Costa Rica is the dream of many expats to retire or to have a vacation home due to its beautiful climate, stunning environment, modern infrastructure, wholesome eating, reasonable cost of living, world-renowned health system, and visas specifically for retirees. In this article, I will detail five of the best reasons for retiring to Costa Rica. I also have been there many times and can speak from experience.
The Happy Planet Index lists Costa Ricans, or Ticos as they call themselves, as the happiest people on Earth. On a personal level as well, many expat retirees in Costa Rica find the Ticos helpful, friendly, and kind. This may have something to do with their relaxed lifestyle, beautiful country, and relatively low levels of crime – or, perhaps, because they abolished their military over 60 years ago and spend the money on education and social welfare instead!
Also, you may want to make an effort to learn Spanish, many locals are happy to try out their English on you or, when necessary, universal forms of non-verbal communication, such as gesturing, counting on fingers, and using facial expressions. Thus, adjusting to your new life shouldn’t be too much trouble. Many areas have a lot of expats and there is always someone close by to help you get your point across or help you find something in the grocery store.
2. Leisure, Climate, & Environment
To cover all these categories appropriately would require a novella. Sufficed to say, Costa Rica is one of the most environmentally-friendly countries in the world. It protects large areas of forests, beaches, and mountains, which means its citizens and you have access to unspoiled wilderness during your leisure time. Swimming, surfing, hiking, mountain biking, waterfalls, butterfly gardens and many more activities are possible year-round. Of course, you may prefer to simply relax in the hot-springs or dine al fresco with fellow expats or locals, it’s all possible in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has so many terrains and within a comfortable range, you can almost pick your climate in Costa Rica – as some expats brag. Higher areas are cooler and more temperate, while lower areas and warmer and slightly more tropical. Temperatures throughout the country range from 20°C to 30°C (70°F to 90°F).
3. Visas for Retirees
Costa Rica’s immigration law – updated in 2012 to become even more accommodating – allows visas specifically for retirees. There are three of note: the pensionado, rentista, and inversionista visas.
Pensionado (pensioner) visa: If you can prove an income of US$1,000 per month from a qualified pension or retirement account, or from social security, both you and your spouse are eligible for this visa (from a single pension). Your pension must be converted into colones.
Rentista (financially independent) Visa: For this visa, each person applying must show a personal income of US $2,500 per month for 24 months. Alternatively, a bank balance of US$60,000 will suffice. As before, your income must be converted to colones (that is the Costa Rica money).
Inversionista (investor) Visa: Options for this visa have been extended to include a US$200,000 investment in non-commercial real-estate, e.g. a personal house/ land, or land to be environmentally protected. Naturally, business or commercial real-estate investments of US$200,000 qualify as well. Just one of these three options is necessary to be eligible for an inversionista visa.
Or you might just choose to come back and forth and be a Visitor of Costa Rica.
Visitor: You can also choose to come and be a Visitor of Costa Rica. You get a 3-month visa when you fly in. They will ask you at the customs when you arrive when will you be returning to the USA or Country of origin. They will stamp your passport with the 90 days Visa. You can leave and go to other countries and re-entering after 3 days. The law says that you must leave for 3 days to re-new your visa. Many expats and my friends in Costa Rica come back to the USA or take a short vacation to Panama, Nicaragua, Cuba or do a quick border run as they call it. It has worked fine for them for 12 years.
4. Your Finances
The key to managing your finances in Costa Rica is to learn a little bit from the locals and to also perhaps search for a valuable tax consultant. If you’re planning to live in North-American or European luxury, then Costa Rica is going to be a little bit more expensive. However, with small compromises, such as grocery shopping at the local markets and not buying a McMansion or enormous SUV, you ’ll find that Costa Rica is much cheaper than many North-American, European, Oceanic, or East-Asian countries.
Most personal reports and objective measures suggest that US$2,000 per month is enough to live happily in Costa Rica – more than that allows a level of comfort that is unreachable back home for the same amount. Of course, it depends on your lifestyle and where you live in Costa Rica: city and sea-side properties are obviously more expensive than those in rural areas or smaller towns. Thus, rents can range from US$800 to US$3,000 per month, though anything over about US$1,600 probably has three or more bedrooms, a big backyard, and a great view and/or location.
Those looking to buy can spend between $100,000 and $350,000 for their dream Costa Rican home, depending on where it’s located. It’s worth considering, however, that most retirees who successfully feel at home in Costa Rica rented before buying to get to know Costa Rica and the areas that suit them and the climates. Like any place you want to move, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with it first.
5. Your Health
Costa Rican healthcare facilities have quality doctors and excellent that are comparable to many renowned US hospitals. What Costa Rica does even better, though, is health coverage. The national healthcare system, the Caja, is universal and compulsory for all Costa Ricans and permanent residents. It usually costs you in between $60 to $180 and covers just about everything, from check-ups to pharmaceutical drugs, to surgery.
The Caja occasionally becomes overburdened, so many expat retirees opt for additional private insurance as well and utilize both forms of cover depending on convenience. The cost of private insurance is much lower than in countries like the US, but the quality is just as high if not better, with several private hospitals and clinics partnered with US institutions. These grounds make Costa Rica a popular destination for medical tourists and retirees looking for affordable and quality healthcare. I have experience their Dental care and it is excellent and state of the Art facilities for 1/3 or the price in the USA.