Wondering whether retiring in Costa Rica could be in your future? Let’s talk about a few of the start-here, don’t-ignore-them considerations I’d recommend anyone ponder before they begin dreaming too deeply about retirement in paradise. And by that, I mean you.
I’ve kept these nine considerations practical in nature because, while our emotions are often an impetus, we also need to ground our decision-making in facts and pragmatism. So, let’s get started!
Consideration #1: Residency
Before even considering retiring in Costa Rica, the first thing I recommend is looking into your available options for residency.
For most retirees, the easiest path is pensionado residency, which as of this post’s publication requires a lifetime pension of $1,000/month. (This can be drawn on Social Security, private company pensions, independent retirement programs, annuities, and other permanent pension sources.)
The only major hiccup to pensionado residency is that your minimum $1,000 per month must come from a single source. Because, while this type of residency extends to a spouse or dependents, two spouses cannot combine <$1,000/month pensions to reach the minimum.
If you meet these requirements, then securing residency will be simple and straightforward. If you don’t, you may want to consider one of Costa Rica’s other residency options.
Consideration #2: Medical Care & Services
For many retirees and seniors, accessibility to healthcare, including hospital services and emergency care, are a major factor in choosing where to live. So, I’d recommend you consider this carefully: Do you need (or would you prefer) to be near a major hospital?
If so, you can begin your search by narrowing down this parameter. For example, if it’s important to be close to a major hospital, then consider whether you’ll go public or private. The Costa Rican CCSS (public healthcare) has hospitals in major cities around the country, but many are not fully equipped. If you’re looking into private hospitals with English-speaking staff, you’ll most likely be restricted to either the Central Valley or the Liberia area, including coastal towns from Playas del Coco to Tamarindo.
All this to say, if medical care is a concern, START here. As this can be a tough criterion to fulfill, it’s much easier to begin with this need and work outward from that solution.
Consideration #3: Beach or Mountains?
When it comes to the question, “where should I live?”, the answer begins with one major litmus test: Will you choose the beach or the mountains?
While the beach sounds like paradise – sun-dappled coasts, soft sands, ocean views, a laid-back lifestyle… – it’s also hotter than the mountains, thanks to its sea level elevations. What’s more, many others before you have had the same thoughts re: paradise, and so demand is higher at the beach; here, real estate prices and the cost of living are higher.
On the other hand, the mountains are typically cooler and lower priced, but they’re still the mountains; you won’t be near the beach! What’s more, many mountains close to the beach are still fairly hot (think the mid-80s to mid-90s by day) – all the heat without the ocean. Higher elevations in the Central Valley provide spring-like year-round temperatures, but they put you an easy 90 minutes to several hours from the coast.
There is no right or wrong answer, except for the right or wrong answer for you. The truth is, you’ll find blissfully happy retirees dotted throughout the coastal areas and mountains. The question is, which best fits your lifestyle?
Consideration #4: Cost of Living
I won’t sugarcoat this one: cost of living is a major consideration, especially when you’re living on a fixed income.
While Costa Rica is oft touted as a great bargain for retirement abroad, the truth is that it’s only a relative bargain. As in, relative to you and your lifestyle. When retiring in Costa Rica, your cost of living here is dependent on you – and often, not in the ways you immediately assume. For example, to live frugally, you’d have to adjust to Costa Rican cuisine and ingredients, as imported products are more expensive here. In other words, even if you “love to cook at home,” that doesn’t guarantee a low budget.
Don’t lose hope, though! Living on a pension, even the $1,000/month bare minimum, is doable (if a stretch). Click through for more information on the cost of living in Costa Rica, including concrete examples at four basic budgets (including said $1,000/month).
Consideration #5: Tropical Weather
I know, I know – you’re thinking, “tropical weather?!” How is that even a consideration?
There is so much to love about Costa Rica’s weather. For any of us who have weathered (haha) a North American winter or tornado alley or a lake effect, the idea of tropical weather sounds like a dream.
Most of the time, it is! Year-round sun, year-round warmth, year-round sunsets… it’s pretty great! Except, there will be an adjustment. I promise. In Costa Rica, there are no four seasons (and you’ll probably miss that change of season). There is a very distinct rainy season (and I do mean RAINY) and a dry season (and I do mean DRY). There are earthquakes. And did I mention the 6-7 months of rain?
I cannot understate this: Depending on where you live, it’s likely that it will rain every day, for six to seven months at a time. It will not rain all day (and there will likely be many hours of sun every day) but it will rain every day. And, whether you end up loving it (like many of us) or simply tolerating it (like some of us), this dichotomy of seasons will require an adjustment. My advice is to visit during the rainy season, well before you decide to move, so that you at least have an idea of what to expect.
