Bruce Walker has a simple life. Most days you can see him riding along the golden-sand beaches and jungle paths of Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast…with guests in tow. He has lived in Playa Chiquita, a small beach community for the past four years and his Playa Chiquita Riding Adventures is one of the most popular activities for visitors to this area, which is untouched by major development or tourism. No big resorts, no big towns. It’s a rural area full of nature. Rain forest borders a turquoise ocean.
Something strange happens when you’re buying property overseas. It happens to cautious folks, wary folks, even savvy folks that are seasoned pros when it comes to buying real estate. It’s something you need to watch out for. It’s getting caught up in the fine details of your contract…and, in doing so, losing sight of the forest for the trees.
I get a couple of emails a month like this from International Living readers: “I’ve been doing my research as you suggest. I know I want to make my move abroad, but no matter how many likely destinations I cross off my list, I still have too many to choose from. Where should I go?”
On the Nicoya Peninsula, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, is the community of Nosara. Known for its consistent waves, yoga studios, and somewhat remote location, this collection of beaches (Guiones, Pelada, Nosara, and Ostional) has virtually no shoreline development thanks to a large wildlife refuge designed to protect nesting sea turtles. As a result there are no large resorts or condo or hotel towers looming over the sand. And most expats live in homes in the forest just inland from the water. Nosara is popular with retirees, young couples, and families…just about anyone seeking a laid-back life on the beach.
Being self-employed in Costa Rica means Charlotte Viehauser can choose her own hours and spend plenty of time with her family. “Because I’ve chosen to raise my boys in Costa Rica instead of the States, I can have so much more time with them. I make my own schedule, so I can work during their school hours. In our free time, we like to get together with the other American families, play soccer, and travel within the country when we have the chance.”
As a long-time eco-tourism destination, Costa Rica is well-known for its wide variety of spectacular natural environments. There are volcanoes, rainforests, tropical beaches, waterfalls, looming mountains, rushing rivers, and more in this little country the size of West Virginia.
Joseph Mucaria fell in love with Costa Rica on a short visit. “I was only supposed to come for three months and then return to the States, but I fell in love with the culture and the environment, plus I always wanted to learn another language,” he says. That was 12 years ago. Now, he lives in an ocean-view condo just 45 minutes away from the city of Liberia.
Ryan Gast couldn’t be happier. “At 30 years old, I found a way to semi-retire,” he says. “I’m healthier, happier, and surfing better than ever. I make enough to live here. I live a simpler lifestyle. I work. I surf. I go home. And that’s exactly what I wanted. I love being around like-minded people. I’m where I’m supposed to be.” A typical day sees him sitting in front of his small surf shop. Friends riding by on bikes shout greetings…customers pop by regularly to ask about renting a board or taking surfing lessons…the vibe of this little community has a soothing effect.
Located on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast, Playa Hermosa (not to be confused with the beach of the same name near the border with Nicaragua) is a haven for beachgoers looking for a low-key and largely undeveloped destination. The beach is known for its consistent surf, making it a world-renowned surf spot. And there are long-term residents as well, who live in beachfront homes and in a luxury gated community just off the water.
“The environment here is beautiful,” says Lisa Vanderhaak of her new life along Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. “You can hike just out the back door. We were looking for a slower and better pace of life and we found it.” Lisa and her husband Pete are much like many expats on the central Pacific coast. They’ve found a place where life has slowed down…where warm weather year-round means you can enjoy the natural beauty around you every day…and you can find a community that’s a good fit for you. Plus, the cost of living is very reasonable for such a beautiful, tropical beach area. Cost of living has a lot to do with the lifestyle you want. But you can live comfortably as a couple for under $3,000 a month, including housing, transportation, healthcare—everything.
Sun, sand, and surfing. These are the three main draws enticing visitors to Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. And these have also created a ready market for businesses that can cater to the massive influx of tourists to the region, as California expat Danny Clark can attest. Danny first came to the central Pacific coast more than 20 years ago for a surf trip, and it changed his life. Today, the 42-yearold owns and manages a pair of successful restaurants in the bustling resort town of Jacó. And he says he lives a better lifestyle than he could in the States. His Side Street Bistro is a gourmet sandwich shop with an on-site microbrewery. And Graffiti is an upscale restaurant and wine bar.
