In Pictures: Why Costa Rica is the Ideal Place to Retire

Costa Rica has been a top retirement destination for more than three decades. An estimated 20,000 North Americans call it home today (more if you count part-timers and “snowbirds” who come for North American winters). And it continues to be a favorite of retirees for the same reasons it always has been: low cost of living; ideal climate; natural beauty; a stable government; friendly locals; safety; easy residence requirements; and bargain real estate.

No wonder HelpAge International recently ranked Costa Rica 28th in the world (1st in Central America) for the supportive and enriching environment it provides older citizens. The rating took into account life expectancy, available health care, psychological well-being, public safety, and the quality of social life, among other factors.

A huge benefit of retiring to Costa Rica is access to the high-quality but affordable health care. Those with pensionado (retiree) residence pay a low monthly fee based on income–usually between $60 to $150 per couple–to join the universal healthcare system known as Caja. After that all the care is free, from doctor’s visits to prescriptions to diagnostic testing to major surgeries. Even the private system, in which you use insurance or pay cash, is much cheaper than the U.S., with procedures costing a half to a third…or even less.

Thanks to the country’s long history of welcoming expats, it’s even easier now to make the transition to a new life in Costa Rica, especially for the older retiree. Things are “set up,” so to speak.

  • There are active expat communities throughout the country who gather regularly for parties, dining out, playing cards, crafting, and other social activities. This is especially true in expat-heavy areas like the central Pacific coast (towns like Jaco and Manuel Antonio), the Central Valley (towns like Atenas and Grecia), and the northern Pacific coast (towns like Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, and Playas del Coco).
  • Many Ticos (as Costa Ricans call themselves) speak English, especially those in industries in contact with expats—like real estate agents, attorneys, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and others.
  • You can find a lot of items you are used to from back home. Grocery stores stock imported foods. Clothing and electronic stores carry name brands from the U.S.
  • It’s easy to get around with an extensive highway system (although rural areas have rougher infrastructure), inexpensive but good public transportation, and a pair of regional airlines that can get you anywhere within an hour.
  • All the modern conveniences like high-speed Internet, cable or satellite TV, and 3G cell phone service are available just about everywhere–even in the middle of the jungle.

For all these reasons, retirees find Costa Rica to be a comfortable place to live. But perhaps the most important is the true respect Costa Rican culture has for the older generation. By law, those over 65 receive head of line privileges at banks and government offices and seats on the bus. By custom, seniors are extended the same privileges in stores and most places of business.

Retirees over 65 are also eligible for a Ciudadano de Oro (Gold Citizen) card, which entitles them to discounts on eyeglasses, clothing, groceries, medication, and much more at participating retailers throughout the country.

See below for images of the top retirement places in Costa Rica.

Atenas, in the Central Valley, has an active expat community.A rainbow arcs over San Isidro de Grecia, in the Central Valley.Manuel Antonio, on the Central Pacific coast, has a large English-speaking expat community.Ojochal has some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.The sun sets on Playa Flamingo, in the Northern Pacific coast.The Central Valley is known for its beautiful wildlife.
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Manuel Antonio, on the Central Pacific coast, has a large English-speaking expat community.

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