We were recently interviewed by Dave Hogan from This Retirement Life. Dave and his wife, Kathy, visited Costa Rica for the first time last month on a Caravan Tour, which they thoroughly enjoyed. “Kathy and I had a wonderful time in Costa Rica on our 9-day Caravan Tour. What a beautiful country and what friendly people!” Dave wrote.
Dave wanted to interview us to learn about our retirement lives in this beautiful country. The interview was just published on their blog and you can read it in its entirety at Retiring to Costa Rica: One Expat Couple’s Story. In the meantime, here is a shortened version which we are reprinting with their permission:
More North Americans are choosing to retire abroad, and one of the most popular spots is Costa Rica, in nearby Central America. In the latest annual survey by International Living, Costa Rica ranked No. 3 in a list of the top 20 countries in the world for retiring abroad, following Panama and Portugal.
According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, more than half a million U.S. citizens receive Social Security checks outside the United States. By some estimates, as many as 70,000 North Americans live in Costa Rica, and many more go there as winter snowbirds or frequent tourists.
Few North Americans know Costa Rica as well as Paul and Gloria Yeatman, authors of the popular blog, Retire for Less in Costa Rica. They retired in 2009, moving from Baltimore, Maryland, to San Ramon de Alajuela, a small town in Costa Rica’s beautiful Central Valley. Since that time, they have conducted more than 300 tours for North Americans and Europeans considering retiring to Costa Rica. Gloria has written a book, Cooking in Costa Rica, that is available on Amazon. They are currently working on a second book.
This Retirement Life had the pleasure recently of talking with Paul and Gloria. Their comments will be invaluable to anyone considering retiring to Costa Rica or who just wants to know more about this unique and exotic country. Here are excerpts from that interview:
Q: Why are so many U.S. and Canadian retirees moving to places like Costa Rica?
Gloria: People come for a variety of reasons. For us, we wanted something different, we wanted to have a different life and do a little bit of exploring. Sometimes people come here because they are looking to live a higher level of life for less money and they think they can do it in Costa Rica or some other place. Usually those people get pulled into the idea of living in paradise for very little money. (On our tours) we never talk about paradise, other than to say there is no place that is 100 percent paradise.
Q: Should you retire to Costa Rica because it’s cheaper than living as a retiree in the U.S. or Canada?
Paul: We tell people on our tours if that (cost of living) is the main reason they are coming here, they probably won’t make it. You have to have a sense of adventure and an interest in other cultures. This idea of coming here just because it’s cheaper may not be the best idea. I look at it (lower cost of living) as a bonus.
Gloria: Not being able to afford to live in the (United) States is a reality for a lot of people, and healthcare is a big part of that. If you have enough to qualify for legal residency, then you have to join the public healthcare system, which is referred to as Caja. There are no pre-existing condition exclusions and there’s no age limit. What you pay, typically $75 to $100 per month for a retired expat couple, is based on the income you used to qualify for residency. (Note: Costa Rica requires at least $1,000 in monthly income from sources such as Social Security or pensions in order to qualify for residency).
Q: Healthcare is a concern for retirees. How is the quality and availability of healthcare in Costa Rica?
Gloria: When you look at the mix of public and private options, we’re extremely pleased with the healthcare.
Paul: We’ve had two surgeries here, both in the state (public) system. She had outpatient surgery, a pretty serious one because they thought it might be cancer, and I had my right kidney taken out. I was in the hospital for 13 days.
Q: Why did you two choose to live in the Central Valley?
Paul: We’re at a higher elevation, around 3,500 feet above sea level, so the climate is moderate, year-round. We have no need for air conditioning or heat, which keeps our costs down. In Baltimore, our utility bills were sometimes as high as $350 a month. Hospitals and shopping in the capital city of San Jose are just over an hour away, and the beach is only an hour’s drive.
Q: Whether we’re talking about Florida or Costa Rica, lots of retirees move there, find out it’s not for them, and then move back. Why do North Americans leave Costa Rica?
Gloria: The number one reason people go back is for family – kids, grandkids, and parents who are elderly. The second reason is for medical stuff. They don’t speak enough Spanish to feel comfortable using the socialized medical system here, or they have a health condition that can’t be treated here. You’re talking a small country, the size of West Virginia. They do most things well, but there there are some things they just can’t do here.
Paul: Most (medical) things they can do here. 99.5 percent, they do great.
Paul: The longer they can come down here on a trial basis, the better. If you can come down for a month, fine. If you can come down for six months, that’s better. If after six months you decide this isn’t for you, you’ve saved yourself a ton of money.
Q: Many people move to a new place like Costa Rica and immediately buy real estate. What is your advice?
Paul: We don’t even show them real estate on our tours. We recommend they rent, at least for the first year, until they get to know the country and see if they like it. Living somewhere is different from vacationing there. It’s the dream versus the reality; the expectations versus the reality. We are the voice of common sense. We’re going to show them the good, the bad and the ugly.
Q: You’ve now lived in Costa Rica for more than a decade. Any regrets? Would you do it again?
Gloria: Would I do it all over again? In a minute. I have no regrets for doing what we did, leaving the U.S. We weren’t running from the U.S.; we were going to a new experience.
Paul: At the end of the day, I love it. I love the whole international life. It’s so much fun; it’s so interesting. I’m living my dream, and I’m thrilled with it.
- Read the complete interview, Retiring to Costa Rica: One Expat Couple’s Story, at “This Retirement Life”