Monday, January 20, 2014

Expat Life in Today’s Costa Rica

article from June 8, 2011
by Julie R Butler

Costa Rica, having been a popular country for expatriates from the US and Canada, as well as Europe for several decades now, is still a wonderful place to relocate to, despite the changes that have occurred through the years. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of retirement in Costa Rica today.

Standard of living

For North Americans, Costa Rica offers the advantage of being close by. And the stability that has allowed this nation to commit itself to social programs such as public education and socialized health care, however less-than-perfect these programs may be, offers everyone who chooses to live there the advantage that standards of living are relatively high, which means that problems that have their roots in abject poverty and social turmoil are reduced. Of course, this does not mean that problems do not exist there. But the possibility of lower costs of living in a spectacularly beautiful country that is not all that far away – just a few hours from the United States by plane – yet in a world all of its own, is a siren call that is irresistible to many.

I mentioned the “possibility” of lower costs of living because the truth is that the cost of living in Costa Rica is among the highest in Latin America. Many goods and services are now equal to or more expensive there than in the United States or Canada, particularly electricity (the price of investing in renewable sources), diesel and gasoline (all of which is imported), and other imports, including cars (high import duties). Costa Rica has long been plagued by the highest inflation rate in the region, plus the country has a widening trade deficit, exasperated by current high fuel prices and the high taxes that have been trying to keep up with the government’s large and somewhat inefficient deficit spending. That being said, it is still possible to live a simpler life with less spending by embracing the famous Costa Rican spirit of pura vida.

Pura vida

Utilizing green building techniques that emphasize low maintenance, local know-how, and awareness of the environmental; taking the opportunity to support the local community that low labor costs offer; buying locally grown produce or growing your own; eating healthy home-cooked meals with domestic ingredients instead of import brands; foregoing energy-sucking appliances like dryers and air conditioners; getting used to not having hot water on demand from every faucet in your home; not owning a car; needing less... all of these practice, most of which emulate the average Tico way of life, will minimize your living expenses.


Paradoxically, living the “simple life” in any Latin American country comes with a not-so-simple bureaucracy, and unfortunately, Costa Rica has managed to turn its residency procedures into an even bigger jumbled mess of complexity than ever before. The overall cost in US dollars of going through the process of gaining pensionado residency status appears to be about $1,000 per couple, although there will be other costs in terms of time and frustration, only to find that the submitted documents will take many months to be processed. Gone is the pensionado exemption on paying import duties on belongings brought into the country, and residents are now required to register and pay into Costa Rica’s socialized medical system.

The price of paradise?

So expatriating to Costa Rica is neither as easy nor as inexpensive as it used to be. Living there can be frustrating due to poor road system and other infrastructure problems. Theft and security is a serious issue to contend with, and living in a tourist destination has its drawbacks. Yet some consider all that to be a fair price to pay for the privilege of living in such a beautiful country that has a unique attitude toward at least trying to care about the wellbeing of both its environment and its citizens, and there are still many quiet places where nature’s peace and tranquility have no price.

see also (site appears to be up-to-date as of January 2014):

[Image via Wikipedia]

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler

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