We met many interesting people during our trip, and it seems that everyone has different reasons for moving to Costa Rica, with the two most common are cost of living and climate. Here are 5 reasons why moving to Costa Rica works for me.
I prefer hot weather over cold, by far. Costa Rica is in the tropics, where there are two seasons: Dry and Wet. The majority of the population lives in the Central Valley, around the capital of San Jose. San Jose is about 4000ft above sea level and has a mild climate, with temperatures ranging between 59 and 79. What’s really cool is that you can pick the exact climate you want. Go for a higher elevation for cooler temperatures, or go lower for warmer. Our first destination will probably be Atenas – an hour or so from San Jose and warmer. A better climate also has monetary benefits, leading to…
2. Cost of Living
Things can be much cheaper there, but it all depends on how you live. If you want to recreate American suburban life, you can do it – probably at a similar cost to the US. The per capita monthly income is $425, so there are plenty of Ticos (ie Costa Ricans) living cheaply. Rents for a 2-3br house/apartment/condo can range from $180-$2000 so you can pick a budget and find a place that’s right for you. I don’t want to pay more than $500/mo for rent, cutting one major monthly expense in more than half.
A better climate also affects cost of living – there’s no need to heat a house. Unless, of course, you choose to live at an elevation where a fireplace is needed for occasional heat. I’m sure that won’t cost thousands annually like heating a home in winter.
Food – particularly fresh produce and meat – can be a lot cheaper if you opt to buy at farmer’s markets (ferias) instead of Western-style supermarkets. The overhead required to pay salaries for executives and rent for stores add quite a lot to the cost of food. Buying directly from farmers means your food is fresher too – and that almost always tastes better.
I priced full coverage health insurance for the 4 of us and it comes to $2600 annually (including coverage in the US, as long as we don’t live in the US). That’s on the expensive side and it’s still less per month than many families in the US pay. A retired couple could join the national healthcare system for only $37/mo. Many expat residents do a combo of both, reducing insurance to cover only catastrophic stuff and paying for prescriptions out of pocket. Someone we met had a root canal done for $120 – her dentist in the US had quoted over $1000. She had a nice vacation and still saved money by having it done in Costa Rica. I’ve heard of hospital births for $3500. Prescriptions for practically pennies. If you’re concerned about the quality of healthcare – fear not. Costa Rica is the first country to be covered for urgent care by Medicare. And there’s that little World Health Organization healthcare rankings from 2000 where Costa Rica clocks in at #36 right before America.
3. Quality of Life
This one is very subjective – your idea of a good life might mean living large near a lot of amenities, or it might mean roughing it in the middle of nowhere. For me, it’s somewhere in between. With the lowered cost of living, I can work a lot less than I do now. (probably going from 50-60hrs/wk to 10-20hrs/wk) That gives a lot more time to enjoy life – to be with Trish & the kids, enjoy the great outdoors and pursue all the things I’d do if I didn’t have to work. Like learning how to animate, writing stories for children or building Lego. (somehow the lists of stuff I want to do never involve working)
We’d be able to afford to travel more too – there’s a lot of places in Central and South America I’d like to explore – the Amazon, Buenos Aires, Mexico, Patagonia, Machu Picchu. We should be able to save up for a trip to India too. Living a rich life with the opportunity for such great experiences would be great for unschooling – and it beats eking out a living in suburbia.
4. the Natural World
Like the US, the natural beauty in Costa Rica is stunning. Except it’s about the size of West Virginia. Beautiful crescent beaches, mountains, valleys, volcanoes, rich green leaves almost everywhere. And there are neat plants and animals up the wazoo, with 5% of the world’s biodiversity in 0.1% of the landmass. In the short time we were there I saw sloths, howler monkeys, countless birds, butterflies and plants. I’ll gladly trade carpenter ants for leafcutter ants. Though I do have some fear about some of the creatures we didn’t see yet – venomous snakes, tarantulas & scorpions. I’m sure one or more of those will add some excitement to our days at some point.
5. the People
We met a lot of interesting people there, and we had a lot of wonderful interactions with Ticos as well. Ticos live up to their kid-friendly reputation. They do seem to love kids, and M & J were often smiled at and complimented by strangers. I found myself smiling a lot more too – it’s infectious.
The expats we met were quite interesting too. We ran into quite a few in all the areas we visited. We met several through Vida Tropical, where we started and ended our trip. Everyone we met was inspiring in some way or another. There’s something different about being an expat in Costa Rica, and we had a lot of discussions sharing the how and why people pick Costa Rica. I liked meeting people who dare to make their dreams real, who make the brave choice to follow their hearts. I look forward to meeting many of the people again.
The people may well be the most important part – all the beauty in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the community around you is empty. There were many times when I talked with shopkeepers where, in spite of the differences in language, that I just felt comfortable. Meeting other like-minded expats was gravy after that.