Costa Rica Digital Nomad Law [updated Sept 1, 2021]

[UPDATE on September 1, 2021] Costa Rican president, Carlos Alvarado signed a bill that creates a new class of visa for digital nomads. The law will allow foreign remote workers people to work in Costa Rica for up to a year with an optional year renewal. It is expected that this new legislation will help the country attract more foreign workers and boost its economy. 

The new law is called, Ley de Atracción de Trabajadores y Proveedores Remotos de Servicios Internacionales or Law to Attract International Remote Workers and Service Providers, in English. It creates a new category of non-immigrant visas for digital nomads that meet the requirements for qualification. 

The new law officially took effect on September 1st, 2021. The regulations associated with this new law should be published by early November. This publication will outline details on how digital nomads can apply. 

As this law progressed through the various stages of debate and approval, the argument was made that the application process should be made available in a convenient online form with a quick turnaround for approval decisions. 

Qualifications for the new visa: 

Income requirements for Costa Rica digital nomad visa

For an individual, a successful applicant must prove that they have been receiving a regular and stable salary, fixed income, or average monthly income in the past year of at least $3,000 USD or equivalent amount in other currency. 

For a family, including spouse/partner, children under 25, and/or an older adult who lives with the family, the income requirement is $4,000. 

Insurance requirements for Costa Rica digital nomad visa

Everyone covered by the visa must carry private medical insurance for their entire stay in Costa Rica. 

Benefits of Costa Rica digital nomad visa

  • Visa-holders are granted legal residency in Costa Rica for one year, with the option to extend for an additional year, provided that they spent at least 180 days in Costa Rica during the first year. 
  • Additionally, primary visa-holders are exempt from income taxes, although the benefit does not apply to the primary visa-holder’s family. 
  • Import taxes are exempted on items that are used for work, such as personal computers, communication devices, technology, and other equipment that is needed for the visa-holders work or business. 
  • Visa-holders can open a savings account in one of the government-owned banks, such as Banco de Costa Rica and Banco Nacional. This visa doesn’t make the holder a legal fiscal resident of the country. 
  • Digital nomad visa-holders can legally drive with their foreign driver’s license. 

Why Digital Nomads Choose Costa Rica

Costa Rica is among the most beautiful places in the world, with a variety of outdoor activities for the whole family. The tourism industry is large and important to the economy of the Central American country. It also regularly ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. It enjoys tropical weather. 

There is surfing and other water sports on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. If you like hiking, there are a multitude of opportunities, including multiple trails which end at the cusp of a volcano.

It’s a great place from which to work remotely. In fact, there are thousands of digital nomads in Costa Rica, enjoying the laid-back lifestyle and natural wonders, while working remotely for their employers in North America, Europe, and other locations. 

I’ve worked remotely from multiple locations within Costa Rica. Each location has its advantages and disadvantages. 

If a beachfront experience is what you’re looking for, then I’d recommend Intercultura, in Playa Sámara. It’s primarily a Spanish immersion school but also offers its facility to a limited number of coworkers. 

Intercultura has:

  • 100 Mbps fiber optic network
  • Free coffee and tea
  • Multilingual support staff
  • 24/7 security
  • Tropical garden
  • Chill-out lounge

It’s also, literally, right on the beach! For more information, call 1-844-877-2647 or click here to contact via email.

View of the ocean from coworking office at Intercultura in Playa Sámara, Costa Rica

If you do a lot of video conferencing, you’ll be limited to locations within the country with fast and reliable internet, like the Central Valley (including the capital city San José, Heredia, Alajuela, and surrounding areas. Internet is fast and reliable in Jacó, and parts of Guanacaste (such as Intercultura in on Playa Sámara). However, if you don’t need constant high-speed access and you can deal with the occasional internet outage, then your options for locations in the country are wide. 

Where to Live in Costa Rica as a Remote Worker

Here are two factors to balance when deciding on which part of Costa Rica to settle for a week or a month or longer as a remote worker:

  • Access to reliable, fast internet and business facilities.
  • Climate and activity preferences.

Access to Reliable Internet & Business Facilities

Despite having one of the best internet infrastructures in Latin America, Internet speeds in all parts of Costa Rica may not always be as fast as you are accustomed to. The most reliably fast internet is in the Central Valley. Companies like CableTica, Tigo, and Claro offer reliable internet service throughout the Central Valley. 

Internet connectivity is improving in Costa Rica. Fiber infrastructure is growing and that’s reflected in SpeedTest.net’s global index of average internet speed via mobile connection and fixed broadband. 

