Our Notes on Costa Rica
Retire in Costa Rica
With its growing popularity as the “Jewel of Central America” and recent title of “The World’s Happiest Country,” more people than ever are choosing to retire in Costa Rica. This is not an overnight happening. This country, about the size of West Virginia in the States, has long been known as a retirement mecca. The reasons for choosing to retire here care too numerous to list on this brief informational page. What I can tell you is that there are more U.S. Americans, per capita, living here than anywhere else (excluding the U.S. of course)...and that says a lot. Below, I will highlight the main reasons Rene and I decided to retire in Costa Rica over 20 years ago.
Relax in Style
One of the main reasons people love to visit Costa Rica is the relaxed lifestyle. While the rest of the world is frenetic and stressful, Costa Ricans exude calm and an easy approach to life. This country has been voted one of the world’s happiest countries in which to to live. By now, you’ve learned that the national saying is “pura vida” meaning pure life. It shows in its people, and I think it's contagious. Costa Rica is politically stable, has a 94% reading and literacy rate, and safety and security are sound.
Photos: David Forester
Cost of Living
This was a major concern for us because we had not properly prepared ourselves financially to retire. So finding a location with a reasonable cost of living that would allow us to maintain our standard of living was very important. Our standard was not exorbitantly high: eat out once or twice a week; travel a couple times a year; have a gardener; order goodies on the Internet; upgrade our cars every 2 to 3 years. Given what’s happened to the global economy since 2008, we are so thankful that we decided to retire in Costa Rica. A couple can live comfortably for $1200 per month...notch that up to $2000 and live a life of luxury.
Additional Income Opportunities
One of the benefits of owning property in Costa Rica (other than enjoying the wonderful climate and lower cost of living) is the potential for rental income. Many travelers are using sites like VRBO (Vacation Rentals Buy Owner) to book their vacation stays, or there are services that can manage your home while you are away. Still others are making home exchanges with other folks in different countries. Learning more about Costa Rica’s top destination spots, can help you turn your home into a rental villa or vacation home while you are away. You can also consider renting a room to a traveling student, exchange student, retirees, or other interesting travelers. It can be a great way to earn additional income as you enjoy your retirement in paradise.
The variety of terrains is immense. There are many websites and guide books about Costa Rica that can provide you with what you need to know about beaches, Atlantic trade winds, Pacific breezes, high mountains, lowlands, lush tropical forests. Costa Rica has something for everyone.
It is important to carefully consider these various regions, especially when looking to purchase real estate. Decide if you want lots of rain, hot and dry weather, proximity to fishing, horseback riding, windsurfing, beaches, or something in between.
Having such a diverse topography allows for a variety of activities...with just a little research, you can find “just the spot” to fill your retirement dreams.
Costa Rica is a tropical country. This means that while the temperature may vary from 70 to 90 degrees, depending on where you are, the seasons consist of dry and rainy with variations in between. In fact, it is common for some areas of Costa Rica to receive as much as 300 inches of rain per year. It is also host to “the fire rim”, a string of dormant and active volcanoes. Small tremors are common. The Northern area has strong trade winds for about 3 ½ months per year and the Northern Pacific area has hot dry forests to test your sun screen.
Moving here from Alaska was a no-brainer for Rene and me, weather-wise. Most Alaskans leave for at least a month or three, during the worst of winter. We had traveled to most of the warm parts of the world, but found the weather here perfect for us. The average temperatures here at Lake Arenal are between 75° to 85° during the day and 60° to 70° in the evenings, we are in heaven. However, keep at least one set of warm weather gear because there are spots in Costa Rica’s high mountains where it can be cold. Besides you'll need them if you decide to visit the folks back home.
As stated above we had traveled a lot before deciding to live here. The people of many countries were not always hospitable to Americans, but we usually fared better than others. Most foreigners didn't make the connection that Alaska was one of the states, so they treated us better...everyone likes Alaskans. Our reception was different here. The “ticos” are warm, friendly, always smiling, sincere people. On my very first day in Costa Rica, my fishing buddy and I were invited to dinner. Later, we were invited on a family outing to the beach. The only way to explain my feeling at the time was: it felt like home!
The first time you have to pay your property taxes, you will ask in disbelief, “How much?!” Even though taxes have risen, the taxes on our parcel of land are less than $200 a year. You don't pay taxes on your Social Security, but you do pay a sales tax of 13% on just about everything you buy. There are various laws proposed that will mess with the current tax structure, but they mostly are aimed at the super wealthy. Don't worry; the taxes you pay in Costa Rica are way below what you would have to pay anywhere else.
