The Costa Rica Expat Scene

Expats in Costa Rica
This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Orientation

“Myopic” would probably best describe this post. The vantage that I have of the Costa Rica expat scene will be purely autobiographical, what I have seen and some of what I have heard in my 16+ years of living full time in Costa Rica both as a father of a family of 5, an Internet marketer and a realtor.

Expats in Costa Rica
Expats: The Mix in Costa Rica

When we made the move to Costa Rica in January of 1999, we felt like the only US expats in San Isidro de Perez Zeledon. This is a small town by most standards, but San Isidro is a large city in Costa Rica’s southern zone, located about what was then 45 minutes from the coastal town of Dominical. It is now located about 30 minutes from Dominical, not due to a change of location on the part of the town, but caused by the improved roads since them.

At that time, our dress, stature (we are generally taller than Ticos) and overall manner made us stand out. There were times when as a family we would walk the streets of San Isidro and felt that a hush would fall on the street due to the presence of the Gringos. Many with whom we would interact were having their first experience of talking with a foreigner.

My Spanish was the best of the family (at that time -this has changed) but this isn’t saying much. So it usually fell to me to do the talking. It was a truly delightful experience to sense the pleasure that they (the Ticos) would experience from this simple happening. They were nearly always quite gracious and would take whatever time we wanted to pass with them there on the street, in the shops and sodas (Costa Rican typical restaurants).

Since then things have changed. We are no longer unique. A day spent walking the streets of San Isidro is marked by various languages from around the world and there is certainly nothing unique about being Gringo in Costa Rica. They really don’t take much notice anymore.

After 6 years in San Isidro, I moved over to the coast. My kids had grown and my wife & I had separated. I lived in Dominical for a couple of years and then down to Uvita where I now reside. From the lofty perch that working in real estate has afforded me I have been able to observe the influx of expats to the area and to track the transformational changes on this small country that has resulted from what I would call, revolutionary changes to the culture and quality of life for the Ticos.

It is this relationship between expat and Tico that plays prominently on the move to Costa Rica. The Tico culture is, in many ways, complementary to other more developed country’s cultures. I kind of hate using these words because in many ways “more developed” should mean “higher quality of life”, What is this quality?  “Greater happiness”? Hmmm… I’m not so sure that these terms fit. There is the much publicized status of Costa Rica being the “happiest country“, but in the present vernacular of accepted expressions, we deem better roads, electrical services, Internet, apps, stores, restaurants and so on as “progress” and “better developed” and so I use it here to describe the changes that have happened, in these areas, to an extreme degree.

Initially the primary buyers of land were people preparing for retirement or the individualistic, slightly out-of-round ones that were looking for something different from “back home”. At that time life here in The Zone could be described as “adventurous” due to the scarcity of conveniences and challenge of transportation around The Zone. This plus the sheer power of Nature here in this part of Costa Rica.

Both types were of a hardy nature. It was like there was a giant curtain filter hanging over the country separating the southern zone from the northern. To simply get here required this quality of “hardiness” just to get here. Most relocators were looking to the northern province of Guanacaste and its beaches. You never saw people in wheelchairs here and there were very few over 65, but there were a few. The ones that I know of this latter type are still here and doing quite well.

Now we have a few more groups or types of people looking at property.

The Retirees (God love ’em) make up a large share still. It is interesting about this group that they seem to come down to purchase their property 3 – 7 years before they intend to do anything with it.

Investors make up a good segment but this is almost always in the mix for all the “types”. For some however, this is all that they are doing here. They want to take advantage of the recession pricing on properties here, and there are indicators that this strategy is well placed. The crystal ball of what is going to happen in the future indicates that there will be continued, and likely, increasing growth here in the coming years.

Wellness Groups, individuals and families are looking for tracts of land where they can design a self sufficient life in an area of the world where there is reduced dependency on utility companies. The weather here is comfortable 24/7, and you can produce endless varieties of fruits and vegetables. I like to say that you can throw a toothpick at the ground in Costa Rica and it will take root. Granted, a slight exageration, but only slight.

I think that one of the most notable newcomers to the types of people that are moving here are Young Families. Uvita has 2 private schools that are busting at the seams. There are medical services, grocery stores, hardware stores and so on. There are even a bowling alley and a golf course down the coast a ways. These are evidence of this groups presence and is a vibrant and growing community of these young families.

Finally, a group that I call the End of the Worlders. These intrepid folks have done their research and have determined that the “developed” world is on its last legs and that it simply has to end.  They deem the practices there as unsustainable and so must end. They feel that Costa Rica would be a good place to ride out the coming storm. Self sufficiency ranks prominently in the criteria of what they are looking for in a property: water, sun and room around them as a buffer.

I would say that simplification is a common trait amongst the various types, perhaps less so with the Investors, although some in this group have this in mind as well. So many are saying that they have had enough of the large house, large property and large life.

So the constant here in The Zone is change. The result of all this change is a developing hybrid culture that mixes people from all walks of life: countries, languages, and cultures blend here into what we now have and enjoy here.

(I’ve got a link up above to an article about Costa Rica being the Happiest Country on Earth. I wanted to re-mention this. The article goes beyond the topic of “happy” and has some pretty darn good points regarding Costa Rica you might enjoy reading. Here it is again: Click Here)

Interested in Costa Rica real estate as an investment. They primarily live somewhere else, but they own property in Costa Rica for the asset appreciation potential as well as possible rental income. Some just buy and hold (land-bank). For developed properties, the investor has a vacation home to visit as desired.

Migrators spend a regular amount of time in Costa Rica during each year.

Re-locators are those that are looking to move to Costa Rica from wherever they are. They will live full-time in Costa Rica.