Countries – Costa Rica

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Home to over 50,000 U.S. citizens, Costa Rica is one of the most popular foreign retirement destinations for Americans. Retirees are attracted by the natural beauty, good weather, amenities, and laid-back population. Various studies have found Costa Ricans to be among the happiest on earth.

Costa Rica also offers some of the best, and most diverse, scenery on earth, with rain forests, active volcanoes, and fabulous beaches, and, for Americans, many of the comforts of home like supermarkets, shopping malls, museums, social clubs, and restaurants. In addition to eating out, shoppers can purchase fresh meats, fruits and vegetables for very little at one of many outdoor markets. Costa Rica also has one of the most remarkable and eclectic populations of wildlife in the world, supported by the most extensive park system in Latin America. More than 10% of the country is protected national parkland.

Costa Rica offers a low cost of living. Despite the influx of retirees, it remains inexpensive. Even in major cities, property taxes can be very low – as little as 0.25% of a home’s registered value. For those looking to rent, there are quality two-bedroom homes available for around $200 per month. When dining out, residents can spend around $1.50 for breakfast, $2 for lunch and between $4 and $6 for dinner.

Although a foreign country, Costa Rica is a politically stable democracy, especially compared to other Latin American nations. The country has been peaceful since 1949, when the government dissolved the army and redirected military funding toward the police, education, and environmental and cultural preservation. The overall crime rate is higher than many parts of the U.S., according to the State Department, but the rate of violent crime is relatively low; the homicide rate is lower than other Central American countries and places like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Healthcare is another issue of concern to many retirees. Costa Rica is known for having medical care that’s comparable to the United States. For example, Hospital CIMA San Jose, an affiliate of the Baylor Medical Center in Houston, is a modern facility with the same medical technology and procedures as top U.S. hospitals. Clinica Biblica is another major hospital with the same quality of service one can find at CIMA.The costs are much lower though – International Living magazine estimates that health care costs about a third to a fifth of what it is in the U.S. Physicians rarely charge more than $60 per visit, even for house calls. Private health insurance typically only costs about $60 to $130 per month.

For a Latin American country, the infrastructure is well developed. Many of the roads are two lanes, but well-maintained with millions of dollars of spending by the government. The tap water is generally clean and drinkable, high-speed Internet and reliable phone service are available in most places, and in the cities there’s a good taxi and bus system that makes it easy to get around.

Living in Costa Rica, it’s a short commute back to the states. Costa Rica is a short 2.5-hour flight from Miami, but you have to make sure your customs papers are in order. Many Costa Ricans speak English, with such a large number of Americans already living in the country, many common tasks like getting a driver’s license, renting a house, and setting up utilities can be done entirely in English.

Living in Costa Rica does have some downsides. With the increase in population, costs are going up. While it’s still relatively cheap in many areas, housing costs in popular destinations like upscale beach towns, can exceed $4,000 a month or more, and there are multimillion-dollar properties for sale.

While there are no taxes on foreign retirement income, automobiles and gasoline are expensive, often more than $5 per gallon. Costa Rica is also largely a rural area. Outside of large cities like San Jose and San Ramon, there are many small towns with a few thousand people, a few stores and cafes, and a medical clinic. Those who are accustomed to the bustle and amenities of the big city might have some adjustments to make.

San Ramon, incidentally, is a popular destination for many retirees. It’s located in the hills, at about 3,000 feet elevation, and with a population of over 80,000 in the metro area, it offers many amenities like shopping, theaters, a symphony orchestra, a few museums, Saturday farmers markets, and many volunteer opportunities for retirees. It’s also close to a tropical forest with hiking trails. The city is 40 miles from the capital of San Jose and 45 minutes from the Pacific beach.

For more information

The Real Costa Rica

International Living’s Live in Costa Rica page

U.S. State Department Costa Rica information

Hear from actual expat retirees at expatexchange.com