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Costa Rica Retirement: What’s it like retiring to Costa Rica?

retirement overseas


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Nancy and a friend came to Costa Rica for a week to look for a place to buy. We made an offer on the first house she was shown. She saw plenty of other homes and even this home had two strikes against it:

  • It was on a gravel road
  • It was in a gated community

But it had so many other advantages we made an offer, which was accepted. Two weeks later, I came down to set up with the corporation, which owns the home (that's a whole 'nother post) and we closed the deal and became homeowners in Costa Rica. We moved a 40-foot shipping container of household goods and a Smart Car by sea to Costa Rica.

how much to live in costa rica

What's Costa Rica Like? Hits and Myths

Here are some of the misconceptions and realities about living in Costa Rica. What it's really like.

"Health Care in Costa Rica is Excellent."


It's a destination for medical tourism. Most of the private doctors have been trained in the U.S. They are fluent in English and will have at least one person in the office that is fluent in English. Within two weeks of moving here, we had to visit a local private clinic because Nancy was severely dehydrated. She got excellent care and we have used the clinic since then for all our medical needs.

When needed, the doctor has referred Nancy to specialists at various clinics in San Jose. Nancy recently had surgery and we were very pleased with the medical care. If you can afford private health care, you will be please with the quality and affordability. (e.g.: dental bridge, $4000 in U.S., vs. $1200 in Costa Rica.)

Costa Rica also has a socialized medicine program. For a very low monthly fee (required if one becomes a permanent resident), we are entitled to free medical care and free prescriptions. The drawback is that non-emergency treatment requires long waiting times. (e.g.: many months for non-emergency surgery) Drugs that are readily available in the U.S. may not be here - or they may not have the same dosage. And, all private pharmacies have doctors on staff who can offer advice for "routine" illness. However, even private pharmacies may be lacking. A friend was diagnosed with a heart problem and needs to carry nitroglycerin. The only place he could find it was at the hospital.

The World Health Care Organization ranks Costa Rica's health care one notch above the U.S

live in atenas costa rica

"The Culture in Costa Rica is like Texas or Florida."


If you are not fluent in Spanish, be prepared for some humbling experiences in your daily routine. However, in the areas of Costa Rica where expats live, English is readily spoken - sometimes reluctantly because of a lack of confidence. But, as with most other countries, if you make the attempt to use the local language, many locals will try to speak English. Access to goods and services taken for granted in the U.S. can be lacking. Nancy currently is on the lookout for Crisco Shortening! It's just not available where we live.

According to the Cost Rica National Survey, the average monthly income for the homes in Costa Rica in the top 20% was C2,027,385 (*US$4,049) which is over ten times as much as the C190,804 (*US$381) average monthly income in the homes of the bottom 20%.

The people of Costa Rica are not uneducated. The country has no army so they invest in education. Every child has the opportunity for a free education. The literacy rate is among the highest in Latin America - above 94%.

retiring in costa rica

Systems fail in Costa Rica with regularity. From post office computers being offline for two weeks, to electricity or water being shut off for repairs without notice, be ready for anything.

Life moves at a different pace. No fifteen-minute oil changes in Costa Rica, plan on a couple hours. Need a car repair? Maybe a day or two if the parts are available. A week if not.

How Much Money to Retire in Costa Rica?

"You can live in Costa Rica on Social Security."


To become a permanent resident in Costa Rica, the government requires proof of income from a pension or Social Security of at least $1000 a month. This is doable for two people. You won't be living the "Life of Riley" on that income, but it is doable. You will depend on public transportation (like most Costa Ricans) and will need to use the socialized medical care. $2000 a month income gives you a lot more options on where and how you live. $3000 a month puts you at a comfortable level, allowing you to own a car, do some sight-seeing, enjoy dinner out a couple times a week and still put away money for emergencies. It's not cheap to live in Costa Rica. Quality goods and services, especially U.S. brand names are available, but at a high price.

It's tough to meet the legal requirements to work in Costa Rica. However it can be done. Just don't move to Costa Rica thinking you can be a greeter at Walmart.

Retirement in general can be a challenge if one is not prepared. Retiring to Costa Rica definitely will be a challenge if you are not prepared.

Remember this advice: you can never do too much research about living on social security in Costa Rica.

More About the Van Pattens:

Going Like Sixty

Keeping You in Stitches

More Articles for Baby Boomer Women:

What to Take When You Retire Abroad to Costa Rica

Retire in the Texas Hill Country: The Natives Are Friendly

Baby Boomers Want to Retire in Southwest Florida

Retire in Two Places and Double Your Retirement Pleasure

What do you think of this article? Do you have any questions for the Van Pattens? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

Mark and Nancy Van Patten are in their mid-sixties and retired to Costa Rica in July 2011 to live on their social security income. He blogs at GoingLikeSixty.com about baby boomer stuff and living in Costa Rica and she blogs at KeepingYouInStitches.wordpress.com about knitting and other stitchery as well as her "adventures" in Costa Rica. If you have questions, please put them in the comments and they will respond - eventually. After all, they are retired... In friggin' COSTA RICA!

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  1. Don Reinhardt

    There's much food for thought in your article, but it does capture the essential points of interest to most readers, I think. I expect the movement from the US to other places will increase more and more each year.

    • Tina

      I absolutely agree. For one thing, living in Seattle is too cold for me. Long story... medical and boring. But, the cost of living in other countries is so much less than the US. So, I think you're right.

  2. Judy Kovacs

    Very interesting - thanks! Question - can you tell me why you discounted the other countries you were looking at? We're a few years from retirement and are also looking at Panama and perhaps Belize as well as CR.

    • Tina


      This is Tina. I will forward your question to the author. I'm curious, too, and I haven't had a chance to ask him. Mark is very upfront, so he's a good resource for answers.


      Tina Boomerina

    • GoingLikeSixty

      Good for you for looking at all the alternatives.

      Belize and Panama have advantages over CR, but we felt CR was a better fit.

      In a nutshell, Belize is was too hot and wet year around. (Corozal is the area we considered. 200 inches of rain in the hurricane belt)

      Panama housing seemed too expensive. Since we have moved we have talked to a number of people who moved to Boquete or David Panama and they report that daily living is cheaper, but it rains a lot more than where we live in Costa Rica.

      Good luck,


  3. Tina


    Thanks. I didn't write it. I live in the states, but the guy who wrote it is super. Might use your services when I get more articles on my site. Soon...


    Tina Boomerina

  4. Retire in Costa Rica - International Living

    You certainly hit the nail on the head as far as the motivation that many have for moving to Costa Rica and the reality of scouting your location and settling in. And thanks for your unvarnished look at the pros and cons of the country. It really does offer a lot to North American retirees as far as low cost of living and great healthcare. But it is a different culture and it takes some getting used to.

    • Tina-Boomerina

      Dear Retire,

      I didn't write the article, but I'll try to pass on the message to the author, Mark Van Patten. He is very honest and forthright about the pros and cons.


      Tina Boomerina