Can A Single Woman Retire In Costa Rica?


Hardly a day goes by that we aren't asked the question, "Can a single woman, with a very modest retirement income, retire in safety and serenity in Costa Rica? 

The answer is an unequivocal, but qualified, YES!

Fran and I recently had the privilege of meeting Sharon Lumley.  Sharon works as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit of a suburban Dallas Texas hospital.  Having helped others for over thirty years, Sharon is eagerly looking to "pull the plug" and retire within the next year.  However, like many Baby Boomers, today's economy has severely impacted her ability to retire in the United States and live the life she always dreamed.  With a projected monthly budget of $1000-1300, Sharon is looking to Costa Rica as a way to achieve her retirement goal.

Fran and I just spent three days with Sharon, helping her to determine if Costa Rica would work for her as her retirement destination.  While it would be nice to live in a 2000 square foot condominium, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Sharon realizes that some compromises need to be made.

Like anybody looking to retire overseas, differentiating between one's needs vs. wants is paramount.  Establishing a realistic budget, based on one's actual needs is critical. 

Sharon's criteria was ambitious yet achievable:

  • Rent a small 1 bedroom apartment or house, fully furnished for $400-500 per month (including electric).

  • Live within walking distance of the beach

  • Food budget should average no more than $150 per month while maintaining her vegetarian lifestyle.

  • Rely on public transportation to get around

  • The area should support a strong expat community

  • Even though in excellent health, close proximity to high quality healthcare is important.

Over the course of three days, we took Sharon to meet several of our friends who either live that very lifestyle or who own rental properties that meet her requirements.  We saw everything from a one bedroom apartment with private sundeck for less than $400 a month, 50 feet from the bus stop to a 1 bedroom basement apartment with a pool and a view of the Papagayo Gulf, renting for only $600 a month.  That place even included electric, internet and satellite TV.   So finding a place to live did not appear to be a problem.

The cost of food in Costa Rica can make or break a budget.  If one has a penchant for all things gringo, be prepared to shell out the big bucks at the checkout counter.   The great news for Sharon is she is a vegetarian.  On the third day of our tour we took her to the local farmers market (La Feria) located in Liberia.  Sharon was like a kid in a candy shop when she saw all the fresh fruits and veggies at prices that were a fraction of what she was paying back in Dallas.  The vendors there even offered her free samples of things of which she was unfamiliar.

We also visited three different supermarkets (super mercados).  Each market catered to a different segment of the population ranging from totally Tico to a market you swear was located in the suburbs of Arlington Texas. 

For the most part, the prices also are representative of their surroundings.  But as we quickly learned, even the most expensive store was running 30% off discounts on selected items that made it the clear choice for certain products.

The two most important items one needs to insure survival is shelter and food.  Sharon learned that both were well within her budget. 

Assuming she can rent a nice place for $500 and maintain her $150 monthly budget for food, that leaves $350 a month available for extras like a cell phone ($7.00), dining out twice a month ($50), Buses and taxis ($75) and $30 for National Healthcare (once she becomes a resident).  That still leaves over $150 a month which is still available within her $1000 a month budget.

So, for the next year, Sharon plans to add to her war chest by working extra shifts and socking away as much money as possible.  In addition, she plans to sharpen her language skills by taking some Spanish courses.  The real proof will come when she moves here.  Will she be able to live within her budget?  That will be the big question, but at this point in time, Sharon's head appears to be sharply focused on being able to retire here and living Pura Vida!


Fran and I were skeptical whether or not Sharon could live in the Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste) area of Costa Rica on such a limited budget.  However, early analysis points to a strong likelihood of her succeeding.  Her attitude is great and her adventurous spirit will go a long way in helping her succeed.  The good news is, if Guanacaste proves to be too expensive, there are lots of other places for her to explore.


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