I’ve lived in Costa Rica for the past eighteen years, I’m naturalized as a Costa Rican Citizen (I vote in elections), my wife is Costa Rican, I’m a practicing Attorney in San Jose, and I have also travelled around Latin America fairly extensively.
The most common topic of discussion that I see on ex-pat internet news and discussion web sites, is the cost of living comparisons of one destination country versus another. I would be the first to admit, that Costa Rica is not an inexpensive retirement destination. However, except for those retirees forced to live in the most frugal of circumstances, should the cost of living play such an important role in your choice of retirement destinations? In my opinion, it should not.
Wherever you choose to live in Latin America, there will be the obvious differences in societal norms that you will have to make compromises and adjustments for, in coming from countries such as the U.S. and Canada, which have their traditions based on British, rather than Latin social principles. For some, this will be a relatively easy adjustment to make, but for others, it will be the “deal breaker”.
Having surpassed this hurdle of social compromising and assuming that frugality is not a necessity in your choice of retirement destinations, I would suggest that the most important considerations in choosing a Latin American retirement destination would be the quality of life offered and that of personal security.
In my opinion, the quality of life offered in Costa Rica is very high in comparison with its Latin American counterparts. Costa Rica has had a very long and close association with the U.S. and Canada, with Free Trade Agreements in effect with both Countries. Consumer goods are available and prevalent from both, particularly in the San Jose Metropolitan area and larger centers of population throughout the Country.
Scheduled airline connections to North American destinations are numerous, with airline connections to Europe and other Latin American destinations increasing at an exponential rate.
The climate is one of Costa Rica’s most significant attributes, with the mountainous topography in the interior of the Country providing a myriad of micro-climates, varying from true tropical climates on the coast to cooler climates at altitude in the interior regions.
The Central Valley, where the capital city of San Jose is located and the majority of the Costa Rican population resides, is on-average, 3,500 feet above sea level, providing very agreeable year-round temperatures, similar to my hometown of Victoria, B.C.’s summertime temperatures. Good quality medical and dental services are also readily available at very affordable prices, with highly trained professionals in both categories.
Personal income taxation is only levied by Costa Rica on a territorial basis, which means that income from offshore sources, such as investment and pension income, is not taxed by Costa Rica. As an example of less friendly jurisdictions with respect to taxation, Ecuador has just instituted an Asset Tax of 1% of the value of all assets of an individual located within the Country, foreigner’s included, to help pay for the recent earthquake damage.
Personal security is also an important attribute of any country chosen to feel comfortable with. Costa Rica is again at the fore-front in this category, when compared with its neighbouring Latin American countries. Secure living arrangements are available throughout the Country, varying from free-standing homes in residential communities to gated and guarded condominium developments of every type of housing configuration.
Although violent crime does exist, it tends to be centered on dispute resolution between rival gangs, or cartels, involved in the drug trade. Like any countries in the world, there are practical solutions to be considered, such as avoiding certain known “bad” neighbourhoods, or parts of a country, known to harbour individuals engaged in criminal activity.
Costa Ricans, have lived without a standing Army since 1948, and are peace-loving people by nature, which contributes to the aspect of the high level of personal security enjoyed by its citizens, over-all.
It will be difficult to find an absolutely perfect retirement destination in all aspects, but in my opinion, Costa Rica is as close as it gets.