By Daniel Bukszpan, CNBC.com
A Guide to Retirement in Costa Rica
When the time comes to retire, not everyone wants a condo in Boca Raton. Many people want to spend their later years in another culture, one that makes them feel like they've stumbled upon a secret paradise.
One such place is Costa Rica. Its name means "rich coast," which is appropriate considering its location on the Central American isthmus. Its equatorial setting keeps the climate tropical year-round, and the Pacific Ocean on its west coast and the Caribbean Sea to the east make it everything the retired beachcomber could possibly hope for.
Just one look at some photos makes the tiny nation look incredibly enticing, but just as there's more to retirement than simply quitting one's job and not getting a new one, there's more to Costa Rica than its beaches. Therefore, those seriously considering picking up stakes to live there should look a little closer.
CNBC.com used data from the State Department, the Costa Rica tourism board and experiences of some Americans who have lived there to gain insight into the nation's economy, real estate market, healthcare resources and other issues that retirees should weigh when relocating. Read ahead to find out more about making Costa Rica your own retirement haven.
First Steps First Steps
The logical first step in finding out if Costa Rica is the right place for you is to see it for yourself. According to the official website of Costa Rica, visitors from the U.S. are not required to carry a visa to enter the country.
"U.S. dollars and major credit cards are widely accepted," the website says. "You will find ATM machines distributed throughout the country." Those wishing to get a more authentic experience can exchange their U.S. dollars for the national currency, known as the colón.
"Overall, the dollar tends to go farther in Costa Rica, which can be attractive to tourists and retirees," Benson said. Indeed, as of July 19, the exchange rate was 499.6 colónes to one U.S. dollar, and the sales tax was 13 percent.
According to the State Department, the per capita income in 2011 was about $11,562, the inflation rate was 5.3 percent and the unemployment rate was 6.5 percent.
Agriculture accounts for about 6.9 percent of the gross domestic product. Industries such as medical equipment, textiles and apparel comprise 26.1 percent of GDP; commerce, tourism, and services make up 67 percent.
Costa Rica has a tropical climate. The temperature varies depending on elevation, so the coastal lowlands have average temperatures between 71 degrees and 81 degrees, while it's 20 degrees lower in the high mountains.
The seasons are divided into two periods, summer and winter, but these are different from their U.S. counterparts. In Costa Rica, "summer" is the name for the dry season, and "winter" is the name for the rainy season. Summer takes place between December and April, and winter occurs from May to November.
The primary language is the Costa Rican version of Spanish. However, Berger said that many of the locals speak English, and that enclaves of American expatriates abound. "The expats tend to live wherever there's a killer view-hillsides and oceanfronts-so the expats tend to live in communities," she said.
Those communities offer some creature comforts to Americans who aren't ready to get away from it all just yet. According to Berger, in Escazú, a suburb of San José, homesick expatriates can get all their favorite comfort foods at Tony Roma's, TGI Friday's "and almost every North American fast food chain."
Retirees considering a potential move to Costa Rica will no doubt be interested in an age-old question- how's the food?
Luckily, the answer seems to be a resounding "delicious." Typical Costa Rican cuisine is a mixture of indigenous, Spanish and African flavors that go heavy on the tamales, chicken and fish.
"The Ballena Coast, where we lived, boasts some of the finest cuisine in Costa Rica since its first expat infusion was from France and French Canada," said Laura Berger.
Benson pointed out that while the traditional food is outstanding, almost any kind of food is available if you know where to look.
"I have found great Italian and fusion restaurants in San Jose," he said. "A personal favorite restaurant of mine is Kalu. … It's an art gallery and restaurant all in one, so it is visually pleasing with fantastic locally prepared cuisine. … Another great spot is Stashus Con Fusion in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast. The Caribbean chef specializes in curry dishes, and his fish tacos have won many awards."
See the full guide on How to Retire in Costa Rica
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By Daniel Bukszpan, CNBC.com