Ed from Austin retiring to Costa Rica.

Hello.  My name is Ed and I live in Austin, Texas.  I am an avid birder and have visited Costa Rica three times over the past few years.

I will be retiring in the next 18 months and am researching the possibility of retiring in Costa Rica.

I will be making a research trip in which I will be spending 30 days primarily in the Central Valley in June - July 2017. 

At this point, I am focusing on Atenas, Grecia, San Ramon as well as the Colon/Puriscal area as possible permanent locations.  I am not exactly sure how to spread and spend my time in these locations during my visit, but am looking at alternatives.

I have subscribed to blogs, am reading the newspapers, have made some contacts and have read several books and will continue to read others.  I am studied Spanish and will get more in to that in the coming months.

  I am excited about the possible move and, while I do not have any specific questions at this point, if anyone has any thoughts, suggestions or advice (particularly on how to spend my 30 day research trip), fire away! 


Ed in Austin

We live 17 km S.W. of Puriscal.  A few years ago we found it beneficial to rent a house for the duration of our trip and make day trips from there.  It allowed us to see what shopping and eating locally was really like.  This year alone we had five couples rent houses in our community and one of them bought an acreage to build a house on and another is coming back next year for a repeat visit.  Best of luck on your research Ed!

Take your time, rent for a while to make sure your chosen area really suits your lifestyle.
You may already be aware of this birding enthusiasts website, Patrick O'Donnell

Thanks so much for the guidance.  Very helpful! The birding blog seems to have tons of info and I will start sifting through it immediately.  Really do appreciate it.

I have lived here in SAN RAMON SANTIAGO ALAJUELA area for almost 9 years. I started out in San Ramon for 2 years and eventually moved to a nearby village called Santiago which to me is the nicest and most secure town in Costa Rica. Before I lived here I traveled a lot all over Costa Rica on my 2 motorcycles which I imported to here from Florida. There are a lot of nice towns in Costa Rica. Many are near the beaches but the climate was way too hot for me.  From here I am 2 hours from Jaco on the west coast and 1 hour from Puntarenas.  The climate here is absolutely perfect . During the hot months it rarely gets over 80f and averages about 70-78f. The nights here are cool but not cold which would not bother me anyway since I lived in the mountains west of Denver for 9 years.  The six most important things I feel you should consider is

1. Where you decide to live whether it is near the beaches or higher up --DO NOT CHOOSE A RENTAL OR BUY (IF YOU BUY WAIT FOR AT LEAST 6 MONTHS AND BE SURE THIS IS YOUR CUP OF TEA) in an isolated area. you will be setting yourself up with a BURGLARY for sure. Try to find a nice small town with lots of amenities like here where I am and GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS AND YOUR LOCAL POLICE. Respect them them for who they are  and not how poor they may or may not be. TICOS ARE BASICALLY VERY FRIENDLY AND HOSPITABLE.   I personally know about 80% of the police force here in San Ramon and Santiago. and these guys are very nice people. However-NEVER TELL ANYONE EXCEPT YOUR VERY BEST LOCAL FRIEND BE IT A TICO OR A GRINGO  when you may be leaving for a visit  outside of Costa Rica  AND DO NOT EVER HIRE A PRIVATE GUARD.

2. You must be near a good HOSPITAL. In San Jose there are 3-CIMA,CATOLICO and HOSPITAL BIBLICA. I am not saying live ANYWHERE IN THE SAN JOSE METRO AREA. This all depends on your age and your health. There are some good public hospitals in Costa Rica. The hospital in San Ramon is much better than some others I have seen . There are also many private doctors here who for the most have offices in San Ramon and in San Jose. These doctors work in all three of the ones I just mentioned AND ALL ARE SPECIALIST . I had a kidney stone in 2010 while in Playa Herradura at the MARRIOTT LOS SUENOS RESORT with a friend of mine who lived on the golf course. He called the Hospital Biblica sub station on the resort on a Sunday when it is closed. The doctor came there and met me personally, confirmed it was a stone and arranged a stay at the main hospital in San Jose. A friend of mine drove me there. After 2 days I passed the stone. The bill after insurance BCBS  was less than $300. The same happened to me years ago in Sarasota Florida and ended up costing $33,000 before insurance because of required surgery. IF YOU DECIDE TO LIVE ON THE BEACHES OR NEARBY PREPARE YOURSELF FOR ABOUT A $6000 MEDICAL HELICOPTER TO RUSH YOU IN AN EMERGENCY. THE LAST I HEARD WAS THAT COSTA RICA HAD ONLY 5.