In August of 2021, the average mobile download speed was 34.39 and upload speed was 10.69 measured in megabits per second. This ranks 72nd in the world and represents an improvement of 3 places from the previous measurement period. 

Fixed broadband speeds during the same time average 57.27 downloads and 3.51 for uploads. This puts Costa Rica 74th, an improvement of five places. [source]

When I work from Costa Rica, I normally take an unlocked dual-band smartphone. I buy a prepaid SIM from one of the three major cellphone providers, Kolbi, Movistar, or Claro. If the fixed internet that I’m using goes down or otherwise doesn’t work well, then I’ll tether to my smartphone in order to keep working. To learn more about smartphones and prepaid services in Costa Rica check out this post

At this time, prepaid plans are not available to tourists. It’s unclear if the phone companies will open up a more traditional postpaid plan for digital nomad visa holders. 

Costa Rica Travel Tip for the digital nomad: get a virtual private network (or VPN) service before you travel. A good VPN service will keep your internet data secure when you are on a shared wifi or internet connection. It will also let you watch streaming video content from services such as Netflix, without the hassle of geography-based blocks.

The best VPN deal that we’ve seen is Surf Shark [check current price here].

Co-working Spaces

The international temporary office company, Regus, has two locations in the central valley. Both are located in one of the richest parts of the valley, a group of towns known collectively as Escazu.

If you’re interested in maintaining a corporate level of amenities and luxuries in a co-working space, then one of these Regus locations might be your best bet. 

Selina, the company that runs hostels, also has something that they call a co-working space in one of their hostel locations in a historical San José neighborhood called Barrio Amon. This co-working space blurs the line between work and play, but if your work is super casual, it might be a good place to check out. 

While co-working spaces can be a nice place to work, I’ve had great luck working from a variety of Airbnb accommodations in the central valley. Most have wi-fi with reasonably fast service. 

Climate and Activity Preferences

While the Central Valley will provide the most reliable internet access, most activities that visitors enjoy in Costa Rica, are not going to be out of your front door. San José isn’t the most beautiful city in the country. The nearest beach is an hour drive’s away (if traffic isn’t bad). 

If you want to leave work and immediately do those famous Costa Rican activities like surfing and hanging out at the beach; or, hiking in the rain forest; or, experiencing the wildlife in a national park, then you’ll need to get out of the Central Valley to one of the country’s many tourist destinations. 

If the beach and surfing are what you want, but you still need fairly reliable internet access, then I’d recommend the country’s largest beach town, Jacó. It’s a popular destination for not only visitors but also Costa Ricans who work in the Central Valley and enjoy a quick weekend beach getaway.

It takes between an hour and 90 minutes to arrive in Jacó from SJO airport. As the largest beach town in the country, it also has the most robust and reliable infrastructure. While, in my opinion, Jacó doesn’t offer the most beautiful beaches or most relaxed environment, they are popular with surfers and tourists, and there are much worse places to be. 

If you don’t necessarily need blazing fast and always-on internet service and you really want to live right on the beach, then there are a ton of great options for your ideal destination. 

On the Nicoya Peninsula, in northwest Costa Rica, there are a ton of little towns with great beaches and a good vibe. Manzanillo and Santa Teresa are popular places to spend some beach time. There are two Selina Santa Teresa locations, which are popular for travelers and casual coworkers.  Further south on the Pacific side, there are Quepos and Dominical, which are good places to stay if you want to explore the popular Manuel Antonio national park. 

If you really don’t mind having less than blazingly fast reliable internet and you want to live in a remarkably natural environment, then you should check out the Caribbean side of the country. I’ve worked from Puerto Viejo multiple times and it’s just spectacular. 

Please keep in mind that Costa Rica is a tropical country, which means that the main changing of the seasons is between the rainy season and the dry season. Ticos often refer to the rainy season as winter (el invierno) and the dry season as summer (el verano).

During the rainy season in most parts of the country, it frequently rains in the afternoon for just a few minutes up to a few hours. However, it can rain heavily. Ticos call these rains, aguaceros, and they can be powerful. 

The heaviest rain that I ever experienced was in Playa Sámara on the Nicoya Peninsula. The ten-step walk from my automobile to the front door of my lodging left me completely soaked. I slept well with the sound of rain outside and awoke to a beautiful sunny morning. No worries.

Learn more about the seasons in Costa Rica here: https://www.costaricatravel.tips/best-time-to-travel-to-costa-rica/

My frequent "office" near Punto Cocles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
My frequent “office” near Punto Cocles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

Cost of Living for Digital Nomads in Costa Rica

Cost of living is an important factor for many international remote workers as they choose locations to be. The actual cost of living in Costa Rica is complicated. How much you spend depends upon the standard of living that you choose for yourself. 

