Living in Costa Rica

While having breakfast in a picturesque village on the Carib­bean coast, a Canadian couple at the next table learned that I was writing a book on Costa Rica and we began discussing the idea of retirement in Costa Rica.
"I don't know," the husband said, "I don't think prices are all that great here. Some hotels where we've stayed charge as much as they do back home. And in good restaurants the meals aren't all that inexpensive, either. I simply don't see the point in retiring here."
"Well, if rock bottom expenses are your priority," I replied, "you are correct. Many places in the world offer cheaper living than Costa Rica, but is the quality of life the same? Is the weather as nice? Are the people as friendly? Besides, it isn't fair to judge retirement potential by the cost of luxury hotels or restaurant meals."
The hotel where we were staying charged $60 a night for a couple in a cabins, including breakfast. It wasn't a luxury hotel, but dearly offered much more than any budget hotel in the U.S. or Canada for that price. Yes, some Costa Rican hotels charge from $120 to $200, but similar hotels in many parts of the U.S.A. or Canada will cost far more than that. Restaurant meals? Go to just about any good restaurant in Costa Rica and check the menu.

Cost Comparisons
Let's forget about hotel prices and restaurant costs; they don't figure heavily in most long-term residents' budgets. More impor­tant is comparing the style of everyday living here with the lifestyle the same amount of money provides elsewhere. You would be hard pressed to find a place with so much to offer, for such reasonable prices.
In many foreign countries North American residents feel they must live in certain "safe" areas, for which they must pay premium costs. Because Costa Rica is not a stratified society, North Americans feel comfortable living in just about any neigh­borhood. This means a wide selection of rents and housing prices. While you can pay $1,800-a-month rent in a luxury section of Escazu, you can also find a nice place for $500 in a very livable area like Alajuela. Both places are just a few minutes away from San Jos6; both offer quality living with superb climates.
Utilities, a most important part of most budgets, seem almost free in Costa Rica when compared with the United States or Canada. Our last telephone billwas $16.40, and that included a $2.67 long distance call to Oregon. Water and garbage service would cost about $4 (but it's included in our monthly condo fee). Homes on the Mesa Central have no furnaces or air conditioners to drain money frombudgets. Electric bills for our condominium in Rohrmoser average $33 a month, a fifth of what we pay back in California. We have friends in Michigan who spend as much to heat and cool their homes as many Costa Ricans earn every month! Compare these bills with those in your own home town.
acording to people we interviewed, an average middle-class home—with three bedrooms and two baths—is taxed at the rate of $150 to $200 a year. (Many folks pay three times that much every month on their average homes in the United States.) Taxes on a mansion in the $500,000 range may go as high as $500 a year—rarely more than $700.not including beachfront which increase in tax price in 2008.
Besides affordable housing, utilities, taxes and food costs, what other bargains does Costa Rica offer? Oh yes, servants. A housekeeper-cook cleans your house, washes and irons clothes for $200 a month, and your gardener earns $2 an hour.
Is everything inexpensive in Costa Rica? No, of course not. Clothing prices will probably be the same as where you came from. Gasoline costs about the same or less: about $1.2 a litter. Also, since the bulk of Costa Rica's governmental income comes from customs duties, anything imported will be pricey. Cameras, TVs, electrical goods and other imported items will cost much more because of high tariffs. Tropical countries aren't suited to wine production, so drinkable wines must be imported from Chile, Europe or California. Since almost anything from Europe or North America is expensive, local consumers solve this problem simply by making do with goods made in Costa Rica or other Central American countries. Drink Costa Rica beer instead of Napa Valley wine.

Automobiles are expensive. New-car sticker-shock will knock your socks off with import duties of 100 percent of Blue Book price (plus sales tax). The cost of a Japanese import with a small engine is about $26,000. The same car might sell for $12,000 in Oregon! Something with a larger engine—say a Mercedes that would sell for $45,000 back home—will set you back over $100,000 in Costa Rica. However, the government has promised to do something about this, and plans to slash the import tariffs. Hopefully, in 2014 or 2015, taxes will be a small fraction of today's horrors.
Fortunately, public transportation is excellent and inexpensive. A family car is not the absolute necessity as it is back home.
Food is affordable too, with tropical fruits and veggies not only at giveaway prices, but also deliciously fresh. Costa Rica produces some of the best-tasting, grass-fed beef in the world; a fillet mignon in a San Jose supermarket costs about the same as round steak in a San Diego market. Some new residents here report spending a third less on their food budget as they did at Meseta Central, Buses travel all over the at frequent intervals, for as little as 28 colones, more for longer distances. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive.

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