The infrastructure in Costa Rica today is almost no better than when it rolled out the foreign retiree welcome mat all those years ago. Infrastructure has not met economic growth numbers. Ineffective and insufficient maintenance and investment efforts are the main offenders.
According to the 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum, Costa Rica ranks at position 54 out of 138 countries. That’s not a bad number, but it shows it still lags behind of other countries in the region like Panama (42), Chile (33), and Mexico (51). It’s ranking for infrastructure is 67th, up 4 places since last year. Infrastructure was the 5th worst performing score for Costa Rica, the lowest being it’s market size (83rd place).
Transportation is a major concern of infrastructure in Costa Rica today. There’s an ongoing debate that the government must promote private investment to keep up with the country’s growth. And not all people share that vision. Still, there are strong promoters of the private investment movement, and Costa Rica is slowly developing their transportation services.
The road network is substantial, with more than 35,705 kilometers (22,187 miles) of roads, but most of them in poor conditions. There are only 12% and 56% of paved roads for local and national roads. There are projects set to reinforce road systems, but the low investment of the government (only 1.1 of the annual GDP) is insufficient to support the demand. As of 2016, there are 5 projects for road and transport development, 3 being in operation.
If you are considering living in Costa Rica, driving can be crucial in order to get around towns and cities. Normally, an SUV or some other type of off-road vehicle is recommended to navigate Costa Rica’s roads. Roads are in so bad shape, in fact, they rank as 125th for Quality of Roads under the infrastructure category.
Particular concerns include narrow roads, potholes, and unpaved roads. Reckless driving is present here as well as most of Latin America, so driving defensively is paramount. Still, driving should be your first option for transport.
In Costa Rica, you get the perk of using your national driver’s license for up to three months since arriving. After that, expats can apply for a local license, the process being simple and very affordable.
Basically, this is why we recommend having your own car. Public transportation infrastructure can be resumed as quite painful. San José is the transportation hub of the country, but there’s no central bus terminal. Offices lay around the city, and while they are cheap, the service is not first-rate. They are reliable, though, and the longest national route costs less than $20. The further you are from San José, the fewer transportation you find.
There are two types of buses: colectivo, and directo. Colectivos are cheaper but make stops along the way, while the directos don’t. Trips usually have rest stops if there are more than for 4 hours because buses don’t have toilets.
Taxis in San José have marías, also known as meters, and it is illegal for the drivers not to use them. Yet, outside the capital, most taxis don’t have meters and you will have to engage in bargaining. Be ready to fend off the “gringo prices”.
Domestic flights are relatively cheap and offer a more convenient way of traveling to remote areas. There are 48 main airports, only 4 being international. Two of them are in San José, while the other two are in Limón and Guanacaste.
For many years, the whole phone and internet service was under the control of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). But with the Central American Free Trade Agreement taking hold, that was no more. Internet adoption was fast after the change of millennia, and while certainly not at the level of first world countries, internet service is found nationwide.
One of the most asked questions by retirees can be: “Is there going to be reliable internet connection there?” The answer depends on whether you need exceptional internet speed and reliability.
Near the main cities, you can get high-speed internet that may be almost on par as back in the states, for a price. As of 2017, most internet service companies offer plans that range from as low as 2 megabytes per second of download speed, all the way to 100mb/s. The price for a 100mb/s connection roams near the $230 mark a month.
Regarding reliability, the quality of service depends on how close you are to the metropolitan areas. Normally, the service is quite reliable. You might experience one to two outages every now and then, and they are generally fixed quickly. The only way this deal would be a no-go for you depends on if you simply cannot have downtime.
While being in Costa Rica, it is advisable to buy a local SIM card and use it with your unlocked phone from the states. Roaming services can be as costly as $4 per second, and many local companies that offer international calls at much better prices. The service also can get from spotty to non-existent if you are venturing to rural areas.
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