2018 Costa Rica—The World’s Best Retirement Haven … to-retire/

North Americans have been flocking to Costa Rica for more than 30 years, attracted by the tropical climate; low cost of living; top-notch, affordable medical care; bargain real estate; and natural beauty.

I love Costa Rica. You can kick your shoes off on white-sand beaches, hike through lush lowland jungle or mountain cloud forests, and bask in volcanic thermal springs. Rent a furnished two-bedroom home for just $500 a month, buy an ocean-view property for under $200,000, spend $25 in the feria (farmers’ market), and come home with a week’s groceries for a couple….

No wonder Costa Rica always seems to be on the shortlist. Readers at IL conferences tell me so, and expats I meet as I scout throughout Latin America often tell me, “We seriously considered Costa Rica.”

In an increasingly uncertain world, Costa Rica is a beacon of dependability. It’s not up-and-coming or edgy or the hot new thing. It has been quietly growing into a model country—a standout in the region. It has a steadily growing economy; dozens of multinationals like Amazon and Microsoft have major operations there. The low crime rate means you can feel safe just about anywhere in the country, day or night. There is a focus on preserving the environment, with 25% of the country’s territory protected. And there is commitment from the government to power the country on solely renewable sources, especially hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and Canadian expats already live in Costa Rica full- or part-time. And millions have traveled there over the years for beach-resort vacations, surfing, fishing, rain forest treks, and more. There’s a comfort level knowing you don’t have to be a pioneer. Plus, with many Costa Ricans speaking English, it’s pretty easy to navigate as you learn more Spanish.

That’s not to say Costa Rica is too Americanized. It very much has its own rich culture and distinct way of life. This is expressed in a tradition of hospitality, which makes it very welcoming to expats, as well as a carefree attitude—and unofficial national motto—known as Pura Vida, which roughly translates to “life is good.” It’s an attitude that quickly rubs off on expats. Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, have a live-and-let- live attitude. They value time with family and friends above all else. A strong sense of community exists and with it an emphasis on personal freedom, which appeals to many expats who feel hemmed in by the countless rules and regulations back home.

You may not know that Costa Rica has no army. It was abolished in 1949, after a brief but bloody civil war traumatized the nation. Since then, it’s had a stable government, a democracy with peaceful elections. The money that would go to the military is used to fund education for all (the literacy rate is 96%) and a solid national healthcare system, which is open to expat residents at a very low cost—averaging about $95 a month per couple. That’s a welcome respite from the spiraling costs in the U.S.

Good modern healthcare coverage, plus traditional and herbal medicine, natural foods, including abundant fresh fruits and vegetables—you can grow your own, thanks to the fertile soil—and a more active lifestyle (it never gets cold, so you can exercise outdoors year-round) combine to help many expats feel healthier than they have in years. Some have even found relief from chronic conditions. A friend of mine lost 40 pounds simply by deciding not to have a car (which is doable in many communities) and walking in the hills around his Central Valley home. As they built their stamina, he and his wife were inspired to hike the Appalachian Trail, which they recently completed.

You’ll find that most people are relaxed and low-stress, too. The need for status symbols and the anxiety that comes with the 24/7 news cycle disappears. In Costa Rica, you’ll come to enjoy a healthier body and mind.

With all these benefits, it’s not surprising that Costa Rica has topped the Happy Planet Index three times.

For such a small country, Costa Rica also packs a punch when it comes to variety of climates and landscape and the lifestyle that goes with it. You’ll find expats living in the eternal spring climate of the mountainous Central Valley. This is rural and small-town Costa Rica, where expats live in towns like Grecia and Atenas amid coffee plantations and forested hillsides. From their terraces they enjoy coffee from local beans and views of the surrounding countryside.

Some prefer life at the beach. There are funky beach towns like Tamarindo and Playas del Coco, resorts, and luxury communities on the northern Pacific. Head far south on the Pacific coast, and you discover rain forest-covered mountains, small coastal villages like Ojochal and Dominical, and the wild seaside of the Southern Zone. In the central Pacific you have fun beach communities like Jacó, plus the conveniences of the country’s capital, San José, an hour and a half down the road. The bohemian and undeveloped Caribbean, including towns like Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, may be the most Pura Vida of all places in Costa Rica. You also have Lake Arenal, a highlands region known for a mild climate and rural charms; life on the lake is quiet and peaceful, with a close-knit expat community.

