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"One of the biggest mistakes people make in retiring offshore is equating affordability with quality of life," says best-selling author on retiring in Costa Rica Christopher Howard. His view on the attraction of retiring in Central America? "You grow up, go to college, choose your career, get married, your kids grow up and BOOM – what do you do? Come to a place like this! It offers a whole new exciting stage of life, a whole new adventure!" This continues my interview with Costa Rica retirement experts Christopher Howard and Robert Shannon that started here
Julia Valentine: How is the medical care in Costa Rica?
Robert Shannon: It’s world class. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the biggest area of concern we have with people coming in. We have a government medical program, with elective procedures are outside the scope, just like in any other country, but emergencies are dealt with very quickly. There is a whole series of new hospitals built. Private hospitals are great. We like to locate people in areas where they have easy access to medical care.
Christopher Howard : It’s in the metropolitan area.
RS: The good news today in San Jose or Central Valley, you have to be within an hour of a major hospital. We like to stress that. There are any number of places where you can choose to live, with easy access to the new highway.
CH: What attests to the quality of care here is that Costa Rica has become a Mecca for medical tourism: joint replacement, cosmetic surgery, dental implants. People come here from all over the world because of affordability and excellent results.
RS: [laughing] Just look at my nose!
JV: [laughing] Good for you!
What are some of political problems that the government is currently focused on solving?
RS: You have to take the hat off to Costa Rica. Throughout the last two years of the economic meltdown, Costa Rica never missed a beat on all its infrastructure programs: hospitals, highways. A lot of projects have been finished. Another thing to keep in mind is that we have a large middle class here, which can support the building of the infrastructure. A large middle class, healthcare and education is a basis for a lot of major national companies to come to Costa Rica. It all fits together very nicely.
CH: For a small country of around 4.6 million people, they really do a lot, compared to a country like the U.S. They have socialized medicine here, they’ve basically solved it here! You have to take your hat off! No army, no terrorism.
JV: Robert, one of the things I liked on your website are ideas about starting or running a business in Costa Rica. I like the scenario of being on vacation and being paid for it.
RS: If you are running a business, like a bed-and-breakfast, you have to position it in the right area. For example, if it’s a surfer motel, go to the Central Pacific. Don’t spend $500K to build it and leave nothing for advertising. Make sure you know how to market it.
CH: I have a friend who had a business for years. He bought a hotel on the beach, but his travel business ensured the hotel was full. He’s really done it intelligently.
JV: What are the steps to take when looking into retiring in Costa Rica? You can obviously start with reading a book and going to a website, or both. Christopher, what is your website?
RS: My website is www.retireincostarica.com.
JV: So, the first step is to come to the website and go get the book and learn everything about the country and living there. What’s the next step?
CH: Take a tour, like the one that my company offers, see the country, put yourself in the hands of experts here. One thing that’s unique to Costa Rica is we have an organization here foreign residents. Nobody else has this!
JV: How long is your tour?
CH: I take people around for 8 days.
JV: So, you get to seethe entire country.
CH: Pretty much everything. They have a good idea after that.
RS: We have properties that we show on our retirement and investment tours: you can buy a property for a vacation home, retirement or investment. All of our properties can be used for one of these purposes. We show you how to use an IRA or a self-directed vehicle to purchase. Prices range from $55,000 to whatever you want to spend. Some people like living on a coast with ocean views. Our properties are all over the map. Our tour is designed for people who are ready to buy. Usually, if they don’t find it on our tours, it’s not here!
JV: So, that’s the third step: find the right place for yourself. It’s important to find out that a $2,000/month budget in Costa Rica includes a part-time maid and a gardener.
RS: You have to find the right balance of services you might need.
CH: My maid comes in one day a week, I clean the house a little bit, too! You can find full-time help here very affordably.
RS: And Costa Ricans are very compassionate people, I have experienced this personally.
JV: As long as you don’t have a language barrier, if you hire someone for, let’s say, assisted living.
CH: You can learn some key phrases.
Another good thing is, on weekend, they have farmers markets and you can get fresh fruit and vegetables for the entire week for $20-$30. And it’s all natural, all year round.
RS: You can find little meat and fish markets.
CH: You can pay a lot in fancy supermarkets, but once you settle down and know where to buy, that’s where the savings are. Imitate the locals!
RS: A lot of people have a budget much higher than $2,000 a month. They like to investigate new restaurants. Chris says, when you get here, get planted, find out where things are, and it’s amazing what you can dine out for!
CH: Robert includes a car in the budget, but you don’t need a car. Bus service is dirt-cheap and all over the country.
RS: A car is an expensive item here. You offset that with low real estate taxes.
CH: One of the biggest mistakes people make in retiring offshore is equating affordability with quality of life, like Ecuador, Nicaragua. The quality of life in Costa Rica is pretty hard to beat. I’ve been all over Central and Latin America before I decided to live here. Every country has a salient feature, like Argentina has Buenos Aires, but Costa Rica has the full package.
RS: It’s a beautiful country with friendly people.
CH: This just occurred to me: you grow up, go to college, choose your career, get married, your kids grow up and BOOM – what do you do? Come to a place like this! It offers a whole new exciting stage of life, a whole new adventure!
Would you consider retiring in Costa Rica?