Living in Costa Rica: Paradise for the Expat Family
In this guest post, Mary from Bohemian Travelers shares her thoughts on why Costa Rica is often the number one choice for Americans moving abroad for the first time. Mary and her family spent five years living in Costa Rica. They’re now a nomadic family and have spent the last year and a half travelling through South East Asia. Mary’s blog, Bohemian Travelers, is a wealth of information for anyone interested in unschooling, family travel or location independence. You can follow Bohemian Travelers on Facebook and Twitter.
When we decided to make the jump into being expats, living outside our birth country, it was a huge step. When I say we researched a lot, I mean roughly 3 hours a day for months, maybe even a full year. Someone at a party once mentioned Costa Rica when we were expressing our desire to leave the US and in all our research of differing countries it remained the standout for many reasons.
As a young family of 4 hoping to expand even more, things like safety and healthcare were vital. But these qualities along with many others are what make Costa Rica stand apart from its neighbors for expats. To be fair we made our choice 6 years ago and spent 5 wonderful years there but after that time we decided to move on. Things like cost of living have changed a bit over the years since we made the move but I still feel confident that it remains a wonderful spot to make a new home!
Coming from the Northeast US we’d grown tired of the cold, snow, and ice of winter. So we were really excited to live someplace where the weather was actually what we wanted. In Connecticut you spend so much time either hot and behind closed air conditioned doors, or freezing and spending a fortune on heat.
Costa Rica offers a lot of variety in weather but it all falls into the warm and comfortable zone. The beach is hot and humid while the mountains offer some of the best temperate climates in the world. In the great small mountain town we lived in the daytime highs were usually 80 degrees while the evening temps never strayed below 60. Eternal Spring. No air conditioning or heat needed!
Safe, Stable Government
Costa Rica is perhaps the most peaceful country in all of Central America. The army was abolished decades ago and the government prefers to focus on the social needs of its citizens. The president is democratically elected and just recently became the first country in Central America to elect a female president.
There is some petty theft, but very little violent crime. I never felt uncomfortable traveling around the country alone with the kids. I visited cities, went to concerts in the evening, and visited nearly every area of the country at least once and never felt unsafe, day or night! Overall it is a very safe country.
Whether you are a young family or a retired couple, healthcare is going to be an issue. Many people feel that great healthcare can only be found in advanced nations, and as a registered nurse I was one of the many that felt this way. It was one of my biggest concerns when we decided to move to a developing country.
I was floored by what I discovered. Costa Rica’s healthcare is amazing. We received loads of care from having my 3rd son there by caeser to treatment for concussions, broken arms, stomach ailments, and more. The treatment was always first rate and everyone involved showed a level of caring that I had never seen before in the US.
There is a universal or socialized medicine so everyone is taken care of at least on some level by the government. Then there is also a private system you can pay for at a fraction of the cost the same services would be in the US. The private system and public system use many of the same doctors so the care is equal but in the private care set up there would be very little wait times.
Costa Rica was one of the only places I felt comfortable moving to from the US in regards to healthcare, although as I have travelled I see that healthcare throughout the world is above my expectations and certainly equal to the US.
Close Proximity to US
If you are from the US or Canada and wish to live in a tropical climate yet still be close to home, Costa Rica fits the bill. Only a 5 hour flight from LA or NYC, it is an expat lifestyle without it being an cumbersome inconvenience to return for visits. There are several carriers offering reasonable fares multiple times every day to either of the 2 international airports in the country. For people that have extended family or simply want the return to visit home to be short, easy, and inexpensive, Costa Rica is a great option.
Low Cost of Living
This is the category that probably has changed the most since we first moved to Costa Rica. Your dollars will certainly go a lot farther then it would in the US, Canada, Oz, or NZ but not as far as it would 10 years ago. People expect it to be dirt cheap and it can be if you simplify your life and buy locally. If you live in an expat community and buy loads of imported food then the costs could be even higher than in the US on a lot of things.
Costa Rica is a developing country but it is far more developed then any of the neighbour countries. Because of this and the fact that so many expats are now calling it home the prices have risen over the past few years. It is a case of paying for what you get. If you choose a place like Nicaragua, which is lovely and I would live there in a heartbeat, you will see a much lower standard of living and understand why the costs are lower.
Many Expat Communities
Even though it is vital to learn the language and embrace the local culture there is something special about finding a community of people that deeply understand you and where you are from. Because Costa Rica is such a great spot to be there is no shortage of expats to bond with. I do not recommend living inside an expat community because I think that it diminishes the time spent with locals but I do think it is a huge benefit to have the option of spending time with fellow expats. Even in the small town we called home there were many. It helps you feel more connected and can really ease the moving in process.
One of the most amazing things about Costa Rica is all of its natural beauty. Stunning and private beaches, beautiful mountain ranges, volcanos, and a diverse animal population, Costa Rica has it all. What better way to enjoy your retirement or escape from the rat race than to relish in a unique and gorgeous landscape?
Overall Costa Rica was a great choice for us and many other expats that we know still living there. If you are looking for a comfortable and beautiful place for a fraction of the cost, Costa Rica is the perfect spot to consider. Add it to your short list today!