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Latin America Investment News on Viva Tropical

U.S. Expats Flocking to One of Latin America’s Safest Countries

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U.S. retirees are heading offshore and finding new homes abroad. One of the fastest, and one of the happiest, places to take up residency: Costa Rica.

Photo Credit: Market Watch

Original Article Text From Market Watch:

Retire Here, Not There: Costa Rica
Not long after you arrive in Costa Rica, you’ll likely hear at least one Tico (that’s what Costa Ricans call themselves) calling out a greeting. “Pura Vida,” he’ll say, which means “life is good.” Indeed, that’s likely to be true for many residents: Costa Rica frequently ranks at the top of lists on the happiest countries on earth (including in studies by researchers from Yale and Columbia universities and the New Economics Foundation, an independent think tank that focuses on economic change).

Among those expats were Gloria and Paul Yeatman, ages 56 and 66, respectively, who moved to Costa Rica 4½ years ago. The couple, who had been living in Baltimore, was hoping for somewhere warmer and less expensive where they still felt at home and safe.

They considered the southern U.S. and Mexico, but ultimately opted for Costa Rica in part because of the natural beauty, the decent and affordable health care and the “friendly people—both expats and Ticos,” says Gloria. They liked that the country has had a stable democracy for years, says Paul: “We just wouldn’t feel comfortable in a place where the government is unstable or there is a strong anti-American sentiment.”

Indeed, compared with most of its neighbors in Central America and the Caribbean, Costa Rica has been relatively drama-free for a long time. The country has been peaceful since 1949, when then-president Jose Figueres Ferrer abolished the army following an outbreak of military violence; his government and subsequent have redirected military funding toward the police force, education, environmental protection and cultural preservation.

To be sure, the U.S. Department of State notes that “the incidence of crime in Costa Rica is higher than in many parts of the United States.” But violent crime is relatively infrequent; Costa Rica’s homicide rates, for example are lower than anywhere else in Central America, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and considerably lower than those in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For detailed information, including U.S. embassy locations, check out the Bureau of Consular Affairs country-specific information for people planing to travel or relocate to Costa Rica.

Today Costa Rica is one of the most popular countries for American retirees, hosting about 50,000 U.S. citizens. (The total population is roughly 4.7 million.) “There are expats in nearly every town,” says Josh Linnes, the founder of Viva Tropical, a resource on retiring in Latin America—something that isn’t true in many other Latin American countries.

Many people are initially drawn to the area because of its natural beauty and wildlife. “You don’t come to Costa Rica for culture like a New York or Paris, you move to Costa Rica because the outdoors and nature is your museum,” says Dennis Easters, a real-estate broker who moved to the country in 2007 from Tampa. Costa Rica offers everything from Caribbean and Pacific beaches to lush rain forests to towering volcanoes. More than 10% of the country is protected national parkland, and it is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world.

Costa Rica also offers generally drinkable tap water, high-speed Internet and good phone service in most places, and a taxi and bus system that makes it easy to get around even without a car. Plus, the health care is high-quality and affordable, says Gloria Yeatman, who has had a number of procedures in the country. The Yeatmans pay about $55 per month for health insurance.

Americans who obtain residency status—which you can do by proving you have at least $1,000 in monthly income from Social Security, a pension or retirement fund—can enroll in Costa Rica’s public health-care system, where you pay a small monthly stipend based on your income and can get access to more than 30 hospitals and 250 clinics. International Living, a magazine and website devoted to living abroad, estimates that health care here is about a third to a fifth of its cost in the U.S. and that doctor’s rarely charge more than $60 per visit, even for house calls; private health insurance typically only costs about $60 to $130 per month.

While the cost of living in Costa Rica is generally more affordable than in the U.S., “it’s not as cheap as you might think,” says Erin Van Rheenen, author of Living Abroad in Costa Rica. “Health care and labor costs are a true bargain, but food is about the same, and cars are more expensive down here.”

The Yeatmans, who live in San Ramon in central Costa Rica, live on about $1,900 a month all included (they break down their living expenses here). But Linnes points out that other places that are more popular with tourists will likely be more expensive.

In some of the posh Pacific beach towns, you can expect to pay $4,000 a month or more to live in average accommodations near the water, and there are multimillion-dollar properties. While there are no taxes on foreign retirement income, gasoline in this country is expensive (often more than $5 per gallon) and though the country is small (about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined), it can take a long time to get around, as the roads aren’t the best, says Linnes: “As the crow flies, it’s all close together, but as a car drives is a whole other story.”

Still, it’s no accident that Costa Rica has become one of Latin America’s most popular retirement locales. Here are three places to consider retiring in the country.

Atenas
Pull up behind a bus in Atenas and you’ll see a sign that says “El Mejor Clima del Mundo,” which translates roughly to “the best climate in the world.” This tiny town in central Costa Rica boasts temperatures that tend to stay between about 60 and 80 degrees F. year round. Many expats live up in the rolling hills near town, with homes that overlook the region’s patches of emerald forest and sprawling sugar cane and coffee plantations, cattle ranches and orchards. “You live a laid-back, almost rural life here,” says Easters, who has lived in the town since 2007. “There’s a real charm to it.”

