Downsides to Living in Costa Rica? The Top Five

by | Feb 14, 2022 | Costa Rica | 1 comment

Writing an article where negative aspects of a country are mentioned is a thorny issue. But there is no downside to bringing it up. The acceptance level of less desirable conditions depends on the sensitivity of each person. In every country, there are things that could be done better. But to improve such conditions, we must overcome barriers. Their cause is economic, cultural, geographical, climate-related, and so on. And Costa Rica is no Utopia; no country, community, or society is.

Is Costa Rica a suitable country for a person who is planning to live in retirement? Definitely, yes. The nation has many more positives than negatives. However, beyond the image that a 15-day tourist may see, there are aspects of daily life that may not meet the expectations of some.

How did I go about the fact-finding? For one, I live in Costa Rica and I have experienced life here from the point of view of an expat for several years. So I asked other expats which aspects of this country they don’t appreciate and added mine. I then selected the five items with the greatest consensus.

Downside #1: Traffic

Traffic jamming in San José, Costa Rica by Roman Vergara
Traffic jamming in San José, Costa Rica by Roman Vergara

One of the country’s biggest problems is road congestion, particularly time-consuming in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM).

It concentrates 2.6 million people (about 60% of the population) in an area of only 2,044 square km (4% of the total surface).

According to the 2018 State of the Nation report, road congestion would cost Costa Rica up to 3.8% of its GDP each year.

Some improvement projects have started in recent years, but work is progressing slowly. The lack of planning of urban space in the past caused a disorderly growth of the city. Narrow streets with no possibility of expansion make it difficult to find solutions to the problem. Add the increase in the number of vehicles that affect traffic, and you get the perfect traffic storm.

Downside #2: Dangerous Driving

Disrespect for traffic signals and traffic lights, speeding, cell phone use, alcohol consumption, and careless and even aggressive behavior towards pedestrians and cyclists are cultural factors that are part of this problem. It isn’t an issue unique to Costa Rica, but frankly, it should be easier to correct here with a population of 5 million than in a country of 250 million.

Constant awareness campaigns, road safety education (for both pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers), bicycle lanes, stricter laws, and a greater presence of traffic inspectors may be required to reverse this situation.

Downside #3: Lack of Sidewalks

People walking on the road by Roman Vergara
People walking on the road by Roman Vergara

Sidewalks are a problem for pedestrians. At times, sidewalk space has been sacrificed for traffic lanes. In other cases, they just don’t exist.

These images, taken only three blocks from the president’s house, are an example.

Here, pedestrians must walk through a place of dirt and rocks, and sometimes they must step on the road, which increases the risk of being run over.

No sidewalk - Photo by Roman VergaraNo sidewalk - Photo by Roman VergaraThose who suffer the most are the elderly with slow mobility. F

or them, walking here with their cane or moving in a wheelchair exposes them to having a fall or being run-over.

Here, the concept of wheelchair-friendly or elderly-friendly seems to be amiss.

Downside #4: Slow Medical Attention

A common complaint among expats is the slow attention in public hospitals for non-emergency procedures and medical consultations. Costa Rica has a universal public health system (like other Latin American countries), which covers nationals and resident foreigners. However, the wait for routine medical consultations or test results can be several weeks and even months.

That’s why many expats go to private hospitals to seek treatment where the attention is practically immediate. The country has first-rate hospitals (although concentrated in the capital). Hospital Clínica Biblica (ranked 8 among the best hospitals in Latin America), and CIMA hospital, are the two best health institutions in the country. More than half of the doctors in these hospitals were trained in North America and Europe.

The expat advantage of using private health services is that they can cost between 50% and 70% less than in the United States.

Downside #5: Public Bus Transport

Most of the buses are old and purely maintained. A few months ago, additional vehicles were added to the service, but curiously, despite this is being a tropical country, they do not have air conditioning. It is rare to find a unit here that has A/C.

Bus driver with box of coins by Roman Vergara
Bus driver with a box of coins by Roman Vergara

The bus lines are not efficient, neither are the service schedules. There isn’t even a reliable app that lists routes and schedules.

Many busses do not have a platform for wheelchairs, or spaces to anchor them.

Finally, the payment system is cash, which makes the service slow. It gets worse when the passenger is a senior citizen when the driver must take a photo of their ID and record the data in a notebook.

I did not write this article as a no-value-add criticism of the country, but to paint a vision of the opportunities that this nation has to progress and offer locals and foreigners a place where life can be an even richer experience.

Of course, all of us here in Costa Rica are part of society. To improve our lives, it is in our power to collaborate and make it better every day for all.


Have you found downsides to living in your host country? Perhaps some of which you discovered after the honeymoon period? I would love to read about your experience.

by: Roman Vergara