A Fresh Start With a Writing Income in Costa Rica’s Lake Country

“I’ve always wanted to travel the world. I love visiting new places, tasting new food, experiencing new cultures. The ability to go ahead and just do it is a dream come true,” says Erica Ridley.

She has found her perfect environment on the shores of Costa Rica’s Lake Arenal, near the village of Nuevo Arenal.

“I live in a nice, quiet spot where I can concentrate on my writing. I can see the lake and the Tenorio volcano,” says Erica. “I can take a walk down by the river. I like the mountains here. I like the people. There’s lots of good food in town. There’s even a microbrewery 30 minutes down the road.

“There’s a large expat community in the area. I think Nuevo Arenal has cool expats who are part of the community. If you go to an event both the gringo and Tico (native Costa Ricans) sides are well-represented. People are very social, and there are lots of clubs and groups.”

Erica had been coming to Arenal for 12 years before moving there permanently three-and-a-half years ago. Initially, she ran her own web development business, before turning to fiction writing.

“I fell in love from day one,” says Erica. “I would come for a month…then two months…then three months. Then I decided to stop playing around. I sold my house in Florida and moved down.”

The move to Costa Rica from Tampa Bay, Florida is just the latest transition in Erica’s life. She originally left a fast-paced career in corporate America to go out on her own as a web developer. She quickly realized she had a portable career on her hands.

“My career as a web developer absolutely facilitated and bankrolled my ability to travel freely, whether domestically or internationally,” says Erica.

After many years of success in the web development field, she walked away from it as her romance novels took off.

Prior to moving to Arenal, she had spent a year in Europe, visiting London, Paris, Florence, and Madrid. “I was in the U.K. primarily for research. I write historical romance novels, all of which take place in England. Living in London gave me access to museums and historical sites that were instrumental to my stories,” explains Erica.

“I lived in Paris the same time a fellow author was taking a sabbatical there, so it was great fun to have someone to explore the city with who could also talk books with me.”

Erica started writing while still working in web development. She wrote in her spare time and had two manuscripts within a year, which she submitted to contests. She won and started attracting attention. “So I kept going. I got a literary agent and my first contract with a publisher,” says Erica.

She lives in a small apartment owned by a long-time friend, for which she pays just $100 a month. It’s a great deal made possible by her friendship with the owner, but she says a typical North American-style house would still be only $600 a month.

In Costa Rica, Erica finds the cost of living lower in general. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also abundant and cheap. And thanks to the year-round spring-like climate in Arenal, there’s no need for AC or heat, which cuts down on the electric bill.

Erica does her best work early in the morning, so she’s up early—at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m.—has a coffee, then sits down to the computer.

“I do my best thinking and writing in the morning,” she says. “I view my readers as my clients…but I very much enjoy not having to talk about ‘synergy’ in a meeting at 7 a.m. I have a friend who has a high-paying job she hates. She refers to it as her ‘golden handcuffs.’

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