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
After researching Costa Rica in the pages of International Living and seeing the country featured in real estate TV shows, Victoria, 67, and Larry Torley, 65, were ready to check it out for themselves.
And it didn’t take long for them to find a new home. “On that trip we checked out Jaco,” says Victoria, referring to a popular Central Pacific coast resort town. “But the beach areas are too hot and humid. So we drove up here to Arenal on a Saturday morning. By 5 p.m. we had made an offer on a house.”
“Won’t you miss your family and friends if you move overseas?” That’s a question we at IL get asked a lot, and the answer is… “Of course you will.” It’s something my husband Dan and I have experience of. We didn’t think about it too much when we moved to Ecuador back in 2001. With the exception of Dan’s mother, none of our family—my parents and our siblings—lived in the same city as we did.
Optimism and purpose, a low stress level, a natural diet and an active lifestyle…experts say those factors are three times as important as your genetic makeup when it comes to enjoying a long and healthy life. Luckily, it’s easy to embrace those elements when you’re living in a place where they come naturally. And they do in our top picks for the world’s healthiest places to live.
The expats who’ve decided to make their home in Costa Rica have the right idea. This is a really great country. The beaches are fabulous…the jungle is amazing…and you can eat the healthiest, freshest food imaginable. Plus it’s full of opportunity for creating an income. Internet services are good…tourism is booming…and there’s a need for all manner of services.
As Corey Coates finishes his morning stroll along Jaco beach he can’t help but feel grateful to have such balance and peace in his life. Every day he wakes up with the sun, meditates, enjoys Costa Rica’s superb fruits and coffee for breakfast, then visits the ocean from his beachfront luxury condo. “The satisfaction I feel each day doing what I love is immeasurable. Some days are harder than others, but at the end of the day I’ve done exactly what I want when I want.”
Silence…the morning air is fresh and pure. Sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, doing some morning reading, I hear a rustling in the mango trees nearby. Then there’s a thud, a mango hitting the ground. But it didn’t fall coincidentally. It was intentionally dropped. Suddenly the silence is broken by the culprit—the deep bellow of a howler monkey. It is mango season in Costa Rica, and the capuchins and howlers have set up camp in the mango grove on the property where we’re currently living on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Located about three hours northwest of San José, Costa Rica’s capital, the Arenal region has been drawing eco-minded travelers in search of opportunities in wildlife watching, jungle hiking, water sports, and other activities for decades. But in recent years it’s become much more than a tourist destination, attracting an increasing number of expats interested in making permanent homes here. The area is dominated by the 33-square-mile Lake Arenal. Also, looming above the landscape at the east end of the lake, is the 5,479-foot Volcan Arenal, a cone-shaped volcano that is active but not dangerous
I still remember the first time I went to the feria, or farmers’ market, in Grecia, the Central Valley town I call home here in Costa Rica. It was a bit embarrassing. I was buying some carrots and potatoes and had dutifully handed over my filled-to-the-brim bags to be weighed. The vendor read out the total, and I handed over a 10,000 colones note (about $20). Still adjusting to the exchange rate, it took me a second to realize I owed him only about $1.50—and I was taking all his change for the day! I quickly counted out some coins and handed those over to the grateful vendor instead.
Skip ahead a year and a half, and we find ourselves still gazing with eyes wide open at the land where we began. Costa Rica completely captured this whimsical family, much to our surprise, with its total package. As nature lovers, we experience an ever-present awe for our intense surroundings—the tropical birds, countless waterfalls, incredible beaches, and stunning mountain views…so much diversity in such a small country.
In many ways, the Nicoya Peninsula is off the radar of most tourists and expats who make their way to Costa Rica. A large landmass jutting out into the Pacific, it’s harder to get to and travel around than most areas of the country, due to lack of quality roads. Some spots are best reached by ferry from the mainland.
For many visitors and even many expats who’ve lived in Costa Rica for years, the country’s capital, San José, remains a very utilitarian destination, so to speak. As the commercial center, it’s the place go for the best shopping in the country. If you can get it in Costa Rica, it’s in San José. And as the governmental center, when you’re going through the residence process…you end up in San José.