Consideration #6: The “Pura Vida”
You’ve probably heard of Costa Rica’s pura vida, or “pure life.” You know it’s a laid-back, take-life-as-it-comes kind of attitude. And you’re aware that it’s a wonderful antidote to stress.
What you may not know is that pura vida is more than a call to tranquility. It’s very much a lifestyle here and, for new expats, Type A’s, and North Americans generally, it can also be a source of consternation. I know, that sounds like the total opposite of pura vida! But the first time your plumber doesn’t show (even though your pipes are leaking everywhere) and his only apology is “pura vida” – well, you’ll know what I mean.
In my experience, the most effective way to counteract pura vida-induced frustration is to manage your expectations. Understand that, as similar as it so often appears, Costa Rica is a different culture. Things move slowly here. Schedules and appointments are often more suggestions than commitments set in stone. Begin practicing this mindset in advance, and you’ll come to love the pura vida faster.
Consideration #7: Cultural Differences
Speaking of the pura vida, there are other cultural and lifestyle differences that you’ll encounter in Costa Rica. Lots of them.
The roads are potholed. Public healthcare has lines. The drivers are… well, let’s say many probably wouldn’t pass a U.S. driver’s test. There are hundreds of free-range dogs in every town. And the bugs? Well, they don’t always respect the boundaries of your home. And that’s just the tip of the sandcastle…
The truth is, Costa Rica is so welcoming that it often feels like home, even when you’re only a visitor. So, many assume that Costa Rica will immediately be home when they move. And while that’s technically true, it may take a while to fully adjust to Costa Rica as “home.”
My advice? Brush up on the five stages of culture shock – The Honeymoon Stage, Rejection & Hostility, Gradual Adjustment, Deep Adaptation, and Re-Entry Shock – and expect that you’ll run the entire gamut. The exact journey is different for everyone but it’s a universal experience. So, prepare! Find someone (hi there!) to help you work through your culture shock. Make friends who have been there, done that. And try to embrace your newfound pura vida; I promise it’ll help!
Consideration #8: Family Back Home
Moving away from “home” is about more than selling a house and setting down roots abroad; for many seniors, retiring in Costa Rica means you’re moving away from family.
Now, perhaps you don’t live very close to them anyway. (Canada, the U.S. and Europe are huge, when compared to Costa Rica!) In that case, moving to Costa Rica can be a “same difference” kind of situation: Depending on where your family lives, you could be just a few hours flight from them!
But if you’re leaving your nearest and dearest who are also physically near and dear, then this is something to consider: Will you move to Costa Rica full-time or will you be snowbirds? If you’re here full-time, can you purchase a home with a guest bedroom (or two) for when your family comes to visit? Do you need to be close to an airport (there are two major international airports here)?
These are important considerations because homesickness is real. Building easy, natural mitigation into your Costa Rican lifestyle will go a long way to helping Costa Rica feel like home, not only for you but for your family who will hopefully visit often.
Consideration #9: The Language
You’ve probably heard that you can scrape by in Costa Rica on just English. That’s not untrue but I wouldn’t say it’s the full truth, either.
The reality is that you will better enjoy retiring in Costa Rica if you learn some Spanish. No, you don’t have to be fully fluent, with the vocabulary of a Costa Rican high schooler and the ability to conjugate verbs into the past perfect subjunctive… But you’ll live a more comprehensive, wholesome, and fulfilling experience if you learn the basics.
Learning Spanish not only opens the door to a whole new world – a world filled with new neighbors and future friends, farmers market interactions and accurate directions! – but is also great for cognitive function. So, do yourself a favor and start learning now. By the time you’re ready to move, you’ll have the basics mastered and will be ready to make your first Costa Rican acquaintance.
Questions About Retiring in Costa Rica?
Hi, I’m Rebecca Clower. (My friends call me Becky.) In 2006, I did what you’re preparing to do: I followed my heart and moved to Costa Rica.
For nearly two decades, I’ve made my home here. I’ve founded businesses and volunteered my time. I’ve gotten to know my neighbors and have grown to love my community. I’ve raised my two boys here. I’ve been on international TV. I’ve given back to my community. I’ve taken on major positions of responsibility and authority.
Along the way, I founded one of Costa Rica’s most successful independent brokerages. And for years, I’ve made it my job to help other people do the same. I offer real, honest advice and expertise to my clients. I promise not to sugarcoat the hard truths or gloss over the tough parts. I will tell you the whole truth, the full truth, and even the hard truths.
I hope that you’ll find the beautiful truths to outweigh them all. So, sign up for updates, download my free eBook, and get in touch. Let’s get started!