QCOSTARICA LIVING (FamilyFreedomProject.com) What are some common misconceptions people have when they hear you are retired in Costa Rica? We’ve been living in Costa Rica for almost six years and have to admit, there are a few misconceptions some folks have about our lives here. Here are a few:
Where on the island do you live?
One of the most basic misconceptions of many is where Costa Rica is located geographically. Some people get it confused with Puerto Ric0, which is an island. First of all, Costa Rica is not an island. It is located in Central America, about 9 degrees — a distance of less than 900 miles —north of the equator. It is due north of Panama and south of Nicaragua.
Costa Rica has over 800 miles of coastline, with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. The entire country is about the size of West Virginia. We live in San Ramón de Alajuela, in the western Central Valley of Costa Rica.
Wow, what’s it like living at the beach?
Travel writers will have you think that beach living is perfect. You spend your day in a hammock, under a palm tree, with a Piña Colada in your hand and a cool ocean breeze blowing through your hair, while you are gazing at aqua-blue waters. If living at the beach is what you dream of, you can do that here. But the reality is that it’s hot, humid, and sometimes buggy on that beach, with temperatures sometimes approaching 100 degrees. Not only will the temperatures be hot, the cost of living will be greater, even for pantry staples like coffee, milk, and bread. And you will most likely need air conditioning for at least part of that day – which translates into higher electricity bills.
Costa Rica does market the beach, but living at the beach is just one of many options in Costa Rica. This small, mountainous country has many micro-climates (which you can read more about in our monthly weather report of temperatures and rainfall in four – soon to be five – towns in Costa Rica). These micro-climates are determined by elevation as well as “the lay of the land” – the undulations of mountains and valleys, ridge to ridge, and then down to the coastal lowlands. Like many expats, we live in the mountains at an elevation of about 3,000 ft. above sea level. Our temperatures are generally in the 60s and 70s year-round, with occasional dips into the high 50’s, and daily highs in the mid-80s during the hottest part of the year. We never need heat or air-conditioning, just like in most of Costa Rica’s Central Valley where about 66% of the population lives. And, even though we don’t have sand at our feet, we can still enjoy lying in our hammock and sipping an occasional Piña Colada!
Isn’t it a third-world country? Do they even have Internet there?
Instead of thinking of it as a third world country, think more “developing country.” There is access to high quality medical care and you can even drink the water right out of the tap in most places. While the infrastructure may not be as good as in much of North America, it is constantly improving. The roads have gotten much better in the almost six years we’ve been here. High-speed Internet is available in most places, though folks in some of the more remote locations must rely on the slower 3-G service.
Probably the biggest difference between the expats of today and the expats of 20 or more years ago is this access to the world. The Internet has opened up the ability to communicate with friends and family back home. You can still watch your favorite programs on satellite television, video chat with loved ones on Skype, and even work on-line. Without this technology, we would venture to say that most of today’s expats wouldn’t move to Costa Rica.
It must be real cheap to live there. It’s more like Mexico, right, inexpensive?
Again, North Americans often assume that it’s going to be less, a lot less, even “dirt-cheap” to live in Costa Rica. I guess if you haven’t done your homework, you might think that. Generally speaking, many North Americans are shocked at just how expensive Costa Rica can be. Compared to its neighbors, Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is more expensive. A recent poll showed Costa Rica as the most expensive country in Central America, and the 5th most expensive in Latin America. So, it’s not so cheap. Because of the higher cost of living in Costa Rica, quite a few expats, after just a few years, return to the U.S. thinking that they’re “not really saving money after all.”
Interestingly, we at RetireforlessinCostaRica.com, save about 30% over our U.S. monthly budget. As always, it depends on how one lives. The problem lies when most North Americans want to live exactly as they did before, but they just want to do it for less. We came to Costa Rica to live a simpler, different, and less expensive life. We’re not minimalists, though we do live within our means. For the last 5 and ½ years, we’ve been able to live a good life for $2,000 or less and we publish our monthly cost of living each month in our newsletters, as well as a yearly summary. We also published a series of money saving tips that you can use here in Costa Rica or anywhere for that matter. Could YOU live for less in Costa Rica? It’s all about your choices.
Aren’t you afraid? Isn’t there a lot of crime there?
Many North Americans automatically think that the crime rate is very high here, including homicides. They envision a lawless society where people are running around the streets, brandishing weapons, and engaging in shoot-outs over drugs and territory. They automatically lump Costa Rica in with Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the murder capital of the world. All of these countries have tremendous problems with crime and their governments’ inability to stem it. Latin America generally has had a reputation for instability, coups, high-level corruption, drug-cartels, and lawlessness. All they see on U.S. television is violence, violence, violence and, for many, that is reality. As they say, good news is not news, so people back home only hear the negatives.
Costa Rica, however, is a relatively safe country, with a homicide rate of approximately 8.7 per 100,000, most of which involves drugs or domestic violence. Quite often, the victims and perpetrators know each other. But this is not the reality of most expats retiring in Costa Rica. We have always felt safe here. The most common crimes here are crimes of opportunity – houses left empty are broken into, luggage left visible in cars is stolen, and cameras carried by tourists walking in remote locations are taken.
Living in Costa Rica is paradise, right?
Costa Rica IS a country with great physical beauty. There are beaches with palm trees swaying in the breezes. There are lush, green forests with incredible bio-diversity. And the temperatures are spring-like, all year round – no snow to shovel or ice to melt. So yes, there are definitely elements of “paradise” here.
But it’s not perfect.
The lush green that we see all around us doesn’t come without a six-month-long rainy season, with anywhere from 40 to over 240 inches of rain annually. Where we live, near the town of San Ramon de Alajuela, we get about 120 inches each year. That’s a lot of rain!
But over and above the weather, we are living in Costa Rica, not vacationing here. So, all the challenges people normally face in life, we face here – what to cook for dinner, how to live on a budget, how to stay healthy, how to deal with government bureaucracy, and even what to do all day. It’s almost impossible here to accomplish one-stop-shopping.
There aren’t super-stores on every corner, so we normally have to go to several places to find everything we want.
And then there’s the language barrier.
This is a country where Spanish is the official language and many Ticos don’t speak any English. While we can both speak enough Spanish to communicate, this can be a big challenge for folks who speak little to no Spanish. Bottom line – paradise, and life, is what you make it – whether you live in Costa Rica or anywhere else.