Surfers, eco-types and hippies of all ages have been flocking to Costa Rica for decades — and for good reason.
Take Robbie Felix. The former Silicon Valley headhunter moved to Costa Rica in 2000 to the Pacific coast town of Quepos, where she bought Hotel California. There, she fell in love with Costa Rica's jungle, and most of all, a lifestyle that includes running on the beach at dawn and listening to monkeys on her roof every evening.
"Costa Rica reminds me of Hawaii 40 years ago — this area is still so untouched, with air that's so clean and water that's pure," she says. "When Costa Ricans talk about pura vida, I think they are talking about places like this."
What jobs can I find?
"For sure, the high-tech industry is growing here," says Felix. "We have a lot of people who work on the Internet with an international clientele." It will cost you more than it might in the States to get set up, but know that Costa Rica has the infrastructure for high-speed fiber-optic cable lines. Plus, the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency, aka CINDE, helps establish high-tech businesses in the country. "The government really, really wants more high-tech businesses here," says Felix.
One of the other safe bets is tourism. "There are always a lot of services missing," says Felix. As a vegan, she's noticed a lack of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, which prompted her to open her own, Eva's Garden. But she sees so much growth potential for coffee shops, cafes and other traveler-centric offerings.
Where do I buy groceries?
"If you like processed food, you will be paying an extremely high price, especially for anything imported," says Felix. "But, if you learn to enjoy local produce, prices are extremely low."
Because of Costa Rica's micro-climates, the mountains yield potatoes, carrots and broccoli, while the hotter coastal areas deliver a bounty of bananas, mangoes, papayas and the like.
"Farmers markets are everywhere," says Felix. "What's missing are the prepared foods, like the takeout items you'd find at Whole Foods Market. That's actually a plus — it makes me healthier because I end up cooking my own food." Another boon for her health is that neither of her two biggest vices, donuts and Red Vines, can be found locally.
What are the healthcare options?
Most noticeably absent are specialists. Felix couldn't find a rheumatologist matching her standards, but she says even that turned out in her favor. "I ended up relying on natural remedies. I came here with lupus and arthritis, and I don't have a problem with either anymore," she says.
As for hospitals, the public health care system isn't comparable to much of what can be found in the States, but luckily, private hospitals are an option — and their services are significantly cheaper, explaining why Americans often trek to Costa Rica for elective surgeries. For most expats, the private hospitals are the better option when illness strikes. This past January, Felix suffered bronchitis and needed a six-day hospital stay.
"I went to the best private hospital, definitely world class, and the bill only came to $4,000. The most expensive part was a $6,000 medication that came from the U.S.," says Felix, who estimates that a similar stay in the States would cost at least $100,000.
How do I bring my pets?
Bringing cats and dogs into Costa Rica isn't complicated, provided you have the correct paperwork. Dogs need proof of vaccination against distemper, hepatitis, Leptospirosis, parvovirus and rabies. For cats, all that's required is proof of rabies vaccination.
Will online retailers deliver?
So many American expats have moved to Costa Rica and are shopping online that the post office can't handle the volume. Most locals instead opt for private mail services — such as Aerocasillas, one of seven such services — to receive packages and deal with the customs.
Another organization, The Association of Residents of Costa Rica, or ARCR, will help you through the process of moving to Costa Rica. "They help people find honest, fair, reputable companies to move their stuff to Costa Rica," says Felix. When she moved to Costa Rica, she came with 15 boxes and a car, which was taxed heavily. "One tip to save money is to bring your car to Panama and then drive up — you'll pay much less in taxes that way," she adds.