Dina and I first visited Costa Rica 5 years ago
for a 7 day vacation staying at an all-inclusive hotel in Playa
Conchal in the northern province of Guanacaste. While we did
manage some side trips to Tamarindo and the Arenal area, we really
can't claim to have experienced the Costa Rican lifestyle. However
we did feel the warmth and affection of the Ticos and of course we
were amazed at the beauty and bounty of this country.
Having just turned 62 and my wife 57, we spent
the last year planning and dreaming about our retirement. We
currently live in a suburb of Washington DC and knew we didn't want
(nor could afford) to stay here. Our goal was to live in a warm
climate at a much lower cost of living.
Like many people, we looked at Florida and even
took an exploratory trip to some areas that appealed to us. While
Florida has some incredibly affordable housing deals these day,
there were still some aspects that made a U.S. based retirement not
so attractive. And I'm sure, like many of you, our most
worrisome concern was the high cost of healthcare.
The idea of living offshore started to make
sense to us. We focused on two countries on which to do our main
research... Panama and Costa Rica. Panama has some real
advantages; it is a dollar based economy, has good infrastructure, a
very attractive relocation program for expats and lots of readily
available imported goods. What we didn't like about Panama was it's
weather; mostly hot and humid except in some mountain areas.
Costa Rica, on the other hand, while it lacked relocation
incentives, it's weather appeared more conducive to our goals.
Long story short, after a lot of internet
research, blog interaction, book reading and some many Skype calls,
it became apparent that Costa Rica may be a better fit. We decided
that another trip to Costa Rica would either verify or dispel our
In May of 2011 we started planning a
two-week "Due Diligence" trip to Costa Rica. Our
goal was to visit both the "cooler" Central Valley as well
as the warmer, less humid beach area of Guanacaste.
And instead of just traveling aimlessly on our own, we
decided to maximize our time by hooking up with local expats
who had the experience and expertise to show us around these
We already established a relationship with Andy
and Fran Browne, having read their Boomers Offshore Newsletters and
viewed all of their videos. We now needed a contact for the
Central Valley. Our research led us to George Lundquist and
his "Relocation and Retirement Tour." George's goal was to
show us how one can live quite comfortably in Costa Rica on just
Social Security and Pension. The tour focused on the more rural
areas of the Central Valley to the west and southwest of San Jose.
The Central Valley
The three day tour of the Central Valley began
early on November 20 and lasted through the 22nd. Like the
diversity of the areas we were visiting, so were the 13 people who
made up our tour group.
While we shared some common goals in
retirement, Dina and I quickly realized that there were benefits as
well as shortcomings to traveling with such a large group of
individuals. But George did a great job, keeping us all in
tow, on target and on schedule. We traveled through many towns
like Grecia, San Ramon, SarchÝ, Atenas, Escaz˙ and Puriscal. At
many of these places we visited with expats who were either renting
or owned homes in these areas. Even though the mantra was
"rent before you buy", we wished we had visited more
rentals and less high end homes. It was obvious,
many of these homes were clearly out of the price range of not just
us, but many of the folks on the tour.
Overall we did find the tour very useful and
informative. We learned very specific costing information from all
of the expats we met. They were extremely forthcoming and eager to
share their monthly cost of living expenses with us. We learned that
is very possible to live quite comfortably on a monthly budget of
just $1500 to $2400. This was exactly the type of information
and verification we were hoping to learn on this trip.
Probably the most beneficial part of George's
tour were the two nights we spent at the "special" expat receptions.
Here we had the opportunity to meet with many people who have
preceded us in their expat adventure. We met so many nice
people who were willing to share their experiences and offer their
help, should we decide to move to Costa Rica.
In no time at all we had begun developing a
vast network of friends who could offer us personal recommendations
for all sorts of goods and services, and especially how to
effectively deal with the governmental bureaucracy we heard so much
about. What an invaluable resource this is! Our tour
also included meetings and presentations with local experts on Costa
Rican residency, international shipping as well as national and
private healthcare solutions.
The Ups and Downs of the Central Valley...
Dina and I both agree, one of the strongest and
most positive impressions we take with of our time in the Central
Valley center around the people we met. Gringos and Ticos
alike, we felt an instant bond with many of these folks and could
easily see ourselves developing lasting relationships. This is a
part of our life that has been lacking in recent years and will be
an important factor in deciding where we will eventually end up.
San Ramon was probably our favorite town.
Local residents, Paul and Gloria Yeatman, took us on a walking tour
visiting many stores and shops. It was easy to get around.
The traffic was relatively light. We felt completely safe
everywhere we went and the people were warm and friendly. Our
only regret was not spending more time (just like this) in places
like Atenas and Grecia. Hey... that is what "next visits" are
OK, so far so good, now let's talk about some
other issues that might give us pause in moving to this area. One of
the main draws of the Central Valley is it's cool weather. We kept
reading about the "eternal spring" and how it was the perfect
temperature... not too hot, not too cold. But it really all depends
on where you are and what your elevation is. It's all about
microclimates. You could be in the Central Park of San Ramon under
80 degree heat and sunny skies yet just 10 minutes north it may be
68 degrees with clouds and rain. Therefore, where you decide
to live is in direct proportion to how happy you might be. It
all depends on what type of climate you prefer to live in. But
one important point to remember is... do your research and visit a
place during different weather conditions to determine what it will
be like to live there long term.
