Nov 16 2013

Why Are People Leaving Costa Rica?

“What do you think it means?” they asked us. “I just heard that another couple is moving back to the States. How many does that make now?” Of course, implied in that question is the fear that Costa Rica is no longer a good place to retire.
…and that’s a reasonable concern, especially if you are investigating Costa Rica as a retirement location, or even more so, if you are in the process of moving here. None of us wants our hopes and dreams shattered. But better to find out sooner rather than later, right?

Let me first tell you what I don’t think it means. I don’t think it means that people are moving back because Costa Rica isn’t a good place to retire. For us, and for countless others, Costa Rica has become our new home and we love living here. Has the cost of living risen over the last five years? Yes, of course, but where hasn’t the cost of living increased? Though, in all honesty, if you are choosing a place to retire solely based on the cost of living, Costa Rica probably isn’t the place for you. Does the country have problems – crime, bad roads, under-employment? Yes, but where is there a place in this world that doesn’t have those same problems? It’s all a matter of degree.

I think the real reason that people move back to the States is much more personal. Perhaps Costa Rica was right for them, but only for a time. Things change and people’s needs and desires change. I remember very clearly how I felt when I heard that our friends, Arden and David, were going to move back. They had lived here for five years and were two of our earliest friends. They were the last people I ever thought would leave Costa Rica, but when the first grandchild was born, and Arden held her in her arms, that was all it took. The pull of family became stronger than the desire to stay in Costa Rica. Other couples we know are leaving for family reasons of a different type. Aging parents, and the desire to spend time with them and care for them, becomes another strong pull for Baby Boomer retirees.

Others leave because leaving was part of the plan from the beginning. They decided to come for a specified period of time, be it 6 months or 5 years. Then it’s time to move on to another adventure in another place, or it’s time to go back home. For them, it’s just like changing jobs or moving to another state or province. Though moving to another country may seem to be a bigger decision, for these folks, it’s not. It’s just another move.

Sometimes, when the newness of living in another country wears off, and the inconveniences and differences become more irritants than adventures, people desire to go back to a more familiar place. Often, these are folks who sold everything they own, bought land and built a house right away, and that took up all of their time and energy. But once the house was built, they may have realized that they neglected to build a life at the same time. After all, how many gringo pot-lucks can you go to?

Others leave because of health care. Though they may have come here, in part, because health care is more affordable here and Costa Rica has a national health care system, they never quite trusted it or learned to use it. So, once they turn 65 years of age, they choose to return to the U.S. where they are eligible for Medicare. We know folks who have either made this choice or are considering it.

Some who come to Costa Rica as couples, leave because they have become estranged. Moving to foreign country can be especially stressful on couples who either don’t arrive “on the same page” or come to separate conclusions about their lives here. To be more specific, we meet a lot of couples who are thinking about retiring in Costa Rica and, for many of them, one or the other person is leading the charge. They love the idea of retiring to Costa Rica and are trying to convince their partners to love it, too. Sometimes it works; other times it doesn’t. Some of the more reticent ones agree to try it out to make their partner or spouse happy, but they eventually come to the conclusion that Costa Rica just isn’t for them. If the relationship is strong enough, the couple decides together whether to stay or go. And for the rest, they choose to go their separate ways, one person in Costa Rica and the other person heading “back home.”

Others leave Costa Rica because they have become disillusioned. They have had bad experiences trying to navigate Costa Rica laws and bureaucracy, either in day-to-day life or when trying to build a business here. It’s certainly not for the faint-of-heart. They just don’t do things here they way we are used to. Additionally, we know people who, for some reason, were robbed multiple times and believe that they were targeted because they were “gringos.” Perhaps they were. We can’t say for sure. But we can offer some tips to avoid much of this:

  1. Don’t buy anything, at least at first. Not a house, not a business, not land to develop. Rent, rent, rent. And wait to ship down everything you own until you’re sure you like it here. It’s challenging enough just learning to live in and understand another culture.
  2. Live inconspicuously. Don’t wear your expensive jewelry on the streets. Live simply. Don’t advertise what you have that others don’t have.
  3. Learn Spanish. Get to know your neighbors, both Gringo and Tico. Know what’s going on around you.

I know we say this all the time, but by learning the language, you have more options – for health care, for shopping, for business, and for your safety and well-being. And learning Spanish is one great way to keep the adventure going. There’s always something new to learn, new challenges in trying to communicate. It can be frustrating and difficult at times, but you’ll never be bored!

We all come to Costa Rica with big dreams and hopes. And, as Paul always says, we’re all trying it out, whether we realize it or not. Our friend, Mike, who just left Costa Rica after living here for seven years, says, “There’s a misconception that when you come down here, that it’s going to be for the rest of your lives. But things can change, and they will. If it’s not a new grandchild, it will be something else. So don’t be surprised. Don’t overreact.”

People ask us if we would we ever leave Costa Rica, or are we here to stay? All I know for sure is that we have built great lives here and have no intention of leaving. But…never say never. If the political situation were ever to change here, or the economy get so bad that we couldn’t afford to live here, then yes, we would probably move. But at this point, I don’t see us returning to the States. We would most likely move on to another adventure in another country – probably Ecuador or Mexico. But just as we couldn’t look five years into the future before we moved to Costa Rica, we are just as limited today. All we can hope for is to live every day we are here, to be true to ourselves, try to be part of the community, and to be hopeful for the future.

If you could know ahead of time how you’d feel after 5 years here; if you could know all the changes that would occur in your life, would you still come? If you could do it all over again, would you take the leap and make the big move? For some, I’m sure, the answer would be “no.” But for others, like us, the answer would be a resounding “yes!” Because, after all, the goal was not just the destination, it was the adventure.

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