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, neighborly atmosphere, a low cost of living, excellent health care, and a stable democracy.
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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
Costa Rica scored well across a number of categories to secure fifth place in this year’s Global Retirement Index (narrowly missing out on fourth to Mexico by less than a point). Two key categories for Costa Rica saw it perform particularly well. First up was the Entertainment and Amenities category, in which Costa Rica scored an excellent 94 points from a possible 100.
When Willy and Monika Krauskopf visited Costa Rica’s Lake Arenal 20 years ago, it was a life-changing event. The couple spent 10 days driving around the country. But they found themselves especially drawn to Lake Arenal because of the natural beauty and unhurried pace of the area.
Whether you dream of a pastel-painted, old colonial home surrounded by lush gardens or a super-modern condo just yards from the beach, in locations all over the planet you’ll find incredible value. Affordable, good-value real estate is a “stand-out” factor of the world’s best retirement havens.
We’ve called on our network of experts and in-country editors to reveal their real estate contacts in each of the countries that performed best in our 2013 Global Retirement Index. Knowing the right people will help you negotiate the real estate landscapes in whichever country you’re interested in.
The story of how most expats ended up living in Costa Rica is so similar to mine: “I came to Costa Rica on vacation, fell in love, and decided to stay.” But fell in love with what exactly? What is it about Costa Rica that entices someone to leave their home country and start all over in a foreign land?
Here in Tamarindo, on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, everybody knows everybody. Long-term expats number in the hundreds. It’s a walkable little ‘burg—we can’t stroll through town without stopping several times to talk with friends—and the “Main Street” is lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants run by Costa Ricans, Israelis, Argentinians, Italians, Americans, Canadians…
When my family and I moved to Costa Rica earlier this year, we had a big advantage: me. I speak Spanish. My mother is from Spain, and I’ve spoken the language all my life. I ended up being the translator for most everything—talking to the landlord about the broken washing machine, speaking with government clerks about residency documents, asking about the price of vegetables at the farmers’ market…
The house I was sitting was just outside the town of Atenas in the mountains, about 30 minutes from the capital of San José. Atenas is home to expats from all over the world, and the locals welcome everyone with a friendly smile. The temperatures when I visited ranged from the low- to mid-80s F during the day and a comfortable low- to mid-60s F at night.
Lake Arenal is the largest fresh water lake in Costa Rica, surrounded by rolling green hills, little farms, and pristine forest. Described as Costa Rica’s best kept real estate and retirement secret, the area remains overlooked and undervalued. There’s no apparent reason for this. It’s just one of those anomalies.
Costa Rica’s South Pacific rates as one of our most popular chill weekend destinations. Trips here book up quickly, and sell out months in advance. If you’ve ever visited this jaw-droppingly beautiful part of Costa Rica then you’ll understand why.
I’m in Playa Negra, on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, in a house in the jungle. The black sand beach, empty save for a few guests from a nearby hotel lounging on beach chairs, is a five-minute walk down the trail.
You might not know this…but Costa Rica has a Caribbean coast. And parts of it are stunning. This place has serious potential.
The land was narrow in front. There was a river, a real river, but no bridge. Then we started to notice the gorgeous trees. We put a ladder over the river and climbed over. As we walked deeper in, the views started opening up. I could see volcanoes in the distance. I knew this was the land I had seen in my mind.”
When expat Gloria Yeatman needed surgery in May 2010, money was not a worry. This U.S. expat, who lives just outside the Central Valley town of San Ramón, did have to chip in $55 for an ultrasound, $40 for a visit to the doctor…and then there’s that $42-a-month fee she and her husband Paul pay for medical care in Costa Rica. But that was it. And that’s from the initial doctor visit to the eventual surgery and recuperation.
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. Others just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live outside the United States. In short, everybody thought we were crazy for trying to make a new life overseas.