Within the context of countries with a high-income economy, Costa Rica’s cost of living is reasonably affordable. Compared to other countries in Latin America, it’s among the most expensive. To learn more about the cost of living in Costa Rica, check out this piece

The keys to understanding prices in Costa Rica are:

  • Products that are imported tend to be expensive and domestically produced items are less expensive. 
  • Products that are normally considered luxury items are more expensive and staple items tend to be less expensive. 
  • As a foreigner, you’ll often be quoted prices on larger transactions that are higher than a tico might be quoted.  

The Impact of the New Law on Digital Nomads

Before this new law, the best option for digital nomads was the standard tourist visa. Passport holders of the United States, Canada, and EU countries can enter and remain in Costa Rica for up to 90 days on a tourist visa. No pre-application is necessary. For those that want to stay longer than 90 days, they had to leave the country, in some cases for up to three days. This practice, known informally as perpetual tourism, is frowned upon but usually tolerated by authorities. It’s common for long-term digital nomads and ex-pats to make the so-called overland “visa run,” to one of the neighboring countries (Nicaragua or Panama) in order to renew their tourist visas. 

For long-term digital nomads, the only other options were visas more suited for foreigners that wish ultimately to become long-term residents of the country. For most remote workers, the rentista program was appropriate, because it allows for a 2-year residency and doesn’t necessarily require proof of pension or an ongoing income. However, it requires a deposit of $60,000 (USD) into a Costa Rican bank. And, the application process can take a long time and often requires the services of a local attorney. (For more about residency programs, see our post on retiring in Costa Rica.) 

We won’t know exactly how quickly and inexpensively the new visa will be available until the regulations are published in early November 2021, or before. 

Despite all of these challenges, there is already a substantial digital nomad community and ex-pat community throughout the country. 

Try it for Yourself

One great part of being a remote-working digital nomad is that if you don’t like one place, you can always leave, and find a place that you like better. Costa Rica is such a diverse place that you could spend a year and still not experience all that it has to offer. 

Tips from an experienced digital nomad in Costa Rica.

 Previous Updates

[UPDATE on December 3, 2020] A proposed law that would create a new visa category for remote workers, or so-called digital nomads, is closer to becoming law.

The bill, proposed by legislator, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, was endorsed by National Assembly’s Tourism Commission.

The current bill, as it reads, would create a visa category for foreigners who work remotely and receive income from outside of Costa Rica. The visa would be good for one year and could be extended for an additional year (the original bill allowed a six-month extension).

Visa-holders:

  • Would be exempt from taxes on utilities and remittances.
  • Wouldn’t have to pay taxes on equipment that they bring into the country in order to do their jobs.
  • Can legally drive on their home country’s drivers license.
  • Can legally open a savings account in the national banking system.

According to Benavides, digital nomades in Costa Rica would, “carry out their work via telecommuting or remote working from Costa Rica but for their countries of origin. They have good purchasing power, they have the ability to remain in our country for a long time. Our current laws aren’t prepared to offer a visa with appropriate terms and we don’t have other arrangement that they can make.” [source in Spanish]


[UPDATE on October 6, 2020] A piece of legislation has been introduced into the Costa Rica legislature that would create a new visa for foreign remote workers.

It would allow so-called digital nomads to stay in the country for up to a year, with the option of extending for six months.

Visa-holders would be allowed to drive and open domestic bank accounts. They can bring into the country equipment that they need for their jobs. They would not have to pay into the Caja (social security system). Children of visa-holders could attend schools. They would be exempt from paying taxes on rent and utilities.

While this proposed legislation may change before becoming law, or may never become law, we’re keeping a close eye on it.

Due to the current COVID-19 crisis, many businesses and organizations are working remotely for the first time in their history. Even traditional companies, whose management wouldn’t have considered employing a remote workforce, are experiencing the advantages of remote work. 

I think that many of these businesses will continue to allow their employees to telecommute and work from home after the crisis is over. This means that many workers will finally have the opportunity to live their dream life as a digital nomad. 

Tips from an experienced digital nomad in Costa Rica.

ChifrijoJones

Chifrijo Jones is a traveler, writer, and entrepreneur. He first visited Costa Rica more than ten years ago for a Spanish immersion school. He made friends and developed a strong affinity for the country. Today, he splits his time between the United States and Costa Rica, traveling the country and discovering new places.

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