Category: Immigration

3rd edition of ‘Living Abroad in Costa Rica’ launches

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Ok, visiting new tree house communities in the jungle or soaking in hot springs near an active volcano might not qualify as hardships. But keeping up to date on Costa Rica’s deeper changes kept me on the road for months this year and then at my laptop even longer, typing up rainforest-soaked notes and sorting through thousands of photos.

The result is a completely updated Living Abroad in Costa Rica, which launches this week. I’m especially proud of the new expat profiles (of artists and writers, among others) and the beefed-up Resources section in the back of the book, which has everything from a comprehensive list of language schools to a Spanish phrasebook to a page about movies filmed in Costa Rica.

So how has Costa Rica changed in the last few years? Parts of the country are growing so fast you can almost hear their bones creak. Other towns seem to have hit their high point and are now experiencing negative growth, as ambitious condo projects get stopped in their tracks by the world economic downturn.

Here’s a taste of what I found on this recent trip (and report on at greater length in my book):

Photo: Adrian Hepworth

Political gains for women and the disabled
In May 2010 Laura Chinchilla (got to love that name!) took office as Costa Rica’s first female president. In those same elections, a single-issue political party that focuses on physical accessibility and inclusion (Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusión or PASE) won four seats in Costa Rica’s legislative assembly. And not a moment too soon. Getting around Costa Rica in a wheelchair is such a challenge it’s like training for the Special Olympics. Read about a wheelchair-using expat in the new edition of my book, who acknowledges the difficulties but also says people are eager to help, pushing her into her car or up over the crumbling curbs of downtown San José.

A buyer’s market
Real estate is a mixed bag. It’s not dirt cheap by any means, but it’s a buyers market and you can still find deals. In my opinion, renting is the way to go, and there are plenty of people with second homes in Costa Rica looking to make a few bucks by renting them out. And now there’s even a Costa Rica craigslist! You can peruse the Costa Rica classifieds in your cubicle at work.

New residency laws
Expats who want to get Costa Rican residency now need to prove more monthly income than before. On the up side, a 2010 government decree makes attracting “baby boomer” foreign residents a national priority. Provisions may include tax incentives for builders of retirement communities, and there’s talk of new tax breaks for relocators.

Medical tourism is booming
The practice of going abroad for cheaper medical care is growing worldwide at an astonishing rate, and Costa Rica is one of the hotspots for affordable and high-quality care. People with no health insurance or high co-pays come here for root canals, routine dental work, face lifts, lasik eye surgery, hysterectomies, joint replacement, and bypass surgery, to name just a few of the more common procedures. One of the most sought-after cosmetic procedures (in Costa Rica and elsewhere) is breast enhancement — in 2010 that surgery cost under US$3,000 in Costa Rica and about US$7,000 in the United States.

Free trade agreement opens up government sectors
CAFTA (a free trade agreement between Costa Rica and the U.S.) is opening up many sectors that were previously government monopolies, including insurance and telecommunications. That means that phone and internet service is finally improving.

Just say Om
Yoga in Costa Rica is exploding. Fifteen years ago there were a handful of studios. Now I’ve lost count of all the new retreats and studios coming into existence. Every hotel seems to have its own yoga instructor, and big-name U.S. teachers often bring their students south for a week in the jungle.

Just say Yum
The food just keeps getting better and better, in part because expats from all over the world bring their culinary traditions and their drive to provide others with something other than gallo pinto (rice and beans). Costa Rica has never been known for its cuisine (although the ubiquitous casado, a plate of meat, cabbage salad, and rice & beans) really does grow on you. But I had some truly excellent food this time around, the best of which may have been at the Israeli-run Gingerbread Restaurant on Lake Arenal.