What It’s Like Living In Atenas, Costa Rica, as An Expat

All you need to know about moving to and settling down in one of the trendy small towns in Costa Rica - Atenas.

Rolling deep mountainous hills surrounded by coffee plantations and sugar cane sets the scene for one of the most desirable expat destinations in Costa Rica.

Centrally located not far from the capital of San Jose, Atenas is said to have some of the best climates in the world creating a haven for international living. 

If you are considering relocating to Costa Rica’s paradise and are in search of where to live out your expat days, read on to find out if Atenas could be the ideal destination for you. 

Is Atenas an affordable place to live?

One of the best tips when considering relocating to Costa Rica is to rent first! What you may think is your dream life may actually be better off as a vacation destination once you experience trying to live like a local.

Renting will allow you a test run and see if everything aligns with your future. 

A furnished one-bedroom with an office and pool just outside the town center can cost as little as $650. A 1.5 story gated unfurnished 3-bedroom, two bathrooms with garage lists around $1,000 a month.  

The more amenities you need and the more Americanized you desire your home to be, the higher the cost. Prices start from $1500 – $3,000 if you wish to include breathtaking views and an in-ground pool. 

The area surrounding the town of Atenas is gorgeous, mountainous, and green. Within a 30-minute drive, you can still find great rentals between Atenas and down the hill to San Mateo, including “fruit town”, otherwise known as Orotina. 

Is Atenas an expat-friendly town?

Spend a bit of time in Atenas, and one day you will realize that everyone around knows your name. It is the quintessential small town where you always feel welcome, whether it be from ticos (locals) or other expats. 

You will hear “Buenas” wherever you go. It’s a local term to say hello any time of the day. There is something in Atenas’s charming community that makes you feel at home very quickly.

Atenas has become so increasingly popular that there are estimated to be over 1500 expats living in this authentic Costa Rican small town. The town is easy to assimilate into, and you may even find yourself forgetting you are in another country you become so comfortable. 

Is Atenas a good place to retire to?

If you are after a relaxed lifestyle in a small town, then Atenas is perfect for retirement. It is less than an hour’s drive to San Jose where you can find all the facilities you need. The same well-maintained road will take you to the beaches of Jaco.

Chopping up fruits and vegetables for rescued and rehabilitating sloths, monkeys, deer, parrots, and macaws could become your new pastime.  Spending your retirement days volunteering at a wildlife animal rescue is less than 30 minutes away, and you have more than one to choose from!

Atenas has several well-known animal rescues for dogs and cats, helping many abandoned animals from all over the country that expats continue to avidly support. 

Yoga and pilates classes, internet cafes, fitness centers, weekly farmers markets, bird watching, Zumba classes, there are even Out to Lunch Bunch meet-ups. Atenas is a very active expat community of all ages. 

Is Atenas good for families?

One of the most admirable characteristics of Atenas that is so alluring to families is the support of other families living in and around the area. Atenas has even created its own private social media page for families to connect and grow together. 

Atenas has evolved into an active family-focused community with swimming lessons, dance lessons, sewing, music, taekwondo, soccer, hiking, pool and picnic areas, parks, tennis and basketball courts, and a sports club just outside of town. 

Several private schools are available with a mixture of both Spanish and English. A few to consider would be Green Valley School, Colina Azul, Leon Learning Center, and Super Kids Montessori. Public schools are available to fully immerse children in the Spanish language and learning. 

Journey School of Costa Rica has extended its education to San Mateo, about 30 minutes from Atenas. It is a multi-lingual, social, and emotionally focused, play-based curriculum providing another avenue for children’s learning. 

The pros of living in Atenas

1. Arguably some of the best climates in the world

Rumored to have “the world’s best climate,” Atenas is a real “sweet spot” in Costa Rica. This is one of those rare locations in the world where you can enjoy one of the healthiest climates all year round.

Some say it can get a bit hot here. It goes without saying days will be warm. It is Costa Rica we are talking about.

