Facts About Living In Jaco, Costa Rica, As An Expat

Discover what it's like living in Jaco, Costa Rica as an expat: the essential guide for retirees and families looking to relocate to Jaco.

With the volcanic black sand beach, endless choices of restaurants lining the streets, and colorful sunsets against the backdrop of the beautiful blue water, Jaco is the ultimate expat destination. 

Jaco completes the checklist of all the essentials needed with access to public and private medical care in town, pharmacies, plenty of ATMs and banks, and several different grocery stores.

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Jaco has everything you need to live comfortably daily, with the added bonus of being on the Central Pacific coast surrounded by Costa Rica’s stunning nature and secret waterfalls. 

This list of 15 facts and questions about living in Jaco will show you why it has become so increasingly popular amongst expats and families as a great place to enjoy life to the fullest in the amazing tropical climate.

1. Is Jaco expensive?

Costa Rica is known to be one of the more expensive countries in Central America. However, the overall cost of living does not have to be so high if you don’t want it to be.

Living in Jaco
Wherever you live in Jaco, you are always close to the beach.

Jaco is perfect for all types of budgets and has an affordable cost of living in comparison to a lot of other coastal towns in Costa Rica.

There are plenty of rentals in town which is a great way to test out the waters to see if you want to make Jaco your new dream destination. After visiting, you will see why so many people fall in love with the area.

Gated townhouses with manicured lawns are all throughout the town with 24-hour security, often access to a pool in the complex, with personal parking. 

You can feel like your home is a tropical retreat starting at $800 for 1- 2 bedrooms right in town. With Jaco located directly on the beach, it is only steps from your home to the water, and there is no need to worry about trying to find a parking spot at the beach.

Fancy starting your mornings with a cup of Costa Rica’s beloved coffee, looking out over the bay in one of the town’s condominiums? Pay around $1200 for the rent, and you will never have to miss out on one of Jaco’s epic sunsets. 

If you are looking to purchase a home or condo, Jaco has top real estate agents that can find you anything you are looking for in almost any price range and family size. They are well-versed in English and quite familiar with helping the expat community navigate their way through the process. 

Imagine sitting out on your balcony in your 2-bedroom condo, coming fully furnished, easily walking down to the pool, or in a few minutes to the beach for only $150,000. Jaco is more than affordable whether you are looking for something up in the hills or around the town center.

2. Is Jaco safe?

Costa Rica may be sunshine and happiness, but remember, it is still Central America. Poverty is present and has gone up as a result of the decrease in tourism over the past seasons. 

You can expect to have your belongings stolen in your car if they are visible, whether your car is locked or not. That goes without saying in most countries, though. 

Common sense is often the key when it comes to being safe in a foreign country. Don’t leave any valuables on the beach when you go swimming because you can most likely expect them to be gone by the time you come back out. 

However, most of the dangers come at night when people may have their guard down and enjoy the nightlife a little too much. 

It is easy to get caught up in the night wanting to go to after parties with new so-called friends, but sometimes it is best to call it a night when things are still good. The late hours are when Jaco can become unsafe, so don’t venture with unknown people to unknown places. 

3. Is Jaco family-friendly?

There is a large expat community in and around Jaco, which speaks for itself, so there must be something amazing about this seaside town that attracts expats in relatively big numbers.

The rolling green hills of Jaco.
The rolling green hills of Jaco.

This laid-back beach town offers so many opportunities to reconnect with the family enjoying beach days, exploring the mirador and trails, or heading out to the nearby National Parks in search of all the new and exotic wildlife. 

It is a great idea to look up any expat groups online and join to meet other like-minded families in the area.

You will find that there are quite a number of families that have relocated to the Jaco and Playa Hermosa area. The social media groups will give you the opportunity to know of any upcoming events or people looking to get together. 

There are also public and private schools in the area. Public schools offer education in Spanis. If you wish your children to be educated in English, you have to look at the private schools in the area.

Las Nubes School, north of Jaco near Herradura, caters to children of all ages ranging from preschool through high school.

 Ficus Tree School, a bilingual English/Spanish school in Playa Hermosa, offers a full Montessori preschool program and an Elementary program up to 6th grade.

There is also Colegio Los Delfines in Quepos.

The local skate park is a great way for children to make friends and have fun. Also, one of the churches in the area has an English-speaking youth group where children can connect and get to know each other.

4. Do I need to speak Spanish to live in Jaco?

Whether you speak English, Spanish, or Spanglish, you will be able to get by in Jaco. 

When stopping in stores, you will most likely find someone wanting to practice some of their English with you, testing out what they know.

Some restaurants even offer English and Spanish menus since the community is well known for the expat and tourist population. 

It is a friendly place, and even if you don’t speak Spanish, you will be surprised how quickly you start to pick up some of the language. You will want to try out your phrases and words, and people are generally very patient and helpful. 

