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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.
Your healthcare options in Costa Rica are as follows:
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.
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.
If a private health care policy is issued with exclusions, sometimes you can pay an extra premium to have that the exclusive removed.
There is also a great private care discount program called Medismart. This gives you between a 20% and 80% discount off both private health, dental services and medications through a network of Medismart approved providers. The cost is approximately $20 USD per month for two people.
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.
One of the first things that stand out when you come to Costa Rica, is people who were born and live here have some of the most beautiful teeth in the world.
Costa Rica is world famous for its affordable and quality dental care system. Many people travel here from other countries just to have major dental work done such as implants.
Immediately you will notice a few things when you move here and go to your first appointment:
Please see our Healthcare section on our Cost of Living page.
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, in the suburbs of San Jose.
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.
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 medicine. 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.
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 are 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. Temporary residency takes 12-18 months after you apply, and will be approved only if you meet all of the strict requirements. See our residency page for details.