Sep 16 2012

Costa Rica seems to have made great strides in 10 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff, Reprinted with permission. Links and photos added by

With holes in the highways and other daily aggravations, expats here may not always fully realize the giant leaps that Costa Rican society has taken in the last decade.

This country has progressed mostly due to outside influences. But it has progressed.

The Idea of Progress is a much debated philosophical topic that dates back to the Greeks. Still, expats can see real progress if that term is defined as easier living and even security.

Little more than a decade ago, dial-up Internet service was cutting edge. The valley rail line would occasionally carry some flat cars loaded with rolls of steel bound for a factory in Tibás.

Paying utility bills meant hours in line at the bank.

Need a cell phone? Get a number and wait months for your turn.

Clearly the improved Internet service has caused many of these changes. Now free and paid movies, millions of songs, video chats and e-shopping are available with just a few clicks.

But not all progress is linked to the Internet. Some stems from government decisions or even just accidents.

The valley passenger train line is almost to Cartago, and Alajuela is next on the list. Hundreds ride each day from and to Heredia.

Three telephone companies seek the business of Costa Ricans and expats. A tourist can pick up a telephone at the airport.

Private banks have blossomed, and even the state banks are now paying some heed to those strange words servicio al cliente, “customer service.”

Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia

Air transport has improved with the growth of Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia. A decade ago the airport saw a few charter flights a day. Now there is continual regular service.

Progress is a double-edged sword. Progress in Liberia cuts into the income of Central Valley tourism operators. Just 10 years ago nearly every tourist landed in Alajuela and spent the night in or around San José before heading to the beaches.

Nearly all spent a night in the valley in order to catch an early return flight. Now a growing minority of tourists have never seen the Central Valley.

Those tourists that have now can take the Caldera highway to the Central Pacific and the paved Costanera Sur with its new bridges south to such towns as Dominical. This was not possible even just a few years ago.

In a decade even the money has changed.

Tambor II Ferry

Higher up the coast the Puente de Amistad links the central Nicoya peninsula with points east. For those who prefer the ferry to visit tourist meccas like Montezuma, there is the $5.7 million Tambor II. This craft can carry 170 vehicles and 500 passengers, so the lineup of vehicles in Puntarenas awaiting space to board is history, too.

As far as shopping, one word says it all: Walmart. The retail giant has revolutionized marketing and helps bring in thousands of products that expats had to smuggle within their suitcases 10 years ago. There are more modern shopping centers on the way.

Also on the Pacific coast there is an increase in the availability of medical services. And Banco de Costa Rica can handle renewals of residencies nationwide.

Although the fact may not be obvious, police agencies also are improving their handling of data and training. There soon will be a new police academy designed to continue the professionalization of the Fuerza Pública. The judiciary and investigators are getting more electronics to do their jobs quicker. Oral court hearings are being introduced to cut down on the traditional paperwork.

Even education is available online, both for Costa Ricans and expats. Many expats work online every day, and not just in call centers and sportsbooks. Individuals can live anywhere now if they have the right type of job. Many of these choose Costa Rica.

Even traditional jobs are more now with the emphasis on outsourcing. Costa Rica has an international reputation as a host for medical technology companies and device manufacturers.

Some who came to Costa Rica to hug trees are unhappy with the progress. Yet the modern necessities are vital selling points for the many would-be expats who will sample Costa Rica as their future home.

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