5. What if I don’t like rice and beans?

Then you are definitely in the right place. Jaco streets are lined with all imaginable cuisines. 

Manuel Antonio National Park is just 74 km away from Jaco.
Manuel Antonio National Park is just 74 km away from Jaco.
  • Subway, KFC, and Pizza Hut are right on the main street for those fast-food cravings. 
  • Small smoothie and fresh juice shops, cafes, ice cream, and pizza stops, and the favorite pollo frito – fried chicken are throughout town. 
  • There are plenty of “sodas”, which are local restaurants where you can get casados, a full meal of rice, beans, salad, and your choice of meat. 
  • Jaco is right on the water, so you have your choice of beachfront seafood restaurants and steakhouses.
  • Burgers, tacos, salads, ceviches, vegan and vegetarian menus, buffets, and sushi – there is a different menu for every night of the week in Jaco.  

6 Do I have to love surfing to live in Jaco?

The shores are lined with surf schools if you are wanting to take a fun lesson and test your skills. However, there are lots of people living in and around Jaco who don’t surf and are never bored.  There is so much to do and explore!

Walks on the beach are gorgeous and peaceful. You can walk from one end of the dark sand beach to the other. Either end has beautiful rocks to sit out, explore and listen for the macaws overhead, as you can often see and hear them above.

Nearby in Carara National Park is where you will find the largest populations of wild scarlet macaws, along with toucans and, of course, monkeys. 

Get out biking and exploring all the side streets or walking with the views of the green mountains. The days will have you wanting to be outside. There are countless hiking trails throughout the area, and on rainy days you can access the fully equipped gym. 

7. Is there anything to do nearby?

Crocodiles, crocodiles, crocodiles! Just outside Jaco is Tarcoles, most famous for its crocodiles along the river’s shores. You never tire of looking down over the bridge at all the sunbathing crocodiles.

Crocodiles in the Tarcoles River
Crocodiles in the Tarcoles River

A little over an hour away, you are at Manuel Antonio National Park, at the gorgeous tropical beaches with curious monkeys freely running around. Sloths sleep up amongst the trees, and the coatis walk the grounds. 

Hop on the taxi boat just outside of Jaco at Playa Herradura, and you will be out on the gulf amongst dolphins and manta rays as you make your way to Montezuma and explore the Peninsula. 

Charter fishing boats, catamarans, and snorkeling trips out to Isla Tortuga take you out onto the sparkling waters. The town has excellent ATV rental tours taking you out into the jungle trails and secret waterfall or ziplining through the canopies. You won’t know what to do first!

8. Do I have to travel far to shop?

Jaco has several different grocery stores, so you don’t have to plan for a long day trip to be able to stock up your cupboards and fridge. 

Maxi Pali is one of the country’s chain grocery stores and will save you money on essentials.

Más x Menos is the go-to grocery store for many familiar foods and products. However, you can expect to pay a bit more for some name-brand and imported items. 

Auto Mercado, just outside of town, can have you splurging on some of the special items and familiar tastes of home.

Colorful fruit and vegetable stands are everywhere; the produce is super affordable and fresh.

There isn’t a Walmart of Price Smart in town, but you can make a weekend trip for the bigger ticket items and head to San Jose for a fun day out. 

9. Am I far away from the city?

Direct, comfortable buses all day long take you to San Jose’s urban jungle. Or you can easily rent a car to get to the capital in under 2 hours. 

Commercial malls with the name brands you recognize from home, furnishings, and décor, and even San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport are just a short drive away. 

10. Do I need a car to get around Jaco? 

That is one of the best things about Jaco: you can get anywhere you want quite quickly just by walking, biking, or taking a short ride in a taxi. The streets are easy to navigate. 

Take a cable car ride through the jungles near Jaco.
Take a cable car ride through the jungles near Jaco.

Living in Jaco gives you access to so much, and you don’t need a car to get around.

Buy yourself a bike or rent one at many of the places throughout town, and you can get from one end of the town to the other in no time. Finding a bike with a basket will make life so much easier as you ride around doing your errands. 

11. What’s public transportation like in Jaco?

Unlike some of the other beach towns in the country, Jaco, with its prime location, has several different bus routes so you can easily make your way around to any place you want to get to. 

The local bus takes you through town and the surrounding area. For the most part, they don’t run on tico time and are pretty reliable.

Jaco has a bus terminal taking you to the country’s capital San Jose with buses running all day long starting early in the morning.

Depending on the route, the bus is air-conditioned with cushioned reclining seats, while others have windows that open so you won’t be uncomfortable and sweating.

Buses are clearly labeled, so you don’t have to worry about getting on the wrong one and getting lost. Just ask the driver before you get on. They are used to being asked and are typically very friendly. 

Remember to always keep your personal items on you and not put them above or under the seat. 

Taking the bus is very comfortable, and affordable and can actually be quite fun, feeling the breeze and seeing all the sights as they go by. 