Costa Rica has a lot going for it as a place to live and retire: Natural beauty, exotic wildlife, warm weather year-round, beautiful beaches, warm and welcoming people…the list goes on. But one of the most attractive features of life in this tropical Central American country is the lower cost of living. Retired couples average about $2,000 per month in expenses, including housing, transportation, food, and medical costs.
Another perfect day in Costa Rica. It’s bright and sunny and the temperature is a comfortable 72 degrees. A hummingbird flutters outside the window. Then there’s a knock at the door. It’s one of my tica friends (the name Costa Ricans use to identify themselves). She’s come to visit, walking 2.5 miles to get to my house.
It’s been 18 months since I moved to the tropical land of my dreams, Costa Rica, and I am still smitten with my new surroundings. Every time I return to the States for a short visit, I am reminded of how intensely I’ve transformed my life…and I realize I could never go back to my previous, mundane reality in Maryland.
When my wife Jen and I chose Costa Rica as the country we would retire to, like many moving to a tropical climate, we had visions of morning runs on the beach, learning to surf. We imagined ourselves fishing and snorkeling in crystal clear waters, and watching the sun sink into the ocean as we sipped cocktails with friends. In short, we envisioned beach life.
One of my favorite surprises upon moving to Costa Rica was the open-air ferias or farmer’s markets. They can be found all over the country, and offer delicious fresh fruits and vegetables at very affordable prices. For example, at my favorite market (located in the town of San Isidro de General and held every Thursday and Friday), you can buy three pineapples for $2, mangoes for less than a dollar a pound, and a head of lettuce for 50 cents.
With 763 miles of coastline on the Pacific and Caribbean, Costa Rica is blessed with its share of beautiful beaches…not to mention pristine waters. And inland lakes and rivers provide more outstanding scenery. But these waterways are more than just pretty to look at. They’re the playgrounds of watersports enthusiasts of many different disciplines. Below […]
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Le Marche is a land of rolling hills topped with traditional stone farmhouses, honey-colored villages seemingly untouched since the Middle Ages, and farm-to-fork cuisine served up in rustic trattorias, where a meal will cost you as little as $7.
I’ve always lived near the coast. But in Florida, where I’m from originally, a trip to the beach wasn’t always fun, thanks to crowds, noise, and looming hotel towers. But during my recent trip to Nosara, a Pacific-beach community on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, I found the polar opposite of those overrun Stateside beaches…and a place unlike any other I’ve visited during my two years in this country.
Warm and sunny days…beautiful people lounging on the sand as surfers vie for choice waves… palm tree-lined boardwalks in picturesque beachside towns, dramatic craggy cliffs…the California coast has certainly captured the popular imagination. No wonder; it’s one of the most pleasant places in the world to live. But on the flip side, it also has some of the most expensive real estate in the world and a high cost of living.
Whenever I meet new expat or Tico friends in Costa Rica, the question invariably comes up: “Why did you move here?” The answer is actually pretty simple. We were looking for a better lifestyle than we had in south Florida, where we were living before we moved. We found it—and our new and improved quality of life has meant that my wife, two young sons, and I are still here and happy two-and-a-half years later.
It’s a good time to be in Belize. I’m on the beach, in the shade of a palm tree with fronds swaying in the breeze, looking out over azure water. In front of me is a Caribbean lobster, fresh off a grill made of an old propane tank and welded together Rebar for the legs. The lobster is just right. Eric, the dreadlocked grill man, has been doing this for years. Sides of rice and beans cooked in coconut milk and a mellow cabbage and carrot coleslaw complete the package.
When a prospective expat is looking seriously at moving to a foreign country, a lot of research is done from home. But then comes the scouting trip to see the places they’ve read about. And many choose to hire professionals to guide them. And if you’re living in an up-and-coming area for expats—that doesn’t have such a service—you could be the one to provide the tour.
The 2014 Fast Track Costa Rica Conference is over and done with – and as expected, it was a roaring success. I’d wager the people who attended this conference were people who had read and heard about Costa Rica’s breath-taking natural beauty, very affordable cost of living, and the Pura Vida lifestyle—and were interested in seeing if it’s somewhere where they could enjoy a happier retirement for less than what they are paying at home.
