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An Expat Talks about Retiring in San Jose, Costa Rica

Jan 09, 2017


San Juan, Costa Rica

A U.S. expat retiree in San Juan, Costa Rica offers comprehensive advice on retiring and living there. Housing, crime, health care and more are covered.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

San Jose

Why did you choose to retire abroad?

I call myself an apolitical exile. I exiled myself from the political polarization that was happening in the US. I just couldn't tolerate so much discussion of politics and just wanted to get out and live more simply.

Are you retired abroad all year or part of the year?

All year

Why did you choose the country you retired to?

I knew I wanted to retire in Latin America because I grew up there, speak the language, know the culture. But I know that I am spoiled in the US, especially Texas. Things work in the states, everything runs on time, it's organized, the day to day poses few obstacles. So .... I wanted to take a baby step into my retirement in Latin America and chose CR. It's Latin America Lite.

Did you ever live abroad before you retired abroad?

Yes. In my youth. Seven countries.

How long have you lived abroad since you retired abroad?

Two years.

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How many countries (other than your home country) have you lived in as a retiree?

Only Costa Rica.

What have been the most challenging aspects of being retired abroad?

Finding a place to live. Since Costa Rica does not have addresses, it was difficult finding my way around at first and trying to find an apartment based on an ad that said "200 metros detras del Pali."

What have been the most rewarding aspects of being retired abroad?

Making new friends in Costa Rica. Not expats so much, but Ticos. I also enjoy traveling around the country on the buses which are safe and comfortable. I have my own routine. I walk a lot, eat healthier food.

What would you do differently if you were just starting the retire abroad process?

I really researched and prepared myself for this move. I think I would have spent another week looking for a place to live. I made the decision too quickly. Also, I brought too much stuff, I would bring fewer clothes.

What is life like for a retiree in your city and its surroundings? (Is there an active expat community? Cultural Attractions? Recreation? Nightlife?)

For me there is not enough cultural activity in San Jose and you really, morally have to pay attention or you'll miss an event, show, performance. Things are poorly promoted here. I don't go in for nightlife but in general Costa Ricans are not late night partyers like other Latins. I do not mingle with expats, but I know there are a LOT of them. My routine is walking all over the city, taking pictures, soaking up the atmosphere.

What residency documents or visas did you need to obtain to retire in your host country? How difficult was this process? (Please describe)

I have a 90 day tourist visa. I travel around Central America a lot, so my visa is constantly renewed, very easy. Just make sure that when you come you can show the airline proof that you are leaving within 90 days.

Did you buy a home or apartment, or rent one? Is this a difficult process? (Please describe)

I rent because I do not want to be tied down to a piece of property. Also property is expensive. My rental agreement was easy to understand, only about 4 pages (2 of them inventory of furnishings). I negotiated the terms from 12 months to 6 and the rent amount. It was not difficult at all.

Financially, has living abroad in your host country met your expectations? Exceeded them?

No! Costa Rica is far more expensive than I thought. I eat out a lot and most of the time the prices are equivalent to US. You can eat for less at sodas and the market, which I do. Buses are a bargain, but cabs cost far more than any other major city in the region: Guatemala, Managua, San Pedro. Also, since everything is exported, prices for shampoos, soaps, tooth paste, razor blades, and things of that nature are much higher than the U.S. Also, my rent is much higher than anticipated.

What are the most important financial considerations for retiring to your host country?

Well cost of living. Also, for me making sure I use credit cards with no foreign transaction fee, debit cards with no ATM fees. And several accounts in case for some reason one doesn't work or you lose your card.

How much can a retiree live on comfortably in your host country?

Depends on lifestyle. I eat all my meals in restaurants, go to coffee shops, have a big social life and go on a lot of dates, I travel every month. My expense including all this are around $3500/mo.

Do you have access to quality medical care? (Please describe - is it close? Expensive?)

My insurance provides coverage at Hospital Biblical, a private hospital with an excellent reputation. It is not close: two buses and a short walk. Or a 6,000 colon cab ride ($11.50). Minor things like colds, infections, etc I go to the pharmacy.

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Is there a lot of crime where you live? (Please describe)

Depends on what you call a lot. I don't think my neighborhood has much, I live in Rohrmoser. But I have friends in some areas with a lot of crime. For the most part, San Jose's better neighborhoods are safe. Last year was a very violent year for crime, however, with a spike in the murder rate. But I stay away from those areas.

Describe available transportation where you live. Do you need a car? Is there access to safe public transportation?

I do not have a car and I do not think you need one here. Every now and then maybe, like when people visit. In those cases I'll hire my regular driver and we will split the cost. Buses are great and cheap. From my house I can take a bus to Coca Cola, a short CBA ride to the 7-10 terminal, and a bus to the beach and be there for lunch. One way cost is less than $6.

Is there high-speed internet access where you live?

Yes. It's pretty decent. Also most restaurants and coffee shops have internet.

Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share about retiring abroad?

Make sure you have a plan. Research everything. Don't come with vices like drugs, heavy drinking. And make sure you keep busy. Hobbies, events, etc. I don't sit around.

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Costa Rica is has both public and private healthcare systems. When you become a resident, you must enroll in the public healthcare system (CAJA). Many expats use the public system for routine healthcare and have private expat health insurance for specialists, surgeries and emergencies.

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