Retiring in Costa Rica - My Honest Travel Review

“The grass is always greener on the other side.” In this case the other side being that magical place you hope to find and live in peace and harmony when retirement age rolls around. We are all looking for that piece of paradise with the lowest cost of living, the dirt cheap or free health care, and inexpensive labor and services . Retiring in Costa Rica at first glance seems to meet the requirements. There are however other factors to consider .

In case you are wondering why I say this, let me just say that I have been to Costa Rica, several times. I have retired friends there. Most of the travel reviews and descriptions of the land itself are more than accurate. The beach waters are a beautiful piercing blue , the sand depending on which coast of Costa Rica you are on, is of different colors, the Costa Rican people known as Ticos are extremely polite and friendly . The eco system is a beautiful lush mix of tropical greens where animal species and plants abound . It is a great place to visit, for a weekend , a week , a month - but for me that’s as long as it gets.

The first time I traveled to Costa Rica I was struck by a few oddities .

Crime

I had not heard of any negative publicity and only minor crimes in the country. When on vacation, you tend to drop your guard. You’re enjoying the moment and you are in awe of everything different and new. The size of the fruit is amazing, the scenery absolutely gorgeous sometimes even indescribable. You find the people so darn pleasant. So, I was naturally confused as to why our driver followed us around doubling as a bodyguard at every stop we made, as if we were celebrities. To me , that immediately set off a red light , something felt wrong with that picture, but I shrugged it off , being suspicious by nature. Maybe our driver happened to be overly service oriented. After all Costa Rica had the most civilized Central American people , known to be passive and non confrontational , needing nor having an army nor armed police force.

We had been advised by more than one local in San Jose shopping area to remove all our jewelry. We were told its not so much the local people as it is the outsiders coming in , running from the poverty in their own countries . Neighboring unstable places like Nicaragua and people from other adjacent countries are coming in vandalizing, assaulting and wreaking havoc for the local Ticos and tourists. These individuals unlike the Costa Rican police are armed. I’m aware that there is crime everywhere and it is common sense to be vigilant at all times no matter where you are. It didn't used to be like this in Costa Rica but now its not at all uncommon . Americans and tourist being the most likely targets. Globally big cities tend to have more of a problem. I just hadn’t heard of it before in traveling to Costa Rica.

 

Traffic

I was also slightly disturbed at the lack of roadside safety features. There are very few guard rails through steep mountains , traveling up and down winding roads just didn’t feel safe. The roads are in terrible shape, full of potholes and the drivers erratic. Driving is dangerous especially at night. Costa Rica has one of the highest deaths by car in the world. Signs and addresses are few or non existent , especially in rural areas . We asked how they get around and the locals will tell you they subscribe to the ancient post office system of make a left 3 kilometers up, when you see the blue house on the corner make a right , after 7 kilometers you’ll come across a yellow house with chickens in the front yard and the address you are looking for is across the street , it has a huge mango tree loaded with fruit. “What ? Are you serious “ Si, senorita.

Distance

To get anything done as simple as grocery shopping becomes a whole day ordeal in Costa Rica. Distances to places  become twice or three times as long when you have to drive down mountain peaks at slow speeds avoiding fallen trees, pedestrians, and ox carts. Special care is to be taken around bends for on coming traffic , god forbid you end up in a ravine. Unless you have a driver make sure you can drive stick shift otherwise you’ll risk burning the clutch and won’t get past the first hill.

American Standards

 

Us Americans are spoiled, shocker ! We are used to having the best and as long as we can pay for it we expect to get it. In a slower paced place like Costa Rica if you expect to have the conveniences from home be prepared to wait and or pay for them. If you can enjoy living there without the frills you are accustomed to then you might be a retirement candidate for Costa Rica. You wait for phone service, you wait for cable, you wait for internet connection …unless of course you can grease a few palms to get it slightly sooner. But the up side is if you are retired it might help fill your day.

Rent in the rural areas go for about $600 a month for an apartment or small home. For this price you can expect substandard amenities. Line drying instead of dryers and electric shower heads to control the water flow are the order of the day for Costa Rican living. Not that there is anything wrong with this system , but for us Americans a little third world. By taking the bus and dining out a few times a month you can probably scrape by with about $1500 a month . Labor and services are relatively cheap. The average Costa Rican makes only $5560 a year. So it is possible to live cheap if you are willing to live with most of your relatives.

