Costa Rica offers excellent, affordable health care for expatriates
Costa Rica provides universal healthcare through the Department of Social Security or Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, commonly known as the Caja. Under the Caja, everyone receives free medical care. To qualify for Caja you must be a legal Costa Rica resident. You don’t have to be a full-time resident, but you must have legal residency status.
After you receive written approval of your residency, you have about a month before your residency appointment when you’ll receive your cedula (resident identification card). Before your appointment, go to CCSS and sign up for the Caja. You’ll pay for the first month: Get a receipt and take it with you when you go to get your cedula. It’s proof you’ve joined the Caja.
Monthly cost depends on the type of residency you have —pensionado or rentista—your monthly income and your age. (If you missed it, see our advice on how to get residency in Costa Rica.)
For pensionados, the fee depends on your monthly, generally, about 8%. Rentistas under 55 pay 10 to 11.5% of their monthly income, usually $400 – $500. Once you turn 55, you’ll pay a bit less.
The good news: Your monthly payment includes everyone in your family. There’s no additional fee for a spouse or dependent children. In addition, if you are under 55, Caja payments include a mandatory pension payment that you’ll receive when you reach 65.
There are ten major public hospitals—four in San José; Clinica Biblica, a top private hospital, serves the Jacó area. Small clinics are in almost every community, including Los Sueños, which Costa Rica’s top hospital, CIMA, manages. Nearly all of the doctors, many of whom trained in the U.S., speak English. However, English is less common among the nurses and other hospital staff.
In most cases, the locals head for the pharmacy. Pharmacists often diagnose and treat minor ailments; a pharmacist will also refer you to the nearest hospital if the problem is serious. Birth control pills, high cholesterol medication and many routine medications are available from a pharmacy without a prescription.
Although Costa Rica’s healthcare system enjoys an excellent reputation internationally (it ranks just ahead of the United States’ 37th place according to the World Health Organization), wait times for appointments and tests can be long.
The government-owned INS offers private health insurance that pays 80% for hospitalization, prescriptions, dental, vision, routine visits and annual check-ups and provides 100% coverage for surgeons. Monthly premiums run $60 – $130 per person, depending on age, gender and other factors. You may wish to buy international healthcare that covers most private hospital costs, but cost is significantly higher.
Costa Rica enjoys a reputation for friendly people and beautiful scenery. Its reputation for healthcare ensures you’ll receive the best in medical care.
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