Are you dreaming of moving to Costa Rica with kids, but even the thought of planning it all (let alone implementing said plan) seems daunting? Wondering where you should start and what resources are out there to answer your questions and quell any concerns?
Hi, I’m Rebecca Clower, the owner of Blue Water Properties, and you and I probably have a lot in common.
Years ago, I was in similar shoes: Like you, I wanted to move here but also like you, I had many questions about moving to Costa Rica with kids and family life in the tropics. I was uncertain about the very many minutiae of birthing, nurturing, and raising my children in Costa Rica. What would pre- and post-natal care be like? What are the schools like? Are there enough activities for kids? How’s the healthcare? Etc. etc.
And then, the biggest questions: Would I be happy and fulfilled, raising my children in Costa Rica? Would my children be happy in Costa Rica?
For me, the answers to these questions are yes and yes: We are very happy and wonderfully fulfilled by our family life here. But the answer to your questions – bottom line: should you consider moving to Costa Rica with kids? – will be personal to you, your family, and your priorities. This post should help, though!
A Brief Introduction (to this Post)
As a point of reference, I had both my boys in Costa Rica. They’ve now reached their teen and almost-teen years, so we’ve had sufficient time to experience family life here in the tropics. I’m also lucky to count many other local families as friends – to enjoy their friendship and also benefit from their knowledge and experiences, here in Costa Rica.
This post (and the above video) draws on these collective experiences, some personal, some second-hand. Because that’s Costa Rica, in a nutshell: There is no one, singular experience of moving to Costa Rica with kids or even of defining how you’ll raise your family here.
Just like back home, you’ll encounter a wide array of options. And freedom of choice is part of makes the world go round, right?
Giving Birth in Costa Rica
If you’re starting or expanding your family while in Costa Rica, you probably have lots of questions (and probably some fears) about giving birth in a foreign country.
My best advice is not to worry too much: Giving birth in Costa Rica can likely offer the birthing experience you seek. That’s because you’ll have your pick of public or private healthcare. (To clarify, though, public hospital births are primarily for established residents paying into the Caja Costarricense de Salud Social, or the Caja.)
Here’s a very brief rundown:
Giving Birth at a Public Hospital
If you’re a member of the Caja, your public hospital birth entails no added cost: For the price of your monthly affiliation, everything – from a natural birth to a cesarean section, plus all your medications and follow-up care – is covered. You’ll pay nothing out of pocket, even if you receive emergency care, your child requires the NICU, or other unforeseeable factors.
A no-cost birth is a big motivator, especially when paired with excellent healthcare. And, that’s the crux of it: Not only does Costa Rican healthcare rank well on the world stage, but the country’s public hospitals are well-versed in pre- and post-natal care. You and your baby will receive top-notch treatment, though there will be no frills added.
Giving Birth at a Private Hospital
In Costa Rica, and even now at the beach, private hospitals are many. They offer excellent care at a relatively low price – typically, around the $5,000 to $7,500 mark, all told (without any major emergency) – and many families go private for the myriad benefits, despite the added price tag.
So, what are the “tipping points that families (including my own) often reference in explaining why they chose a private hospital birth over a public hospital? Here are some of the big ones:
- English Spoken: Even for those of us who are bilingual, healthcare is almost its own language. Add in labor pains (not to mention, possible stress or worry over the birthing process, especially if it’s your first!) and other factors, and speaking Spanish during birth can be a not-so-appealing prospect. While public hospitals cannot guarantee an English-speaker for your birth, private hospitals allow you to choose an English-speaking doctor.
- A More Personal Experience: Public hospitals offer top-notch care, but the bedside manner may not be what you’re expecting (or wanting). For example, you don’t get to choose your doctor; whoever is on call when you arrive, will act as your attending OB. If there’s a shift change, you’re getting a new doctor and nurse. At a private hospital, you’ll choose your doctor – and can keep the same OB, throughout your pre-natal care and birthing experience.
- Pain Relief: Public hospitals don’t offer elective pain relief, such as epidurals. At a private hospital, you can make these decisions for yourself.
- More Options: While public hospitals have made major strides, in recent years, to provide a more nurturing and pro-mother/child birth experience, their resources are still limited. If, for example, an elective C-section or a natural birth – a birthing tub, a midwife, a birthing ball, delayed cord clamping, etc. – is important to you, you’ll have to opt for private.
- Privacy: It’s in the name, right? Private hospitals offer the privacy of your own birthing room and, later, your own recovery room. In a public hospital, you’ll likely be sharing with several other women and their newborns. This privacy also affords round-the-clock visiting hours for your partner or other visitors, whereas at a public hospital, visitors (including the father) are usually limited to short daily windows.
The Bottom Line: Public vs. Private Hospitals
There are many other points of comparison (probably enough for an entire post), but if I had to sum it up, I’d say that public hospitals are an excellent option, if you’re a resident and seek a no-added-cost birth with top-notch OBGYN care. Private hospitals are an excellent option if you’re dedicated to a specific birth plan, seek a more nuturing experience, or you’re not yet a resident.
Schools in Costa Rica
If you’re thinking of moving to Costa Rica with kids, then you’re also definitely thinking about schooling in Costa Rica.
Again, it starts with the big one: Public or private? In answer to this question, I’ll say, again, that it’s personal. Your choice of schooling will depend on many factors, including your home’s location (how far is the commute to a school?), local school availability (how good is the public school? what private schools are within a reasonable commute?), your finances (public schools are free, whereas private schools cost anywhere from $4,000-$10,000+ per year), and other factors.
