Apr 20 2013

9 Tips to Find Your “Perfect Place” in Costa Rica

Okay, you’ve visited Costa Rica a couple of times, read everything you can get your hands on, and you’ve decided to retire here. The reality of such a big move hits you, and you want to make sure that every decision along the way is the right one for you. I don’t blame you. San Ramon turned out to be “just right” for us, but where is your “just right” place? When it comes to picking the right town in Costa Rica to settle in, we have a few tips for you.

  1. First, know that there is no “perfect place.” Anywhere you choose to live will require some compromises, either on the weather, or the size of the town, or something. We lived at the cabinas at 4,000 ft. elevation for almost 4 years and wished that we were about 500 ft. lower in elevation because it wouldn’t be as cool. Now we’re living in Magallanes at 3,000 ft. elevation and I wish we were 500 feet higher because it can really be warm some afternoons! That being said, we love where we’re living, just as we loved living at the cabinas. If you don’t demand perfection and try to live each day with a very pura vida attitude, you’ll be much happier here.
  2. Rent before you buy (or even forever!) The good thing about renting is that you aren’t tied into one place. We think it’s a great idea to just come, land somewhere, and then explore the other areas you are interested in. What is “spring-like” to one person is chilly (or too warm) to another person, so you need to experience it yourself to see if it would work for you. But that’s all part of the adventure!
  3. As a corollary to #2 above, if possible, do not ship everything you own right away (or maybe ever). Try to rent furnished houses or apartments at first. Once you have shipped a container of possessions, it becomes harder to be mobile; it’s more of a hassle to move to another house or town if you don’t love the one you’re in.
  4. Experience Costa Rica in both the dry season and rainy season before you decide where to settle down. Late September into October is the rainiest time on the Pacific side of the country, but in the dry season, by March and April,  things can be looking pretty brown here. The Caribbean side of the country has different weather patterns, with no extended dry season and rain at times throughout the year. You should experience both to see how you like it and how your body responds. Allergies can crop up for people during different times of the year (while other people find that their existing allergies go away once they move here).
  5. Maybe you want the conveniences of a larger town but want to live in a small town where you can know your neighbors and get involved with the community. Consider living in one of the many smaller communities that surround the larger town you’re interested in. That way you could get the benefits of small town life along with nearby conveniences.
  6. Remember that there are many micro-climates in Costa Rica. Sometimes you can be in the same general location but up on a hill or down in a more protected area and there can be a 5 degree difference in temperature. It might be windier if you are on top of a hill and not so windy if your house is up against the side of a hill. There are so many variables that it’s hard to generalize. Again, you just have to experience it for yourself.

    Microclimates 🙂

  7. Maybe you’ve always wanted to live at the beach but you can’t stand the heat day after day, and air conditioning is expensive! Consider living at a higher elevation near the beach area in which you are interested. When we selected San Ramon, we liked the cooler temperatures, but also the fact that we can be at the beach in less than an hour. We wanted to live in a place where we didn’t need heat or air conditioning and where we could keep our doors and windows open during the day. If you choose to live at the beach – which many people do – just know that you either need to be extremely tolerant of the heat or live in air conditioning (and pay high electric bills) for at least part of the day.
  8. Finding a great place to live is a very personal choice. If you haven’t done so already, make a list of what’s important to you in terms of access to the kinds of activities you like, climate, type of neighborhood, distance to attractions or shopping, etc. Our friend, George Lundquist, provides such a checklist to people who take his tour. If you would like more information about George’s Retire in Costa Rica on Social Security Tour and to receive his checklist, just fill out the contact form here.
  9. Your ideas about where you want to live and the reality of living there may turn out to be very different. Living out in the country may sound like a good idea but you might find you miss having neighbors close by, and the long trek into town to buy necessities could get old. Or, you might like the stimulation of living in town, with the ability to walk most places, but you find that you really want to be around more green and less noise. Maybe you are convinced that you want a top-of-the-mountain view, but you later find that the accompanying winds that come with being so exposed dampen your pleasure. I know that some aspects of our “perfect place” have changed over time (but after four years, we’re pretty darn close). There are many trade-offs you may need to make that you can’t even conceive of until you are actually living here.

So bottom line, when trying to find your “perfect place,” do your homework, make a preliminary, educated decision about where to land, and jump in! You don’t have to get it right the first time. Living here is different from visiting here, and there is only so much you can figure out ahead of time. Part of the adventure is getting to know this beautiful country first-hand and to discover what’s right for you.

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