"We wanted to retire early. We won't be able to climb mountains forever, so we decided to start enjoying those adventures sooner rather than later," says Stephanie Ruiz of the life she's built with partner Chris Richter in Costa Rica.
They previously lived in the northern Virginia area outside of D.C. and were excited to leave behind intense jobs to embrace a Pura Vida lifestyle.
Pura Vida is the motto of Costa Rica, and essentially means to stop stressing and enjoy life.
The couple knew they had to be smart and approach things with analytical minds to find the spot that would suit them best.
"We looked at several places and used International Living as a resource," Stephanie says. "Since we're analytical people, we created a spreadsheet in 2016 to track our options. Latin America and Europe were on the list. Since I'm Mexican American, I already spoke Spanish, which helped us feel more prepared for life in Costa Rica."
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When considering moving abroad, deciding on your requirements for a new home is essential. Stephanie and Chris desired a stable government and a financially secure country with a good tax situation for expats. And they wanted to be able to go back to the U.S. within six hours.
Once Stephanie and Chris arrived in Costa Rica in February 2022, they looked at various places to determine what they could get for their money.
"When we first looked at homes in La Fortuna, we didn't feel connected to any of them," says Stephanie. "But we saw many smaller towns around the area and decided to check out a house in Chachagua."
The couple didn't know it at the time, but this would turn out to be their dream home.
"When we went to look at it, we gave each other the same pep talk on the way over. We told each other, ‘We're not buying now; we're just looking.' And then, when we left, we both got to the main road and decided we had a lot to think about. There was just something about that house… It was private, surrounded by nature, and off the beaten path. It felt like home."
Stephanie and Chris felt an immediate connection to this home when they first viewed it.
And they liked Chacahgua's location. It's just 40 minutes away from the popular expat haven of Lake Arenal, and less than three hours from the international Juan Santamaria Airport.
Even so, this analytical couple didn't jump in without completing their research.
They met new friends who took them to look at more properties, and they spent time in different parts of Costa Rica. When you're going to invest, it's necessary to be 100% sure of your decision.
"We spent a month at a time in different locations over a year," Stephanie explains. "Each place was lovely—we enjoyed our time exploring. When we went to Puerto Viejo, it was wonderful yet pretty remote and rainy. We loved the Osa Peninsula; it's such a pristine area. The expat community is much more diverse down there… There are a lot of Germans and French in the area. You can see waterfalls and surfers in the same morning. The mountains are pretty steep and butt right up to the ocean. It's just amazing… so many breathtaking views. Yet no matter where we were, we already knew we belonged in Chachagua."
So, they bought the house in Chachagua and hired a local builder to remodel the 1,700 sq. ft. home and guest house to their liking (making it 2,000+ sq. ft. of livable space).
They also love how low the cost of living is compared to the U.S.
"Our property insurance is about $200 yearly, and our auto insurance is about $1,600," Chris says. Water costs about $28 a month. Most of the time, dining out locally costs about $20 [per person]. And when we go to a nicer place, it's about $50.
"In the future, we may add a pool to the property because it is very affordable in this area. Labor, in general, is cheaper here. We could put in a pool for under $10,000."
As well as the low costs, Chris enjoys being surrounded by nature.
"We love enjoying the toucans and pretty much every bird imaginable on our property, along with howler monkeys. We have coconut, guanabana, mango, orange, lime, papaya trees, pineapples, bananas, and plantains growing all over."
Stephanie and Chris named their new home "Casa RyR"—a Spanish take on R&R as well as their last names, Richter-Ruiz.
It is, after all, the major focus of their life these days… rest and relaxation.