Costa Rica’s Last Boom Towns Could Make You Rich
Costa Rica is a beautiful country, with long stretches of deserted and undeveloped beaches…dense jungles teeming with exotic wildlife…towering volcanoes, lush green valleys, and hundreds of crystal-clear lakes and rivers…
Not only that, but the country offers a great climate year-round, neighborly atmosphere, no-hassle residence programs, excellent healthcare, a stable democracy, and safety and security. It doesn’t hurt that many retired couples report living well on $2,000 a month—that includes all their costs.
For these reasons, as well as the welcoming locals who are warm and friendly to new foreign neighbors, Costa Rica has been an expat haven for more than 30 years.
That’s another bonus: you don’t have to be a pioneer in Costa Rica. There are well-established expat communities throughout the country. Things are “set up” so to speak, when it comes to shipping your household goods, using the healthcare system, buying property, and more. And by following this well-trodden path, your transition to your new life is much easier.
It’s small, about the size of West Virginia. But the variety of landscapes, climates, and lifestyles in Costa Rica is amazing. You have the rainforests, wild beaches, and charming seaside villages of the southern Pacific coast, also known as the Southern Zone.
A Landscape and Lifestyle for Every Taste
There are the bustling market towns surrounded by sugar cane fields and coffee plantations of the Central Valley. Around the pristine 33-square-mile Lake Arenal, expats have taken up residence on the verdant hills rising from the shore, with vast lake views from their homes. On the Caribbean coast, life is laidback and moves to the rhythm of reggae. And that’s just a small taste of all Costa Rica has to offer as far as places to live.
With all these different climates and landscapes, it’s no wonder that this Central American jewel is also one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. With just 0.03% of the earth’s surface within its borders, the country has an estimated 5% of the world’s species. In Costa Rica, this natural world surrounds you, putting the country on the forefront of eco-tourism and eco-living. Sloths, capuchin monkeys, toucans, and scarlet macaws will be your new neighbors.
And no matter which location you choose, you can benefit from bargain real estate, whether you buy or rent. Three-bedroom homes in the Central Valley start at $109,000 to buy and $300 a month to rent. And two-bedroom condos a five-minute walk to the beach on the central Pacific coast in a booming resort town are $500 a month, the same units selling for under $70,000. Deals like this can be found throughout the country.
Another big bonus is the high-quality, low-cost healthcare. There are two systems: private, for which you can pay cash or use insurance, and the government-run public system which you join when become a legal resident. Overall, expats in Costa Rica pay a fraction of what they did back home for medical care.
All these advantages make Costa Rica a premier destination for those looking for a secure, fun, and active retirement surrounded by new friends in a beautiful setting.
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- Population: 4,695,942
- Capital City: San Jose
- Climate: Tropical and subtropical; dry season (December to April); rainy season (May to November); cooler in highlands
- Time Zone: GMT-6
- Language: Spanish (official), English
- Country Code: 506
- Coastline: 1,290km
It’s the most laid-back and least-developed region of Costa Rica. On the Caribbean coast you’ll find no big resorts or hotels, no condo towers on the beach, no big towns. It’s a low-key place where nobody is in a rush and there’s always time to chat with a friend you run into. The area is known for its natural beauty as well. It’s a dramatic coastline of beach and jungle.
I’m up a bit after sunrise for my daily ritual. It starts with a long leisurely walk on the beach. Something about the sound of crashing waves, watching anchored boats bob on the horizon, and the cool weather before the heat of the day hits…it just puts me in the right mood. I live in Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast. It’s a small town, popular with tourists, where life revolves around the beach. Surfing, which put Tamarindo on the map in the 1990s, is still huge here.
You awake to the distant cries of seabirds and the rhythmic lap of the waves against sand. Wearing ﬂip-ﬂops, a shirt, and shorts, you head out for breakfast, before taking the short stroll from the town’s main drag to the beach. Here you can take a relaxing walk by the shore, enjoy a book, or take to the ocean for some surﬁng, swimming, or scuba diving on a coral reef. As the day fades and the setting sun lights the sky a vivid orange, you retreat to your favorite beach bar to catch up with friends and enjoy a local cocktail or shot of rum beneath the palm fronds. Here, freezing winter mornings and the stress of working life seem a world away…and a lifetime ago. For many folks who call a colder climate home, retreating to a warm beach town is the dream.