Atenas is small—the downtown area is a mere six square blocks built around a central park and a church in the center. But it does have a handful of cafes and restaurants, a centrally located farmer’s market where you can buy fresh local produce and meats, and a few banks, a medical clinic, hardware stores and drugstores. “Atenas is a place where some shopkeepers still close at noon for lunch and return a couple of hours later,” says 57-year-old Atenas resident Marietta Arce. There’s also an “eclectic” expat community that’s made up of about 70% Americans “from all walks of life,” says Easters. “They have a real sense of community—there are clubs that meet for lunch, a bridge club, gardening group.”

Though Atenas is quiet and “probably best for couples” because of that, retirees do like its central locale, says Christopher Howard, the founder of Live in Costa Rica Tours, a Costa Rican relocation company. It’s “close to everything,” says Arce: about 45 minutes from the beaches on the Pacific and a half-hour from San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city, where you’ll find shopping malls, theater, museums, major hospitals, an international airport and chain stores. “We can be at a really nice dinner or the theater in a half-hour,” says Easters. “But we get to come back here.” Plus, the town is affordable: A single expat can live on less than $2,000 a month and a couple on $3,000, according to Howard.

By the numbers

Population: About 5,000.

Typical temperature: Mid 70s

Nearest airport with U.S. flights: San Jose, about 30 minutes away

Nearest U.S. consulate: San Jose

Nosara
While many beachfront towns in Costa Rica have undergone rapid development, Nosara is more understated. “Development has never gotten out of control here…it is an old, planned community,” says Linnes, who moved here from California a few years ago.

That means you won’t find rows of gleaming high-rise condos and hotels right on the beach; instead you’ll discover a community devoted to natural preservation. Nearly half of Nosara is a protected forest, and you’re 30 to 45 minutes from the Ostional Wildlife Reserve marine park, where you can watch the “arribadaa” (or “arrival”), during which hundreds of sea turtles storm the black, volcanic-sand beaches to lay their eggs. Visitors to Ostional can also blue iguanas, mangrove swamps and vast colonies of birds.

Nosara has beaches that cater to all levels of surfer, the most popular being the four-mile, white-sand Playa Gruiones, and the town’s atmosphere is “very bohemian and laid back,” says Jason Holland, the Costa Rica editor of InternationalLiving.com. There are multiple yoga studios, an organic open-air market and a handful of minimalist and environmentally friendly “eco-chic” resorts. It’s also got most of the modern conveniences residents need, including several grocery and drugstores, a handful of restaurants and bars and a small restaurant and airport (direct flights to San Jose run about $80 each way). “It’s very Californianized,” says Howard.

Though this beach town is more expensive than many of its less developed neighbors, it’s “still 20% to 30% less expensive than many coastal towns in the U.S.,” says Linnes. The average property that’s within walking distance of the beach here rents for about $2,000 a month, he says. However, Nosara doesn’t have a large hospital and is “isolated,” Howard points out—San Jose is a five-hour drive and the nearest international airport is a two-hour drive.

By the numbers
Population: About 5,000

Typical temperature: Mid-to-high 80s

Nearest airport with U.S. flights: Liberia, a roughly two-hour drive

Nearest U.S. consulate: San Jose

San Ramon
Retirees looking for arts and culture, but not the hustle and bustle of San Jose, often end up in San Ramon, “the city of presidents and poets,” so nicknamed because so many writers, artists and political leaders (including Figueres, the president who got rid of the Costa Rican army) hailed from the town. San Ramon is home to a campus of the University of Costa Rica—the pre-eminent university in the country—and a couple of museums. “It’s a vibrant town that’s the regional hub of the area, so there’s shopping, mechanics, a hospital and lots of services,” says Holland. And it’s a little under an hour’s drive to San Jose, where retirees can find plenty more art and cultural opportunities, including a symphony, orchestra, movie theaters and more. San Ramon is also about 45 minutes from the Pacific beaches.

The Friday afternoon and Saturday morning farmer’s markets are full of locally grown produce and coffee, and they’re a great meeting spot for residents, locals say. Retirees looking to escape the city can check out Manuel Brenes, a tropical forest reserve that abuts San Ramon, as well as the miles of hiking trails in the area. Those looking to get involved in the community won’t be disappointed either: “There are so many opportunities for retirees to volunteer here,” including teaching English in schools and assisting with animal rescue, says 74-year-old George Lundquist, who runs a Costa Rican retirement and relocation tour company. Plus, the Community Action Alliance, an organization devoted to improving the lives of Costa Ricans, is an active volunteer organization popular with expats and Ticos alike, says Holland.

Though San Ramon is also very budget friendly—the experience of the Yeatmans, who live on about $1,900 a month, is fairly typical—its elevation (more than 3,000 feet above sea level) does bother some people.

By the numbers
Population: About 82,000 in the metropolitan area; about 14,000 downtown

Typical temperature: Mid 70s

Nearest airport with U.S. flights: San Jose, about 45 minutes away

Nearest U.S. consulate: San Jose

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From Market Watch

Latin America Investment News on Viva Tropical