Expats live well in all these areas, whether they rent or buy. Try two- and three-bedroom homes in good locations with views, starting at $800 per month. One- or two-bedroom condos or apartments—even within a walk to the beach—are $500 and up. Many rentals come fully furnished—completely turnkey. And when you’re ready to buy, you’ll find bargains too, like one-bedroom beach condos for under $50,000. Mountain-view homes in the Central Valley list for under $100,000. It’s very much a buyer’s market in Costa Rica, so prices are negotiable. It also helps that property taxes are just 0.25% of assessed value, a fraction of what’s typical in the U.S.

It’s true that Costa Rica isn’t the cheapest country on our Index. But it offers excellent bang for your buck. It’s possible for a retired couple to live very comfortably on $2,500 a month in Costa Rica. On this budget, they might eschew the “fancy” grocery store with imported goods in favor of the feria, where they can fill the fridge for the week for $30. Instead of hitting up the tourist restaurants that charge a premium, they might go to local sodas, restaurants serving up hearty Tico fare. But combine those cost-saving measures with the modest expenditures required on healthcare, rental homes, and utilities (no heating costs, and no cooling costs at least in Arenal and the Central Valley) and you can see how a good life can come at a modest price.

It’s also true Costa Rica doesn’t have an official retirement incentive program; it got rid of it in the 1990s. But Costa Rica does make it easy to qualify for residence. The pensionado program requires only $1,000 a month in income from Social Security, a pension, or a similar source per couple. The major benefit: You join Caja, the national healthcare system, and get all your medical needs covered for free after your monthly payment. Plus, those over 65 can get discounts of 10% to 20% on groceries and other frequent expenses through the Gold Citizen program.

The land of Pura Vida isn’t for everyone. In my time there, I had my share of struggles with bureaucracy and the flip side of Pura Vida—a relaxed attitude toward getting things done. But as a safe haven of civility in these complicated times, Costa Rica is that fascinating, solid, and dependable guy at the party who doesn’t feel the need to shout.

Annual Global Retirement Index 2018 Standings

I'd like to comment on the statement on the above article "... Plus, those over 65 can get discounts of 10% to 20% on groceries and other frequent expenses through the Gold Citizen program"   since we have not found that any company will provide this amount of discount, specifically on groceries.

List of businesses that may accept the 'Ciudadano de Oro' card for legal residents 65+

I'd venture to guess that the person who wrote the article came about this information by reading other articles online.  No way does he live here.  Or he also sells property on the side.

I like Costa Rica a lot; however, pretty much every point that's made in this article is exaggerated and I don't think these types of articles are fair to people considering living here.  As an example:  "Good modern healthcare coverage, plus traditional and herbal medicine, natural foods, including abundant fresh fruits and vegetables...."

Yes, there is "good modern healthcare coverage."  The insinuation is that this is what you would get with regular health care coverage here.  Yes, you can get good modern healthcare but you will pay for that separately.  You will not find it through CAJA.

Yes, there is traditional and herbal medicine available.  But the majority of these businesses will be conducted out of very small offices that look and feel very old.

"Natural foods?"  Are you kidding me?  If you're coming from a modern country and are used to natural food stores, you will NOT find one here.  Yes, there are stores that do sell natural foods; however, the vast majority are small and will not stock anywhere near the selection that you expect when someone tells you that there is a "natural food store."  When living in the States most of my shopping was done in a natural food stores,  I will admit, it is one of the things that I do miss by living here. bacon, soy sausage, soy chicken, etc., etc.  you will not find them here.  They are more like what natural food stores were in the States in the 70's.

And yes the fruits and vegetables grown here can be had for a very low price; again, article does not mention that due to being grown in the tropics, large, excessive amounts of pesticides are used.  Some pesticides that are outlawed in other countries.

