Last week, the well-known expat publication, InterNations, released their 2021 Expat Insider Survey, and Costa Rica came in third place. InterNations aims to shed some light on what living and working abroad has been like in the past year and this report offers rankings on 59 destinations with in-depth analysis, infographics, and complete survey reports.

This report aims to shed some light on what living and working abroad during a pandemic has been like. 12,240 respondents representing 174 different nationalities and living in 186 countries or territories worldwide were asked to evaluate life abroad according to 37 rating factors, from the local air quality to their financial situation. 

All of the top three nations have made the top three before. In 2021, Taiwan repeated its top position from 2019, showing particularly high marks in affordability and quality of healthcare. Mexico has been in the top 5 since 2014 and is best known for offering expats a hospitable, welcoming and affordable environment.

Costa Rica has been in the top three in 2017 and dropped to 21st in 2019 but it has managed to climb back up again. Costa Rica does particularly well with regard to personal finance and the ease of settling in, also impressing expats with its natural environment and great work-life balance.

Expat Insider survey methodology

This survey was conducted throughout most of the month of January 2021. The target audience includes all kinds of expats, from foreign assignees (employees sent on a corporate assignment abroad), and international hires or self-made expats relocating for a better quality of life and a variety of other reasons.

Respondents were asked to rate up to 37 different factors related to various aspects of expat life on a scale of one to seven. These topics cover the respondents personal satisfaction with emotional topics (like getting used to the local culture) with more factual aspects (like transportation infrastructure) with equal weight. 

Factoring into the country rankings are four categories, with the overall ranking based on the question: “How satisfied are you with life abroad in general?” The four other categories are:

  1. Quality of Life
  2. Ease of Settling In
  3. Personal Finance
  4. Working Abroad

Why there was no full report for 2020

The InterNations team conducted a survey in 2020 but the questionnaire no longer accurately reflected global expat life and it was not published. Last year disrupted the lives of billions of people all over the globe, turning them upside down for outlets expats and locals alike. This reality reflected on this year’s survey, which highlights the importance of health care, environment, and quality of life for expats around the world.

How Costa Rica ranked in the Expat Insider survey

According to the InterNations Expat Insider survey, the top reasons people want to be in Costa Rica include the following criteria:

  • It features regularly on top expat destination lists (third place in the 2021 report).
  • In ranks among the top five destinations for expats for ease of settling in.
  • 87% of expats describe the population of Costa Rica as generally friendly to expats (vs. 67% globally).
  • 70% find it easy to make friends (vs. 44% globally), putting Costa Rica in second place in this category.
  • People love the social life and culture in Costa Rica — 82% find it easy to get used to the culture (65% globally).
  • 69% say it’s easy to live in Costa Rica without learning the language (vs. 54% globally)
  • Costa Rica is great for making people feel at home and came in 3rd place for friendliness.
  • Costa Rica achieved 2nd place for personal happiness and 14th place for quality of life
  • 88% of expats are happy with their life in Costa Rica (vs. 75% globally).
  • This country reached 10th place for quality of environment and is the only tropical nation in the top ten.
  • Expats rated Costa Rica’s natural environment and air quality very high (91% vs. 66% globally).
  • Costa Rica came in 7th for personal finance with 84% of expats saying that they find their disposable family income enough or more than enough to cover all expenses (vs. 77% globally).
  • 12th place for health and well-being.
  • 8th place for leisure options (6th for work and leisure overall).
  • 16th place for working abroad.

Top reasons why expats do not like Costa Rica

Costa Rica was in the bottom ten for transportation on the whole because of poor infrastructure in many parts of the country, including a lack of public transportation.

Safety and security were also issues presented in the report, with Costa Rica in 28th place out of 59 countries popular with expats. Costa Rica came in 29th place for cost of living, which is not included in the scoring because of the diversity of perception in these results.