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
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.
Located on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, Jacó is a popular beach resort town that plays host to many international and local tourists throughout the year. It’s also home to a sizeable expat population. It’s known for great restaurants and vibrant nightlife, a wide beach perfect for long walks, and consistent surf. Sport fishing, kayaking, and hiking in the surrounding jungle are also popular. Local expats are active in community churches, volunteering in the community, and simply hanging out with friends.
As a 5-year-old Canadian spending Christmas holidays in Southern California, I had a lightbulb moment—there were countries that didn’t have snow! Ever since, I harbored a desire to live in one. So when my husband, Tim, and I came to Costa Rica on our honeymoon—and fell in love with it—we decided to move here. With such friendly people, a large expat community, and many English speakers in the area, we felt it would be an easy place for us to transition.
La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is the heart of life in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This street is Playa (as locals call the town) in a nutshell: cosmopolitan, chic yet casual, and lively from early morning to late at night, with expats and visitors from the U.S., Canada, Europe, other parts of Mexico, and all of Latin America. What used to be a tiny town, a ferry stop for tourists heading to Cozumel, has boomed. The talk around town is that it’s the fastest-growing city in Mexico. But the town’s guiding spirit of “fun in the sun” remains strong.
Lance and Mary Miller spend their time doing things they want to do…for the ﬁrst time in their lives. Sometimes that’s something as simple as enjoying coffee and fresh-baked coffee cake and cookies on their porch with friends. They can afford everything they need to live a comfortable retirement. And when they want it, the beach is just down the road. “We came to Costa Rica with the attitude that it’s an adventure. It’s fun! We want to be part of the community. We always knew we wanted to retire overseas. We did a lot of research, and Costa Rica kept coming up,” says Mary, 60.
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Mike and Alice Olson were born, raised, and married in Fargo, North Dakota. They raised their children there. But there came a time when they’d had enough and wanted to leave the harsh North Dakota winters behind. “We wanted to live in a place that was warm…and peaceful,” they say.
As we approached our retirement, my wife Cindy and I decided we wanted a new and challenging adventure. I was president of an engineering company and Cindy a registered nurse who had advanced her career from oncology nursing into medical research, but we wanted something different. Moving overseas was high on our list.
Paul Hastings and Marilyn Stevens landed in Grecia, a small town in Costa Rica’s Central Valley region, in October 2013. After a group tour and taking some time to explore other areas of the country on their own, they decided they wanted to live in the mountainous interior of the country with its temperate year-round weather.
Two years ago, after leaving our careers and selling most of everything we owned, my wife and I retired early to Costa Rica. Our life in Dallas, Texas was busy and stressful. After looking at our options, we chose to move to a foreign country, to live more simply and have time to pursue our passions. We found Costa Rica had many benefits that made it stand out. Those benefits that brought us here are the same reasons we’ve stayed…
Costa Rica can feel like a dream at times…especially the mornings that I wake up to the deep aroma of fresh-roasted coffee, harvested just a few miles from my house…or the days when my weekly errands are put on hold for a stroll on a white-sand beach. Finding adventure is easy here. My boyfriend, Pablo, and I have climbed a volcano in the morning only to be at the beach by afternoon. We’ve dined on world-class seafood prepared by European-trained chefs, but our favorite are meals with the locals where the stars are black beans broiled over an open fire and ripe plantains fried until they’re caramelized.
When we lived in the U.S. my husband, Paul, and I both worked 40+ hour weeks and, like most folks, were busy after work and on weekends doing all the “stuff” of life—laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, and running errands. Now that we are retired and living in Costa Rica, we are only as busy as we choose to be. We’re still busy, but in a different way. First off, we can do those things anytime, usually during daylight hours. And secondly, things usually take longer here than it would in the U.S.—there isn’t such a thing as one-stop-shopping. But that’s okay. Part of the fun is the hunt for what we need. We weren’t necessarily looking for easier…we wanted different.
Retiring to Lake Arenal in Costa Rica almost four years ago was one of the best decisions my wife Beaty and I ever made. We lived in the little East Texas town of Crockett and the kids were all graduated from college. After practicing dentistry for 38 years, I was hitting the point where I was ready to get out. Beaty had already retired from her physician’s assistant job.
