Why Expats Choose To Retire In Costa Rica?
There are many reasons to choose to move to Costa Rica. There is the weather, the friendly people, the seductive environment, and the more tranquil lifestyle. But what is it that makes Costa Rica special for retirees and brings so many people aged 60+ to this country?
Whether retired at 65 after a full working life or retired young from the army with a pension, those who are ready to spend their lives in full bliss are considering spending their retirement in Costa Rica. They are unhappy. Their kids are unhappy and glued to their screens all day. They are ready for a new challenge and a change in culture, craving a simpler life with natural beauty all around. They are ready to get rid of everything that doesn’t serve them and to start over somewhere new and magical. They want to simplify and to live in paradise now. The only thing that’s stopping them is that voice in the back of their heads telling them that they won’t be able to make it work, whether because of health, family, or money. But I’m here to tell you that many types of people have found their homes in Costa Rica and some of them might be just like you.
Comfort and control over your life
David in Chontales was one of those people who was ready to take control over his life in retirement. He and his wife, Kelly, were already past retirement age when they were finally able to talk themselves into moving their retirement to Costa Rica. They were worried about being away from grandkids and their health failing them eventually and what they would do. They chose this region of Costa Rica around ten years ago when they saw the amazing international community in the region and the huge potential for growth. They felt safe about investing their retirement savings in this area after renting for some time and seeing how competitive the rentals market was in this region, even back then. “We liked the idea that we could fly back to the states for even six months of the year and rent our home for a good income while we were away.”
Today, David and Kelly hardly go back to the U.S. anymore, choosing instead to host people at their three acre property with a three bedroom main house and a 2 bedroom guest house and the family are happy to oblige with an annual visit to paradise.
David also chose to design a property that includes a small caretaker’s home. He has hired a young Costa Rican family to live in the home and to work as caretakers, performing general maintenance around the property as well as chauffeur services. David says that he much prefers this type of retired lifestyle where he and his wife can enjoy their privacy but have someone there when they need them and to provide a level of safety and comfort that you could get in a retirement home in the U.S. for much more money and much less privacy. “Privacy is very important to us and we value having our space to enjoy in peace and quiet with just the monkeys to observe.”
Tranquil living at its best
Retirees who choose to move to Costa Rica do so because they want to spend their time near mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and ocean views. They also typically want to be relatively close to beaches but living at a higher elevation for cooler temperatures, better breezes, and more epic views. Living nearby one of the two international airports is often on the list before people move here, although many find themselves extending their preferred commute distance when they see what types of properties and lifestyles are available in which regions. Our region is called Costa Ballena and it is located on the South Pacific coast. The main towns in this region are Dominical, Uvita, and Ojochal with additional smaller communities surrounding them. These are mountain towns that are a mix of locals and expats from around the world. This is a unique region that has many cooler elevation properties with big views that are still only a 15-20 minutes drive to incredible beaches, stores, services, and amenities. But this region is still growing in exposure because it is 3.5 hours drive from the airport (or a 20 minute domestic flight + 30 minutes drive).
There are big cities in Costa Rica but the expats who make it to our region don’t like congestion and commercialization and want to be away from the big expat enclaves (Escazu, Santa Ana, Tamarindo, Playa del Coco, Jaco, Manuel Antonio), which tend to be more expensive and less tranquil.
Costa Ballena is hot and humid but less dry at the end of the dry season, whereas the North Pacific gets very dry and experiences drought. The South Pacific also has the advantage of being located close to Panama for cheaper shopping. On the way to Panama is Golfito, which is a duty free tax zone where people travel to buy appliances and other household goods.
The South Pacific coast is filled with quiet communities and safe neighborhoods for casual walking and everyday life. We are not a place that is convenient for walking distance but it is a great area to drive, with safe highways and many paved roads through higher traffic communities.
Simple and effective residency and health care plans
If applying for residency in Costa Rica as a retiree, the pensionado residency is easy to obtain without an attorney. This residence scheme requires proof of an income of US$1000 per month from a permanent pension source or retirement fund. After receiving this residency visa, retirees are automatically enrolled in Costa Rica’s socialized health care system called CAJA. This is not a free system but its cost is very low considering all health care expenses are theoretically covered, which can add up to huge savings for retirees.
Caja is determined by a sliding scale based on income. The minimum payment for an expat is $70 because the minimum pension requirement for a pensionado visa in Costa Rica is $1000 per month. The CAJA system is essentially a monthly insurance premium that covers all services without co-payments, deductibles, bills to pay, or concern for pre-existing conditions. Coverage includes dental, eye care, hearing, prescriptions, doctors, hospitals, diagnostics, and surgeries. The main difference is the process through which to access services and the delays.
Private doctors in Costa Rica are excellent and much less expensive than doctors in the U.S.
Dianna says that she has found a way to use the CAJA system that works well for her life. She is retired and living in the Baru valley just north of Dominical. Since CAJA has been digitized, she has been finding it exceedingly easy to book appointments and hasn’t experienced any long waits. She says the key is to use the system regularly for more preventative care “so that if you get sick, you already have your doctors set up so that you will not have a long process of setting them up if you get sick.” She says that her CAJA doctors and dentist speak English and she sees them and five different specialists regularly on a 6 month routine. “I am getting much more thorough and timely healthcare than I ever did in the U.S.”
“There are ways around long waits. Just like in the U.S., if you live in remote areas, you will have long drives back and forth to medical facilities. This is the main reason many people are not getting the medical care that is available to them. The Director of my local Ebais said to me, ‘most people do not want to do what is necessary to get faster service’. My doctors seem impressed that I am willing to use the processes available to avoid long waits.”
Private medical care is much more immediate in more modern facilities at a much lower cost than in the United States. But the public system is very good for basic, regular care and urgent care can be requested if needed.
Cost of living and quality of life
Retirees who are tired of the rat wheel life search for places where they can feel more happy and ideally have a lower cost of living to help stretch their savings. It is challenging to think about all the ways in which we spend money. Vehicles, food, clothing, entertainment – bills add up wherever we go. Those who can justify spending a similar amount of money in Costa Rica to what they would in the U.S. or Canada do so because they simply love being in Costa Rica. This is not the place people come to save as much money as they can. All added up, Costa Rica is less expensive to live in than almost all of the big cities in the world. If you live in the midwestern U.S. in a small town, it is likely that you may spend more money on cost of living in Costa Rica. It most certainly depends on your lifestyle and many people come here to simplify and to get away from mass consumerism.
For instance, expats often compare Costa Rica to Panama and Nicaragua when speaking about cost of living. Inevitably, though, it will be mentioned that people prefer living in Costa Rica where it is safer, friendlier, cleaner, and more politically stable. Costa Ricans have simple, relatable values: family is number one, hard work, and fun. This is a culture that loves to celebrate in modest ways; surrounded by family, food, and dance.
Costa Rica is a nature lover’s Disneyland for active retirees. It has twenty-eight national parks, nearly sixty wildlife refuges, 30+ protected zones, more than a dozen wetland areas (mangroves), eleven forest reserves, eight special biological reserves, and twelve other conservation regions that protect the distinctive and diverse natural habitats found throughout the country. Most of these places are free and more incredible nature fills in the areas in between. Retirees who are tired of seeing the same urban and suburban environments are absolutely enthralled with the idea that a sloth may come by their property to visit them regularly.
The beaches in the South Pacific are some of the country’s most precious national treasures. The paradisiacal beaches are filled with flora and fauna that create a surreal, almost primordial environment. The sunsets are spectacular and really drive home the feeling of being in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.