Wandering is our specialty. Since my husband, Chris, and I left the States at the start of 2013 with not much of a plan and a whole load of ambition, we have resided in seven homes and explored countless destinations in the two countries—Costa Rica and Nicaragua. During our travels we have rescued hatchling sea turtles from hungry birds…observed the most achingly beautiful sunset from a Pacific beach…and encouraged a sloth as he crept between trees…
For many years, Kathleen Evans and Steve Spada knew they wanted to live and retire abroad. So, they spent their free time researching locations, dreaming about the move, and even looking at real estate abroad. “Even before the internet,” Kathleen says, “we were subscribed to International Living and looking at properties when traveling overseas.” A few years ago, the couple got serious about selling their home in Austin and making a move. Kathleen had had enough of the rush and stress of the workaday life.
Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast has a long history as a beach destination. Costa Ricans from the Central Valley (the mountainous interior region surrounding the capital, San José, where most of the population lives), have been coming to the area for vacation and beach getaways for decades. And North American and European visitors have been right there with them for many years, too. They’re drawn by several factors, many of which also attract expats to the area for long-term living…
It’s just a little sign on the main road through the popular expat community and tourist hotspot of Manuel Antonio, on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast. It points to Punta Quepos, and when you make the turn you quickly find yourself on a barely-wide-enough-for-two-cars road that hugs the cliffside. Jungle trees surround you, interspersed with boutique hotels and homes with wide views of the blue Pacific.
Living in Costa Rica has been great since we moved here last year. Each day my wife, Kelli, and I drink coffee—grown on a farm five minutes from our home—on the deck while we watch the birds get their breakfast. Our monthly expenses have been cut in half from what they were in the States, and we’re making plans to build a modest home here to cut that budget even more. And our life has become much quieter in the sense that there is less to worry about.
In 2008, when my husband Paul and I first started talking about the possibility of retiring overseas, we really only considered two countries: Mexico and Costa Rica. I often wonder why we didn’t consider more countries at the time; there are so many great options. At the time, though, we only thought of countries where we’d had some personal experience. First up was Mexico. Paul lived and went to college there in the ’70s and has always had a love for both the country and its culture, so it was natural that Mexico was on our short list. I had visited Costa Rica on a business trip in the ’90s and remembered it as a beautiful country that I always wanted to visit again.
Some things are the same no matter where you go. And whether you stay home or go overseas, healthcare is an important concern. The main difference—as you’ll discover on page 18—is the affordable array of healthcare options available to you when you leave North America. This month, we take a look at the five best retirement havens for healthcare. While you’ll find good healthcare available in many of the places we talk about, the five we have selected really stand out for affordability and quality of service. In all of these countries you’ll find world-class hospitals, English-speaking doctors, and all the medications you’ll need…and at a fraction of the price in the U.S. Turn to page 18 to find out more.
Spiraling healthcare and insurance costs are a thing of the past for thousands of North Americans who have found their dream retirement haven abroad. If you’re still mulling your overseas options, then the availability of quality and affordable healthcare is likely a primary concern. Over the next few pages, we explore five countries hand-picked by our expat experts for the exceptionally high quality of their healthcare. All five destinations have become expat hubs, and the North Americans who now call them home—including our correspondents—can attest to the high level of care they’ve received there.
Imagine waking up in the morning and enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee before heading out your back door to get breakfast. You gather eggs from your hens. Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, all from your kitchen garden, as well as homemade goat cheese, are added for an excellent omelet. The fresh-squeezed orange juice comes from your trees. Life in the cities and suburbs of the U.S. can mean being far removed from the origins of the food we eat. If you dream of getting back to the land, you’ll find hobby farms with fertile soil, ideal growing conditions, and great locations throughout the world.
In Panama, you can choose where you want to live based solely on the climate you want. The fact surprises a lot of people. “Isn’t Panama a tropical country, lying so close to the equator?” Well, yes, it is, but here’s the thing…because of the wide range of elevations, it offers an amazing choice of climates. Suppose you’re a beach lover, seeking the warmth of the sun, balmy breezes tinged with salty humidity, and long stretches of sandy shoreline facing nothing but endless ocean to the horizon.