If in retiring to Costa Rica you envision a luxury house with live in house-keepers , commuting with your own vehicle and without giving up your favorite imported wines , foods, or products then you are looking at a $3000 plus monthly lifestyle. If you expect a beachfront home prepare to dish out much more.

Retiring Here

I for one won’t be retiring anywhere but here in the good old USA. Not because of lack of beauty or more affordable places but because I find no standards for safety amongst some of these Central American countries. Love it or hate it , at least here in the United States we have a comprehensive government system. We speak the language and we understand the laws . We know how to move within our community and culture. I think I’ll just down scale my lifestyle and live comfy right here. I’m sure some will think me ignorant or arrogant but the truth is there is no place like home. No to mention the activities we presume to engage in at retirement are probably a little more ambitious than what our bodies can realistically tackle.

That being said , my intention is not to discourage anyone from moving or retiring in Costa Rica . It’s just an eye opener. Most good intentioned people when recounting their talks of travel will only talk about the good of things and although it may be a good gesture it may not be 100 % accurate. Stay safe !

You don’t have to take my word for it . You can find out the facts .

www.WikiTravel.org

 

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Comments 29 comments

Yvonne 7 years ago

I was looking forward to reading about how wonderful Costa Rica, but no, instead you killed my dream! Just kidding. Very informative. I think we tend to romanticize these places.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

Yvonne -

Sorry ! I will continue to search for our perfect retirement place. WP looks pretty nice :)


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

Excellent exposition! I haven't been there but I have friends who love the place. I don't think I need to go now that you have ciphered it for me. Thank you for the finely presented information.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

Hi James

Thanks for reading. Just my humble opinion. Wondering if your friends live or play there?


Costaricaretire profile image

Costaricaretire 7 years ago from Mary Lee- retired! on the beach at sunset

Having lived in Costa Rica since 2000, I can vouch for your observations. People romanticize the place.

But, if you are tired of living the "American dream", you can live the "Costa Rican nightmare". That means, you can try to MAKE COSTA RICA INTO THE UNITED STATES. Or you can learn the culture and adapt to the hardships that make life interesting.

No matter how tired or upset I get in my lovely paradise, I always go back for more. Heck, life is just too boring in the USA. You gotta love the Ticos!


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

Costaricaretire

I agree! Adapting is half the battle. I can certainly see the value in that. Good Point though, on not trying to turn CR into the USA. How boring indeed if we didn't at least have the choice. I appreciate your comment -Pura Vida !


kev8 profile image

kev8 7 years ago

Good article, Im in Costa Rica at the moment and I agree. Its a beautiful a country but people forget it is still a developing nation.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

Kev8

Thanks for the comment. I know you are enjoying yourself and I'm almost jealous :) Be safe !


CharterJetService profile image

CharterJetService 7 years ago

Not what I was expecting but I have to agree, with out ever even traveling there. I didn't realize that it is not as cheap to live there as one would imagine. However I just can't see myself retiring to someplace such as Costa Rica. I agree, I will stay here right in the USA.


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 7 years ago from Southern California

I have some friends that sold their house in the states and moved to Costa Rica, and returned after about five years, due to some of the things that you put in your hub. They said that when they left their home for an extended length of time, they came back to parts of their house missing. Interesting that you said somewhat the same things that they said. Very good hub.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

CharterJetService

It's still worth visiting especially in that nice jet of yours. If things get rough you can be the first one out. Thanks for visiting.

Fastfreta-

Absolutely , those things go in in Costa Rica. I omitted a lot of negative things I know first hand about. I don't want to be responsible for killing any tourism to CR but certainly wouldn't want to mislead anyone either into thinking it is paradise. Thanks for visiting again.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

Wow, it sound interesting place for traveling. thanks for share your experience Costa Rica. like in your description, I think this is beautiful place. I hope I can go there someday.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

Prasetio30

It is beautiful, very unique and adventourous. If you get the chance you should go. Thanks you for visiting.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

They go down to play around I think. And fish, probably. Ostensibly.


