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