I am one that see my glass as half-full.  I prefer to see the good in people and find the positives in living here.  At the same time I like people who are considering relocating to a new country to be told "all" the facts rather than bloated exaggerations. 

The person writing this article not only has a glass that's full (of something), but it's actually overflowing.   :/

- Expat Dave

Just noticed, this is  from International Living.  That explains it all.  Every article I've read from this organization is written in this same manner.  So, so unfair to anyone considering a move a foreign country.

- Expat Dave

I agree with everything Dave said. Let's be honest about Costa Rica on this forum, not like some other forums where all this is allowed is positive comments about how great EVERYTHING is in Costa Rica.
The article was published by International Living and is quite frankly, full of ess, in my humble opinion, and their publication is designed to help them sell real estate and other services imho.

ANY PLACE you choose to live will have its ups and downs and there are ups and downs here in Costa Rica as well. Too often only the "ups" are given.

Natural foods here, my arse!
Even if you can get them you will pay literally twice or 3 times the price the cost in the USA, and that includes vitamins. Forget trying to get advanced supplements like 5htp or SamE or such. And most of the people in the vitamin/supplement stores (usually called "Macrobiotica" stores here) have little clue what they're talking about and if you ask for 5htp or even something as common as flax oil or hemp oil they have never even heard of it (en español even). That's been my experience.

Almond butter - super expensive here.
Walnuts - hard to find and expensive if you do find them.
Protein powder - ditto.
Flax oil, which is no good unless it's organic - can't even find it.
Organic extra virgin coconut oil - in this land of coconuts, go figure: it's super expensive
Whole wheat bread - lucky if you can truly find 100% whole wheat. They say "whole wheat" but in fact they include white flour
Organic veges - they exist but hard to find fresh affordable ones sometimes. A local feria may have some good deals but not a lot of selection where I go.
Organic fruit - even harder to find and like most health stuff, much more expensive here
Organic coffee - you can get it but instead of $10/lb in U.S. it's more like $20/lb. Next time I go to US I'll bring back several kilos of org. coffee to this coffee producing country!???!

As I said, Dave is right in all his points above. The only slight disagreement I have is re CAJA. CAJA varies according to where you live. Some CAJA doctors/hospitals are better, some are worse and it's often luck of  the draw as are many things in Costa Rica.

I have 2 friends who had great health services from CAJA when they had major health problems and they were given modern expensive treatments for free via CAJA.

One, a gringo living in San Jose area, had several heart surgeries and a pacemaker installed and is alive now due to CAJA. 2 years on, he's doing well.

Another, a Tica, had micro-surgery in San Jose (sent there via CAJA San Ramon) and got her intestinal problems solved thus.

So I would agree that CAJA is a crap shoot sometimes and that private medicine is the way to go if you can afford it. But if you do require CAJA services there's a good chance you'll get good care imho, though you may not...

That said, it requires time and patience to go through the bureaucracy and early appointments, waiting in long lines and so on and I kinda hate it. You sometimes are told to wait for 8 months for example, to see a specialist. In that case you may as well pay for a private doctor.

But if you want to go to CIMA or another highly rated private hospital in or near San Jose you have to give them like an $8k deposit before they'll even let you be admitted, or so I've heard.

hello Mr Dave just wanted to share this recent article, to poll the opinion of expatriates who have had the experience of life know the good and bad in my country, and many who have had the opportunity to share with local families, know the many social problems that we currently live not very different perhaps to those of any other country, political corruption, local and inter-national drug trafficking, gang violence, assaults, robberies, scams, and very expensive prices for both locals and expatriates.

I never understand well what is the intention on the part of who to exaggerate either in articles, viral videos or publicity about Costa Rica as just a paradise of volcanoes and deserted white sand beaches where all people live happily.

If I accept and I am realistic of all the good and bad we have, then I was curious to know the reality of the expatriates that currently live here.

It is possible that many of the people who write these articles or exaggerated videos, may wish to share their good experience that they had or maybe many other intentions of overvaluing Costa Rica to be able to sell their tours, houses, properties or services unimaginable prices, within a country where it seems that the locals are just a small group of friendly people who smile at anyone? and everything PURA VIDA mae? :huh:

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