bludstream profile image

bludstream 7 years ago

I think this writer has it all wrong and right at the same time. Costa Rica is not for the faint of heart. Costa Rica is fantastic, beautiful, natural, full of adventure and fun, and also dangerous, scary, and wild. That is what makes it great for me, but then everyone wants something different. But don't take her word for it, or mine, just go. Be careful but don't be scared, just have a good time and keep alert and you will be just fine.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

Bludstream

Thanks for stopping by and reinforcing my whole sentiment. I appreciate your comment.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

Have never been there but have read about the beauty of Costa Rica from coast to mountains to the other coast. The friends who have visited have come back talking about the beauty. As to living there...think I will stay in the U.S. Would like to visit there someday, however.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

Peggy W

If you get the chance to visit - you should! Theres plenty of adventure tours and views to enjoy. Its very laid back and relaxing. It makes for a great vacation. I'm sure you would have an excellent time :)


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

Bail Up, this sounds like a great warning for anyone who wants to retire to another country. One gets so used to a life style and cultural of their home, it may be difficult for people old enough to be 'set in their ways' to adapt to a totally new situation.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

Hey Dolores

Yes, i think it is hard for older folks to totally adapt to a new setting. I imagine that's why even the ones that "retire" over there spend half their time here. The best of both worlds! thanks for stopping in and commenting.


bekaze profile image

bekaze 7 years ago from Germany

Sounds good and very tempting. I am going to put Costa Rica in my next-trip list. :)


TanW profile image

TanW 7 years ago from Florida

I plan on visiting Costa Rica this month or the early part of next year.

Thank you for writing a very informative hub. You opened my eyes to a lot of things I did not think of or have knowledge about.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

TanW

I hope you have a wonderful time. Do keep on alert like you would any unknown place and you will be fine. Have fun and be safe. Thanks for reading my hub - glad to be of service.


FarrahZimer profile image

FarrahZimer 7 years ago

As a Costa Rican I can certainly validate Bail Up!'s assessment. I love my small country, but it's no longer the haven it once was...sadly in part to it's development. Bail has it right when she states it's not so much the National's as it is those fleeing from war-ridden and poverty struck neighboring nations and South America. The increase in muggings and assaults has quadrupled since the time I grew up there. I have lived in the United States for my entire adult life and have never EVER been mugged. But my cousins, neighbors and friends from Costa Rica all report to have been victimized in the last 10 years at least once or know of someone who has.

Having said that, I would still encourage you to visit. It's not more dangerous than any other country outside of the US. Crime is everywhere unfortunately. Every bit of advice the writer offers is valuable word to the wise!


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago Author

FarrahZimer so nice of you to visit my hub and manifest your view. It lends plenty of credibility coming from a native Costa Rican. Like I said in this hub I've visited a few times and your country is truly majestic as beauty is concerned - hope to visit again soon. Thank you.


Truth From Truth profile image

Truth From Truth 6 years ago from Michigan

Great review, one day I would like to retire somewhere warm. So far I had not thought it out to decide where. This information was very helpful.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 6 years ago Author

Truth-

Glad this hub was of use for you. Florida is nice :)


LearningWorks profile image

LearningWorks 6 years ago

We loved traveling in Costa Rica. But then we always had drivers, so we were never entirely left to our own devices. We started with a few nights in San Jose, then took a 3-day trip to stay at a lodge on the West coast. Then back to our "base" in San Jose, followed by a 3-day trip to stay at a lodge on the East coast. Wow! and Wow! We ended our trip with New Year's Eve back in San Jose.

This travel style was not "group", but it was not fully "independent" either. It worked very well in Costa Rica.

As to the idea of relocating to Costa Rica (or anywhere else) full-time, so far we are only up to an annual plan for living 1 month abroad and 11 at home. This has worked well so far... We love the experience of immersing ourselves, renting an apartment abroad (we use vrbo.com), living like the locals, and taking in everything in the area at a relaxed pace. Then we come home and live 11 months back in the US. But we immediately begin planning our 1 month abroad for next year. This seems to us to be the best of both worlds... at least so far.


Bail Up! 6 years ago

Learning Works

That arrangement seems heavenly, Thanks for sharing your experience and giving the readers a new perspective. I love so many places I might have to try a month here and there as well and find what works best. A month at a time in Costa Rica though, with weekend trips to different coasts seems perfectly doable, long enough to take in the new culture AND not break the bank.

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