3,If you are in need of a DENTIST then I have the best one  probably in all of Costa Rica.  Her name is Stephanie Solis and graduated from UCLA.  She is a tico but her family lived in the states for many years.  She made the decision to return to Costa Rica and set up her practice.  Dental for the most is about 40% of the cost in the states and most dentist are good. She is a bit higher but recently I had 5 porcelain teeth with a lot of gum surgery and the cost was still maybe 60% of what it would have cost me in the states. After my BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD FEDERAL DENTAL  INSURANCE IT BASICALLY COST ME LESS THAN $500.

4.  You will find that the culture here is quite different and YOU WILL HAVE TO ADJUST A LITTLE  ESPECIALLY WITH FOODS.  Meats and fish are fairly expensive but if you shop around you will be able to find some very good deal especially at the beach in Puntarenas where many beach walkers peddle off fresh caught fish at prices far less than the supermarkets (supermercados). Be sure to bring a pullman type cooler. Vegetables can be purchased quite cheap in the farmers markets which can be an adventure for a Gringo. The word Gringo is not meant to be offensive but can be when heard on the side by someone saying  GRINNNNGO. Chances are you will never hear this depending on where your playground may be. Chicken and pork are the most common meats eaten here. Personally, I have my own mini garden growing corn (maiz), string beans (vainicas), egg plants(berenjena), tomatos (tomate),cucumbers (pepinos) and a few flowers. For the most Ticos do not eat TEX MEX SPICY TYPE FOODS but do add CHILERO SAUCE  on many things they eat. Breakfast (desayuno) Tico is usually rice and beans with other things especially bread (pan). Lunch (almuerzo) is usually some kind of taco, tortilla, or empanada which can have almost anything inside it. There is a McDonalds , Taco Bell and KFC at the local mall which many Ticos like to partake. I am a hobby chef and cook everything so when I cook I cook in volume and freeze the rest for future. I have a very large Maytag refrigerator. I may even be opening up my own restaurant here in the future. JUST DEPENDS ON WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO. I have owned in the past and it takes up a lot of time. I worked for a major airline for 33 years and the federal govt in anti terroism in Asia for a few years. NOT REALLY STRONG IN MY DESIRE TO WORK AGAIN.

5.LEARN AT THE VERY LEAST BASIC SPANISH  There are a lot of ticos (mostly business owners and some employees) who speak a little or a lot of English but your life will be far more enriched by learning Spanish. My FILIPINA wife has been a student at the Discovery Academy in a nearby town called Palmares and even I look to her to translate if spoken to fast. She understands and speaks perfect Spanish after 8 months of classes which are 2 days per week for 3 hours each. Our 2 year old son already understands Spanish,English and her 2 Filipina languages being Tagalog and Visaya.

6. Finally You must decide what type of residence you want to apply for. It can be as a 90 day max (Americans) in and leave for a day minimum and return, temporay resident, permanent resident as I am (I have a daughter born here which qualified me), a business owner residing here, or most commonly a retiree called PENSIONADO WHICH REQUIRES AT LEAST $1200 monthly income from a pension and the required document MUST STATE FOR LIFE. Even  SOCIAL SECURITY CAN COVER THIS. If you want more in depth information I can provide it to you and it is current as I know. One other thing is driving here. As a non resident staying only 90 days and returning you can own a car here and use your Texas lisc.  As a resident you must get a Costa Rica LISC  but are permitted to keep your Texas Lisc


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Good info...but the 'guaranteed for life pension/SS' requirement is still $1000 a month.

Or a $200,000 investment buys you a permanent resident status.

No, an investment may let you obtain Temporary Residence, if Immigration approves your investment and after three years in that status you can then apply for Permanent Residency. This could take from your initial application, approx 4-5 years

Only if you have a child born here, will your status go to Permanent status, quite quickly after the birth certificate has been issued and the registered.

Rick - what a wealth of information.  I really appreciate the time and effort and am taking every bit of it under advisement. 

I am doing all of my research and reading a number of blogs and books.  I am also taking an online Spanish course but will get more intensively involved in learning the language as my research visit gets closer.