For Dina and I, we were amazed by the views
that many of these places offered, that is, when the clouds and rain
allowed you to see them. To be fair, we were there at the end of the
"rainy season." Everyone said, "just wait till January, the
views will be spectacular." We still felt however, that some
of these places would be too damp and chilly for us for a good
portion of the year. But, if you could find that perfect spot,
an area that mixes warmth, less humidity and the views, this would be
very enticing to us. To be clear, the Central Valley is very
appealing to us in many ways, especially the people we met and the
friendships we started. We just don't know if this is the place we
want to move to... yet.
Onward And Upward...
It's time to head on out to Guanacaste and
visit Playa Hermosa and the surrounding area but not before making a
quick stop in Lake Arenal and it's adjacent rain forest. It's
also rainier than the Central Valley which sort of explains the lush
greenery you see at every turn. We experienced some real
downpours while there but nothing that we haven't already
experienced back in the States. Dina and I both agreed, this is a
place we would like to visit again but more of a vacation visit as
opposed to a place to live.
We then made the 3 hour drive from Arenal to
Playa Hermosa. This was a beautiful ride, driving down the
mountains toward the coast. The roads were pretty good considering
all the horror stories we were told about Costa Rican highways.
It reminded us quite a bit of when we lived in Northern California.
We got to Andy and Fran's on Sunday morning.
Our first day was spent getting re-acquainted and giving Fran and
Andy more specifics on what we wanted to see and experience.
The next morning we set out early and began a
very in-depth tour of Playa Hermosa and it's surrounding
communities. Fran and Andy were wonderful guides and were not only
knowledgeable, but also very open and honest about the pros and cons
of their life in Costa Rica.
We thought it funny that when talking to the
folks from the Central Valley, almost everyone unanimously told us,
"You don't want to live there, it's too expensive and way too hot.
You need to run your air conditioning all the time and electricity
is so expensive in Costa Rica, it will cost you a fortune to live
there." But our first hand research is proving
While air conditioning is needed some of the time,
it is not needed all of the time. Where as in the Central
Valley, you need to run dehumidifiers all the time, just to kill the
dampness and fight the mold. There were no mold problems in
In order to get a handle on the real cost of
living in Costa Rica, we visited several different types of grocery
stores ranging from local markets like Pali to the more middle class
store like Luperˇn all the way up to the ultra gringo AutoMercado.
While some things were pricier here at the beach, the cost
differential was not great.
The area's general shopping had
almost anything you would need for your day to day living and if you
couldn't find it in Coco, you could drive 35 minutes to Liberia.
Speaking of Liberia, it was nice to know that you had an
International airport (LIR) close by for those trips back to the
Andy and Fran took us around to several rental
homes, occupied by their friends. We were truly amazed at how far
the dollar went in this rental market. We were expecting that rents
would be much higher for the type of property we were shown.
One house, which looked very much like an American home in a beach
community, with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths and about a 3 minute walk to
the beach, was renting for only $650 per month. We went to
another house that just blew us away, it was on a slight hill with a
swimming pool, view of the ocean, modern open kitchen and rented for
only $1200 a month. We were very impressed and very surprised
how far your money could go, in spite of having heard how much more
expensive it was to live at the beach.
The Beach Environment...
Let's talk for a moment about the beach. We
have already discussed some of the pricing issues of living there
and found out it was not as expensive as we were led to believe.
But what about that heat? Well again that depends on
what you are used to. We live in the Washington DC area where
the summers get oppressively hot and humid. Last year we had more
days with over 100 degrees and high humidity than ever before.
And we don't have an ocean or a pool close by in which to cool off.
During our time in Hermosa/Coco, it was not too hot for us. Yes, in the
middle of the day, it did get warm, but there are lots of shade trees
to mitigate the heat. The humidity was low and the
mornings and evenings were fantastic. So to say it's too hot
is really a subjective statement. One has to weigh it against
their own tolerance to heat and humidity. For us it seemed
The beauty of the beach cannot be denied. Both
Hermosa and Coco have wonderful crescent shaped beaches where the
water gently comes on shore. They go on for miles and are kissed by
the beautiful vegetation that comes right down to the sand line. The
water was warm and clean, and there was plenty of room on the beach
to get off by yourselves and just enjoy the sights. Both Dina and I
have always fantasized about living on the beach. Now we are
beginning to believe it could become our reality.
Living in a beach community has a
different feel than living in an inland town. The beach just
naturally brings out a way of life that (for us) is more relaxed.
While this can be good, it can also be bad. It is not uncommon
to see people who have moved to the beach and fall into bad habits
such as drinking. It is necessary that we occupy our time with
things that are important and meaningful to us; not just hanging out
at the beach and drinking beer.
Community Is Very Important...
This is an issue that weighs on our decision
about where we want to live. While we really met some very nice
people at the beach, we didn't get the same feeling of "community"
we felt back in the Central Valley. People in the valley seemed to
have closer friendships and were more involved in giving back to the
community and interacting with the Ticos. We didn't see that depth
of involvement nor did we feel (for the most part) the connection to
the local Tico community at the beach.
We think part of the reason for this
difference is the fact that many of the expats who live at the beach
do so on a part time basis whereas everybody back in the Valley were
full-time residents. They only live in Costa Rica for the winter
months than fly back home to the US in the summer. Therefore they
probably don't feel as invested to the local community as those
living there full time.
Therefore we plan to take at least another trip
to Costa Rica to try and resolve some of our uncertainties about one
area over another. Our plan is to definitely rent and not buy.
This way, where ever we end up, we won't be locked into an area that
may not be our fit. If that's the case we'll just move on to another
location and another adventure living the Pura Vida life!