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

retirement house atenas costa rica

by Mark Van Patten

What's it like retiring to Costa Rica? Wherever you are living now, imagine how you would answer that question if somebody was considering retiring there.

  • What's it like retiring to Seattle?
  • What's it like retiring to Scottsdale?
  • What's it like retiring to Sarasota?

The correct answer is one that incontinent boomers know about:


Retire to Costa Rica on Social Security?

There is no definitive answer because each of us brings different wants and needs and expectations to our new retirement home. But, after 20 months of living in Costa Rica fulltime, we feel qualified to offer advice about retiring to Costa Rica and living on Social Security.

retire in costa rica

No Money for Retirement

I was working as general manager of a newspaper, my wife retired years ago. When the crash hit the market and our savings plummeted, I figured retirement was a pipe dream. We had spent too much and saved too little even before the crash. Recovering the money to get us to half what the financial experts said we would need for retirement was impossible. Typical Midwest middle-class folks.

I whined to anyone that would listen that I could NEVER afford to retire. Until Nancy, my wife, surfed across stories and blogs from people like us who were retiring abroad.

We started researching this option and came to the conclusion that it was doable for us.

Costa Rica, That’s an Island Right?

If you are considering retiring to Costa Rica – or any other country outside the U.S. – be prepared to spend countless hours on the internet doing research. Due diligence some call it. Many evenings were spent in our recliners in front of the television, each of us with a laptop open, surfing the web to find anything about living in Costa Rica.

We would email or instant message interesting stuff to the other person sitting across the room. It requires discipline and patience, but if two of you are making the move and will be living together, you better make sure the other person has fully committed to the idea and is doing research too.

Gut Check

After you have spent the first hundred hours doing research, it's time for a gut check. This is hard. This is the time when you have to do some self-analysis and communicate with your partner your deepest thoughts and emotions about retiring abroad.

Keep No Secrets – Tell No Lies

Now is not the time to keep a secret from your spouse, partner or family, or fudge a little bit about your true feelings. If you have reservations about living outside the U.S., get them out in the open now. This is not a vacation. This will be a life changing experience.

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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