Where to Live in Costa Rica?
I get a ton of email asking where is the best place to live in Costa Rica. Sadly, it is a question that is almost impossible to answer. It's like asking me to choose your toothbrush.
What I will do here is generally discuss the various locations in Costa Rica and things you might wish to consider before you make a final choice.
I think the three most important things you should probably consider are:
Climate in Costa Rica
Climate here is very important. There are 27 different weather patterns in Costa Rica... hard to imagine in a country smaller than West Virginia! So let's examine a few.
If you are on or near the beach, expect heat. Costa Rica is about 10 degrees north or the equator, and the beaches are HOT! Temperatures of about 90+ most days and high humidity. Do you like the heat? Many do! Others no. Of course there is air conditioning (that can easily run $400.00 per month!).
The Central Valley is far more temperate. Temperatures around 78-80 or so are common with far less humidity.
The mountains are generally much cooler as you would expect. Daytime temps of low 70's are the norm with nights around 50-65 degrees. However, expect more clouds in the mountains, higher humidity, and possibly more rain. A good friend lives in the mountains in Heredia, and when we visit, I could swear we were in Vancouver, BC!
Prices of real estate are all over the chart. If you want to live at the beach (or near it), expect to pay a huge premium. It is still a very popular location and the prices reflect the demand. Also, it is HOT at the beach, and as mentioned, I know many who pay several hundred dollars per month just for electricity!
Prices in and around San Jose vary tremendously. Some of the more popular suburbs have prices equal to or higher than the beach
Want true value? Consider the areas away from big cities. There are still tremendous values to be had in very beautiful areas 30 minutes to an hour from San Jose and the prices are half (or less) than what you will pay to live on the beach or in a exclusive gated community in Escazu or Santa Ana. Of course you will be further away from the "things" in a city (infrastructure), so you must decide if that is important. Still, San Ramon, Atenas, Grecia, Ciudad Colon, Coronado and others certainly bear a visit!
Recently, I have met people who bought lovely homes with a couple of acres of property for as little as $60,000 to $70,000. These were in the mountains or pretty far away from the generally well-known areas in locations more than an hour from San Josť. Also, about three years ago, my wife and I were visiting friends, and there was a property with a large home, and acre of land and a SPECTACULAR 150 degree view of mountains and valleys reaching out almost 25 miles. The rent? $225.00 per month! (NO, it was not for sale). Probably not realistic in 2012 though.
Many of these well priced places are in small towns of which you will not have heard. You need to take the time to explore which is I why I say time and again, do NOT buy anything until you have lived here for 9 months to a year and have taken time to explore.
This part is probably THE most important thing to consider if you are at or near retirement age!
Are you over 50? People over 50 are subject to health needs that a 25 year old normally need not consider.
Over 50... things begin to break (on your body)! I know. Do you need or would it be wise to live within 15 or 30 minutes of quality health care? If you choose the beach, you may be 3-5 hours from a high quality hospital or trauma center. This can make all the difference if you have a serious accident or suffer a stroke or heart attack. Generally, if you fall into this category, you may wish to consider living in or around San Josť with its large number of high quality hospitals.
Infrastructure as I define it is:
As you move away from the population centers, roads can deteriorate and there is perhaps less access to public transportation.
Are you a shopping person? Like malls? Prices at most tourist popular areas (beaches, etc.) are much higher as they cater to tourists, and I know of no place that offers discounts to those who live there. Also, there will never be the selection you will find near a bigger city.
Do you like live theatre? Concerts? Museums? Just movies? Things cultural? The further away you are from the Central Valley, the harder it will be to get your fix. Yes, some of these exist, but not many.
Finally, do you need to communicate? The further away from the Central Valley, the more difficult it may be to get even the basic service. Some locations have no residential phone service or if they do, it can take months or even years to get a phone line installed. About 80% of Costa Rica has cell phone coverage. Something to think about when choosing your final destination. How about the Internet? No phone line? No DSL service, but maybe there is cable modem (from the cable TV companies), but check first. High speed Internet is now becoming available at some of the more popular beach locations, but generally, if you leave the Central Valley, it can be a bit more difficult to get a high speed connection.
The neat thing about Costa Rica is that there is just so much to chose from! I always recommend that you come here and live for at least six months before making a final decision. Rent for a while and travel the country! After several years of living here, my wife and I still find hidden treasures about every few months.
Also, use the local Costa Rica User Groups to meet people who live here, get advice, opinions, etc. You have NO IDEA how much you should know before you make a move like this, so you have to invest serious time and effort to learn as much as you can before you make this life-changing move!
A mild caution... I am sure this comes as no surprise... but some less than reputable people are always on the Internet. Don't be too anxious to give out a lot of your personal data. Take some time to get to know other folks. And the important rule... just because someone speaks your language does not make them your friend.