Atenas boasts moderate temperatures with milder evenings. Daily average temperatures are in the 70s up to 85 F cooling down into the 60s at night.

Within the town, temperatures are warmer, but once you are a few kilometers out of the town in higher elevations, the temperature is a bit cooler. You can find yourself experiencing many different microclimates based on the various elevations you travel through. 

If you aren’t used to the heat, then you will want to look in the Vista Atenas area, where it is less humid and the surrounding hills. 

Juan Santamaria International Airport, Costa Rica’s local and international airport in Alajuela, is only half an hour away from Atenas. It is one of two international airports in Costa Rica with frequent flights between Canada, the USA, Europe, and worldwide.

If needing to leave the country to renew your visa or pick up family and friends, it provides ease of mind knowing the airport is so close. 

3. Nightlife is within easy reach but far enough not to disturb you

When you have that urge to go to the cinema, a night out in the town, a casino, or drinks, it doesn’t take much planning. 

Escazu is known to have some of the best shopping and dining and is only 30 minutes away. Here, you can also find Grand Casino Escazu. 

4. Proximity to shopping

Walmart and PriceSmart are 30 minutes from Atenas, getting you into the city quickly. There is no need for 4WD when living in Atenas with paved roads and Costa Rica’s national road Route 27 not far off. 

Old Navy, Forever 21, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and many of the brands we are familiar with can be found in the malls with sprawling food courts, international bookstores, and cosmetics. In just half an hour, you can be acquainted with some of your familiar favorites from back home in the country’s clean and multi-level malls. 

5. Paradise of volcanoes, beaches, and waterfalls

Life in Atenas gifts you the ability to explore many of the country’s remarkable wonders easily whenever the desire arises. Since it’s centrally located, nothing is too far to discover across the country’s breathtaking paradise.

Want a quiet day close to home? Simply 20 minutes from Atenas is a set of secluded waterfalls known as Las Minas Waterfalls. 

Pack your beach bags, and a one-hour drive will have you arriving at one of Costa Rica’s black sand beaches in the country’s popular coastal town of Jaco. 

The country’s famous Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna’s hot springs, and towering waterfall are a 2.5-hour drive from Atenas.

The cons of living in Atenas

1. Red tape

When entering Costa Rica, you can receive up to 90 days on your visa in the country.

Until you begin the residency process, it is required that you renew your visa before the number of days you were issued expires.  This can be done by leaving and re-entering the country.

As Atenas is centrally located in the country, driving to the border of Nicaragua or Panama is a perpetual nuisance and a full commitment of your time. 

The Juan Santamaria International Airport is conveniently located. However, costs do accumulate when having to pay for flights and accommodations to leave the country and return to renew your visa.

If you choose to apply for residency, at the time of this article, you would still need to renew your visa every 90 days until you have been approved.

2. Cost of accessing the luxuries of home

Ordering off Amazon and online can see you paying almost double depending on where you are ordering from. 

The cost of online shopping can be astounding when you try to have things shipped to Costa Rica. You also take the risk of your purchases never making it to your home, whether they be lost or held at the border.

Costa Rican addresses are mindboggling: the yellow house 50 meters from the school (and the school might not even be there anymore)!

Prices of exported items are considerably higher in Costa Rica, especially when it comes to food and personal hygiene products. Makeup and feminine products are very costly, and even a common brand name of shampoo can cost $8 – $10.

The cost of living in Atenas

One of the benefits of living in Atenas is that many households don’t feel the need to use air conditioning, saving on high electricity costs. For a couple, an electricity bill can range from $70 to $100, depending on your home appliances.

Internet, cable, and cell phone bill can see costs around $80 and a water bill of $60 a month.  

Atenas has weekly ferias (farmer’s markets) where you can pick up fresh produce and get to know the locals. Food costs for a couple can start at around $400 a month. 

To live comfortably, you can expect to live off of $2,000 a month to upwards of $3,000. Dining out, having a housekeeper, a pool, and enjoying some of the luxuries in life can increase your budget from the $2,000 average.

