If you’re looking at moving to Costa Rica, ¡felicidades (congratulations)!

This welcoming country is overflowing with attractions, from its beautiful beaches, imposing volcanoes, and breathtaking cloud forests to its animals, which include sloths, toucans, and jaguars.

You can kick back with a delicious locally sourced coffee or cocktail and enjoy the pura vida lifestyle, which means living happily, and not sweating the small stuff. It’s a wonderful way to live.

But before you join the 12,859 American expats enjoying life in Costa Rica, you’ll want to understand what kind of healthcare you’ll have access to once you arrive (United Nations, 2019).

And if you want to join the 30% of people in Costa Rica who use private health services, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers.

From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Costa Rican healthcare: key stats

  • 0
    % of the population uses private healthcare
  • 0
    average life expectancy
  • 0
    doctors per 10,000 people
Tenorio Waterfall, Costa Rica

The 20-metre Rio Celeste waterfall plunges into a natural, bright blue pool

How does Costa Rica’s healthcare system work?

Every resident of Costa Rica has access to the country’s publicly funded universal healthcare system, including uninsured people.

The system is run by the government’s Costa Rican Social Security Fund (Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social), also known as the CCSS, or simply ‘Caja’.

The CCSS, which was founded in 1941, provides preventive and curative services to every resident, free of charge, with no copayments necessary.

It’s funded by the government, through a tax on workers and expats, who are required to prove they have sufficient funds when applying to move to the country.

Once you’re registered with the CCSS, you’ll have access to the following free services:

  • Doctor’s visits
  • Inpatient care
  • Outpatient care
  • Major surgeries
  • Maternity services
  • Specialist care
  • Medical examinations
  • Medications
  • Dental care
  • Optical care
  • A subsidy to buy glasses
  • Emergency services

Is healthcare free in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica’s healthcare system is free, but it’s funded by taxes.

These monthly payments are taken from the salaries of the nation’s workers and expats, and only the poorest are exempt.

You’ll be taxed between 2.89% and 10.69% of your monthly income, depending on how much you earn.

That means that if you earn $100,000 per year, you’ll be taxed $10,690 to fund the healthcare system.

This will happen regardless of whether the money comes from your savings, your pension, or your salary.

The government then tops up the rest of the money needed to reach 12% of your income.

However, you should bear in mind that out-of-pocket payments make up 22.42% of healthcare expenditure in Costa Rica.

That’s twice as much as in the US, where 10.8% of spending is out of pocket.

Quality of healthcare in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s healthcare system ranks 62nd in the world, according to a 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It’s ranked far higher than all of its closest neighbours, including Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Colombia.

In fact, Costa Rica has the best healthcare of any territory in its region, other than Puerto Rico and Cuba. That’s not bad for a country placing 88th in GDP per person.

Still, it falls behind the US in most categories, with a higher mortality rate for children under five, a higher maternal mortality rate, and nearly three times fewer hospital beds per 1,000 people, according to the World Bank.

However, Costa Rica’s average life expectancy of 80.8 is actually an impressive 2.4 years higher than that of the US.

This figure is also higher than those produced by Croatia, the Czech Republic, and the United Arab Emirates, countries which are all considerably wealthier than Costa Rica.

You’ll receive an acceptable level of care from the public health system in Costa Rica – but it won’t be up to the standards that you’re used to, and it may fall short in key situations.

It’s also worth noting that abortion is still banned in Costa Rica in every case, except where the pregnant person’s life or physical health is in danger.

Healthcare in Costa Rica for foreigners

If you’re applying for a residency permit, you must sign up to the CCSS. If you already have an employer in Costa Rica, they can do this for you.

If you won’t be a resident when you move to Costa Rica, you’ll have to either purchase private medical insurance or pay for public health services after you use them.

Around 30% of people in Costa Rica – that’s 1.5 million people – access private healthcare at least once a year, and if you want to join them, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers.

From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Do I need health insurance in Costa Rica?

If you’re planning on becoming a resident in Costa Rica, you’re legally obliged to join the CCSS, and pay a monthly contribution to the public healthcare system.

If you have an employer when you arrive, they must sort this out for you.

The same goes for your loved ones – if they’re going to be residents, they’ll need to register with the CCSS.

If you’re not going to be a Costa Rican resident, you can still access public health services, but you’ll have to pay each time – or you can budget in advance by opting for private medical insurance instead.

Benefits of private medical cover in Costa Rica

  • You’ll enjoy shorter waiting times
  • It covers more of your potential costs
  • More peace of mind
  • You’ll receive the highest level of care possible
  • Medical equipment is more up-to-date
  • Fewer unexpected expenses means you can budget your healthcare in advance
  • Staff will be more likely to speak English
  • The paperwork is also more likely to be in English

How much does health insurance cost in Costa Rica?

For an individual

You should expect to pay around $1,390 per year for private cover in Costa Rica, which comes to $115 per month.

It’s worth getting a few different quotes though, as prices can vary massively.

For a family

To cover a family of four in Costa Rica, it’ll cost you around $4,480 per year.

That means you’ll pay about $3 per day, per person to secure peace of mind – and the best level of care in the country, ready if you ever need it.

Advice for expats moving to Costa Rica

  • Embrace the pura vida lifestyle – you’ll stress so much less, and enjoy life more
  • Explore the country’s many different landscapes and environments – go dirt-biking through the jungle, see the sloths and dolphins, and laze on the beaches
  • Learn Spanish if you can – you’ll be fine in touristy areas, but only about 8% of Costa Ricans speak English, so picking up some new vocab will help you truly enjoy your new life
  • Expect strangers to be friendly and generous
  • Accept that the pace of life is slower – which is lovely, but does mean people may arrive late sometimes
  • Prepare for the weather – it’s hot and tropical all year round, with temperatures occasionally hitting 100°F
  • Remember to hydrate! The legal drinking age is 18, but with that kind of heat beating down on you, your most important drink will be water

What’s next?

If you want to protect yourself and your family with private health insurance in Costa Rica, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers.

From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.