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
The Irazú Volcano, just east of Costa Rica’s capital, San José, is the country’s tallest at more than 11,000 feet. Its slopes are covered in forest.
Bruce and Karen Huss’s move to Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast evolved over time. Their first visit was five years ago, when they spent time in the exclusive Los Sueños resort community in Playa Herradura
Costa Rica…the name alone conjures up visions of lush tropical rain forests and crashing surf on long stretches of white sand beaches.
It’s the friendly and welcoming people, the natural beauty, and the tropical lifestyle that will really steal your heart. “Costa Ricans are a gracious people,” says Rene Aoki, who has lived in the Arenal region for 19 years. “It’s an easy place to live where you can make close friends.” New expats find well-trodden ground and benefit from the experience of those who came before them.
I’m a city boy through and through. When I moved recently to Escazú, a suburb of Costa Rica’s capital San José, I figured I’d be enmeshed in urban culture. This is, after all, the biggest city in the country, and the surrounding area is home to three-quarters of the country’s citizens.
I’m sitting in a few inches of water, eagerly anticipating the next big wave. When it comes, it’s far stronger than I expected it to be. I’m slapped in the face, knocked off my rear and whipped around by its power
Imagine, for a moment, waking up to the sun bursting through a canopy of leaves… the song of tropical birds the only sound piercing the stillness of the morning air….
Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast is a world apart from the rest of the country. The region is populated by Afro Costa Ricans, descendants of Jamaican immigrants who came to the area starting about 100 years ago
The region of Costa Rica surrounding the capital San Jose is known as the Central Valley. Set at 3,000 feet, the weather is temperate, averaging in the mid-70s year-round.
The “bean-to-bar” production of artisan chocolates is a way to make tastier chocolate in a more sustainable manner—and charge a premium to willing customers (three-ounce bars in the U.S. can go for as much as $8).
I love Costa Rica’s easygoing pace of life. It’s a place where people can’t help but slow down.
It was hard to tell over the phone. But I think my mother was in tears when I broke the news that we were moving to Costa Rica. Most of our friends were shocked.
You probably remember a time when the U.S. wasn’t heaving with coffee shops. Back in the early 1980s, Starbucks was just another place to get a coffee in Seattle. Then they tapped into the trend of European-style cafes. Within 10 years Starbucks had more than 400 stores in the U.S. Today they have almost 18,000 stores worldwide.
Starting a successful business overseas is much like starting a business in your home country: Find a need and fill it. California native Ingrid Anderson, 41, saw that expats and tourists on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in the beach community of Uvita, needed a spa and salon—a place to be pampered, primped, and peeled.
As a busy carpenter and contractor in his native Canada, Steve Quinn, 52, relished his regular trips to Costa Rica with his wife, Lisa, to relax and unwind on the beach. After six years of short visits, he decided to make this beach lifestyle permanent. He took over a beach bar and restaurant in Tamarindo, a funky surf town on the country’s northern Pacific coast. He’s leasing the property for three years, with an option to buy, which is a great way to test the waters without committing to purchasing property right off the bat.
“You might wonder why I’m swapping Florida for Costa Rica,” Steve says, “and, you know, the answer is really simple. I’m more relaxed when I’m in Costa Rica. I eat better.
Fancy a few hours battling a half-ton striped marlin Hemingway style? The fish can get so big off the coast of Costa Rica that the skipper straps you into a chair to fight them.
Every year, on the second Sunday in March, residents of Escazu, a suburb of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, gather to celebrate the agricultural heritage of the region during El Día de Los Boyeros.
The Arenal region of Costa Rica, dominated by an active cone volcano and 33-square-mile unspoiled lake, is one of International Living Costa Rica Correspondent Jason Holland’s favorite parts of the country.
You’ll find 805 miles of sandy beach in Costa Rica. Both Caribbean and Pacific. It has some of the world’s best surfing and fishing, and sunsets to die for…
I checked out of the traditional career path—the “rat race”—about 10 years ago at the age of 35. On the surface, life in Texas was great for me. I’d graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in journalism and worked in the advertising business as an account executive (a “suit”) for about 10 years.
