A huge number of factors play into the decision to relocate to Central America, but one of the #1 reasons given is the laid back, casual lifestyle. The easy-going culture in Central America is a huge draw to retirees and aspiring entrepreneurs alike, and what is seen as a more natural way of life convinces visitors to consider a more long-term arrangement. The region’s traditional culture and jaw-dropping natural views are a big part of the tranquility a potential incomer may be seeking, but no country can promise peacefulness without a participating government. Whether you like it or not, considering the political climate of each Central American country is integral in understanding life in that region. Nicaragua and Costa Rica are common final destinations for those looking to relocate to Central America, mainly because of the low crime rates and promising business opportunities, but the two countries are not alike in every manner. The governing parties between the two countries have significant differences, and their policies affect every aspect of life for their residents. The history and current movement of each country’s governing parties can be complex, yet understanding the general differences between Costa Rica and Nicaragua’s political climates will help potential incomer make an informed choice.
To start with, Costa Rica is a democratic republic led by President Luis Solis, sworn into office in 2014. President Solis is part of the Citizens Action Party (PAC) which runs on a progressive, social democracy platform. The National Liberation Party (PLN) is another leading party in the Costa Rican government, running on a centrist social democracy platform. Currently, there are nine active political parties in the Legislative Assembly.
The government in Nicaragua is a republic led by President Daniel Ortega. First elected president for a five-year term from 1985 to 1990, Ortega was reelected as president in 2007 and has kept the title ever since. In 2014, he dismantled the policy limiting presidential terms, allowing him to run for a third consecutive term in 2016 (fourth term over-all) with his wife as his running mate. Originally praised as a war hero in the Nicaraguan Revolution overthrowing the dictator Somoza, Ortega has been criticized recently by his original supporters for losing his vision for a free Nicaragua. Ortega is part of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) which runs on a democratic socialist platform. The FSLN is considered one of two leading parties in Nicaragua, opposed by the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC).
Relations with the United States
A huge difference between the governance of these two countries concerns their relations with the United States. Costa Rica has enjoyed a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States, cumulating in significant trading opportunities. The pro-US attitude in Costa Rica is readily visible upon arrival. You’ll notice almost every US based fast food chain, supermarket, and store in every major city. Nicaragua has had more difficult relations with the United States as the US supported the opposing side during the Nicaraguan Revolution. The US government has been openly critical of President Ortega and although significant funds have been donated to Nicaragua to help with reconstruction and development, the US has threatened to cease all funding because of Ortega’s continued presidency. Arriving in Nicaragua, you will most likely never feel an anti-US vibe from the people. Nicaragua has a reputation for having the friendliest locals, and very few visitors have reported being negatively affected by the poor relationship between the two countries. What you may experience, however, is a lack of US based chain stores and products. While many people feel as though this makes Nicaragua more “authentic” than its neighbor to the south, it does have some negative implications for the economy.
Costa Rica has enjoyed a stable economy up to the global economic crisis. Abundant trading relationships and a strong agricultural and tourism industry keeps Costa Rica a step above its Central American neighbors in terms of economic security. Costa Rica continues to boast the region’s highest standard of living, lowest rates of poverty, and lowest unemployment rates. Nicaragua, highly affected by a history of civil war, remains the second poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti. Although business opportunities are abundant for those coming from wealthier countries, around 50% of Nicaragua locals live in poverty and are highly affected by the unemployment rates. The high rates of extreme poverty will be very apparent to any visitors to the area, yet may affect them in unexpected ways. Standards of living being low, maintaining a comfortable and even luxurious life in Nicaragua is considerably cheaper than one would initially imagine.
The poor US-Nicaragua relationship along with a confusing presidential election system may be a concern for someone looking to relocate to the area, yet the very low cost of living and bountiful opportunities of an emerging market may sway your opinion. Costa Rica offers a more modern lifestyle with better access to international products and English speaking professionals, however the good financial fortune of the country makes living expenses quite a bit higher than you would find in Nicaragua. Both countries offer welcoming locals and entrepreneurial opportunities, so how you chose to factor politics into your decision is a personal choice. Regardless of what you choose, the hardships each country faces are easily compensated with the many benefits of Central American life.