Costa Rica’s Top 5 Expat Havens—

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As one of the most peaceful and environmentally friendly countries on the planet, Costa Rica is known for “pura vida” — the pure life. A new report from International Living identifies the top five havens there for North American expats and retirees.

Playa Carrillo Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

It’s about cherishing life’s simple pleasures and not rushing to get things done. And it comes to infect everyone who calls this country home.

For decades, Costa Rica has been among the world’s premier retirement destinations.

It’s a country that is nearly carbon neutral, sustainably producing most of its power without increasing greenhouse gasses. It’s a country with no standing army. It’s a country whose people consistently rank among the happiest in the world.

No wonder, then, that the national greeting is “pura vida” or “pure life.” It’s a philosophy of favoring relaxation, friends, family, and fun above all else. It’s about cherishing life’s simple pleasures and not rushing to get things done. And it comes to infect everyone who calls this country home.

Established and welcoming expat communities can be found all across the country, according to a report from the editors at And given the many English speakers in Costa Rica, integrating into Costa Rica’s “pura vida” lifestyle is easy and seamless.

North American expats live all over Costa Rica, but International Living has identified the top five havens there for expats and retirees:

The Central Valley: Convenient Living Close to the Capital

Consistently cool weather is what Costa Rica’s Central Valley is best known for: Temperatures stay in the 70s F year-round. Elevations range from 2,500 to 5,000 feet, providing mountain views from anywhere in the valley. And because it’s close to the capital, San José, it’s also Costa Rica’s most convenient retirement haven.

This convenience means the Central Valley is not the cheapest place to live in Costa Rica, although many expats report they can still live well on under $2,000 a month. Everything from modern healthcare to great shopping is within easy reach.

The Central Valley is dotted with communities where expats have settled. Those who like the amenities of a fast-paced city life choose the large towns of Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia. Those who prefer a slower pace choose the farming towns of San Ramón, Atenas, and Grecia.

Unspoiled Wilderness in the Southern Zone

About four hours from San José and the Central Valley, the Southern Zone has a totally different landscape, lifestyle, and climate. It’s an unspoiled seaside wilderness with a laidback beach lifestyle and a warm, coastal climate.

The Southern Zone stretches all the way to Panama, but most expats are concentrated in and around three main towns. Dominical, a small surf village, is the gateway to the region. Uvita is the commercial hub, with banks, hardware stores, and pharmacies. Ojochal is the jungle village famed for its gourmet restaurants, which are run by an international cast of expat foodies. Expats here relish the mix of natural beauty and off-the-beaten-path life, yet with modern conveniences at hand.

Completion of the coastal highway in 2010 significantly cut drive time to the Southern Zone and opened up this area to expats, but development is small-scale, and the region is still unspoiled. Access roads are dirt and sometimes in rough shape, so four-wheel drive is key.

The Fun and Funky Caribbean Coast

All Costa Rica is a land of “pura vida,” but the Caribbean coast takes this relaxed attitude to the greatest extreme. It’s a place where beach bars play reggae as patrons knock back cold beers. Locals slowly ride bicycles rusted from the salt air down the winding coast road. And beach-goers doze lazily in hammocks strung between trees on the beach, pondering a dip in the clear blue water.

Settled by Jamaicans and other Caribbean peoples starting more than 100 years ago, the area still has a strong “island” vibe. The descendants of those original immigrants have retained a unique culture of food (lots of coconut milk and spices), music (reggae and calypso), and language (they speak an island-inflected English and an English creole).

The settled part of this coast starts in the port city of Limón and points south (to the north is a huge wildlife refuge). In towns like Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and the communities around them like Playa Chiquita, Playa Cocles, Punta Uva, and Manzanillo, some of Costa Rica’s most stunning beaches are found: unspoiled stretches of white, black, and golden sand backed by palm trees and thick jungle.

Like most coastal areas in the tropics, it can be warm and humid—high 80s F to low 90s F most days. But sea breezes also help cut the heat, and temperatures cool down significantly after dark.

One drawback, since the coast is undeveloped, is that services aren’t as reliable as in other parts of the country. Internet isn’t as steady, and there are intermittent power outages. And medical care is basic in these beach communities. The nearest hospital and emergency room is in Limón, more than an hour’s drive away.

Close-Knit Community in a Stunning Rural Setting

Home to both Costa Rica’s largest volcano, Volcán Arenal, and its largest freshwater lake (18 miles long by three miles at its widest), Arenal is in a rural setting surrounded by natural beauty.

The surrounding mountains not only make for a serene escape, but also foster a pleasant climate. Temperatures average from the mid-70s F to the low 80s F year-round, with enough rainfall to keep the region lush and fertile. Rain can get heavy from May through November. The rich volcanic soils and pleasant weather also make this a gardener’s lush paradise.

Arenal’s expat community is tightly knit, meeting frequently for outdoor get-togethers at each other’s homes. They have also set up organizations like the Homeless and Helpless animal rescue and Ladies of the Lake to give back to their new community.

Thanks to the lake and surrounding mountains, residents enjoy hiking, natural hot springs, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, world-class windsurfing, and paddle boarding. And almost every town in the area hosts a weekly feria, (farmer’s market), providing access to budget-friendly fresh food. Most expats report lower energy costs in Arenal than on the coasts.

Nicoya Peninsula and the Northern Pacific: Healthy, Affordable Beachside Living

Many expats looking for a warm climate, a healthy lifestyle, and proximity to the beach that won’t cost a fortune have chosen Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast and the adjacent Nicoya Peninsula. Both lie mostly within the province of Guanacaste, where golden sands line Pacific beaches.

People have been drawn to this area for years for its healthy lifestyle. People here have a strong sense of purpose, as well as strong social and family networks that ensure they feel loved well into old age. The water has the highest calcium content in the country, helping to strengthen bones. Diets are high in fresh produce and low in processed foods. And a family of four can buy enough fresh produce for a week for about $30.

The Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, located in Liberia, the region’s largest city, announced a $10 million expansion this year. This makes the region easily accessible from North America. It’s also close to one of the country’s leading public hospitals, Hospital Clínico San Rafaél Arcángel in Liberia.

In this part of the country, the climate is hot and dry, with sunshine nearly every day. Average temperatures hover between 80 F and 90 F all year. Even during the rainy season (May through early November), it’s rare to have rain every day, and equally rare to have a day when it rains the whole way through.

Despite ongoing development and an influx of tourists to the beaches, living here remains affordable. For most couples, a budget of $2,500 to $3,000 a month will suffice, covering daily expenses, food, housing, healthcare, and fun. Aside from rent, most expats here report electricity as their largest expense; A/C is necessary here.

The full report on Costa Rica’s top five expat havens, including more cost of living estimates and interviews with expats living in Costa Rica, can be found here: Best Places to Live in Costa Rica - Five Top Expat Havens.

Editor’s Note: Members of the media have permission to reproduce the article linked above once credit is given to

For information about content republishing, source material or to book an interview with one of our experts, contact Associate Editor Carol Barron, 772-678-0287 (US), CBarron(at) or visit the Media Center.

For 36 years, has been the leading authority for anyone looking for global retirement or relocation opportunities. Through its monthly magazine and related e-letters, extensive website, podcasts, online bookstore, and events held around the world, provides information and services to help its readers live better, travel farther, have more fun, save more money, and find better business opportunities when they expand their world beyond their own shores. has more than 200 correspondents traveling the globe, investigating the best opportunities for travel, retirement, real estate, and investment.

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