Retire Early, Retire Better, Retire to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a beautiful country, with long stretches of deserted and undeveloped beaches…dense jungles teeming with exotic wildlife…towering volcanoes, lush green valleys, and hundreds of crystal-clear lakes and rivers…
Not only that, but the country offers a great climate year-round, neighborly atmosphere, no-hassle residence programs, excellent healthcare, a stable democracy, and safety and security. It doesn’t hurt that many retired couples report living well on $2,000 a month—that includes all their costs.
For these reasons, as well as the welcoming locals who are warm and friendly to new foreign neighbors, Costa Rica has been an expat haven for more than 30 years.
That’s another bonus: you don’t have to be a pioneer in Costa Rica. There are well-established expat communities throughout the country. Things are “set up” so to speak, when it comes to shipping your household goods, using the healthcare system, buying property, and more. And by following this well-trodden path, your transition to your new life is much easier.
It’s small, about the size of West Virginia. But the variety of landscapes, climates, and lifestyles in Costa Rica is amazing. You have the rainforests, wild beaches, and charming seaside villages of the southern Pacific coast, also known as the Southern Zone.
A Landscape and Lifestyle for Every Taste
There are the bustling market towns surrounded by sugar cane fields and coffee plantations of the Central Valley. Around the pristine 33-square-mile Lake Arenal, expats have taken up residence on the verdant hills rising from the shore, with vast lake views from their homes. On the Caribbean coast, life is laidback and moves to the rhythm of reggae. And that’s just a small taste of all Costa Rica has to offer as far as places to live.
With all these different climates and landscapes, it’s no wonder that this Central American jewel is also one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. With just 0.03% of the earth’s surface within its borders, the country has an estimated 5% of the world’s species. In Costa Rica, this natural world surrounds you, putting the country on the forefront of eco-tourism and eco-living. Sloths, capuchin monkeys, toucans, and scarlet macaws will be your new neighbors.
Central Valley, Costa Rica
No matter which location you choose, you can benefit from bargain real estate, whether you buy or rent. Three-bedroom homes in the Central Valley start at $109,000 to buy and $300 a month to rent. And two-bedroom condos a five-minute walk to the beach on the central Pacific coast in a booming resort town are $500 a month, the same units selling for under $70,000. Deals like this can be found throughout the country.
Another big bonus is the high-quality, low-cost healthcare. There are two systems: private, for which you can pay cash or use insurance, and the government-run public system which you join when you become a legal resident. Overall, expats in Costa Rica pay a fraction of what they did back home for healthcare.
All these advantages make Costa Rica a premier destination for those looking for a secure, fun, and active retirement surrounded by new friends in a beautiful setting.
Sample Budget for a Couple of Costa Rica
Pure Happiness in this Costa Rica Beach Town
By Jackie Minchillo
Although my husband and I now live slightly inland in a small village called Matapalo, Tamarindo is still our “town.” We lived in Tamarindo proper for the first two years of our time in Costa Rica and still consider it to be our home base. We can be there in 15 minutes and we go into town almost every day whether to meet friends, go to the bank, or workout at the gym.
Tamarindo is one of Costa Rica’s most popular beach towns, conveniently located along the northwestern coast, slightly over an hour from the international airport in Liberia. And while I’m sure there are plenty of beach towns in the world that share similar, desirable attributes, there’s something about Tamarindo’s attributes that makes us truly happy here.
Here are some of the top reasons why living in Tamarindo equates to pure happiness for us:
1. Life is Better at the Beach
While we’re not spending all day, every day basking in the sun with a fruity drink topped with a colorful paper umbrella (after all, this is life for us now, not vacation) we’re beach people and being in such close proximity brings smiles to our faces daily. We may not have time for a beach day, but we at least catch the sunset driving by, or get to spend an hour walking the dog with the sand between our toes, breathing in the salty air.
