Costa Rica is a unique, tropical paradise which offers inexpensive living and retirement, affordable first-world medical care, the opportunity to start over, gentle breezes, lots of great outdoor sports, stunning scenery with sun-soaked, beautiful beaches and spectacular mountains. Add to all this a peaceful nation with political stability and year round spring-like weather in the Central Valley, and friendly people who love Americans and it is easy to see why Costa Rica has become top on the list of expatriate and Baby Boomer havens.
Recently, the Costa Rica Association of Residents estimated more than 50,000 North Americans living in the country. Many of which prefer the coasts, but also find the Central area attractive, where the climate is cooler and more services are available.
An Industry of National Interest
In April 2010, the Government of the Republic of Costa Rica declared the “Baby Boomers” and “Retirement Industry Cluster” of national interest, committing to support any initiative fostering this rising sector of the economy: continuing care retirement communities, aging services networks, assisted living projects and nursing homes.
The benefits of opening Costa Rica to retirees extend beyond the retirees themselves. The Government estimated that attracting 10,000 retirees each year could bring $340 million annually to the country, generate 40,000 jobs and indirectly benefit 30,000 other businesses.
And the gain extends beyond the dollar signs; retirees settling in Costa Rica bring their professional expertise which will help push development in the country forward. The great majority of people deciding to retire overseas are active people who look for things to do. That’s why Costa Rica is planning to include them in countrywide initiatives, in issues of research and development and ways in which they can collaborate with small or medium-sized businesses. Undoubtedly, this is an enormous opportunity for developing countries.
“We have all the advantages – health, climate, natural beauty, peace,” the former Minister of Competitiveness, Jorge Woodbridge said. “If we don’t take advantage of them, it would be a crime.”
Costa Rica Has it All
Aging people in the First World, the crisis of the healthcare systems and rising costs of living are among the reasons why an increasing number of people are deciding to retire overseas— and Costa Rica is one of their best options. Applying for residency status is easy, and simply requires demonstrating to be the beneficiary of a $1,000 pension outside the country.
Costa Rica has all the makings of a retirement destination: a comfortable climate, top-notch health services, close proximity to the United States and Canada and a stable democracy. While the country has been successful at marketing itself as an eco-friendly destination and a go-to place for medical tourism, the retiree population represents the next market for Costa Rican tourism and the medical services industry.
An estimated 7,918 Americans turn 60 years old daily, according to 2006 United States census statistics. They represent the age group with the greatest purchasing power and the group that spends the most on health care.
Lake Arenal, in the north central part of Costa Rica; Miramar, in the central Pacific province of Puntarenas; Cartago, east of San José; and Rincón de la Vieja, in the northern Pacific province of Guanacaste are among the locations viewed as possible destinations for retirement communities, or ‘clusters’.
Plans are well under way to develop senior living communities which include two very ambitious residential communities already conceptualized. Costa Rica looks forward to welcoming more than 1,200 active independent living residents who can enjoy the proximity to the international Liberia airport and world – renowned beaches like Coco and Papagayo in the North Pacific.
The Healthiest, Happiest Country
Don’t forget, Costa Rica has been declared the greenest and happiest country in the world, according to a new list that ranks nations by combining measures of their ecological footprint with the happiness of their citizens. This is the result of the Happy Planet Index (HPI), calculated by the New Economics Foundation (NEF). The United States is in the 114th slot in the table.
Costa Ricans top the list because they report the highest life satisfaction in the world; they live slightly longer than Americans, yet have an ecological footprint that is less than a quarter the size. The country only narrowly fails to achieve the goal of what NEF calls “one-planet living”: consuming its fair share of the Earth’s natural resources. The report says the differences between nations show that it is possible to live long, happy lives with much smaller ecological footprints than the highest-consuming nations.
As Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in his column in The New York Times “…What sets Costa Rica apart is its remarkable decision in 1949 to dissolve its armed forces and invest instead in education.
Increased schooling created a more stable society, less prone to the conflicts that have raged elsewhere in Central America. Education also boosted the economy, enabling the country to become a major exporter of computer chips and improving English-language skills so as to attract American eco-tourists.”
And again …“In Costa Rica, rising education levels also fostered impressive gender equality so that it ranks higher than the United States in the World Economic Forum gender gap index. This allows Costa Rica to use its female population more productively than is true in most of the region. Likewise, education nurtured improvements in health care, with life expectancy now about the same as in the United States — a bit longer in some data sets, a bit shorter in others. Rising education levels also led the country to preserve its lush environment as an economic asset. Costa Rica is an ecological pioneer, introducing a carbon tax in 1997. The Environmental Performance Index, a collaboration of Yale and Columbia Universities, ranks Costa Rica at No. 5 in the world, the best outside Europe.
Where People Live Longer
The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, on the country’s northwest coast, is reported as a Blue Zone where people age better and live longer by National Geographic’s Dan Buettner. Recently the International Living Magazine also wrote about these specific regions scientists have determined as places where the world’s longest-living people reside.
Researchers like Dr. Luis Roxero Bixbi, Costa Rican demographer, Professor and Director of the Central American Population Center (CCP) of the University of Costa Rica, spent nine months in Nicoya in 2007 to determine why so many people live well into their 90s and 100s—longer than anywhere else in Costa Rica…or the world, for that matter.
As reported by Dr. Bixbi and recently published by International Living, eight key reasons explain for this longevity:
- Diet- The people here are heavily influenced by the indigenous diet of the Chorotega, consisting of high-fortified corn and beans—healthy and high in fiber.
- Water- With loads of calcium, the hard water encourages strong bones and fewer hip fractures.
- Family Focus-The Nicoya centenarians tend to live as couples or with children and/or other family members from whom they get support.
- Eating Lightly- They eat a light dinner early in the evening (eating fewer calories is proven to add years to your life).
- Dry Climate- Nicoya is the driest part of Costa Rica, and in dry climates food doesn’t spoil as quickly, the sun is more intense, and people get fewer respiratory diseases and more Vitamin D.
- Social Networks- The centenarians here get frequent visitors and they know how to listen, laugh and appreciate what they have.
- Work- They’ve enjoyed physical work all their lives and find joy in everyday chores.
- Purpose- They feel needed and want to contribute to a greater good.
It’s the Cost…
There’s a great deal about Costa Rica that makes it an attractive retirement destination, but one of the most convincing factors is the cost. Health services, home care and the general cost of living are less in Central America than in most places in the U.S. While it’s important to note that government-provided Medicare insurance doesn’t extend to U.S. residents living abroad, with Costa Rican prices, savings last longer.
For people living on a fixed income, each day buys them less and less quality of life in the U.S. Not to mention that home care is becoming tremendously more expensive.
Retirement communities in Costa Rica are planning to offer monthly fees not exceeding the US$2,500 including services like: housing; health-related services; dining services; limited transportations; social outings; housekeeping; laundry services; fitness programs; on-site medical clinics; beauty salons; recreational programs and clubs.
Come and See
- As the cost of healthcare increases, the economy weakens and the American population continues to age, Costa Rica’s amazing healthcare system, promises of longevity, retirement incentives and exotic allure will start to become a common topic when discussing the American family’s healthcare needs and solutions. The remaining fact is that Costa Rica is a place where people live healthier, happier and….longer. Come and see it!