As the savage North American winter begins to bite and the snow and ice pile up, many of us ﬁnd ourselves yearning for warmer climates elsewhere. Imagine a place that’s never too hot or too cold—just perfect. Outside, the birds are chirping, while gardens and wildﬂowers bloom in multicolored glory. You can walk around in a light tee-shirt at any time of year. Throw out your coat and boots. Forget about heating and air-conditioning bills and suffering through sweltering heat and humidity.
Your voice could be your passport to an income overseas…and we’re not just talking about singing. Sure, if you can carry a tune, you can take that talent with you. Many expats make their money, or at least a supplementary income, from singing. Some even discover that carving out a singing career is easier overseas.
Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, also known as the Gold Coast, is a tourist and expat favorite. It’s no wonder. It’s the sunniest region of the country. And visitors and residents alike have a variety of communities to choose from: busy resort towns, expat enclaves, deserted beaches, laid-back seaside villages, and more. Life is about surfing, fishing, shopping at charming farmers’ markets (and buying fresh off the boat seafood), and lazing away the day on the sand.
International Living Costa Rica Editor Jason Holland makes his home in Tamarindo, a busy beach town on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast. Home to expats from North America, Europe, Latin America, and beyond, it’s a fun and funky locale known for its active beach lifestyle. In this video, Jason shares the charms of Tamarindo like watersports, watching sunset, and enjoying a nice meal with a view of the ocean.
Costa Rica has a lot going for it: lower cost of living, top notch medical care for a fraction of the cost of the U.S., bargain real estate, warm weather year-round, natural beauty, tremendous biodiversity, modern conveniences…the list goes on. It’s enough to make you fall in love with this small Central American country.
I start each day with a freshly brewed cup of local coffee…and think about how lucky I am to live where I do, the beautiful city of Alajuela, in Costa Rica’s expat favorite of the Central Valley. It’s always been a dream of mine to live abroad and now I can say that it’s a dream come true. Back in Seattle I worked in nursing, specifically Alzheimer’s care, a career I’d had since graduating high school.
I was enjoying a stroll down the beach in Tamarindo the other day—it’s just a 10-minute walk from my house—when a couple, visitors from the Midwest, asked me to take their picture. We chatted, and I mentioned that I lived in town.
Fed up with the harsh Midwest winters and tired of working too much to pay for a life we didn’t have time to enjoy, my husband, Junior, and I decided we weren’t willing to wait for retirement to see the world and enjoy life. Just before Christmas last year, we started researching our overseas options. We sold all of our belongings after New Year and at the start of April this year, we landed in Costa Rica…without ever having been here before.
Whatever your personal opinion on gun ownership in the United States, there’s no denying that millions of U.S. residents feel a great fondness for their ﬁrearms. So it should come as no surprise that many aspiring expats want to bring their guns with them to their new home. While it’s possible in some places, be prepared for a lot more red tape and tighter controls than you typically face in the States. Bear in mind that gun laws are liable to change, so you need to do your due diligence if you plan to import or buy a gun overseas.
My wife and I are a couple of quitters. Two years ago I left my successful career as the vice president of a litigation support company in Dallas, Texas, and Jen left her career in commercial title insurance. We were both in our early 40s. Changes in the industry I worked in and at the company I managed prompted a career adjustment.
As retirement neared, Bob Beavis, 66, and his wife Linda, 59, thought they were all set. Bob’s last job was as a HR director near Dayton, Ohio, which made him eligible for a state pension. He found his job rewarding and he had a plan. He would put in his 10 years then get free healthcare in retirement, with $50 per month to cover Linda, too.
Home to 4.4 million people, New Zealand and its awesome landscapes are admittedly a long way from North America. But as our winter is their summer, you could consider retiring here part-time. In a pollution-free environment, it’s much easier to embrace a healthy lifestyle.
