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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .