[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).
- 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.
Costa Rica, in Central America, is 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.
- 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.
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, 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.
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. If you plan on staying in the country for longer than that, you can exit for 3 days and then re-enter the country with a fresh tourist visa. This practice, known informally as perpetual tourism, is frowned upon but usually tolerated by authorities.
If you plan on settling in Costa Rica for the longer-term, you’ll want to explore opinions for legal residency. For most remote workers, the rentista program is appropriate, because it allows for a 2-year residency and doesn’t require proof of pension or an ongoing income. You do have to deposit $60,000 (USD) into a Costa Rican bank. For more about residency programs, see our post on retiring in Costa Rica.
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.
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].
One of my favorite places to work while I’m in Costa Rica is a delightful co-working space with an adjoining café in San Jose, called Creasala. It’s located on the east side of San José in a popular and neighborhood called Barrio Escalante. I love this place because it has blazing fast internet, it’s comfortable, the staff is friendly, and the nearby real estate is full of great restaurants and bars to visit after work.
There are other co-working spaces in the central valley that are worth checking out.
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. 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.
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 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, they are popular with surfers and tourists, and there are much worse places to be.
If you don’t necessarily need fast and reliable internet service and you really want to live right on the beach, then there are a ton of great options.
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. Further south on the Pacific side, there is 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.
One piece of advice for you, if you choose to work remotely from the Caribbean side, invest in a local SIM card from with data service from the government carrier, Kolbi, for your phone. When the regular wired internet goes down (and it probably will for at least a short duration), it’s nice to be able to tether your computer and use the mobile data as backup. It’s not the fastest connection (averages about 2.9mbps) but it’s better than nothing.
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.