Costa Rica is one of the most common destinations for people looking to relocate to Latin America, and has been for decades. While other countries in Central and South America have only been receiving an influx of incomers for the last 5 to 10 years, Costa Rican ex-patriot life has been thriving for some time. In fact, an estimated 70,000 people from the United States alone currently reside in this area. Warm, tropical weather is commonly mentioned as the major pull to relocate to Costa Rica, but it’s far from the true reason most expats chose to make this move. Listed among the top ten places to live or retire by International Living, Costa Rica offers significant benefits to its incoming residents that other countries in this region are still unable to match.
1. Natural Beauty
Just taking 2 minutes to scroll through Google images of Costa Rica will convince you of the county’s endless beauty, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone to deny it. White sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and blossoming tropical flowers cover the coastal regions, but there’s far more than that. Costa Rica offers an incredible diversity of wildlife and landscapes with 12 distinct microclimates. Apart from the tropical beaches, this small country offers rainforests, mountains, cloud forests, and rocky volcanic area. Whatever your preferences may be in terms of temperature and weather patterns, you’ll find a region that works for you. This diversity in landscape means that by moving to Costa Rica, you’re not signing up for a life exclusively for hammocks and surfing. You’ll find thick forests with maintained hiking trails, steep volcanoes begging to be scaled, and rainy mountain sides with never-ending rivers and waterfalls. Almost every region will have a wildlife sanctuary as well, dedicated to preserving the ecosystem and educating people about the abundance of life thriving in the area.
Naturally, each microclimate will come complete with its own fauna and flora. From dolphins to sloths, palm trees to any of the 825 species of ferns making up the rainforest, the biodiversity in Costa Rica is stunning. You’ll also enjoy predictable weather patterns, as Costa Rica does not experience the 4 seasons like many countries do. In Costa Rica, there is a dry season and a rainy season, each lasting around half the year. The temperature may drop slightly in the rainy season, but not significantly enough to make you change your wardrobe or climate-proof your house. Living in the climate of your dreams with stunning views at any angle is already a tempting enough reason to pack your bags for Costa Rica.
Costa Rica boasts one of the highest health rankings in the entire world, and it’s no mystery why. First off, day to day life in Costa Rica is active and health-conscious. Fresh fruits and vegetables of the highest quality are available for just pennies on almost every corner. Items considered “super foods” which are sold for top dollar in the United States are often imported from Central America, where they can be found organic, newly harvested, and for prices which can’t be beaten. As the climate draws people outside, most cities in Costa Rica are designed for pedestrians. If you choose to move to a city, you may find that walking is easier and more convenient than driving for simple errands.
Healthy foods and active lifestyles are huge contributors to health, but Costa Rica goes one step farther with what is considered one of the most well-run, low-cost medical systems in the entire world. The country has modern health facilities with well-trained doctors and staff where almost any modern treatment can be administered. For residents, Costa Rica offers universal health care. For those who still don’t have residency, the treatments can be paid in full for often just a fraction of what you may pay in the United States, even with insurance. This benefit extends even to cosmetic health care, as cosmetic dentistry and plastic surgery is a common specialty among Costa Rican medical schools. Access to dependable, affordable health services may be the biggest draw for people foreseeing retirement, but should be considered a major asset to anyone considering a move.
Many people choose to relocate out of their home countries looking for exotic cultures and new, interesting people. While moving to a foreign land may be fun, living as a permanent outsider comes with its fair share of stresses. Costa Rica has found the balance between maintaining its traditional culture while still encouraging diversity and modern growth. This small country has expats from every corner of the globe, and with them comes a mixture of cultures, languages, foods, and material goods. Finding a niche in your new home country is important, and living in an area with cultural diversity is of significant value to many families. Not only will you enjoy greater access to diverse products, you will find that living in Costa Rica is rather easy without ever learning Spanish. English is spoken in most major towns and beach communities. The people in Costa Rica are patient and understanding when dealing with language barriers, a skill developed from decades of immigration and diversity.
4. Low Crime Rates
Safety is a major factor when deciding on a destination in Central and South America. This is a factor which cannot be taken lightly, as countries in this region range from every extremity of the scale. Costa Rica, fortunately, lists among the safest of the Latin American countries. This region has proudly maintained an extremely low homicide rate (currently 10.3 people per 100,000) and has taken strong action against gangs and organized crime. While it is still a tourist destination, pickpocketing and minor robberies are quite common, but violent crime is rare and virtually nonexistent among strangers. When visiting beaches or tourist destinations, one should be aware of robberies, but even theft is usually easily avoided by simply being cautious and aware, as you would in your own home town.
5. Cost of living
Costa Rica, without a doubt, is not the cheapest of all the Latin American countries, but the cost of living will still strike any outsider from North America or Europe as surprisingly low. Real estate is at a fraction of the cost of North American countries and one can live a somewhat luxurious lifestyle for just around $2,000 a month. In fact, finances are a major reason people choose to relocate or retire in Costa Rica. Houses are affordable and legal to own without residency, and full-time domestic help can be contracted for just around $10 a day. Life with a maid, driving services, and beach front housing is a dream very few people can ever achieve in the United States, but is common among Costa Rican Expats. The Costa Rican cost of living is significantly lower than many countries in South America, but still among the highest in Central America. You may be paying more, but your money directly translates into a higher quality of life. While the countries directly north of Costa Rica may offer cheaper monthly budgets, you will not find the quality of products or services, nor the cleanliness of the cities.
