The Joys of Retiring in Costa Rica
There is a saying in Costa Rica, it’s actually the unofficial motto of the country: Pura Vida. It literally translates to “pure life.” But really it’s more along the lines of “life is good.” And it’s used in everyday conversation. It’s a greeting…if someone asks how you’re doing, you can say “pura vida”… If that attitude appeals to you, you might want to consider retiring in Costa Rica. This country of 4.8 million is tucked between Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east.
Costa Rica may truly have it all: a year-round tropical climate, quiet rural areas, hillside villages, modern cities, Caribbean beaches, Pacific coastline, rain forests, lush valleys, and mountains.
According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 20,000 U.S. expatriates live in Costa Rica, many of them as retirees. That’s because Costa Rica has one of the highest standards of living in Central America. With an economy catering to a growing middle class as well as tourists from around the world, you’ll have no trouble finding theaters, galleries, and fine dining in virtually any cuisine. Plus, there is excellent healthcare, high-speed internet (even in seemingly remote areas), reliable electrical service, clean water you can drink from the tap, and good cellphone coverage (including 3G and even 4G in some areas). In addition to its natural beauty, culture, welcoming attitude of the locals, and convenience, Costa Rica attracts many expats with its lower cost of living and slower pace of life.
Many retirees choose to live in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, which is the region surrounding the capital city of San José and its international airport, shopping, and medical facilities—featuring the top physicians and facilities in both the public and private systems. The services and amenities here are the best in the country. But while the immediate area around San José is quite urban, there are plenty of places to get away from it all in the countryside. The weather is also an important factor—this area enjoys year-round spring-like temperatures averaging 72 F. Days can get up into the mid 80s F and nights dip into the 60s F. Elevation plays a large role in temperature—the higher you are, the cooler the climate.
Other expats choose to live near the water…the Guanacaste province, the region on the northwest Pacific coast, also known as the Gold Coast, is one of the most popular. There are expat enclaves here; luxurious communities, as well as simple beachside villages where expats mingle with friendly locals.
The Central Pacific coast from Jacó to Quepos is also an expat destination. Here the amenities of San José are just an hour to two hours away, and you can enjoy the fun of bustling beach towns with a great restaurant scene, active nightlife, and more. Plus, while this one of the most developed beach areas, there is still plenty of natural beauty, including some of Costa Rica’s best national parks.
The Southern Pacific Coast, also known as the Southern Zone, is an up-and-coming area near the border with Panama. Here you won’t find large-scale development. Visitors tend to be into eco-tourism—it’s an area of vast rain forests full of wildlife and deserted beaches with migrating whales just offshore. Many expats live in homes on jungle-covered hillsides with panoramic views of the coast. It’s a small but active expat community…and surprisingly there are a good selection of gourmet restaurants here—some say the best in the country.
About three hours northwest of San José is Lake Arenal. This 33-square-mile lake is pristine, undeveloped. Verdant green hills rise gently from the shore, dotted with villages and homes. In North America a lake like this would be packed with marinas and other noisy lakeside development. But here that’s not the case, although there are several restaurants, cafes, and art galleries lining the narrow and winding road that hugs the lakeshore and offer great views of the water.
If you plan to live in Costa Rica, you should consider applying for residence. There are several categories available. The most popular for retirees is pensionado. Those seeking a pensionado visa needs to prove a minimum income of $1,000 per month from a qualified pension or retirement account or from Social Security.
Another category for those not ready for retirement is rentista. Rentisa visa holders have to show income of $2,500 per month for at least two years, guaranteed by a banking institution or make a deposit of $60,000 in an approved Costa Rican bank.
In both cases, one spouse applies and meets the requirements and the other is covered as a dependent.
If you’re considering seeking residence in Costa Rica the process is relatively straightforward. But getting the help of an in-country attorney will help things go smoothly, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.
What Does It Cost to Retire in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is not the place for bargain-basement living. It is the most expensive country in Central America. In many ways, it’s a victim of its own success, so to speak. It’s safe, stable, with a growing economy. But in Costa Rica, you will find a high standard of living that is still far below the cost of living in the U.S., Canada, or Europe.
How much it will cost you, of course, depends on your lifestyle. But many expats report living comfortably on budgets of between $2,000 and $3,000 per month. Spend more, and you will have a lifestyle that would never be possible back in the United States. Rents range from $300 to $600 per month for a small home or condo to $1,200 to $2,000 per month for a large house with a large yard, depending on location. Rural areas are cheaper, and ocean and urban properties are more.
You won’t need to give up anything if you retire to Costa Rica…except cold winters. Need modern appliances? A high-speed Internet connection? Cable and satellite TV? Costa Rica has all the services and infrastructure in place to meet all your needs. And because the cost of labor is low, you may be able to employ household help that will enable you to vastly improve your quality of life.