When I wake up in the morning to the sounds of green parrots squawking and howler monkeys growling, I know it’s going to be a hot day. There’s no need to look up the forecast: Living on the North Pacific coast in Costa Rica means a longer dry season with persistent sunny days. It’s been over six months since it has rained here in our little town of Playas del Coco so everyone is waiting for it to come to get some relief from the heat.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Texas. I like the people, their independent attitude, and friendliness. But when I left for the Marines in the late ’60s, I never planned on returning. Not because of the task at hand—I was just ready to experience what the world had to offer. My eventual return was strictly out of commitment to responsibilities and an available career. When I reached 60, in a moment of clarity, I became acutely aware of how fast time was passing.
We’re sitting on our upstairs deck, overlooking San Jose, Costa Rica, and I turn and say to my wife, “This is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.” Since moving here from Colorado last year, we’ve developed a typical morning routine. We grind organic coffee beans together with a couple of organic cacao beans. Then we steep the blended grounds in our French press. Our chocolate-infused java brew pairs well with the cool Central Valley morning temperatures. Drinking our custom creation is a great excuse to enjoy each other’s company.
Before we moved to Costa Rica, my family and I lived in Colorado. While Colorado is gorgeous, for three to six months of the year, we were covered in snow; we found ourselves snowed in more often than not at our house in the mountains. We were also spending nearly $600 each winter month just to stay warm. We had fires in the fireplace, heaters running, and we still had a tough time getting our home to climb over 65 degrees during the cold winter days.
On a quiet stretch of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific you’ll find a low-key beach community. It’s been a fishing village for decades—the fishermen still go out every morning. It’s called Esterillos and if you’re looking for laidback life with a rural feel, it could be your perfect spot.
Ever wonder what it would be like to work with elephants for a day in the jungles of northern Thailand? At the Patara Elephant Camp, you can. Not all elephant camps are created equal but this is one of the highest on the list when it comes to ethics and dedicated mahouts (elephant handlers).
From bustling beach towns to small ﬁshing communities, stunning stretches of sand to lush rainforests teeming with life, Costa Rica’s Central Paciﬁc coast has a huge variety of lifestyle choices to offer expats. And thankfully, it has the real estate to match. The name of the game in the Central Paciﬁc is good value. Beachfront and walk to-the-beach properties are bargain-priced compared to anything you’d ﬁnd in popular resort areas of the U.S. And there truly is something for everybody, whether you’re into the vibrant atmosphere of a resort or the peace of a ﬁshing village.
Coming from Tyler, Texas, Harold and Lisa Beasley brought more than clothes and household items when they moved to the village of Atenas, in Costa Rica’s Central Valley region. They also brought with them a touch of Southern hospitality. That and home-style cooking is on offer at Kay’s Gringo Postres, a restaurant with a long history in the expat community, which they bought from its original expat owners.
When it comes to a perfect retirement haven close to home, the small Latin American country of Costa Rica ticks all the boxes. Less than three hours from Miami by plane, it’s easy to access, with numerous direct flights connecting Costa Rica to the U.S. and Canada. The weather is excellent throughout, and despite its small size, there’s a climate in Costa Rica for everyone. It’s the happiest place in the world, according to the Happy Planet Index, and also one of the healthiest, with plentiful clean water and fresh air. The World Healthcare Organization lavishes praise on Costa Rica’s healthcare system, which it ranks higher than that of the U.S.
The Lord of the Rings’ soaring mountains… Roman Holiday’s famous monuments and historic sites… and the tropical locales of Pirates of the Caribbean…it’s doubtful these blockbuster films would have had such an impact without those dramatic backdrops to the action. Even as CGI and green screens become more widespread, there is something about a real, physical landscape that can’t be replicated by bits and bytes.
The landscape is bucolic and peaceful, with tremendous views of forested river valleys, green-covered hills and mountains, with the red rooftops of villages in the distance. It’s not a bad place to retire…to reinvent yourself in a new country.
Set in the mountains and valleys of the interior of the country, Costa Rica’s Central Valley region surrounds the capital, San Jose. And it’s one of the most popular areas for expats in Costa Rica for several reasons. Thanks to an elevation starting at 2,500 feet, the climate is mild year-round even though it’s in the tropics, with temperatures ranging from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Valley and mountains views are another bonus, as are the charming villages and bustling towns full of friendly people. And, being so close to the capital means that Central Valley residents enjoy the best medical care in the country, as well as top shopping and proximity to the main international airport.