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In January of 2011, I was privileged to have a conversation with two experts on retiring in Costa Rica: Christopher Howard and Robert Shannon. Christopher Howard is a world-renowned expert on Costa Rica. His best-selling book The New Golden Door toRetirement and Living in Costa Rica is available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Golden-Door-Retirement-Living-Costa/dp/1881233650/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1295044029&sr=1-3. Wall Street Journal said, 'If you want to live or invest in Costa Rica, READ this book.' Christopher has published more than 10 books on living, retiring and investing in several of the countries in Central America. Christopher also did a special on Costa Rica for the National Geographic magazine. Read Christopher's blogs and find out about his retirement relocation tours at www.liveincostarica.com.
Robert Shannon helps people find the right property for retiring, vacationing or investing in Costa Rica. His website and tours provide detailed information on buying a property in Costa Rica, as well as cost of living, owning a business and many other practical concerns. You will also find Robert's blogs on http://www.costaricaretirementvacationproperties.com/
If you are not familiar with the beauty of Costa Rican nature, visit the official site of Costa Rica to browse the images http://www.visitcostarica.com
Julia Valentine: Christopher, do you think that Costa Rica is becoming a more viable option for retirement?
Christopher Howard: More and more people are looking offshore. Costa Rica is one of the best choices for all the amenities it has to offer. It’s “user-friendly” to Americans: has a dish network, shopping malls, movies in English.
JV: What are some of the negatives that people worry about?
CH: People hear about the bad things going on in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua. But Costa Rica is apart from that. It has been a democracy for 60 years. We don’t have an army. People feel safe investing here. There really aren’t a lot of issues like they have in other countries in Central and Latin America. There really shouldn’t be any hesitation to coming here. It’s a different breed of animal!
JV: Robert, you take people on retirement tours. What kind of mindset do people come with?
Robert Shannon: People I meet are seriously interested in relocating here. Our objective is different from Christopher’s. They’re at a stage with us where they want to see properties and locations.
People today are skeptical about pricing. Some of them have already taken losses in real estate in their home country.
JV: They want value.
RS: They want value and they want to make sure they have the right location, because this is a major move. We profile very carefully before we begin our tours. We have a wide choice or properties and locations. We focus primarily on people's personal needs, lifestyle and their budget.
JV: Your website says, if you have a budget of $2,000 a month, you can get a lot of things. But that is in addition to buying a house, right?
RS: Yes, we’re assuming that the house is purchased. You need to have a house paid for, and your first car bought.
JV: And then, what does $2,000 a month buy you?
RS: If you are a couple and your needs are very modest, you are not world travelers or big party people, you can live very well. You can find a detailed budget on my website.
JV: So, what are you trading off? For $2,000 a month, you could do well in Florida, if you have your house purchased. Why would you come to Costa Rica instead of Ft. Lauderdale?
CH: Costa Rica is a nature lover’s Disneyland! If you’re into outdoors, here you have everything to stay busy: beaches, rafting, hiking, in addition to all sorts of indoor things like clubs and activities. A sense of adventure – and I don’t think you have it in Florida!
RS: The type of person who gets attracted to Costa Rica wants a change in environment. You live in New York City – fast forward to your retirement, and you might want a change of scene! You might want to change it, slow it down. They want beauty, peace. This is their mindset. Even though they haven’t had it all their life… You can spend all your life in Costa Rica and never see all of the place, what nature has to offer here!
CH: Another thing to mention is weather. In Central Valley, it’s 72 degrees year-round. In Florida, summers are sweltering. I don’t have air conditioning, or need it, in my home.
RH: A lot of people are in need of having ex-pats around them. A lot of questions I get are about American communities here. There are communities populated heavily by Americans. Some not so. One of the questions I always ask is, “Do you speak Spanish?” A lot of people’s reaction is, “No, but I’m going to learn!”
JV: Something new to do: retire, travel, learn a new language and culture.
RS: Costa Ricas are especially good at helping you out if you are not good at it, and a lot of them speak English.
CH: Yes, that’s true.
JV: Are people concerned about crime?
CH: There’s crime all over the world. Show me a society with no crime, and I’ll move there. There are some concerns. But I’ve been here 31 years, believe me, if I felt it was a dangerous situation for my family, I would not be here. Compared to other countries in Central America, the crime is much lower here. A lot of places in the U.S. have much more crime. 90% of avoiding it is just using common sense.
RS: That’s a very good point – common sense! On our tours – we call them lifestyle and real estate tours – we tell people, “You don’t want to come here, leave your guard down and ask for problems.” So, we recommend a gated, secure community. If you want to live outside of one, which a lot of people do, then you have a resale problem and a crime problem.
CH: Before people come to Costa Rica, they have a preconceived idea of what everything is like. They think it’s like the States. You need to follow the rules of the country – the Ins and Outs, the Do's and Don’ts, and you can live perfectly fine.
JV: What is the worst possible story you’ve ever heard? Someone who packed up and moved back saying, “This is totally not for me!”
CH: A certain number of people who move here move back after a while. Like people in the States, moving from New York to Miami and back. But they have to come here to find out. But once they come here and fall in love with the place, you couldn’t drag them out of here.
RS: In our company’s interviews with people, we try to identify early on if they’ve got ties to drag them back. So, it becomes a foolish move. A lot of times, people come here with a lot of bad information. We have to let them know that all that glitters in not gold for everybody!
JV: You mentioned a few important factors of a successful experience in Costa Rica: an easy, convenient way to get back home to see the loved ones, being tolerant of cultural differences and being patient because many things take forever here.
CH: Some people say, “In my country, we do it this way!” If you are going to come down and be an ugly American, you are going to make yourself miserable here. It helps to have a good sense of humor. You are not going to change their culture. If you want to have your way, you have to stay in the States.
The first thing I tell people on my retirement tours is, “We’re all here to see Costa Rica. I would lie to you if I said it’s for everyone. You’re taking the first step of coming here to check it out.”
One thing that’s really important is whether people have been abroad before or have traveled. If someone has lived in the middle of a small town and never been exposed to other cultures, that might influence things.
RS: People should be in a very good health. Also, there are people who are nature lovers of golfers or like any other type of sport, and want to commit themselves to doing it more. They are going to be happy for sure. People who have hobbies like photography - that’s actually my hobby, too! Finally, it’s fun to learn a new language... it’s fun to communicate!
CH: Cervantes said, “To know another language is to know another world.” (Read Christophers's blog on this subject http://www.liveincostarica.com/blog/2010/06/language-mindset-and-retirin...)!
RC: Another thing is benevolence. Benevolent people in Costa Rica are looking for ecological communities they can join. We have people here that, if you hear a chainsaw, fourteen people would be running down the street. We have this kind of people here!
JV: So, you’re saying, it’s the lifestyle, not finances! Money is an extra benefit.
RC: It’s a perk! For example, Florida is flat – not to put down Florida, I lived there – this place is beautiful, there are mountains no matter where you go. This place is beautiful, people are friendly, and you’ll never finish exploring it!
CH: It’s fun to live here!
JV: What are some of the fun things that you do?
CH: Depends on what you’re interested in. You can play almost any sport, except snow skiing. You can take Latin dance lessons and go dancing every night. That’s really fun!
JV: And if you’re single? You have a chapter in your book on romance!
CH: I speak from a man’s point of view. The women here are incredible: very loving, very open, very friendly. You have to come here to experience it!
JV: What about women?
CH: They can find love here, too! It’s in my book, I have the whole chapter!
The interview continues here
Do you think you might enjoy a Costa Rican lifestyle?