You say “There are plenty of places you can live by the beach.” I say “There is no place like Tamarindo.” Tamarindo beach itself will always have a sweet spot in my heart. It boasts nearly three kilometers of smooth sand, lined with palm trees, quirky beach bars, and surf shops, with some nice beachfront dining spots sprinkled in, all protected by a horseshoe of mountains enclosing the bay, giving the boats a secure place to anchor. You can watch surfers, rent a paddleboard, drop in on a game of beach volleyball, or just head up toward the tree line on the southern end of the beach and find your own quiet slice of paradise to relax with a good book and listen to the waves roll in. It truly offers something for everyone.
And because of its geographic location, Tamarindo offers the chance to explore many of Guanacaste’s other beaches within a 30-minute drive in either direction. From more advanced surf waves, to beaches with tourists, music, and lounge chairs, to beaches perfect for snorkeling, and more off the beaten path beaches where you might be the only person there…you can choose a beach based on your mood and it never gets old.
2. Tourists Generate Happiness
I find a lot of people ask me about whether or not Tamarindo has become too developed due to its popularity with tourists. The answer is multifaceted, but first for the easiest part: people who are on vacation are always in a good mood, and the tourists in Tamarindo contribute to the overall happy vibe of the place.
Yes there are some times of the year that can be busy. If you’re looking for a place that will always feel quiet and secluded, you might need a Plan B. But what we have found in this tourist hot spot is a unique opportunity to be surrounded by happy people, and meet people from all over the world. Chances are a routine trip to the coffee shop could turn into meeting a stranger that will leave you walking away thinking “wow, what a story!”
3. Hugs and Cheek Kisses and Friends on Every Corner
The tourists aren’t the only happy people around here. This area is especially known for friendly locals, outgoing expats, and a generally relaxed population overall. I love walking through town and saying “hi!”, “hola!”, “buenas!”, “pura vida!” to no less than five people between any given point A and point B. Life in this beach town is hailed for being laidback. That’s not to say your life will be admonished from any stress whatsoever, but the overall pace of life is slower. People take their time and respect the fact that you do too. They have time to stop and say hello, and time to lend a helping hand. They make a point even if they can’t stop for conversation, to at least offer a friendly greeting when they see a familiar face.
You really can’t hold back a smile when you’re leaning in to give someone a kiss on the cheek—and yes this is something you should be prepared for, as the most common cultural greeting, much preferred over the North American handshake.
4. Comfortable With an Exotic Twist
Tamarindo is modernized and convenient in all the right ways. There are enough services, stores, and resources to ensure daily life won’t be overly challenging or hassle-ridden, like some more remote locales could be. But Tamarindo still manages to hold on to some of the quirks that make it feel tropical and exotic. The other day I looked out the window of the CrossFit gym I go to (modern convenience), and saw a couple of cows standing underneath the shelter at the bus stop, shading themselves from the midday sunshine—in the middle of town (exotic quirk)!
You can buy a coconut on the beach for $1.50, affectionately known here as a pipa, from any number of vendors who walk the beach with their own personal coolers. They’ll pull out a pipa, chop the top off with a machete and stick a straw in it for you. Last year when my husband and I visited Miami, we had to visit a formal stand to buy a coconut, and no joke, we paid $8 each, apparently for the “novelty” of being able to drink out of coconut. Not quite as exotic.
You’ll see surfers come straight in from the beach in the wet bathing suits with no shoes on who stroll into the grocery store for an ice cold drink and a snack. There’s something quirky and fun about “No shoes, no shirt….no problem!” At that same grocery store though, I can buy Jiffy peanut butter or a box of quinoa if I must have it. I call it, exotic convenience, and it makes me happy.
5. Vitamin D Deficient No More!
The weather in Tamarindo and the surrounding area specifically is a huge part of what makes our life so happy and enjoyable here. We joke that we never have to check the weather, but it’s true. The hottest and driest area of the country, we enjoy consistent hot (almost always between 80 F and 90 F) and sunny weather all year-round. Even during the time of the year when we do have rain, a day without some sunshine is almost non-existent. There is something that makes you inherently giddy when you live in a place where you can go outside and enjoy nature, comfortably, any day of the year. Particularly for my husband and I coming from Chicago, the idyllic climate here and accompanying picturesque landscape has probably been our greatest source of happiness since our move.