Costa Rica Healthcare

Moving Guide

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Overview

One advantage of moving to Costa Rica is that the more relaxed lifestyle, clean air, fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meats without hormones will result in a much healthier lifestyle.  Most people who have moved here exercise more, eat better and lose weight.  Many that I know end of getting off of all of their medications after the first year.  This includes my wife and I.  Pura Vida.

Your healthcare options in Costa Rica are as follows:

  • Pay out of pocket to one of the many excellent private health care facilities
  • Obtain a private insurance policy that covers you just in Costa Rica or optionally, anywhere in the world.
  • If you are over 65 and a US citizen, go back to the United States, use Medicare and then return to Costa Rica.
  • If you have temporary residency then you have the option to use the Costa Rica national health care program called CAJA.

CAJA

All Costa Rica citizens, temporary and permanent residents. must participate in the CAJA, the national health care program, no exceptions.   Those here on a tourist visa are not eligible to use CAJA and must pay out of pocket or obtain insurance using private clinics and hospitals.

For some Costa Rica citizens, CAJA is free.  For others that have exceeded the maximum income level for free benefits, and for all temporary and permanent foreign residents, there is a mandatory monthly fee based on net income, after expenses.

Private Care

For those that prefer private healthcare, Costa Rica has ample private hospitals, clinics and pharmacies that that provide excellent services at reasonable, and often inexpensive fees.

Private healthcare insurance policies in Costa Rica do not accept pre-existing conditions.  If you have any conditions, insurance providers will either deny you coverage outright or issue you a policy that contains specific exclusions.  For example, a person with high cholesterol may be accepted for insurance but excluded for any cardiovascular related incident such as a heart attack and stroke.

Wait times to obtain an appointment or procedure from private medical facilites are amazingly fast.  for the appointments that my wife and I have made, we either got an appointment the same day or within a few days.

Costs

Please see our Healthcare section on our Cost of Living page.

Access

The greatest concentration of the best hospitals are located in San Jose and the surrounding suburbs.

For people living in the popular Pacific Northwest towns of Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo and Coco, the nearest major hospital is located in Liberia and ranges from 30 to 60 minutes away.  While there are some small hospitals, clinics and emergency services in these areas, not all are open 24/7.

While the quality of care is excellent, getting there could be a problem if you live far away.

In Costa Rica, while you can dial 911, don't expect to have emergency services there within a few minutes such as in the United States or Canada...not going to happen.  One night, We were right behind a bad accident and the ambulance didn't arrive for 45 minutes.

If you have a major medical condition, and are looking to relocate to Costa Rica,  you are going to want to live very close to a major hospital, most likely in and around San Jose.

Quality of Care

In discussing with locals and others who have been here for awhile, CAJA is great for prescriptions and minor ailments, but for anything major, the wait time could be long and the quality of care not as good as the private healthcare system in Costa Rica.

We have used the private healthcare systems a few times and have been very impressed by the results.

  • Appointments can be scheduled almost immediately or certainly within a few days.
  • You meet with the doctor, not a physicians assistant, and will most likely spend an hour or more discussing your issue.
  • X-rays and bone scan tests were completed and formal reports provided and discussed with the Doctor during the original appointment.
  • Lab work results were emailed within a few hours and followed up with the Doctor via a phone call.
  • The ability to speak English is a requirement of being a doctor in Costa Rica.  Actual results may vary, but in all cases we were able to communicate in English with few issues.

Prescriptions

Most medicines cost more in Costa Rica than in the United States.  However, in many cases, due to the more relaxed lifestyle, healthier food and increased exercise, you may find that you don't need that blood pressure or cholesterol medicines.  Once you are able to join CAJA, all medicines are free.

Existing prescriptions from other countries can be refilled by taking the empty container to the pharmacy.

Summary

If you have major health issues, Costa Rica may not be for you unless you are willing to pay for private insurance and live close to one of the major private hospitals, mostly around San Jose and the adjacent suburbs.  Live out in the country, and experience a major event, most likely you won't get help in time.

For those paying out of pocket, medicine is expensive but services are not anywhere close to the amount they charge in the United States.

Once you become an official resident, medicine and care is available through CAJA, for a nominal monthly fee, but wait times will most likely be longer than private hospitals.

You cannot qualify for CAJA until you become a temporary resident and this process takes 12-18 months before you are eligible, and only if you meet strict requirements to become a resident.  See our immigration page for details.

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