Expats in Costa Rica often refer to this as “paradise.” This is a special land, even if it may not be perfect. It’s easy to invest in Costa Rica and fairly inexpensive to live. It is also incredibly full of life in a way that is quite different to the places that expats in Costa Rica come from.
For a long time, the majority of expats in Costa Rica were people of retirement age who wanted to maximize their nest egg. Retired expats seek a beautiful and tranquil environment for their golden years. It is easy to gain residency as a pensioner and the healthcare options are excellent.
Costa Rica has become a great choice for expats of all ages and stages of life. The tradition of democratic stability, the people’s peaceful sensibilities, very amounts of violent crimes and a stable economy are winning qualities aside from the natural beauty. Expat currencies have historically been quite strong. Costa Rica may be advanced in a number of ways compared to its neighbors. Yet this is still a developing nation. It draws in people who wanted to slow down and live more simply.
Tourism continued to significantly grow Costa Rica’s economy. It is now the number one income producer in this tiny, eco-minded nation. As a result of this growth, the poor no longer outnumber the middle-class and rich. Costa Rica has experienced a growth in GDP of 81% since 2000. There has also been a 46% reduction in poverty levels in the last 25 years. And much of this growth can be attributed to the number of expats coming to Costa Rica to live their dreams of having a successful business (ad)venture in the jungle!
What do expats in Costa Rica do for work?
Typical expat-style businesses are most often related to tourism in Costa Rica. Many expats first came here years ago and fell in love with the land, people and wildlife. And they come back years later with the dream of recreating that same magic for future visitors. Tourism in Costa Rica is about preserving nature and culture and the expats in Costa Rica who start their own tourism business are helping to preserve that image.
creating growth in opportunities for young Costa Ricans. Today, most Costa Ricans are growing up with a high-standard of education. Many have a good comprehension of English and sometimes German. These skilled workers make ideal employees for catering to foreign visitors.
Costa Rica is reaching a sort of symbiosis between its foreign investors, who come to appreciate the fertile ecosystems of this magical land, and Costa Rican nationals, who in turn benefit from the increase in local industry created by foreign money coming into the country. Gaining residency status in Costa Rica is as easy as investing $200,000 into a business or property, with minimal additional requirements (see here to learn more.)
Costa Rica’s high season for tourism extends from December to April, but because of the steady growth in numbers of expats who want to live in the tropics full time, the majority of local businesses in the Costa Ballena region of Costa Rica are sustainable year-round. Having a year-round economy has given more life to this region, attracting a younger set of expats who also come to enjoy this natural playground while choosing to continue to grow their lives and their families in a new place.
So what do not-yet-retired expats do to thrive in a developing country? Surely, they are not stealing jobs from locals to make ends meet, especially since the majority of expats are entirely unaccustomed to earning around $5/hour. There is a process for a foreigner to obtain a work visa in Costa Rica, but most find that the effort is not worth the small income. But there are other ways that non-retired expats are finding their feet in a new land. Below are a few options for making Costa Rica your forever home (or at least a place to spend a few adventurous years of your life).
Renting your BnB
Airbnb’s hotel rentals grew 520% last year, and the $30 billion business is used by more than 200 million people worldwide. In Costa Rica, the percentage of that market is still small but growing every year thanks to the expectation of many of the visitors to this region of having an intimate experience with the natural surroundings.
“There are very few large hotels in the Costa Ballena, and no chains, so small places like ours have a chance to host and really wow our guests with the up-close experiences that living in a quiet, secluded place can offer,” says Rebecca Rowntree, owner of Vista Villas in Ojochal. She and her husband Darryl moved to the Costa Ballena in 2015 with the dream of starting their own BnB – a dream that came to life in early 2017.
Since then, they have hosted dozens of satisfied guests, sustaining their dream getaway and meeting plenty of enthralled visitors in the meantime. “What we love most about this project is that we are able to share our dream with the world, in a way. Every guest gets a taste of what it’s like to live in paradise. Seeing monkeys and macaws a short reach away is truly a spectacular experience.”
Running a restaurant
Big-time food lovers will find that they are not disappointed by the culinary scene in Costa Rica in general, nor in the Costa Ballena in specific. Fresh food and water offer a brilliant platform for culinary creations, and Ticos love good fats and flavors in their traditional dishes, like Casado. And with the influx of expats from around the world, a fusion of international recipes and exotic flavors from the tropics make for some amazing eats.
Restauranteurs from around the world have carved their niches in this culinary region of Costa Rica, famous for the large amount of great restaurants packed into a small region. Enjoy great hospitality and a variety of entertainment at a number of venues in this incredibly scenic part of the world.
One such culinary couple are Priscilla and Caleb Ortiz from Texas, who started El Toro Loco in Uvita. They have brought traditional southern hospitality and incredible Texas BBQ to the Costa Ballena. Raising a young family, including two school-aged children and a new baby, while owning and operating the kitchen and front of house, this powerful team of two is making their mark in Uvita as a great location for meeting friends for food during the day times. The couple have decided to keep their operating hours from 7am-4pm so that they can enjoy a work-life balance in the land of pura vida.
High-energy expats who need to be active can find their place in navigating the wild landscapes that abound in this area. More than a few tourism companies have been started by foreigners living in the Costa Ballena, who have fallen in love with this land and found a way to invest in a part of it. Many decide to turn their property into a preserve and sharing the message of conservation and appreciation of nature with local and foreign visitors.
Most tourists who flock to this region will spend a portion of their holiday fund on a mangrove kayaking tour, or a zip-line through the canopy. Other popular adventure activities in this region include: surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, paragliding, hand-gliding, skydiving, underwater diving, caving/rapelling, and spiritual adventure activities like yoga, meditation, and wellness retreats.
Becoming a craftsperson
Artist? Painter? Sculpter? Welder? Whatever your craft, start your own business in Costa Rica and sell your wares to your local community and beyond. Village markets have been created in every community for this purpose. Be it produce or face products that you are selling, stalls are quite diverse and bring an income to those willing to put their works on display.
For one example, artists who work on commission find that there is a consistent client base of expats who are hungry for beautiful works to put on display in their homes – especially by artists from within their own community. It is a mark of pride in Ojochal to have a Brian Wall painting hanging on your own wall.
Independent contractors in IT, web development, blogging and writing can work from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. And thanks to fiber-optic internet providers like CableTica coming onto the local scene, digital nomads are finding it more and more possible to use Costa Rica as a home base. SkyLoft in Jaco is already finding its feet in the digital nomad community in the Central Pacific, with ideas for similar-style locations buzzing about in the Southern Zone.
Permaculture and intentional communities
Ever wanted to start your own farm? Why not in Southern Costa Rica, where the land is fertile and almost anything grows. The climate is diverse, with the potential for cooler, moister, drier, hotter temperatures – with 11 microclimates around the country, there’s a comfortable zone to be found for everyone.
More than a few groups of people have found their way down to the Southern Zone to start intentional communities, which are designed from their inception to have strong social ties, often based on shared work and support. Places like Selva Armonia or Posada Natura were founded by groups of like-minded people who wanted to create a space to grow food and relationships in a peaceful setting where, with a little work, they can live in appreciation of the abundance of the land.
There are a number of ways to make life in Costa Rica work for you. You may not have the income expectations of some of the first world capitals of the world, but the wealth of experience that this region affords keeps drawing people in consistently. If living with health, peace and wonder are at the top of your list, Costa Rica can be the right home for you.