Check any list of the world’s best retirement destinations, including International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index, and you’ll find Costa Rica near the top. And it’s not a new trend; this little Central American country sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama has attracted North American expats for more than 30 years due to many diverse factors. Here are four reasons why many retirees think it’s a great place to live. One of the biggest attractions of Costa Rica is the weather. For those seeking relief from frigid winters, the warm temperatures year-round are quite welcome.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
This life could be yours. Plenty of everyday people are choosing to live on the water full-time—in their retirement, no less. After a bit of training and hands-on experience at home, they're tying up beside mega-yachts in the Mediterranean...finding large floating communities of like-minded expat sailors in the Caribbean...and island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand, heading wherever their fancy takes them.
Head out of San Jose, crest the cloud forest-covered mountains to the west of Costa Rica's capital, and in about two hours you're on the Caribbean coast. Another two hours or so south and you're in the heart of the region. A pretty short ride...but it's like a different world.
I live in the heart of Costa Rica's most populated region, the Central Valley. In fact, I live in the Gran Area Metropolitana (GAM), the name given to the capital, San Jose, and surrounding suburbs. The Valley has about 70% of the country's population. It's a center of culture and commerce. And the GAM, which contains towns popular with expats like Escazu, Santana, and Heredia, is honestly a sprawling urban area with traffic and noise.