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
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.
I stayed in a jungle paradise recently. Every morning I woke up to the sound of toucans and howler monkeys hanging out in the tropical hardwoods around my simple cabin. If you’ve never heard them, toucans have a sort of high-pitched call that’s a cross between a whistle and a laugh. Howlers…well, they issue a guttural roar much too loud than should be coming from such a small monkey.
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Costa Rica’s northern Pacific is a place where you often might be one of a dozen people on the beach. It’s laidback and on a reasonable scale. Small villages. Quiet resort towns. Manageable. Lots of trees and natural areas. Not crowded. The level of development, though increasing, is still very small. And the attention development […]
Imagine coffee on your terrace as you enjoy spectacular views of lush green mountains and the valley and town below. Parrots glide overhead as the sun sets over the mountain… A lot of living is done outdoors here in the Central Valley region of Costa Rica. A major draw is the comfortable year-round climate. The […]
Picture a kitchen garden, orchards of fruit trees, your own slice of jungle, and stunning lake views… This is the Lake Arenal region, and you can have a dream homestead here with large properties for sale at affordable prices. When it comes to up-and-coming destinations for expat home buyers in Costa Rica, this part of […]
My wife Gloria and I have lived in the university town of San Ramon in Costa Rica’s Central Valley for over six years. The climate here is so ideal that we don’t need heat or air conditioning (saving on utility bills). It’s close to the beach (about an hour) and just over 30 minutes to the capital San Jose and all its amenities, including the country’s best hospitals and medical care. San Jose is the country’s shopping Mecca, too, so we have access to everything from international big-box stores to upscale department stores.
The global rise in demand for craft beer from microbreweries has given birth to thousands of small businesses—brewing, serving, and distributing. In a backlash against mass production, the world wants its beer made in small quantities with great care. It has become a business where manufacturer and consumer are chasing discerning production…and the small operator has a great chance of succeeding.
Having lived in Costa Rica’s Orosi Valley for a year now, leaving our lives behind in Dallas was the best thing my partner and I could have done. I knew it would be years before I could afford to retire in the States but I was ready for an adventure. I didn’t want to wait. So I started searching… We visited Costa Rica numerous times in the three years before we moved here to find what we called our “Goldilocks Place.” The beaches were gorgeous, but too warm for our taste. The jungles were amazing, but too humid for us. The Central Valley was cooler and popular with expats, but just not quite what we were looking for. Then we found our place in the mountains of the Orosi Valley, about 20 miles south of the capital San Jose. It was “just right.”
I always tell people that I chose the Central Valley town of Grecia to retire to because it reminds me so much of my hometown of Ybor City, Florida…back in the 1950s. The warm-hearted people, the magnificent natural beauty, the weekly feria (farmer’s market) with its fresh flowers, eggs, chicken, and just-picked produce, brought by the farmers in their trucks directly from the farm, and the pura vida (pure life) all drew me here to Costa Rica.
The year was 1997, and my wife, Suzan, and I had just gotten married in a civil service at the Hotel Don Carlos in San Jose, Costa Rica. She remembers that it was my idea, and I remember that it was hers. But whoever thought of it turned out to be a genius, because it set the travel bar pretty high for the rest of our lives.
There’s something about Costa Rica that just makes you think they have the whole lifestyle thing figured out. While every other country in the Western Hemisphere is trying to come up with a snappy marketing slogan to draw investment and tourism, Costa Rica just says “Pura Vida” (“Pure Life”) as they’ve been doing for years. It isn’t even a marketing slogan per se…Costa Ricans actually say it all the time—and they mean it.
On the far southern tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is the tiny town of Montezuma. After hearing it described as a “must-see” from friends and fellow travelers for years, I decided to check out this gem on the Pacific. And I have to say…I think all the Montezuma fans have a point.
When considering a place to retire abroad, there are many factors to keep in mind. The availability of good health and dental care, safety, climate, the price of real estate, the “vibe”… Costa Rica ticks all those boxes (Stayed tuned for more on its dental care in your Daily Postcard tomorrow). It’s a naturally beautiful country to boot with an established expat community and a stable government.
In this latest Debrief—exclusive to you as an International Living VIP member—IL Costa Rica Editor Jason Holland tells Dan Prescher all about his recent editorial trip to Costa Rica’s magnificent Central Pacific coast.
Right now I live in Tamarindo. It’s a lively but manageable resort town on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Here I enjoy long days at the beach, fresh—and cheap—seafood dinners, sunset happy hours, and mingling with the vibrant expat community made up of Americans and Canadians in big numbers but also Argentinians, Italians, Israelis, French, and a dozen other nationalities. Everywhere I’ve gone in Costa Rica I’ve met a lot of expats who own and run businesses—surf schools, tour operators, B&Bs, beach bars, art galleries, petsitting, microbreweries, catering, food trucks…and more. But despite their varied niches, all these business owners have something in common.
“We could be at the office,” my friend shouts from across the water. It’s 8.30 a.m. on a Tuesday and here we are out surfing on a glorious Costa Rican morning. The sun is shining and the turquoise blue water sparkles as it catches the rays of the morning sun. This is my paradise and also my home. In fact, I only have a 220-yard walk back to the house after my morning session.