On that trip in 2000, the couple bought a lot for $30,000 in a gated community just outside the small village of Ojochal, which sits just off the two-lane coastal highway. Their aim was to build a home for their retirement and use it as a vacation property themselves and also for rental income. They visited often during the building process. In 2007, they moved down permanently.
People often tell us how brave they think we are, and that they admire us for venturing out and doing this crazy thing—quitting our jobs in our early 40s, giving up all stable income, and moving to and living in a foreign country. Of course, some people have also told us that we’re crazy. And, it’s true: it is crazy…but it works for us!
The most common thing I hear from friends who live in the States about my move to Costa Rica is: “I hear it’s getting very expensive there.” While it’s true that Costa Rica may not be as inexpensive as it was a decade ago, it’s still very affordable, and much less expensive than say Austin, Texas and Honolulu, Hawaii—two places I lived before moving to Costa Rica.
Many folks in the know want Penang kept a secret. This tropical Malaysian island in the Andaman Sea is one of Southeast Asia’s most attractive retirement havens. For the expats already there it ticks every box…
When Carla Willoughby, 40, decided to move from Asheville, North Carolina, to the mountainous Monteverde region of Costa Rica, she needed an income. And she knew that life would be much more comfortable if she were making U.S.-level wages in her new home, where the dollar can stretch further.
When Bruce and Shelagh Duncan, 67 and 65, respectively, came down to Costa Rica’s southern Pacific Coast 13 years ago, they felt an immediate affinity. “It was the weather…and the people we met,” says Shelagh. “It is mostly unspoiled and offers many breathtaking views of the mountains and the ocean. We can walk along deserted beaches and explore caves and secret beaches that are only accessible at low tide.”
Yet, we moved away—first to Tamarindo, a beach town on the northern Pacific coast, because we kind of missed the beach, and then to Escazú, a suburb of the capital, San José, to be closer to the hospital there when my youngest son had a medical issue. We liked both places, especially Tamarindo with its super laid-back atmosphere and close-knit expat community. And sunset drinks on the beach with friends, of course.
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. With its slower pace of living, warm, welcoming climate, healthy, fresh foods and reputation as one of the “greenest, cleanest” countries in the world with little pollution…it’s no wonder Costa Ricans are considered the “happiest people on the planet.”
When they left the States in the spring of 2012, Chuck and Anna were determined not to settle for mediocre. They wanted their dream. “We were looking for a mild climate, better health care opportunities, and lower costs,” says Anna. “We were looking for an adventure, amazing views, and lots of things to do,” says Chuck.
I remember Costa Rica. How could I forget? In 1997 my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I were married there. It was the first time I’d been south of the U.S. border. We found a small boutique hotel in San Jose that offered wedding packages. They’d supply the notario for a civil ceremony (sort of like getting married by a Justice of the Peace) along with a bottle of champagne and a guy playing music on a portable keyboard. It was perfect.
For many prospective expats, the quality of medical care in the country they plan to move to is a very important factor. Of course, most hope to never find out how good the health care system is. But things happen.
My husband, Paul, and I were happy with our lives in the United States. I was 45 and Paul was 55 when we met. We lived in the Baltimore area and had stable jobs making a decent income. Sometime in 2007 we started to talk about retiring early and moving somewhere cheaper to live.
The Southern Zone is about three to four hours from Costa Rica’s capital, San José, depending on what part of the coast you’re going to. It starts roughly at the funky surfer town of Dominical and goes all the way to the border with Panama. Most expats, including everyone from retirees to business owners with young families, live between Dominical and Ojochal, a village in the jungle about 45 minutes south
I visited the Lake Arenal region a few weeks back with family from out of town. When people visit us here in Costa Rica, we usually end up there at some point. Just three hours by car from our home in the Central Valley (and the international airport), it’s an easy drive—very picturesque as you pass through the rain forest, farmland, and small villages of the countryside.
I worked in advertising and marketing for over 20 years and it was a career that for the most part, I enjoyed. But on a vacation in my 30s, I took a good hard look at what I wanted and liked to do in life. I stayed at a small retreat hotel and participated in a group travel experience.