Sara, “70 and proud of it,” lives on a former cattle pasture she has reclaimed for Costa Rica’s diverse wildlife. Her 723-acre Finca Dos Lados, or “Two-Sides Farm,” is so named because it straddles the Continental Divide, featuring both Atlantic and Caribbean wildlife habitats. A retired flight attendant, Sara bought the property in 2002. For several years prior, she’d visited Costa Rica…
It just might be the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica. You’ll find it at the end of the road, literally, in the far southeastern corner, near the border with Panama. It’s on the Caribbean coast, the most undeveloped portion of the country. You drive two hours east of the capital San Jose, on Highway 32, and hang a right at the port city of Limon.
“We found our paradise in Costa Rica,” says Beaty Fomby. But it wasn’t where they thought it would be… They looked at condos and homes in the city. (“But we’re not city people,” she said.) They also looked at the beach, her husband, Ed, chimed in. He’s a fisherman and he loves the warm beach climate…but his wife, “not so much.”
I am not a “dissatisfied” American. I have never had a desire to move out of the country. The freedom and principles of the U.S. are a treasure, but living there has gotten very hard since losing my job in the recession. So imagine my surprise to find that while a Social Security income will give you a subsistence level of living in the U.S.—it will practically give you a luxury lifestyle in Costa Rica…
“America is no place to get old.” So says Gloria Yeatman. “There’s just a lack of civility in general.” So she and her husband, Paul, looked for better options. They wanted fun and adventure in their retirement. “And no more snow,” she laughs, showing a photo of their snowed-in home back in Baltimore. “Plus, retirees like us just can’t afford to live in the States these days.”
2012 Fast Track Costa Rica Package
San Jose, Costa Rica – November 2012
As they started planning for retirement, Ed and Beaty wanted to be sure the nest egg they’d worked hard to create wouldn’t crack under pressure. They wanted it to continue to grow… to fund some exotic travel… and to have something to leave to their children and grandchildren. Their dreams came true in Costa Rica. Here’s how they did it.
In this video, Jason Holland, International Living’s Costa Rica correspondent, highlights the beautiful beaches and laid-back towns of the country’s southern Caribbean coast, including Manzanillo, Puerto Viejo, and Punta Uva.
Quiet. If you gave me one word to describe the Lake Arenal region of Costa Rica, that would be it. If I had a few more… Verdant. Contemplative. Relaxed. Although the area is increasingly on the radar of expats from around the world, it remains unspoiled and sparsely developed.
People choose to move to Costa Rica for a variety of reasons: a low cost of living, affordable and modern health care, a tropical climate, bargain real estate, a pristine natural setting…the list goes on. But what happens when you make that decision to move? What’s the next step? And how do you live day-to-day once you get here? In our cover story, IL’s Costa Rica correspondent, Jason Holland, share some tips for navigating essential activities when you move to Costa Rica—like securing legal residency, banking, getting around, making new friends, and more.
My recent trip to Costa Rica was an amazing experience. And to think it only happened because I needed expensive dental work, and that traveling to Costa Rica for it actually paid for most of my vacation. In recent years, dental costs have risen faster than inflation. And since only 55% of U.S. residents have dental insurance, that means half of us are paying cash out-of-pocket for dental work.
Experience the Day of the Dead in Mexico on November 1 when people gather to honor their departed love ones with big parties across the country. If you’re in India the ﬁrst two weeks of November, then head to the capital, Delhi, where you’ll ﬁnd music, theater, dance, ﬁlm, and poetry in 50 venues across the city for the Delhi International Arts Festival.
Whether it’s as a place to retire or just vacation, if Costa Rica is on your list, then at some point you’re likely to find yourself in San José, the country’s bustling capital. It’s a major transportation hub and the nation’s main international airport is just outside of town. It also has the best public and private medical care in the country. With beach and lakeside towns and cool highlands to chose from in Costa Rica, San José is not likely to top your list as a place to live, but it definitely has some worthwhile diversions to recommend it.