When Valerie and Gaylord Townley first visited Tamarindo, it was a simple fishing village. The only visitors were pioneering surfers (Gaylord was one of them) and sport fishermen. There were a few small hotels, only a few phone lines, and no TV. The number of permanent expats could probably fit in one of today’s larger restaurants.
Sandy beaches with tumbling surf, peaceful lakeside living, bio-diverse tropical jungles, cool highland areas with modern cities. . . Little Costa Rica offers plenty to choose from. And for decades, expats like me have flocked here, making it one of the world’s most popular locales for good living abroad.
Costa Rica is one country that may truly have it all: A year-round tropical climate, modern cities, Caribbean beaches, Pacific coastline, rainforests, lush valleys, and majestic mountains.
When you live in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone, the beach and the blue Pacific become a focal point. Surfers and beach combers hit the shore.
“I knew when it was time to retire we’d move to the tropics. I was bored with the predictability of life in the U.S….the politics…the franchises,” says 70-year-old Roberta Laidman.
When you live in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone, the beach and the blue Pacific become a focal point.
Expats have been flocking to the Central Valley for decades. Despite the name, it is actually a high-altitude plateau—above 3,000 feet—that is surrounded by tall mountains. In the middle you have Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose.
I’m from Florida, where a day at the beach means fighting for parking—often for an outrageous fee—struggling to find a bare patch of sand, and spending the day listening to loud music and shouting kids.
Their vacations in tropical places left Denice and Robert Key wishing for more out of life and thinking, “What if…?” The couple had traveled throughout the Caribbean and Mexico when they were younger, and they could never quite escape the itch to retire early and move to a warm, exotic destination—something completely different from their Colorado home.
“You might wonder why I’m swapping Florida for Costa Rica,” Steve says, “and, you know, the answer is really simple. I’m more relaxed when I’m in Costa Rica.
About three years ago my husband, Scott, and I started talking about leaving Indiana and moving abroad, possibly to Central or South America. We had both traveled there and loved what it had to offer in the way of lifestyle.
Ecuador, Costa Rica and Belize are three of the Latin American countries in the “cocoa belt”—the 10 degrees either side of the equator where the cacao tree grows. Here you’ll find a burgeoning cottage industry devoted to this type of chocolate making.
The first opportunity is a perfect bolthole if you’re looking for Caribbean living with a European flavor close to home. Direct and affordable morning flights from the U.S. will get you here in time to soak up early afternoon sunshine on the beach or bathe in the turquoise waters
You wake up early for work. But you’re not slapping at the alarm clock in disgust, then rushing out the door for a long commute. You want to get up…you’re looking forward to the day. You get to enjoy that first cup of coffee as the rising sun makes the Pacific glitter…watch wildlife—toucans, parrots, even monkeys—make their morning rounds in the trees…
Fancy a few hours battling a half-ton striped marlin Hemingway style? The fish can get so big off the coast of Costa Rica that the skipper straps you into a chair to fight them. The waters of both coasts, the Pacific and Caribbean teem with legendary fish like marlin, dorado, and tarpon that, for decades, have drawn serious sport fishermen (and women) from around the world eager for record-setting catches.
Six months from now, you could be living in paradise… for much less than it costs you to stay home. In the best destinations overseas, your dollar just goes further…first-class healthcare is affordable… you can afford a housekeeper or gardener…and live better than you could back home for a fraction of what you pay now…
If you’re ever in the Arenal region of Costa Rica there is one activity you have to make time for: a dip in one of the natural hot springs. Known locally as “aguas termales,” the 90 to 110 degree Fahrenheit waters are naturally heated by volcanic activity. In fact, most of the hot springs have a great view of the Arenal volcano from the pools.
There are several categories of residency for those seeking to live and/or retire in Costa Rica. Although it can be quite bureaucratic, the process to obtain your cedula (the Costa Rican “green card”) is actually pretty straightforward. Most expats who retire to Costa Rica and live here full time choose pensionado status.
Before you leave, work with the shipping company to make sure your car meets emissions standards. The test is done in the U.S. You should also consider whether your car will make a good match for Costa Rica. Although auto shops are common and labor inexpensive, the most common parts available are for Asian vehicles and every mechanic can fix them. It can be more difficult to repair an American or European vehicle.