We’ve already pulled together a comprehensive list of private schools near Tamarindo, and that should give you a good jump start on your research regarding bilingual options, methodologies, degree programs (foreign diplomas, IB degrees, and more), school calendars (Costa Rican or U.S. school year?), and more.
As for public schools, here are a few considerations:
- Cost (Free): Public education in Costa Rica is free – well, mostly. There is no school tuition and, depending on the student’s schedule, snacks/meals are also free. But, there are a few associated costs of public schooling, including mandatory school uniforms and books (low cost, often bound copies).
- Calendar: I mention this, in case you’re not aware, but the Costa Rican school calendar runs from February through November. All public schools (and many private schools) follow this calendar.
- School Day: One of the most jarring differences between Costa Rican and, say, U.S. schooling is the school day: Most public schools divide the day into morning and afternoon sessions, so your kids will either attend from around (hours vary) 7 a.m. to noon or noon to 5 p.m. (One day a week, they’ll likely have a full 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. day, too.)
- Substitutes: Depending on the school, but more often than not, there is little to no budget for substitute teachers. So, if your child’s teacher is ill or otherwise unavailable, there will probably be no class that day. (Consistency is a major point of consideration, for many families, both Costa Rican and resident, when choosing to go private.)
Of course, there are other points of comparison, as well. Get in touch and I’d be happy to discuss!
Pediatrics, Dental & Family Healthcare
Again, this is another Big Topic but, in a nutshell, your family’s health will be well taken care of in Costa Rica.
If you are members of the public healthcare system (CCSS, a.k.a. the Caja), then all your public healthcare is covered at no added cost. That said, the general consensus – a consensus shared by Costa Ricans and residents, both – is that the Caja is best for preventive care (well visits and lab work, mostly) and emergency care.
Need an annual checkup? Kid needs stitches? Have a bone that requires setting and casting? The Caja will be your best friend! And, luckily, there are Caja clinics – sometimes called clínicas, otherwise Ebais – in every area of Costa Rica, usually within a 15- to 30-minute drive.
For everything else, many people choose private and/or mixed medicine. Mixed medicine is, essentially, a private doctor who also works with the Caja, providing the ability to write Caja prescriptions (which you’ll fill at Caja clinics, at no added cost), order tests through the Caja (ex. need a pricey skin prick test for allergies?), and other mixed benefits.
When moving to Costa Rica with kids, you’ll want to secure private healthcare insurance, at least to cover the interim between your arrival and accessing public healthcare. But, many families carry dual public-private insurance (public insurance = your monthly Caja payment), to cover all eventualities.
And again, this is a Big Topic with Many Considerations, but a good, generalized statement is that private healthcare is affordable. Yes, affordable is relative, but to give you an idea: With no insurance, visiting a general practitioner/pediatrician will run you about $50-$70. Specialists usually fall into the $100-$150 range. Braces (the whole shebang!) are about $500-$750. My son’s new Invisalign? About half the cost of what I’d pay in the U.S.
And again, this is without insurance: Tack on a local private insurance policy, and you’re back in the familiar realm of co-pays, deductibles, and policy minimums/maximums, which can reduce your out-of-pocket costs to about 20% or less, typically.
Family Activities & Extracurriculars
I’ve covered lots of the not-quite-fun basics, so I didn’t want to miss out on one of the biggest, shout-it-from-the-rooftops! reasons I’d recommend moving to Costa Rica with kids: the lifestyle!
Costa Rica is very, very family-friendly. Strangers will coo at your baby on the street. (They may even ask if they can hold her while you eat/shop/etc.!) A crying toddler is less likely to elicit grumpy glances than smiles of encouragement or silly antics to make him smile again. You won’t get side-eyed for nursing in public. Kids are welcome almost everywhere.
Basically, you’re going to feel welcome – and that feeling of welcome is a bit like a warm hug, especially when you’re feeling a little unsure of yourself, in a new country, and out of your depth. We’ve all been there!
There’s also the matter of childcare. In addition to preschools and nursery care – many of the private schools around Tamarindo accept kids as young as 2, and there are other private nurseries that start young (often, <6 months) – many local families opt for in-home childcare or nannying, since the average wage is around $3.50-$4 per hour.
Beyond that, family life at the beach revolves around the outdoors. It’s pretty easy to get your kids off their screens, when the alternative involves hiking, sailing, surfing, kayaking, and visiting volcanoes. (Just a few of the activities my kids and I enjoy on the weekends!)
And speaking of kids at the beach, there are lots of families here. In our community, specifically, there are lots of kids and many age ranges. They come from both Costa Rican and expat families, which offers a great lifestyle mix of cultures, languages, and experiences.
Choosing a community with other expats can also be key to your kids’ successful transition: Living around other kids who have been there, done that – who have faced the same life and cultural challenges – can be of great benefit to your children. Their peers will be in similar situations and will understand your kids’ bi-cultural experience – all the ups and the downs, come what may. And that resulting empathy, compassion, and advice can make all the difference.
Still Considering Moving to Costa Rica with Kids?
If you’ve made it all the way here, then you’re already well on your way: Information and research are a big part of the process!
If you’d like to chat about family life in Costa Rica, I’m happy to answer any questions and address any concerns. I promise not to sugar-coat the truth or tell you what you want to hear: I’ll be honest, always. I’ll share my personal experience (and draw on my friends’ experiences, too) and advise you in any way I can.
I’d also like to invite you view my YouTube video series, where I answer all of your biggest questions about moving to Costa Rica and life in the tropics.
So please, get in touch via email or give me a call (1-866-670-0258) or Whatsapp (+506-8705-1850). I look forward to getting to know you!