At 6,000 feet, Costa Rica’s tropical climate has given way to cool. Temperatures are generally in the 60s F year-round, 50 F on a cold day. Yet Sara Clark, who lives on Poas Mountain above the Central Valley towns of Grecia and Sarchí, calls her homestead paradise. “I live up in the clouds with the angels,” she says. “My family always prided itself on self-sufficiency and Yankee ingenuity,” explains Sara. She’s brought both with her to Costa Rica, where she’s content among the few families who live on this part of the mountain.
Columbus called Costa Rica “the Rich Coast”—and it still is, with Caribbean beaches and Pacific shoreline that’ll take your breath away. But this nation has much more to offer, too: a year-round tropical climate, modern cities, rain forests, lush valleys and majestic mountains.
The terms in this Alert are valid until December 31. These casitas are charming little homes will be built in a Spanish colonial-style. Finishes will be high-end and the homes will be designed for comfortable living. Members of our group can knock $4,000 off the price.
What’s drawing IL readers to Costa Rica? Take your pick—long stretches of deserted and undeveloped beaches (Caribbean and Pacific)…dense jungles teeming with exotic wildlife…towering volcanoes, lush green valleys, and hundreds of crystal-clear lakes, rivers, streams, and waterfalls… mesmerizing sunrises, sunsets, and star-filled evening skies…an affordable, happy, healthy way of life…
Life in Costa Rica feels like a dream—but one I don’t have to wake up from. The climate here is awesome. Sunrise and sunset are at the same time every day, allowing my internal clock to get into a natural, uninterrupted rhythm. The sun rises at 5.00 a.m., warms the land and fills me with happiness for 10 months out of the year. A cool breeze flows through the Central Valley, where I live, never allowing the temperature to get too high.
When Brian and Stephanie Gough went on vacation in Tamarindo, a stunning stretch of palm-fringed shoreline on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, their lives changed forever. They had such an incredible time that they couldn’t bear the thought of going back to their old lives. So they bought a local restaurant. “We fell in love with Tamarindo,” says Brian.
It’s a long way from Deadwood, South Dakota, to Atenas, Costa Rica, but Tom and Kay Costello made the move nine years ago and have never looked back. In fact, the little bakery and restaurant they started in Atenas is now the nerve center of the expat community there… sooner or later you’ll meet everybody there is to meet at Kay’s Gringo Postres.
Like “Buenos Dias” in the rest of Latin America, “Pura Vida” can be used as both greeting or farewell or simply as a happy exclamation. Depending who you ask, it means “good…or pure life,” “plenty of life,” “full of life,” “this is living,” or even “awesome!” or “cool!”
Every expat who moves from the United States to Costa Rica has to make some adjustments. Things are slower, more relaxed. The lifestyle is about time with family and friends, not work and material possessions. You won’t find big box stores on every corner…
Wingtips, suit and tie sitting in Southern California rush hour traffic…or flip-flops and shorts by the beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It wasn’t a tough choice for Jeff Ruzicka. Today, the 43-year-old runs Marlin del Rey Sailing Tours in Tamarindo and Playas Del Coco on Costa Rica’s Gold Coast. He’s also a co-owner of the business, with his uncle, a long-time expat.
We’re near the top now when a cloud rushes in, and we’re immersed. Zero visibility. Better slow down and pull over. And that puts us in prime position a few seconds later when the cloud has passed to see the entire valley laid out before us. It’s been just a 45-minute drive from the city below but we’re worlds away. I’m in Costa Rica’s Central Valley.
Bless her heart, but my wife’s friend “Linda” (name changed to protect the embarrassed) has a knack for often saying the “wrong” thing when speaking Spanish. And during her recent visit to our home in Costa Rica she outdid herself. At breakfast she tried to tell the waiter she needed more coffee because she was tired (Estoy cansada) but repeated Estoy casada (“I’m married”) several times…
The renowned Malaysia International Gourmet Festival in Kuala Lumpur runs the whole month of October. Expect a “Theatre of Cuisines” and a “Gourmet Village.” The wonderfully-named Madajazzcar, Madagascar’s leading jazz festival, takes place from October 3 to 15 with performances around the island.