Central America is made up of 7 small countries, from Belize to Panama, all with great similarities in culture, climate, and history, yet it is their differences that make each country so special. For many reasons, including safety, 2 of these countries have been designated as favorites by tourists to the area: Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Both these neighboring countries offer breathtaking views, adventure and luxury tourism, and similar geographical features. While both countries are praised by tourists, people looking to make a long-term move continue to name Costa Rica as the obvious front runner as a destination. This opinion has been shared not only by current expats, but by newspapers and magazines as well. It seems that while both countries appease tourists, the differences between the two countries lead incoming residents to choose Costa Rica as their new home. We researched these differences, and discovered 6 concrete factors that make Costa Rica the preferable long-term destination.
1. Local Politics
Local politics may not be a significant issue when you’re planning a two-week vacation, but once you start to consider a long-term move, you’ll want to start studying the under-belly of your new home. Politics is an area where Costa Rica and Nicaragua have little in common. Costa Rica is Latin America’s oldest and most stable democracy, enjoying unwavering, true democracy since 1869. This democracy is most widely known for having disbanded its army, meaning that there is absolutely zero taxation or governmental budgeting on military expenditures. Costa Rica has also supported a pro-US attitude, shown in its welcoming gestures to newcomers as well as in written policy, as US citizens are allowed to own property and businesses without legal residency. The welcoming attitude and the stable political climate will make your life in Costa Rica much less stressful and will ensure the security of any investments and related profits.
Nicaragua remains an independent democracy, but has not had the good fortune of experiencing the political stability that Costa Rica enjoys. Recovering from a brutal civil war in the 70s, Nicaragua has made steps to improve city infrastructure and services, but still has a long way to go. While life is always safe in Nicaragua, you’ll be constantly aware of political unrest and dissatisfaction. The president (now serving unlimited terms) is widely criticized for his policies, and while violence is still extremely rare, you will see protests, marches, and possible riots all around the country. Nicaragua continues to welcome newcomers to the area and offers pathways to residency, but the political turmoil has dissuaded many potential residents needing increased security for their investments.
Directly related to politics is the economy. Nicaragua continues to be the second poorest country in Latin America, following Haiti. In recent years, the economy has strengthened and begun to increase, but the global economic crisis makes progress slow and cumbersome. The poor economy not only effects infrastructure improvements, but education and employment opportunities as well. As Nicaragua is struggeling in its relationship with many more developed country, improving the economy is still a slow process.
Costa Rica, however, has a stable economy relying almost completely on tourism and agriculture. This small country has been labeled as one of the most competitive in Latin America in terms of its economy and trading policies. Investors continue to be attracted to Costa Rica because of the governmental stability and high educational levels, so the economy continues to improve yearly.
3. Infrastructure and Amenities
The biggest difference you will immediately notice once having visited both countries is the infrastructure. Costa Rica has been able to concentrate on growth and progress for the last several decades, and now boasts cities just as developed and modern as you would find in North America or Europe. City streets are maintained, large buildings make up urban centers, and modern housing options are popular among locals and immigrating newcomers. This modernization in infrastructure and amenities stretches to include hospitals, schools, public spaces, public transport, and even US satellite TV channels. While some products are still difficult to find, your amenities and public services will be much closer to what you’re used to back home.
Nicaragua boasts its traditional charm, which is very attractive for tourists, but less so for those considering a long-term move. While the economy slowly improves, the country is putting significant work into improving roads, public spaces, and sanitary systems, but houses and businesses will still be rather basic. This means toughing the elements a little more and making more sacrifices in your day-to-day comforts.
4. Work and School
As the Costa Rican economy remains strong, so does their job market. The minimum wage may still be below where you feel comfortable, but opportunities for entrepreneurship are abundant. Costa Rica also boasts one of the best education systems in Latin America, from kindergarten through university. In fact, many bilingual US citizens choose to come to Costa Rica to study, preferring the low tuition rates. A large amount of private and faith-based primary and secondary schools are spread throughout the country, including those which teach their curriculum completely in English. This will ease the mind of incoming families with children and make the transition easier for everyone. This advanced education system is made possible because without any military spending, the Costa Rican government has turned its financial priorities to education. Nicaragua continues to improve its educational system as well, but as the economy struggles, it is yet to match its neighbor in educational or employment opportunities.
5. Sight-seeing and Activities
Let’s be honest, you didn’t move to Central America to recreate your run-of-the-mill life. You want to explore, learn, and sight-see. Costa Rica offers prime outdoor activities and the roads and transport systems to take advantage of the natural beauty. Almost every area of the country, from the white sand beaches to the cloudy mountains, will have hiking trails, look-out points, and city festivals year-round. You will be able to see the country’s wildlife from city parks and find trusted guides when considering adventure tourism, such as diving or snorkeling. Nicaragua sports natural beauty and tourism attractions as well, but taking advantage of these attractions is significantly more difficult. Most natural areas do not have maintained hiking paths, so to explore an area you will need to pay a tour guide, often costing over $100 just to go on a hike. Roads can be easily damaged or blocked, you may need to set aside almost a week to do any significant traveling within the country. The beauty is attractive, but it will be difficult to take advantage of it while maintaining your professional life.
6. Environmental Impact
If you’re considering moving abroad, we already know you have an adventurous and open-minded outlook on life. Many people moving to Costa Rica are looking to enjoy life to the maximum and return to a more natural way of living. These more socially conscious people are often very attracted by Costa Rica’s environmental policies. This small country has at least one wildlife sanctuary and reserve in every department, and city campaigns are constantly calling the population to live greener, more responsible lives. Even more impressive, Costa Rica runs on 80% domestic, renewable energy. With a mixture of hydro, geothermal, wind, and solar energy, Costa Rica managed to even run for 2 whole months last year on 100% sustainable energy. This clean way of living protects the beauty of the country and sets an example for the entire world. If you are looking to reset your life into a cleaner and happier pace, these environmental priorities may be what you’re looking for.