12. What are the best areas to live in and around Jaco?

Living right in Jaco gives you quick access to the beach any time of the day. There is no wrong area in Jaco since all can have you in minutes to watch the gorgeous sunsets.

Playa Herradura
Playa Herradura

Beachfront condos have stunning views and pool access, with only seconds to make your way out to surf. Either end of town boasts reasonably priced and safe complexes with easy access to all of Jaco’s amenities. 

Playa Herradura is only 4 km outside of Jaco and is well known for its 200-dock marina and Hotel Los Sueños. Palm tree-lined beach, beautiful water, and rocky lookouts give you a peaceful place to live just minutes from town. 

Playa Hermosa, on the other side of Jaco, is great for more experienced surfers as the waters are more suited for surfing than swimming. This town boasts a chill, relaxed atmosphere with some beachfront restaurants along the coast. 

One of the beloved stops is the pizza restaurant, but you can also find a local favorite restaurant hosting live music, DJs, and delicious foods, all overlooking the sandy dark sand beach. 

Playa Hermosa is nestled in nature, surrounded by trees but yet only minutes from town, so you have the best mixture of both worlds. 

13. What is Jaco’s nightlife?

Often the tales of Jaco come from when the sun goes down and the streets fill up. Some call Jaco the Las Vegas of Costa Rica. 

There is an active nightlife for many wanting to go out and enjoy the night scene in Jaco. However, the crowd is primarily in the main district area. Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, but it doesn’t overwhelm the streets, so you don’t take much notice.

Yes, there are dance bars, but there are also many restaurants with different types of live music. There are also quiet beachfront bars and restaurants where you are serenaded by the sounds of the oceans. There is a place tailored for whatever type of night you are hoping for.

14. Is Jaco a crowded, busy beach town? 

The weekends attract crowds, especially during the high season in the summer months. Many families will come from the city, packing up their cars for a much-needed day at the water since it is the closest beach town. 

A usual sight in the Carara National Park - a scarlet macaw eating almonds in an almond tree.
A usual sight in the Carara National Park – a scarlet macaw eating almonds in an almond tree.

During Semana Santa, which is the country’s holy week in April, the crowds will be in large numbers, but you will find that in many places in Costa Rica at that time.

Long weekends will have traffic moving slower and restaurants, bars, and the beach filling up. 

The high tourist season runs from the end of November until the end of April, and you will notice there are more visitors, but there is plenty of beach space. Head over to Playa Herradura for a quiet day or Playa Hermosa, and you are sure to find your private little paradise on the beach. 

15. Is Jaco all condos and high rises, or is there nature?

Jaco is one of the more developed beach towns in the country, but it is surrounded by so much beauty and nature. 

On one side, you can see the mountains and tree-covered hills and watch the clouds roll over them. On the other side, you have the dark sand beach. 

The mirador, a lookout area that has the entire Jaco Beach coastline for your photographic pleasure, will give you a perspective and view that will take your breath away and remind you of how gorgeous this town truly is.

Final thoughts on living in Jaco

One of the most important things to remember about living in Costa Rica is to leave your sense of urgency at home. Time runs slower here, life is relaxed, and stress slowly fades away like it never existed. 

Jaco is a perfect location for a slow stress-free life.

Whether it is all the fresh air and sunshine or the fresh fruit and vegetables from the family stands, you instantly feel better. 

Walks on the gorgeous beach have you feeling like you are in a scene from your favorite tropical movie: the surfers, families spending time together, and dogs out playing. You will know you made the right choice when you live in Jaco.

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Sarah Jordan
Sarah Jordan

Sarah is a freelance writer who has given up her criminal justice career to follow her passion for writing. After volunteering with the sloths and monkeys, she knew her heart belonged to Costa Rica and it has been her home since 2019. A proud mama to her rescue dog Coconut, together they enjoy the Pura Vida life.

She is a contributing writer for the Costa Rica news and loves to write about all things travel and wellness-related.

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  1. Lived in Jaco back in 2006 through early 2009. The recession forced us to come back to the States. You’ve described Jaco very well, it is a great place, slow, tropical and relaxing. But don’t leave your valuables easy to take cause they will be taken. Don’t roam the streets late at night, it can be very problematic. However, use common sense, a little bit of Spanish, be open minded and patient, it’s a great place. I miss it very much.

  2. Hi Larry, You have picked a great location to enjoy your first trip to Costa Rica! Jaco has plenty of amenities to access with so many delicious restaurants and stores to still have some of the comforts of home still. One of the many benefits of Jaco is their transportation if you aren’t renting a vehicle. The buses run directly to many locations whether it is to the ferry to see the Nicoya Peninsula, off to the gorgeous Manuel Antonio National Park for the day or even off to the capital of San Jose. Have a great time and enjoy the stunning sunsets!

  3. Great article with thanks. My first trip to Costa Rica is Jaco for a 3 month stint. Been waiting for two years for this trip.