One of the most sought after retirement and relocation destinations among Americans, Costa Rica is known for its first-rate health care, low cost of living, and exceptional natural beauty. Each year, thousands of Baby Boomers flock to the golden sands and cool mountain towns of this Latin American country, which entices many to become permanent expatriates (or expats). If you’re pondering what it’s like to live in Costa Rica, here are some frequently asked questions and answers that may help you make a more informed decision.
Can I really live off my Social Security benefits?
These days, the average social security paycheck tallies just over $1200. Though it’s possible to live in Costa Rica on this budget, you may have to forego some standard luxuries like imported food goods, frequent travel abroad, and owning a vehicle (gasoline costs more than $5.50 per gallon!). If you’re frugal and eat and shop like a local, you may find that managing on less than $1500 is feasible. In light of rising prices on both housing and food costs, you may be limited in finding a rental that meets your bottom line. However, if you’re retiring with a partner who also draws on Social Security, your options for housing will increase exponentially.
Is temporary residency easy to get?
The short answer is both yes and no. If you come armed with patience and the requisite credentials to apply as pensionado (retiree), a rentista (annuity holder) or an inversionista (investor), then you’re on the right track. Some find they can navigate the application process solo, while others may benefit from a good immigration lawyer. In each case, you must demonstrate a specific monthly income and ability to stay in country for part of the year. From start to finish, getting residency can take well over a year, but compared to doing “visa runs” every 90 days, the hassle and cost are well worth it.
How do I apply for local health insurance?
Regardless if you’re still in country as a tourist, you can apply for private medical insurance through the INS. This will grant you access to the country’s top hospitals in San Jose and Guanacaste, including CIMA and Hospital Biblica. Yearly costs will vary on age and gender, but compared to the States, you’ll usually save at least 50 to 75 percent. Once you’ve gotten temporary residency, you are required to apply for health insurance through the Caja, which is Costa Rica’s public health care system. The cost to do is roughly 10 percent of your declared income. Both public and private hospitals offer highly-trained, bilingual doctors and many residents take advantage of both systems.
What is the local cost of living?
Housing is very affordable in Costa Rica. A furnished 1,500 square-foot 3-bedroom/2 bath home can rent for as low as $650 a month. Food prices are on par with the United States, with staples like butter, eggs and bread costing nearly the same. A night out for two at a mid-range restaurant will usually cost around $30. Electricity rates are higher, but if you live in the Central Valley where air-con isn’t needed, a monthly bill rarely exceeds $60. Where you really find bargains is the service sector. Housekeepers charge around $2 an hour, as do gardeners. And public transportation via the nation’s extensive network of buses is incredibly cheap – think $5 for a four-hour trip!
Can I bring my cats and dogs with me to Costa Rica?
Animal lovers can rest assured their furry companions are welcome in Costa Rica. Since there is no quarantine period, bringing a dog or cat is relatively straightforward as long as the animal has up-to-date medical records and vaccinations. Check with your local vet about necessary documentation, and be advised that several airlines have strict pet cargo policies, so be sure to verify all travel information months before departure.
How is crime in Costa Rica? Is it safe?
For more than six decades, Costa Rica has enjoyed a stable democracy, and famously abolished its standing army in 1949. Compared to its Central American neighbors, crime rates are very low, though petty theft is common in certain pockets of San Jose and tourist beach towns. Since the country boasts a large, well-educated middle class and has comparatively low poverty, incidents of violent crime are few and far between.
What is a good way to preview the country?
Although some people just come over here on a vacation a number of times, unless you speak Spanish and know what questions to ask and to whom to ask, that will not give you the rounded viewpoint that you should have. There are a number of retirement tours available to expose potential retirees to Costa Rica, but Chris Howard’s retirement tours would be the most complete. Having written many books about Costa Rica, and having lived here over 25 years and speaking Spanish fluently, you’ll get a good overview of the country and a realistic appraisal if you should retire here or not. He also coordinates with Association of Residents of Costa Rica, (ARCR) for his clients to attend their seminars while on tour.