Costa Rica’s Arenal district is one of the country’s most beautiful and popular expat destinations. With rich green landscape, a massive lake, and a dramatic volcano, it’s not a place you’ll forget after visiting. For this Editor’s Debrief, IL’s Costa Rica Editor Jason Holland gives you all his hard-won trips for getting the best out of an Arenal scouting trip…
After just over a year in their home overlooking Lake Arenal in Costa Rica, Steve, 59, and Prudence Tippins, 50, are loving their new life…and many mornings get a dramatic reminder of why they decided to move. With the year-round, temperate climate, the couple regularly sleep outdoors on their deck.
When I think of country living in Panama, I think of Volcan in Chiriqui Province. To me, it offers the ideal blend of rural lifestyle in a small-town setting.
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Verdant hills rise gracefully from the shore, surrounding the blue waters of the lake. No boat traffic disturbs the peace. And the countryside is a mix of farm, pasture, and forest…with homes dotting the hills overlooking the water. Expats have been arriving in increasing numbers, but the development is small-scale and never overpowers the scenery and doesn’t spoil the view.
“In the U.S., you’re always going, going, going…it’s so easy to lose sight of where you’re headed. Life got too fast-moving for us”, explains Ray Granade. “We always needed to be somewhere, quickly, then somewhere else. It seemed like we were spending an extraordinary amount of time sitting in traffic. Now the longest we wait in the car is usually for a herd of cattle to cross the road,” he adds, saying he and his wife Kim, both 63, also wanted to escape the consumerism in the U.S.
Each morning, my boyfriend, Sean, and I sleep in until about 9 a.m.—we rarely set an alarm. More often than not, we wake up to the bustling of the coffee shop next door. We each order a cup of fresh-brewed coffee and a breakfast of fresh scrambled eggs and gallo pinto (typical Costa Rican rice and beans).
In the Northern Highlands region of Costa Rica, about three hours northwest of the capital, San Jose, is Lake Arenal. Blessed with a spring-like climate year-round, the shores around the lake have become home to an increasing number of expats from around the world, including many North Americans. They find a vibrant and active expat community, a small town atmosphere, a rural feel, and peace and quiet. Many live in homes with panoramic lake views.
Last December, my husband and I were bundled up in our tiny apartment in Chicago, mourning over the snow and sub-zero temperatures, when we came up with a crazy idea: Let’s sell all of our stuff and move somewhere tropical. When we sat down to talk about the things we truly wanted, it simply came down to creating a life where we control our time and spend it doing things we enjoy. Sometimes, it seems a bit surreal that we now live a five-minute walk to the Pacific Ocean, learning the pura vida way in Costa Rica.
Rita Lucas could not be happier with her life in Costa Rica. “I love the climate…living outdoors most of the time…and my community,” she says. “Living rurally and having my office in my outdoor living room with the stunning view is the icing on my cake.” And what a view it is. Rita’s property is nestled in the mountain range that runs through southern Costa Rica to the southern Pacific coast.
We’ve been everywhere, all over Costa Rica,” says Jessica Sueiro of her family’s travels through this Central American haven. “This week we’re going to Flamingo beach on the northern Pacific, Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula, and the mountain town of Monteverde, with the cloud forest.”
For millions of folks, golf satisfies something in the soul: hitting that one pure shot…breathing fresh air…and walking an immaculate course…the fast friendships forged on the fairway (and in the clubhouse bar). The game we know today has its origins in Scotland in the 15th century. popularized by British royalty, it soon spread throughout Europe and beyond.
When Riley Jesson first mentioned that he wanted to get out of the rat race, his wife Samantha was unsure. Both of them were advertising executives in San Francisco and she was making a name for herself climbing the corporate ladder. They were on great career paths…but they weren’t happy. So they decided to go in 2008. They had traveled to Costa Rica several times and—like many others—they fell in love with the people and the climate.
Stephanie Gough can hardly believe how quickly the five years has gone since she moved, with her family, to Costa Rica. “It’s kind of crazy that it’s been that long,” says Stephanie, who lives in the bustling beach town of Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast.