I am certainly looking into the San Ramon area as well as Atenas and Grecia.  During my 30 days stay I expect to spend several days in the San Ramon area.  Maybe I will get to meet you.

I may, in fact, contact you directly with questions and appreciate your providing your email address.  I am particularly interested in the BCBS coverage that you have.  If all goes well, I will become a pensionado resident and, as such, will have to join CAJA and pay the fee as well as maintain my Medicare coverage in the U.S.  I will be interested in finding out if there is a private insurance that would be available on top of those that is not too expensive.

Thanks again for all of the information.

Ed Fair
Austin, Texas

Be sure to rent and not buy a home here for at least a year.  If you plan to eventually buy a building lot "be sure you see the deeds to the lot", and a letter from the municipality indicating you can build on that lot.  There are a lot of land scams going on down here.  Also... never use the sellers lawyer, and never hire a Tico builder.  We went with an Eco home built by a Canadian builder who has been down here for more than a dozen years.

Ed you are doing the right thing by researching online as much as possible and asking questions in forum.
Rick and others gave you good advice above.
The bottom line is you do need to spend time here and see and feel what it's really like to live here before you make the big move to residency.
Even though I'd lived here off and on over the years and made numerous trips over 25 years, living here is still a "culture shock" situation. There are things about living here that only LIVING here can teach you. There is no forum or book or words that can show you what it's like to actually live here.

So yes, come here and live in one or two or three of those areas you think you might like.

Some tips/info:

Altitude affects temperature more than anything else. Get an altimeter on your phone or ? and use it as you travel around. Know that at 4500 or 5000 feet it can get COLD and with the wind it can be "Too cold" for some people - like me. I could not live in Belen or higher parts around San Ramon for instance. Too cold!

On the other hand living at 1,000-1500 feet altitude and less is way too hot for me!

So know the altitude and weather where you are living. If you like cool or cold weather look at altitudes above 4000 feet. If you love it hot, look at below 1500 feet.

Think about the roads you have to drive. Driving here can be dangerous as Ticos are not good drivers and truck drivers come over into your lane on narrow roads.  Think about driving that narrow winding mountain road to Puriscal for instance.

Do you want to be around a lot of gringos or a few? Grecia is pretty much "gringo central". San Ramon and Puriscal less so.

Do you speak Spanish? If not LEARN NOW! Even a few lessons of basic spanish and pronunciation is a good start. But do plan to learn if you haven't as not learning to speak the language here is a top reason why people don't "make it" here.

I always tell people who are interested in one of our lots for sale that they really need to live here for at least a month or so to see if they like the area and like living in Costa Rica before they buy here. A month isn't really even enough but it's better than a week!

So just make SURE you want to really live here in this crazy (but great for some of us!) country, before you make the plunge!

lomatranquila    my sister in law did a nice bird portfolio from my property

YES. I got my permanent  residency by paying over $200,00 for my property even 26 years ago .
Well it is  "3 acres of Heaven" as it is nicknamed by my guests, but worth every dime and has with my many improvements appreciated at least 10 times that in 26 years in a very upscale area with perfect mild sunny climate, and breathtaking views of lush farm and twinkling city lights

It took me a total of 9 months to get my residency AND my Caja .  I.N.S.  was immediate, and great .It paid 90%  private hospitals.and meds (Things may have changed since )
  I now  use 90% caja and occasional Private Visits to the 3 hospitals Rick mentioned.

Sometimes there are the same doctors and surgeons in private hospitals  as  in CAJA.  but  Caja Hospitals are not as Luxurious (EXCEPT for the  HUGE new hospital in Heredia. (which is for both CAJA and private patients) but so far so good with CAJA and I  have been hospitalized several times,for serious operations. 
I also have incredible Dentists who do not just cater to the "foreign trade" and higher priced in order to pay commissions .

I agree with most things Rick saiid except the aforementioned $1000  monthly  for Pensionado  status  and DEFINITELY disagree with his  "Tico Food" Information.

