8 Crucial Mistakes to Avoid When Moving to Costa Rica or Panama, According to Expats

Are you considering retiring or relocating to a Central American paradise like Costa Rica or Panama? These countries offer diverse landscapes—from breathtaking beaches to lush rainforests—and a lower cost of living that has many people packing their bags. However, moving to a new country is never a simple task. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll share eight common mistakes that expats make when moving to Costa Rica or Panama, so you can make your transition as smooth as possible.

Mistake 1: Overlooking the Importance of a Local Primary Care Physician

The healthcare systems in Costa Rica and Panama are generally robust, especially in urban areas. However, it’s essential to connect with a primary care physician (PCP) after your move. Local doctors offer specific insights into regional health concerns that you won’t find through online searches. For example, in Costa Rica, a local PCP could provide advice on how to avoid dengue fever, a common concern in the wet season. At the very least it is always good to know how to access health care if needed. Both countries offer private and public care which both are very good. Read more here to understand the local health care system.

Mistake 2: Underestimating Hidden and Unexpected Expenses

It’s easy to be lured by the affordable rent and utilities in places like San José, Costa Rica, or Panama City, Panama. However, seasoned expats warn you should also factor in the cost of flights back home, healthcare, and local transportation. In Costa Rica, for instance, many expats find car maintenance to be expensive due to rough road conditions in certain areas or simply that certain types of spare parts are not easily and economically available.

Pro Tip: Plan for Power Outages

Both countries experience occasional power outages. Investing in solar chargers, USB devices, and battery-operated gadgets can keep you powered during these times.

Mistake 3: Holding Unrealistic Expectations About Your New Home

The allure of living in a tropical paradise can sometimes cloud the realities of day-to-day life in a foreign country. Whether you choose Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida” lifestyle or Panama’s cosmopolitan-meets-nature vibe, be prepared for a significant cultural adjustment. Most expats, especially in Costa Rica, recommend multiple visits during various seasons before making your move. Touring as a tourist won’t provide the deep understanding needed to adapt to a new culture successfully.

Mistake 4: Expecting Familiar Food at Local Prices

Adjusting your palate to local cuisine is a smart financial move. While you may find North American and European food staples in Costa Rica and Panama, imported goods come at a premium. For example, a simple jar of peanut butter could cost you substantially more in Costa Rica than back home. On the flip side, you’ll find that tropical fruits like mangoes and pineapples are much cheaper and fresher.

pineapple on beach

Mistake 5: Shipping Too Many Household Items when moving to Costa Rica or Panama

It can be tempting to bring your entire household with you, but think twice before shipping your favorite recliner or winter wardrobe. Not only can shipping costs and possible import tax be exorbitant, but the humid climate in both countries can be harsh on certain materials. Many Expats advise to bringing only essentials and items of sentimental value. Most other things, like furniture and appliances, can be purchased locally.

Mistake 6: Lack of Patience in Daily Activities

One of the biggest adjustments expats have to make is adapting to “Tico Time” in Costa Rica or the laid-back pace in Panama. Government offices can move at a snail’s pace, and you might find yourself visiting multiple stores to complete your shopping list. Remember, part of the appeal of moving to these countries is embracing a more relaxed way of life. So, take a deep breath, and go with the flow.

Mistake 7: Not Financially Preparing for Long-Term Living

It’s easy to be enticed by the initial affordability of living in Costa Rica or Panama. However, long-term financial planning is crucial. Expats recommend having diverse income streams to supplement any fixed or limited incomes like pensions or Social Security. This might mean embarking on digital employment ventures or even starting a small local business. In any case, a solid budget and financial strategy are indispensable for long-term comfort and security.

Mistake 8: Forgoing Assistance from the Expat Community

Both Costa Rica and Panama have thriving expat communities willing to help newcomers adjust. When moving to Costa Rica or Panama Most Expat groups are located on Facebook, but can be found on other platforms as well. Whether you need advice on the best healthcare providers, how to deal with local bureaucracy, or where to find your favorite comfort foods, never underestimate the value of local knowledge from those who’ve been in your shoes. Utilize online forums, social media groups, and community events to connect with other expats.


Retiring, relocating and moving to Costa Rica or Panama can be a dream come true if you carefully plan and avoid these common mistakes. By ensuring you connect with a local healthcare provider, budget for hidden costs, adapt to new culinary landscapes, minimize your shipped belongings, manage your expectations, exhibit patience, prepare financially for the long-term, and reach out for help from the expat community, you’re setting yourself up for a successful and fulfilling experience in your new home.

Additional Resources:

For more in-depth information about living in and moving to Costa Rica or Panama, check out our other guides and interviews with seasoned expats on our social media. From healthcare tips to real estate advice, we have you covered for a smooth transition to your Central American dream.

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