On my first trip to Granada, Nicaragua several years ago, I stopped in a small bookshop in the historic colonial quarter, just a few blocks from the main square. It was evident the owner—an expat from California—was a lover of literature. Classics…science fiction…travelogues…histories…and more lined the shelves. As I chatted to him, it emerged that he got started when he was just passing through Granada and, looking to make a bit of extra travel money…he laid books out on a blanket on the street to sell.
As the sun set over the Pacific, the silhouettes of fishing boats lined up on the horizon came into sharp relief. Just in front of me, a dozen children clambered through tide pools searching for shells and sea creatures. The strains of reggae from the live band playing at the bar just behind me provided a great soundtrack to this late afternoon on the beach. A friend of mine standing next to me turned and said, “Not bad, huh?”
As I came over the last hill on the road from Tilaran, a small town about 10 minutes from the shore of Lake Arenal, I could see what makes Arenal so special. The stunning lake vistas opened up before me… Most of the land here is forest, pasture, or farm—split by rivers, streams, and rocky waterfalls…natural and unspoiled. And it has that small-town feel, where strangers say “Buenas tardes” as you walk through town or wave if you drive by.
The 24-hour media machine fuels this “fear of elsewhere.” Footage of revolutions in the streets and masked gunmen stalking the jungle makes for good TV. Footage of people peacefully and cheerfully going to the market, relaxing on their porch of an evening, and doing the sorts of things normal daily life brings, well, that’s not going to attract the TV news crews, is it?
If you love growing your own…pickling and preserving…smoking and curing… crafting gourmet recipes…or any manner of artisan food production, Latin America is ripe with opportunity. You can make a living selling your creations via farmers markets, food trucks, or small-scale distribution. Take Dom and Angela Najab, who left Toronto, Canada, in 2011 and arrived in […]
Costa Rica’s Caribbean is a wild coastline…the least developed region of the country. Small towns and villages line the coast. Jungle surrounds you. The beaches range from dark volcanic sand to golden-hued grains to the powdery white variety. The water is a clear turquoise. And the living is very easy. Take a look at this selection of the best beaches on the Caribbean: the best places for watersports, sunbathing, and enjoying a good book in the shade of a palm tree.
The fishing village of Cahuita on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is popular with backpackers and eco-tourists thanks to a national park that protects a large swath of jungle and beach. There’s also a charming “downtown” area of brightly-painted buildings containing restaurants specializing in Caribbean cuisine, boutiques, and budget hotels.
I lost my job due to the recession. I worked for a bank, and when they decided to “right size” the organization, my job was eliminated. Fortunately my husband, Ron, and I had been researching ways to work from home so we could one day realize our dream of traveling the world. I had familiarized myself with my freelance options and we had already taken an exploratory trip to Ecuador.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
We Have the Best of Both Worlds in Costa Rica. From our small house up in the cool, quiet hills about 15 minutes from the beach town of Nosara, we’re close enough to head to our second house, a condo on the beach. We like having both, and Costa Rica is a place you can have the best of both worlds. We’d always harbored a hope that we might spend some part of our lives outside the United States and on our first trip to Costa Rica, we loved it at once. The beach community of Nosara, on the Pacific Coast, really peaked our interest so this is where we decided to retire to.
I turn off the Pan-American Highway and start up a gentle slope. Well-maintained and brightly-painted homes with gardens full of vivid blue hydrangeas line the fences on either side of the roadway. Mango trees, heavy with almost glowing green and red fruit, loom above. Ten minutes later I’m in the heart of the village. There is a picturesque little white church with a tidy park in front. Children in pressed uniforms file out of their classrooms at the school down the road. Passers-by hail me with a hearty Buenas Tardes as they walk by. I’m in Miramar, a small town in the hills about an hour west of the country’s capital San José. It’s just a 10-minute drive from the Pacific coast. That must be why the garlic seafood dish I ordered at an open-air restaurant in the center of town tasted so fresh…and was just $6.50 for a heaping plate of clams, calamari, fish, and shrimp, with sides of salad and French fries.