THESE days many  Ticos  unlike in the outlying areas where Rice and Beans were IT, many  Ticos do use the fast foods,  but for breakfast you will now   see them in our local "Sodas" small cafes) often ordering Ham and Cheese, and other type of   Omelettes and many other dishes.
They  still favor their local staple , but much improved  " Gallo Pinto'" rice and beans BUT  with other ingredients as I always made it, but no longer just mixed  plain rice and beans.  (i will not give away our recipe.)  now  popular WITH eggs sunny side up. (never in the past ) and Eggs Benedict available and popular.

and as for LUNCH Almuerzos,. nothing like in Ricks area (Yes  Rick maybe you should open a restaurant in your area ,, but bear in mind 89% fail..I did not know those statistics when I opened mine in Hollywood USA.Fortunately with very hard work. unique recipes, catering and maybe luck it succeeded and I sold after 7  years,with blood sweat and laughter That  helped.
HERE IN Heredia area:
For $5 we get a HUGE meal. "plate of the day" which  is a choice of a delicious shredded beef , or Chicken with delicious gravy/sauce, , or the FRESHEST of fish either Battered, Breaded , or  with garlic, rice or potato, beans, veggies, platano. (fried plantain similar to large bananas,) salad and a fresh squeezed Juice for under $5 and delicious.
Today we had the battered fish and our entire meal was a total of  $4.80 cents,, no service charge or tip needed nor expected. My Gringo guest was amazed.
and THAT is a normal lunch in the HEREDIA area...

As for why we love our  our LOCATION ?

The bus at our gate takes 12 mins to Heredia town, 5 minutes to 2 quaint villages, San Isidro de Heredia and San Rafael de Heredia ( BOTH with huge gorgeous churches and Sunday Farmers Markets )
.We  are  only  20 minutes from the Airport (without the noise, )  San Jose  ?YUK. I can be at that older mall San Pedro  via freeway in 20 mins. but(Unfortunately the gangs   called Chapolinos "often hang out there looking for their next "mark" so I avoid it,)   and use our calm Heredia  Mall  "Paseo de las Flores" more modern and cleaner with upscale restaurants and the usual fast foods,,but far more relaxing and not necessary to clutch your purse, and has a PriceMart (similar to Cosco  ) Now owned by Walmart almost opposite the mall.
ATM's in every Village surrounding us ,  also many banks so we lack nothing.

So after spending a month in MANY places in C.R .yes including the GG's. we settled in this upscale beautiful area  with Incredible Views and climate and been here 26 years .
Even if I sold. which I do not want to, even though 3 houses and 3 apartments on 3 acres NOW  it is no longer a Country Inn is FAR too big for a retired woman ..I can not pry myself out mentally or emotionally.. even if If I did sell,, I would STILL buy a smaller place in the exact area if at all possible.HARD to find unlike many area.
All this yet a layback country atmosphere, with lovely people and MUCH cheaper than the Gringo Gulches. 
I  rarely need  go now to San Jose,  these days as Heredia has EVERYTHING i.e.  Many banks NEW HUGE Tico Hospital  for CAJA and private patients ,as modern as any in USA...Restaurants less expensive than where many Gringos live,
HEREDIA Hills is not very well known on this site.  as many flock to the GG's..and rarely learn Spanish..We learned in 3 months fair enough to communicate. and quite well  in about 9 months
i year FLUENT...NOT knowing a single word  and NOT going to expensive Spanish Schools. ..REASON ? we chose NOT to live in Gringos areas,  and speak only English  but submerged ourselves  in the local culture where  one Has to learn Spanish quickly, and does just by mingling and shopping with the local community.

DESPITE all you read it IS possible to live quite well on $1000 per month as a rare drinker and not a squanderer nor a cheapskate nor in a Gringo Gulch, where things are DEFINITELY more expensive.I had dinner with a few Gringo friends last night in Escazu, and  our bill was VERY expensive and a half glass of HOUSE WINE  ( not Chateau Neuf du Pap" nor a good Chilean wine was $8 per half glass ..outrageous! but normal in that area, SO LOCATION IS THE KEY IF you are budget conscious.

re our area.Crucial now I am over 50.
CAJA  has been great to me and I have had several operations WITH the very same Specialist Surgeons  some of whom also work at the 3 afore mentioned private Hospitals. So there id=s now the new Hospital n the last few years,,
Many of my friend doctors work at Clinica Biblica (THE official name) .It is one of my favorites , a 20 minutes drive away but my REAL favorite is Clinica Catolica also 20 minutes away ,  a  BIT more expensive but GREAT, but I love and also have doctor friends at CIMA but be WARNED that is VERY VERY Expensive,  (Most expensive of the 3 )

