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Jul 18

Costa Rica: Why Not Retire in the Happiest Place on Earth?

Costa Rica attracts retirees with its high standard of living and low cost of living, all within a lush tropical paradise.

Why Not Retire to Costa Rica, the Happiest Place on Earth?

If you’re on the verge of retirement, or just entertaining the thought of it, a good place to start the planning process might be to examine the Happy Planet Index (HPI), which ranks Costa Rica as the “Happiest Place On Earth,” based on an annual study of 151 countries. That pleasant distinction certainly reinforces the common phrase about life in this still wonderfully quaint Central American country— “pura vida” —that translates loosely as “life is good.”

And there are roughly 50,000 expatriates in Costa Rica, many of them retirees, who certainly won’t argue with that happy designation, and will gladly proclaim that Costa Rica has it all, including beautiful Caribbean beaches, unspoiled Pacific Coast sanctuaries, modern cities, lush rain forests and a nearly perfect year-round tropical climate. Costa Rica also has one of the highest standards of living in Central America, a stable democratic government and outstanding real estate values.

The happiness quotient and standard of living in Costa Rica is bolstered by excellent healthcare services and modern telecommunications, along with Costa Rica’s natural beauty, culture, lower cost of living and relaxed pace. But as International Living has noted, “This jewel of Central America has the added advantage of still being relatively undiscovered by mass tourism.”

Low Cost of Living

The cost of living in Costa Rica is low in comparison to the United States, Canada and Europe, even though it’s generally ranked as the most expensive country in Central America. But all things considered, Costa Rica is a place where less is more, and less goes further when it comes to money. That’s a significant factor that draws retirees who discover they can live quite well here on $1,000 to $2,500 per month. Go higher than that, and you can live really well. So, if you’re a Boomer who’s been waiting since the sixties to drop out, sell it all and go back to nature, this is the place and the time.

There are reasonable and worthwhile lifestyle options in Costa Rica for virtually any retiree, which is why the AARP considers it “one of the best places to retire abroad.” And if you do plan an extended stay or permanent move, there are residency options worth exploring. In fact, retirement experts advise considering “rentista” or “pensioner” residency status. Rentisa visa holders have to show income of $2,500 per month for at least five years, guaranteed by a banking institution or make a deposit of $150,000 in an approved Costa Rican bank. You must live in Costa Rica at least four months of the year.

Those seeking a pensionado visa need to prove a minimum income of $1,000 per month from a qualified pension or retirement account, or from Social Security, and you must live in Costa Rica at least four months of the year. Another option that may be right for certain individuals is inversionistas, which is for investors looking at going into business or investing in certain sectors. One key thing to keep in mind is that you can’t work in Costa Rica without residency unless you’re a telecommuter—and a nice bonus is you’re not taxed on income earned outside Costa Rica.

A Perfect Tropical Climate

Costa Rica is bordered by the warm waters of the Caribbean on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west, which contributes to weather that’s just about perfect any time of year. According to International Living, many retirees choose to live in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, which provides easy access to the capital city of San Jose and its international airport, shopping and medical facilities. Weather is also an important factor, with the area enjoying year-round temperatures averaging 72ºF. For retirees seeking beach living, the Guanacaste province and the Pacific coast from Jaco to Quepos generally are the most popular choices. A range of reasonable real estate options offers ample opportunities for value-minded investors and retirees.

Costa Rica is also a special place of amazing natural diversity that makes it a nature-lover’s dream destination. The flora and fauna found in the country make it one of the most biodiverse places in the world, with a commitment to conservation designed to preserve the natural settings. Interestingly, Costa Rica banned hunting early in 2013, reflecting the strong support for the environment.

In addition to its natural beauty, Costa Rica also offers visitors and residents a thriving culture and one of the highest standards of living in Central America. There are modern cities with all the expected conveniences, including high-speed internet and telecommunications infrastructure. Plus, Costa Rica has an excellent healthcare system that equals those of North America—except it’s much cheaper.

A Tradition of Progressive Government

Costa Rica’s economy continues to evolve and experience positive growth, which bodes well for the future and the futures of those who choose to retire there. Many expatriates also welcome the country’s long-standing tradition of democracy and progressive government that adds to its stability and appeal. Costa Rica is often referred to as the “Switzerland of the Americas,” since it is one of the only diplomatically neutral countries in the world—and it doesn’t have an army.

On top of all that, the people of Costa Rica are warm and friendly, and welcoming to newcomers. Of course, those from outside the country who’ve successfully established lives there strongly advise learning to speak Spanish and encourage newcomers to make a connection with the country, rather than remain aloof from local society.

By the way, the country’s food also gets high marks. Costa Rican cuisine is a mixture of indigenous, Spanish and African flavors that go heavy on the tamales, chicken and fish. The rich red soil, a trademark of Costa Rica, provides the perfect environment for growing lush organic products, producing some of the world’s finest bananas and pineapples, and its world-renowned coffee. Traditional butcher shops, bakeries and fish markets are also in abundance here, with prices that make retirees smile.

And smiling a lot is one of the things retirees in Costa Rica report they do a great deal of as they go about their daily activities in the world’s happiest place. As one says, “If you want to retire with Carmel-style views at 10 percent of the price, Costa Rica can still be the place.”


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