Colette Holmes and her husband, Nick, weren’t planning a permanent move from Los Angeles to the Pacific beach town of Tamarindo, Costa Rica. “We came because Nick was a baseball coach,” Colette explains. “It was just a seasonal job. But after spending a little time here, we decided that we wanted to make a life in Costa Rica. We wanted a different life—a bit slower, a bit simpler.” And that’s what the couple got.
Residents of the country pay into La Caja. The fee is 7% to 11% of the person’s monthly income, which provides coverage for a spouse as well as a dependent. “After you pay your monthly fee, you receive free care,” says InternationalLiving.com Costa Rica editor Jason Holland. “Anything you need is available through a nationwide network of clinics and hospitals: doctor’s visits, medical testing, prescriptions, major surgeries, and hospitalization,” Holland says.
I’m a Canadian. I’m used to long, cold winters. But a few years back, my husband Gary and I had had enough. I refuse to spend my precious retirement years shoveling snow and huddled in front of my fireplace…not to mention donning layers of clothing from top to toe just to venture outside. And so each and every fall, we say goodbye to block heaters…snow shovels…hats, scarves, and outrageous heating bills…and head to Panama’s warmer climes.
Within a month of arriving in Costa Rica to live, my wife and I had discovered that we could enjoy one of our favorite Sunday traditions: brunch. Just down the road from our home in Grecia was Atenas, and the famous (at least among local expats) Kay’s Gringo Postres. There were heaping helpings of French toast, bacon, biscuits and gravy (I’ve never seen them anywhere else in Costa Rica)…and never-ending coffee…for $10 each. As we enjoyed these traditional American favorites, we met a dozen or so local expats, mostly retirees but also families and young couples. The more experienced were eager to pass on advice about renting a home or buying a car and to share contact information for great contactors and service providers like mechanics and plumbers. You know, the really important stuff you need to know when you move to a new place. Personal recommendations go a long way.
People from all around the world come to my adopted home town, San Juan del Sur. It’s Nicaragua’s most popular beach town and home to a cheerful mix of folks. Let me give you an example. I once found myself in a bar where visitors and locals often meet up. With a rockin’ band that invites anyone with an instrument to sit in and play, a true mix of Nicaraguans and foreigners, and fabulous local fare, it was so crowded that I found myself sharing a table with strangers. I was the lone U.S. citizen among 12 people from 12 different countries.
Manzanillo 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 José, on Highway […]
Colette Holmes and her husband, Nick, weren’t initially planning to move from Los Angeles to the Pacific beach town of Tamarindo, Costa Rica. “We came because Nick was a baseball coach,” Colette explains. “It was just a seasonal job. But after spending a little time here, we decided that we wanted to make a life in Costa Rica. We wanted a different life—a bit slower, a bit simpler.” Today, life is a lot different than the stress of the restaurant trade Colette used to work in. Instead of being assaulted by noise and rushing servers, she spends her days in more serene surroundings among Costa Rica’s exotic, colorful flowers.
So you’ve decided to move to Costa Rica. Now you have to figure out how to get yourself, your stuff, your pets…your life…down to your new home in the tropics. It may seem overwhelming. But keep in mind that this country has been a haven for retirees and other expats for more than 30 years and tens of thousands of people have gone through the process just fine and are enjoying their new lives in Costa Rica. It’s a well-trodden path and there are services in place and strategies that have been perfected over the years…so your transition will be easier than that of the trailblazers who came before you.
When visiting Costa Rica during a scouting trip, your goal is to figure out which region suits you and your lifestyle best. Even though it’s a small country, about the size of West Virginia, there are many different climates and lifestyles in each area. You might also be trying to determine if the country as a whole is the best fit at all. So you owe it to yourself to get the most out of your journey by gathering as much useful information about your possible new home country. Here are some tips to make for an educational—and fun—scouting trip to Costa Rica.
Just south of the busy beach resort town of Jaco on the coastal highway is one of Costa Rica’s hidden gems. Esterillos is a quiet community (there are actually three sections: Esterillos Este, Esterillos Centro, and Esterillos Oeste) that a small but significant group of expats have come to call home. Laid-back beach living is the name of the game. No big hotels, no tall condos…not much development at all, although it is a popular weekend destination for Costa Ricans who live inland. You can walk the beach for miles and not see many other people. During the week, your only companions will likely be surfers and fisherman.