Healthcare in Atenas

Quite a few private hospitals are under an hour away, in the country’s capital of San Jose, if you have specialized health concerns. The private healthcare system often feels similar to what many expats are accustomed to.

Hospital CIMA and Hospital Clinica Biblica in San Jose are the most popular private hospitals in the country, and you can find English-speaking staff.

In Atenas itself, there are doctors, dentists, chiropractors, and massage therapists that come highly recommended.  

Once you are a resident, you can pay into the country’s healthcare system, CAJA, the Costa Rican Social Security Fund, or continue using private health insurance.

If, like many expats, you wish to opt for international insurance, make sure you get the best value for money by comparing international health insurance options from various providers to find the best deal. 

Is Atenas safe?

The friendly small-town charm of Atenas helps one to assimilate quickly and feel safe in their new destination. Getting to know your neighbors is important regardless of what town you relocate to.

Having the comfort of knowing someone is keeping watch while you are away exploring the national parks or a weekend at the beach brings you ease. It is the way of the town, everyone helps one another out, and the support is there when you want it. 

Atenas is still a town in Central America, one must not forget, although when living there, you will only see it as paradise. Petty crime is prevalent throughout the entirety of the country as opposed to violent crime. 

Many will choose to have a dog, camera security, or good bolts on their door wherever they live. It is important to remember that Costa Rica’s monthly average salaries range from $450 – $750 a month, and showing off your incomparable wealth can attract some unneeded attention.  

Final thoughts on living in Atenas

With the ease of access to health care, banking, shopping, and close-to-perfect temperatures, Atenas is a town that does not take much to transition into. 

Atenas does not have the hustle of tourists, tall buildings (since they can’t be taller than the town’s church), or loud nightlife. It is a laid-back, happy community. The rural-friendly town has gained a positive reputation throughout Costa Rica and has become a hot spot for expats.  

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  1. My husband is a retired “Fed” and noticed you had a criminal justice career.

    We have toyed with the idea of relocating permanently in our golden years to CR. We are both blessed with excellent health, no meds, etc. We are home-bodies who enjoy developing a few close friendships for an occasional dinner out. Definitely not the party-types.

    A simplified lifestyle in a mild tropical climate is appealing, but in a safe community not TOO far from modern day conveniences, shopping and an international airport are important to us.

    Pulling the plug in the US is the only thing stopping us. Any thought you have would be very much appreciated.

    Thanks an have a blessed day.

    • Hi Connie,
      Thank you for reaching out! Towns in and around the Central Valley sound like they would be perfect for you and your husband, especially Atenas and Grecia or even Lake Arenal region.
      You need not worry about having to pull the plug on the US when you relocate here!
      Some choose to visit home and loved ones regularly for the first bit and travel back every 90 days or apply for residency which then you would not need to.
      If you were looking at pursuing residency in Costa Rica you do not need to give up your ties to the US. One form of residency is “pensionado” proving that you have a permanent monthly income whether it be social security, military pension or a form of retirement funds. You would first have to apply to become a temporary resident and hold that status for a period of time. In addition, you are not required to live in the country for the entirety. So there is still a lot of flexibility.
      There are some great expat facebook groups for Costa Rica as well as Outlier Legal Services https://outlierlegal.com/
      I hope this brings you and your husband a bit more peace of mind. Best wishes in your pura vida planning!

    • @Sarah Jordan, very helpful article, thank you! My hubby and I both retired from the Air Force last year and are thinking about visiting to consider the area for relocating. Again, most helpful, thank you kindly. ~ Kelly

  2. Thank you Roland for your comment, I really appreciate it! Atenas truly is a special place here in Costa Rica and with an amazing, supportive community. I am so happy to hear that you and your family found your perfect paradise.

  3. Really enjoyed your article. It’s right on. We’ve built a house in Vista Atenas fourteen years ago and have enjoyed living there part time. Our scenic and cool weather at the top of the mountain makes for spectacular views. Pura Vida.

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