6. Entrepreneurship Opportunities
Directly relating to finances is your ability to work abroad. This is one of the major draws to Costa Rica over other countries in South and Central America. In Costa Rica, it is legal for a non-resident to own property and businesses. You may have a tough time finding a typical job at a Costa Rican company without residency, but the truth is that you may not want those jobs. Local wages in Costa Rica are still quite low, which has driven expats to entrepreneurship. Owning and running a business in Costa Rica is a pathway to residency and will provide you with a significantly higher income as well as an ideal schedule, freedom from bosses, and eventually what can be a “retirement income” as you transition to a lower work load when your business stabilizes. Entrepreneurship in Costa Rica is highly encouraged by the state with acceptable tax rates and policies. While small businesses struggle in the United States, they actually thrive in the small country of Costa Rica, where the economy is more local and people prefer local stores to large conglomerates. Running a business is another area where the country’s bilingual skills come into play. It is possible to start and run your business without learning Spanish. You may eventually want to hire a local receptionist, depending on what type of business you choose to run, but as the owner, you don’t necessarily need to speak the local dialect. Common business opportunities are in the entertainment, food, lodging, and tourism sectors, so the primary language of your business may be just be English anyway.
Costa Rica lies in the lower stretch of Central America, and for those looking to continue traveling from their new home country, its location is ideal. Costa Rica has two coasts, a more developed atmosphere along the Pacific Ocean and the less populated, more cultural environment along the Caribbean Sea. Within a 6-hour drive, you can see an amazing variety of geography and cultures. The Central Valley of Costa Rica itself is already a destination, with urban cities and countless shopping opportunities. Once you’ve discovered the country’s cities, mountains, and the hundreds of beaches along either coast, you’ll want to explore a bit further. Nicaragua is easily accessible to the north, as is Panama to the south. You have two major international airports to facilitate traveling to South America to experience the unique cultures there as well. Costa Rica also offers a significant advantage to people from the United States and Canada, as a plane ticket to your home country is not significantly more expensive than a domestic flight. This makes your new tropical home just as convenient as ever for visiting friends and family. Very few other destinations will give you the best of both worlds, with a vacation-like, tropical lifestyle while still not isolating you from your family and culture back home.
8. Reliably Modern Infrastructure
Along with safety, access to modern infrastructure is another factor which may weigh more heavily in your decision to move abroad. This is where Costa Rica really shines above its Latin American neighbors. In Costa Rica, it may still be more difficult to access some products, but material goods tend to play a lesser role in local life, so you may quickly find yourself not missing what you previously couldn’t do without. Access to products is as far as this limitation reaches, as services and infrastructure are often as modern as in any North American or European country. This includes modern housing (often without central cooling, but air conditioning units are widely available), city structures, hospitals, and much more. Modern, reliable schools will ease the minds of families looking to relocate with young children. Internet is also reliable in almost any part of the country, which is extremely important to people planning to work online. You will find the same satellite TV channels, quality city parks, and modern office buildings as you’re used to back home.
As is true in any country in Latin America, Costa Rica will sometimes experience power outages and road problems, but to a much lesser extent than its neighboring countries. This may take some time to get used to, but small inconveniences are part of life in any country. One of the biggest and most obvious advantages to Costa Rica is the cleanliness of the cities. This is apparent the moment you enter the country. A city with maintained sidewalks, beautiful parks, and clean public spaces is not a given in other countries in this region.
9. Politics and Policies
Regardless of your personal views on politics, governmental policies greatly affect day to day life in any country. Costa Rica is famous for having no army, leading to absolutely no taxation for military expenditures, but its good political management goes much further than that. Costa Rica is one of the few countries in Central and South America which has not had a civil war in the last few decades, and the small country has enjoyed its over 60 years of uninterrupted democracy by concentrating on growth and repair. After their civil war in the 1940’s, Costa Rica reconstructed a true democracy with multiple political parties and transparent elections. The decision to not maintain an army has meant increased funds for the education and health systems, and a stronger focus on city maintenance. Poverty levels are significantly lower than those of their Central American neighbors, and the country boasts high education levels, high health rankings, and low unemployment.
These beneficial policies extend to newcomers to Costa Rica as well. Non-residents are allowed to buy land, houses, and vehicles, as well as own businesses. Generated income from online self-employment is not taxed, and property taxes for non-residents are kept to a minimum. Costa Rica has generated a significant amount of income from tourism and incoming residents, and has changed its policies to encourage this trend. Many countries in Central and South America do not enjoy this type of stable government, and can even be unwelcoming to any outsiders. Being welcomed and accommodated for by your new country’s government will make life significantly less stressful.
People choose to come to Costa Rica for many reasons, but there is one major factor that makes people stay: the culture. Costa Rica has developed its unique culture by a mixture of traditional values, modern development, and diversity caused by incoming residents from all around the globe. Life in Costa Rica is happy, relaxing, and maintains a slow, stress-free pace. This atmosphere is easy to get used to, and many people claim their health has improved and their happiness increased since moving to the region. In fact, Costa Rica received the highest score on the Happy Life Years ranking by Happy Planet on multiple occasions.
Walking around Costa Rica, the phrase you will hear most is “pura vida,” or “pure life.” The ideals of this pura vida are part of everything you do, from how businesses are run, how clients are treated, and how cities welcome newcomers. The people of Costa Rica have developed a peaceful, happy way of living while boasting their Latino pride with traditional festivities and parades year-round. Regardless of your situation in life or reason for moving to Costa Rica, you can be sure you’ll be greeted with a warm welcome.