Her hands move in a rhythmic, soothing motion across my back, releasing any tension or stress, and loosening tight muscles. I lay face down on the massage table in a deep state of relaxation. “Ahh, this is the life.” After our massages, my husband, Fred, and I stroll through Nosara, a coastal town on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, and stop off to eat some fresh fruit from a local stand and a hearty meal of local fare—chicken, rice, and beans—at a small street-side restaurant. Our feet take us in the direction of the beach. Shoes come off, toes dig into warm, soft sand. They continue moving until bathed in the bath-water warm waves of the Pacific Ocean.
My husband Michael and I have come to realize that we are not really city folks, even though we lived for years in the suburbs of one of Canada’s biggest cities. But when we found a luxurious home in the hills above the Costa Rican capital San José, where we could stay for free we were happy to make an exception. We were house-sitting a villa perched high in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, near enough to admire San José and access all its amenities, but also far enough away from the busy center. We were in Escazú, home to foreign embassies, diplomats, and wealthy business owners and one of San José’s more upmarket neighborhoods.
It’s that time of year again, when International Living calls on its extensive and ever-growing network of correspondents the world over to help us assemble our Annual Global Retirement Index. This is the most comprehensive list of retirement havens around the world. These are places where the weather’s good, the costs are low, and the life you’ll have is comfortable and full of adventure. Each year we require more and more information from our editors and contributors in order to put together these rankings. We draw on data from across the world, we plunder the stats of international organizations, and we bring it all together to crunch and mull over in-house.
When I first started planning my move to Costa Rica years ago, I got some interesting feedback from more than one acquaintance. “Aren’t you worried about safety? They love to rob gringos there, you know.” I guess they pictured “banditos” crouched in the bushes ready for ambush around every bend in the road. It’s worth mentioning this seemed to be their view of all of Latin America, Asia, and most of Europe.
Costa Rica is a small country, about the size of West Virginia. Overall, you’ll find a low cost of living (many retired expat couples I meet live well on around $2,000 a month)…top-notch, low-cost medical care…friendly people—the national motto is Pura Vida, which translates to “life is good”…and bargain real estate—you can rent from $300 a month and up and find North America-style homes for $150,000 or less. But tiny Costa Rica has a tremendous variety of climates, lifestyles, and landscapes within its borders: bustling beach resorts, quiet fishing villages, high mountain towns, vast farmlands, looming volcanoes, lush rainforests, isolated rural areas…
When Harry and Barbara Jones were planning their retirement abroad, they had several countries in mind based on their research: Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, and Ecuador. They scouted Costa Rica first because they had been years ago on a cruise and were impressed with the country. After that first trip, they never made it anywhere else. The warm and friendly people, the low cost of living, and the natural beauty sold them. The couple, from Charlotte, North Carolina, at first looked at property on the beach but weren’t fans of the heat and humidity. So they headed inland and up into the mountains of the Central Valley, specifically the town of Grecia.
Costa Rica is one of the most popular and well-known vacation, second-home, and retirement destinations for North Americans. Though a small country, Costa Rica’s regions offer a wide variety of climate, lifestyle, and landscape. And renting in Costa Rica is a great way to experience day-to-day life while looking for your own place under the tropical sun. Much of Costa Rica’s lush tropical forests and sun-splashed shoreline has been designated as national parkland or reserve. Costa Rica is rapidly approaching carbon-neutral status in energy production and emissions, and its health care system is one of the most affordable and highly rated in the world.
The Feria Verde, or Green Farmers’ Market, is held every Saturday in the Aranjuez neighborhood of San José, Costa Rica’s capital. Founded in 2008, it’s one of the original organic and gourmet markets in the country, offering everything from produce to goat cheese to gluten-free pasta and a score of other unique products usually not available in most Costa Rican stores. The items are crafted or grown by small local producers.
A view, good-value real estate, low cost of living, friendly locals…they’re all important as you search for a new community to settle in abroad. But if you have a green thumb, you may have some special requirements for your dream home. You’ll need good soil and the right light. Maybe you want multiple growing seasons, which is possible in some tropical areas.