. So be SURE to check out Not only our " City of Flowers" as Heredia is referred to , but also  where I live in the Hills surrounding it, with,  if lucky like me , has a bus stop at the gate of my farm  which can take you there in 12 minutes and to our villages in 5 minutes and there are THREE schools within walking distance of my  farm..SEE why it would be hard for me to move with the location the weather, the proximity to health care and entertainment. (Cinemas, restaurants Tours Volcanos (you can see one from my farm and twinkling lights at night)
A Piece of HEAVEN is correct :) .tough to beat..Enjoy where ever you settle,  but come check it out I will even show you around if you buy the $5 lunch LOL

I hope this shows that  there ARE MANY other areas hardly mentioned because HARDLY known on this site,,PITY but good in a way or it may turn into another Gringo Gulch (  GOD Forbid . but there are a FEW of us here ) ..I would rather Miami beach, NOT.
BTW ..ALL OUR ROADS   ARE PAVED  EVEN HERE  IN THE HILLS.,unlike many other areas...a BIG PLUS.AND we have perfect WIRELESS INTERNET with never an outage of electric not in 10 years ,,so we are blessed. HELP I have written a book time to get  going     Good Luck on your move here .No Utopia but after living in several countries FAR the BEST
If you wondering why i my place was so expensive in those past years...
First it is  because if the the LOCATION  perched on 3 beautiful acres ,  with  awesome  VIEWS
2nd  It is not just a house but  also  an income property with a MAIN 2 story house plus 3 Apartments , and 2 more rustic houses  It was Country Inn for 22 years and now  all are fully furnished and rentable  monthly so THAT also is the reason for the huge .price appreciation..just so you understand I was not ripped off :).

Hi Samramon and thanks for the helpful information.  I might have missed it in your post and maybe it is obvious from your nickname, but I don't think you said exactly where you live.  Is it actually San Ramon or somewhere in that area?  I certainly will be looking at the altitude and I think I am probably somewhere in the range of temperatures that you like.  Below 350 meters is probably too warm for me and above 1500 meters is probably too cold.  Hopefully I can find an enjoyable place in between.

I appreciate the advice about driving as well although I probably will not get a car immediately.

I am expecting that I will base myself in the Atenas area for my 30+ day visit next summer and  then explore from there.

Any additional thoughts any of you might have are greatly appreciated.

Austin, Texas

Hello Ed !  We bought our lot from Canadian investor Recap investment, blind.  Never been to Costa Rica, only read about it.  We are situated between Tamarindo and Nosara, on the Pacific side. We have been living in our house for more than a year now and we absolutely love it !! 
Having said that, I would STRONGLY recommand not to do so....absolutely not !!!  But most of the people here have done the same thing, strangely enough.  But now we know better !!  Stay here for a while and find the place you love before you unpack your bag forever !  We have been very lucky !  Mind you, both my husband and I have military back ground, so I beleive it might make it a little easier for us to adapt to the environment.  But it is HOT here.  More than I like it to be, that is for sure.  There are so many places here in Costa Rica to hang up your boots, take your time.  Such a lovely country with lovely people !  Good luck and have fun !  M-C

Hi Ed;
When we came here for our inaugural trip we were convinced we wanted to have ocean view property on the west coast.  We had formed this opinion without setting foot in Costa Rica.  It took little time to change our minds!  We ended up near Puriscal at about the 850 meter mark.  Average temperature right now is 20 at night and 27-28 during the day.  We regularly see Capuchin monkeys, tolomucos, the odd anteater, coatimundies, a great assortment of birds, many toucans, and the scarlet macaws when they are migrating.  We are very pleased with our decision however we did travel all over Costa Rica with the exception of the Caribbean side before we chose here.  There are so many diverse climates with different fauna that it is mind boggling.  Best of luck in your search and if your journey takes you out our way, contact me and I'll show you our area.
Cheers .... Terry

Thanks to ERMAC and Terry for more helpful information.  I am looking forward to my research visit next summer.  This will be trip #4 to Costa Rica, but the focus this trip will clearly be on deciding whether I could actually live there.  So many interesting choices, as you guys have noted, the only way to do this is to actually visit and spend some time in as many of them as possible.To those of you who have responded with the gracious invitation to contact you if I am in your area, don't be surprised if you hear from me sometime before my visit. 

Austin, Texas

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