-season. We highly suggest investigating the economy in the central valley, 70% of the county’s population lives in the central valley. A hotel with a popular restaurant will benefit from clientele throughout all seasons because locals celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and graduations, etc. The central valley has a strong middle class who are eager customers. In addition, retreat centers with unique offerings such as yoga or wellness centers, recovery or therapy retreats, and gardening, sustainability, or permaculture workshops work well in the cooler more comfortable climates - once again drawing on both locals and foreigners within a larger market.
La Fortuna is an example of a popular inland destination that benefits from tourists seeking to see the Arenal Volcano. There are 6 volcanoes in the country. Coffee, permaculture, farm-to-table, medical, and dental tourism are also popular attractions to explore which are offered at a higher altitude inland or in urban centers.
Boutique hotels benefit from their ability to franchise, especially within niche markets. Be it digital nomads, fitness gurus, or medical/dental tourism as mentioned above. Costa Rica has successful homegrown franchises. Onda has its flagship location in Costa Rica. Selina is another example of a franchise with a specific niche customer that operates several locations in Costa Rica and more throughout the world. Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa has several sister hotels throughout the country known for offering luxury spa services away from the beach.
Shared ownership is also common, there are opportunities to invest in a business that is already operational which guarantees a return on your investment. Likewise, if you choose to own a hotel, you could hire an operational team and remain as a founder making profits from their expertise.
If you’d like to learn more about these types of investments, we’d be happy to schedule a consultation. As specialists within this market, we have a large network at our disposal. Browse our current featured listings via our website.
2. Land Development
Similar to boutique hotels, these projects vary in size. There is a plethora of land available for development in Costa Rica, therefore, building a community and/or vacation rental project is also a viable option. Be sure to know the legalities of owning property and building in Costa Rica. A building project takes time and patience but as with all successful projects, anything is possible with sound planning and a good team. Companies like LIVI modular homes can take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. They offer quick builds with high-end finishes, it’s a one-stop-shop with all costs upfront. (We are currently building with LIVI so feel free to ask us about our experience thus far.)
The frontier is changing. Many people are looking for alternative ways to live, and there has been an influx of individuals looking to own a farm, live off-grid, and develop sustainable permaculture communities, including, wellness and retirement neighborhoods. Small gated communities are just as frequent as larger ones. People who’ve found their perfect plot of land have successfully built small multifamily projects which provide a rental income.
If you have experience with larger developments, please contact us directly so you can become more acquainted with the properties and networks we have available.
3. Real Estate Investments
Costa Rica is a buyers market, Individuals living here long-term have done well through real estate investments. Many ex-pats sell their homes before moving which gives them substantial capital to work with once they arrive in Costa Rica. Since many people move here for a simpler, less materialistic lifestyle, it is typical to meet individuals who own several small condos rather than one large home.
Property taxes and maintenance fees are generally low in Costa Rica especially in the central valley but raise considerably in popular beach towns. Real estate investors earn a living from their multiple rental properties, especially individuals with knowledge of interior design who are able to up-stage their investments and furnish them for luxury short-term rentals. Management companies are plentiful should you chose to start your own or use an established service, there are business opportunities in this sector.
With experience flipping and selling, you may find success in Costa Rica. As mentioned above, the central valley has both local and foreign investors and select beach towns have lively markets due to a smaller inventory such as Tamarindo. Be sure you are able to sell at a profit. You can never be in a rush in Costa Rica, depending on the area, properties can take longer to sell than in North American markets.
Funding a Project
Financing is available for both Costa Rican citizens or individuals with legal residency. There are three important steps you need to take in order to be eligible for financing in Costa Rica.
Need to be a citizen or legal resident;
Required to have a local bank account with a credit card from that bank;
Registered with SUGEF to establish a credit score.
SUGEF gives a credit score rating between 1-4. 1 being the best score and 4, unsuitable for financing. It takes a minimum of 6 months to establish credit. According to Bankrate, 30-year mortgage rates in Costa Rica are between 7.36% and 9.66%.
If you aren’t eligible for bank financing, private financing may also be a viable option. Owner financing is common in Costa Rica, a motivated seller will offer financing with a substantial downpayment. There are also private lending firms available. Private financing can range between 5% and 20%.
The third way to fund a project is with investors. If you have a secure business plan and offer a strong ROI (above 6%, most investors want 13% or more), you’re in a good spot to seek a project investor.
For more information about purchasing, investing, and starting a business please review our Information Hub and blog posts. We offer an immense amount of information and can guide you to the right professionals. Our team at Make Costa Rica Home and our larger RE/MAX community are here to help. Please schedule a consultation if you are considering making an investment in Costa Rica.