An Expat Talks about Retiring in Playa Hermosa de Jaco, Costa Rica
What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Playa Hermosa de Jaco
Why did you choose to retire abroad?
The choice to move abroad was initially based on financial reasons. Our lifestyle in the US was expensive! There was a great deal of pressure to spend, acquire and move further up the financial ladder. We had visited Costa Rica for several years prior to moving abroad. We found the lifestyle to fit our budget with more emphasis on priorities such as friendships, family, environment and simple pleasures. We visited for so many years and several times a year we decided to take the plunge to retire. Why not live our dream instead of working to achieve it someday!
Are you retired abroad all year or part of the year?
Why did you choose the country you retired to?
Costa Rica was a country we had traveled for several years. Initially it was simply a great vacation destination. As the years went by, we spent more and more time in Costa Rica with each year traveling throughout the country to enjoy different coasts, mountains, beaches and various villages. After having spent so much time in Costa Rica, it was a natural fit for us to retire.
Did you ever live abroad before you retired abroad?
No, I had not. Vacationed many places but never lived abroad.
How long have you lived abroad since you retired abroad?
We have lived in Costa Rica for 17 years, full time since having retired. We visited Costa Rica for five years prior to moving and retiring abroad.
How many countries (other than your home country) have you lived in as a retiree?
Moving from the US, Costa Rica is the only country we have lived.
What have been the most challenging aspects of being retired abroad?
There are many challenges to being retired abroad and initially it is the aspect of not having the 9-5 pm routine with all it's familiarity. Add in you are now in a new environment, new culture, new surroundings, language issues to name a few. Leaving everything behind, including the familiarity of friends, family, work continuity can be very unsettling. Just getting out of the "comfort zone" is difficult for many people. However, you can look at this aspect as a negative or positive challenge. The manner in which you handle this change has a large impact on your success as a retiree abroad.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of being retired abroad?
The most rewarding aspect is initially the most unsettling. Learning a new language, making new friends and challenging yourself to learn and get out of your comfort zone brings great achievement and enlightenment. The rewards come from know you CAN do this! After years in a business environment or as a busy Mom, discovering what you truly can achieve during your retirement is astounding. Rediscovering what you enjoy in life (ah, perhaps you had totally forgotten who YOU really are?) and one of the best aspects is you feel like you are on vacation doing so!
What would you do differently if you were just starting the retire abroad process?
I would have worked more extensively to learn Spanish in my native country. Taking an evening class or even one-on-one tutoring. In Costa Rica, many people speak a little English but generally it will not be your car mechanic, repairman or bank teller. Being able to communicate is key and makes the transition smoother and less frustrating.
What is life like for a retiree in your city and its surroundings? (Is there an active expat community? Cultural Attractions? Recreation? Nightlife?)
We are thankful there is an active expat community. Many expats meet others at the local church which helps to organize funding for in-need local families. Additionally, there are environmental clubs for turtle preservation and dogs/cat in need of assistance from street life. The beach is the center of the community and you will find family beach/surf day or family fun activities. Expats gather to play cards, play horseshoes, sponsor children from other areas to experience the beach, It is very much all about giving back to the community and the country that adopted For the expats in the area, community service is key. For those enjoying nightlife, Jaco and Hermosa often have live music. The public community park hosts festivals several times a year focusing on art, culture, music, dance, crafts and local/international food.
What residency documents or visas did you need to obtain to retire in your host country? How difficult was this process? (Please describe)
In Costa Rica, upon entering the country you will be given a 90 day tourist VISA using your Passport. At the end of 90 days, you will be required to leave the country (most just visit Panama or Nicaragua for a few hours) in order to renew your tourist VISA. Generally 90 days are given and it is always important to check your passport for the number of days you were granted by immigration. If you choose to be a resident, you will need to qualify under one of five different categories. As an approved resident, you will not be required to leave the country every 90 days. Five of the categories to qualify for residency is as follows: Family relationship to a Costa Rica, pensioner, small investor, investor, or company work visa.
Did you buy a home or apartment, or rent one? Is this a difficult process? (Please describe)
We purchased our own home. This was an easy process as you do not need to be a resident to own property in Costa Rica. However, I would advise anyone whether renting or purchasing property to hire a reputable attorney to assist with the process.
Financially, has living abroad in your host country met your expectations? Exceeded them?
Living abroad in Costa Rica has definitely exceeded our expectations financially. Imported products such as electronics can run 50% higher than our native country so this is definitely a downfall. Some imported foods are expensive too. However, it is not difficult to learn to live without all the high end electronics and the latest gadget. Learning to shop locally for food brings your grocery budget to a reasonable level. Fruit and vegetables are inexpensive and living on the coast, fresh fish is a great deal! Property taxes are inexpensive and a fraction of what we paid in the states. Vehicles are expensive as is gas; however public transportation is widely available and very affordable.
What are the most important financial considerations for retiring to your host country?
I believe to live in Costa Rica you need to be very realistic on what will make your retirement fulfilling. Adapting to the local lifestyle is key. You will overspend here if you want to live the lifestyle you had in your home country. Imported products are expensive. When scouting out áreas to relocate, live a lifestyle as close as you can to what you expect as an expat. Remember that being on vacation as a tourist is very different than a full time lifestyle in your desired country.
How much can a retiree live on comfortably in your host country?
In Costa Rica, this is a difficult question as there are many different communities, some more popular with expats and others more with a local feel. You will certainly live comfortably at $2,000 per month. If you are renting, consider adding more to this amount. Again lifestyle is important to consider. High end dining and shopping, live concerts will be more expensive. Consider also these activities may not appeal to you upon retirement.
Do you have access to quality medical care? (Please describe - is it close? Expensive?)
The area has several local physicians which offer quality care. Additionally, specialized physicians in the area of dermatology, dental, obstetrics, psychology visit the area once a month from the Central Valley. Excellent medical care is available in the Central Valley 90 minutes from Hermosa and Jaco.
Is there a lot of crime where you live? (Please describe)
Petty crime is a problem at the beach areas of Costa Rica. If you leave your possessions unattended at a restaurant, beach, inside your vehicle, this is an opportunity for theft. Be aware of your surroundings and keep your possessions close. Do not leave items unattended in your vehicle such as luggage, purses, computers or cell phones. Do not flaunt large amounts of money or wear expensive jewelry. Common sense is key and many have no problem with crime by following simple rules and taking precautions.
Describe available transportation where you live. Do you need a car? Is there access to safe public transportation?
Public transportation is widely available to travel locally and throughout the country. Public buses are safe as are registered taxis. Public buses are the least expensive and very comfortable. Many have Wifi, air conditioning and plenty of leg room. The area is mountainous and I would suggest having a car to enjoy areas off the beaten path.
Is there high-speed internet access where you live?
High speed internet is offered and reliable. Several companies in the area offer internet service so you can compare pricing.
Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share about retiring abroad?
When retiring abroad, you need to ask yourself what is important for a successful and fulfilling retirement. The change of lifestyle can be difficult for some so don't expect to adapt immediately. One of the most important aspects is that you will have many challenges and it's a large learning experience on a daily basis. Adopt the lifestyle of your host country. Find humor in the differences and embrace the struggles you will have from time to time. Living abroad is the greatest gift I gave myself and the most fulfilling experience of a lifetime. I would not change a thing!
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