It wasn't important to us when we first moved here. In Alaska we paid about $500 per month for health insurance for many years and never made a claim. So, when finding out how inexpensive health care services are in Costa Rica, we decided to pass on insurance. As we are getting older, health care is something that concerns us more. We use the “caja” or National Care, but are considering a private hospital policy that will cost about $1000 per year. This would be in case we were “wait listed” for caja treatment. National Health Care here is a socialized system and is available to all citizens and residents who pay a small monthly fee and to any foreigner who requires emergency care. Costa Rica has some of the finest private hospitals and doctors in the world and the UN has ranked health care services here 20th in the world and one of the best in Latin America.
Costa Rica Vacations-Visiting the “Jewel of Central America”
Costa Rica Vacations are the ultimate spot for those who are seeking the best vacation at a very affordable price. You can even choose “your” perfect climate...from crispy cool, high mountain lodges to hot, white sand beaches, or anything in between. You will love Costa Rica.
The Central Valley and San Jose temperatures average in the 80's during the day and 60s and 70s at night. So no matter what time of year you plan to visit, the perfect temperatures will prevail. Go south to tropical forests, north to dry forests, or to cloud forests in the central region, a perfect choice for your Costa Rica vacations. You won't believe the diversity of this country.
There are rolling hills, high mountains, lakes, volcanoes and of course, the beaches. Explore to your hearts content and enjoy over 850 bird species, 200 mammal species, 9000 vascular plant species, 100 volcano structures, one of which is the live, belching, Arenal Volcano in the Arenal National Park. Visitors flock to this area to see, on a clear day, 4 volcanoes from one spot.
Explore the Country: Get Good Maps
Using a Costa Rica map is the best way to explore the natural beauty of the country on foot, or wheels. San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, is a city in transition with numerous great sites, but you have to seek them out. A map is almost mandatory. Walking this Central American City is great exercise and the temperature is perfect, thanks to its altitude (3900 feet), and the mountains surrounding the valley. For about 10 months of the year the city actually lives up to its name of the “City of Eternal Spring”. The months of September and October might bring heavy showers, but some find the thousands of multicolored umbrellas bobbing along the sidewalks a sight in itself.
Photos: David Forester
Take Your Own Time to Enjoy: Walk Around San Jose
A quick walking trip around San Jose just to photograph the main attractions will only take a few hours. This can be an effective way to tour the city in case you are a little short on time. If you are going to be in the city for a day or two, do take time to visit the attractions. If you want to hire a guide just contact the hotel staff where you are staying. They can direct you to professional guides that know the sites and routes, plus they speak Spanish and hopefully your native tongue as well.
The Plaza de la Cultura
This is one of the best places to start or end your visit, depending on your hotel location. Any Costa Rica map will show the Plaza de la Cultura. It is located in the city center and on one side is the ornate Teatro Nacional and on the other, The Gran Hotel. This historical site hotel was completely renovated in 2004 and is a popular attraction. Have lunch in the open air restaurant and you can watch the activities of the Plaza area. You will usually see performers and artists hawking their wares. The National Theater, on the other side of the Plaza was originally built in 1897 by Belgian architects. The exterior is lavishly constructed of Italian marble and cast iron. The illumination system is incredibly beautiful at night and was designed by Alain Guilot, the same person who designed the lighting system for the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Even if you do not get a chance to catch a play in the theater, make it a point to check out the coffee in the cafe inside and try to peek inside the theater...it is beautiful!
Costa Rica – Small Country, Huge Diversity
When you first look at a Costa Rica map the first thing you think about is how small the country appears in books and on the Internet. Instead, think about the diverse terrain you will be crossing. Separating the Caribbean coast and the Pacific is a mountain range that towers over 12,500 feet at it highest. Depending on where you are going you might have to traverse this range several times on two lane roads (meaning traffic both ways). Also, think about driving from dry, desert like terrain, to wet, tropical rain forests. My point is this: you can't drive nearly as fast as you do back home. There are a lot of trucks and cars driving slowly over the mountain passes with few places to pass. It will take you at least twice as long as you calculated. I recommend that you pick one general area of the country to focus on, then buy a current Costa Rica map, then go explore. Next trip pick another area and bring your map...we'll be waiting.
One Trip is Never Enough
There are so many sights and experiences waiting here that one trip is never enough. The museums alone will provide hours (if not days) that will amaze and enthrall you. For instance, the Jade Museum in San Jose, which houses the world’s largest collection of Jade, should be a stop on your Costa Rica vacations agenda. Also, close by is the National Museum, the Pre-Colombian Gold museum, the Children’s Museum, Art and Science Museums...and more.