Living Abroad in Costa Rica
© Erin Van Rheenen, from Living Abroad in Costa Rica, 1st Used by permission of Erin Van Rheenen and Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.
Are you ready for a change? Is it time to trade your old life for one that’s a little more livable?
Picture a place so green you’ll need new words to describe all of the different shades. A place with a thousand kinds of butterflies and half again as many types of orchids. A land where staying healthy is less a matter of doctors’ visits and medication than of living simply in healthful surroundings.
Imagine a stable democracy where foreign business is encouraged even as the environment is protected. A country with near-universal health care and one of the highest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere. A place where you can get away from it all without leaving behind your creature comforts, where you have both birdsong in the morning and the chirp of a modem making contact with the rest of the world.
The small but fertile nation of Costa Rica has been called many things: the Green Republic, the Switzerland of Central America, a Central American success story. Since 1889, only two brief periods of violence have interrupted its democratic development. Its economy has a solid agricultural base, and has expanded to include vibrant technology and tourism sectors. The standard of living is high and the cost of living moderate.
While many neighboring countries contend with war, death squads, and military dictatorships, Ticos (Costa Ricans) visit the polls to vote in multi-party elections. Since 1948, the country has had no army. The funds that would have gone to tanks and rocket launchers are invested in education and health care. And while many Latin American countries have a wealth of natural beauty, Costa Rica squeezes 5 to 6 percent of all known plant and animal species onto less than .03 percent of the world’s land mass. Since the national park system began in the 1970s, the country has set aside a full quarter of its territory for the preservation of this living heritage.
Of course the nation is no utopia. Costa Rica is by no means undiscovered, and in fact may be a victim of its own popularity. Tourism has mushroomed into an industry sometimes at odds with environmental protection. The influx of foreign visitors and residents can strain basic infrastructure. Estimates are that at least 200,000 foreign residents live in the Central Valley alone. “We weren’t ready for all of you,” laughs Anabelle Furtado, a Costa Rica native who works for the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR; www.arcr.net). Economic hard times have meant cuts in previously flush social services, and locals complain that foreigners, with their easy spending habits, drive up prices on everything from pineapples to a four-bedroom house. And as in most countries of the world, crime and other social ills are on the rise.
Still, the benefits outweigh the problems. Costa Rica has an immensely appealing combination of the exotic and the familiar—primordial rain forests and modern urban centers, jaguars in the jungle and house cats in the suburbs. It’s a far-off land less than three hours by air from Miami, an international destination with a decidedly local feel, a sophisticated place where life is still fueled by basic human warmth.
Tell anyone you’re on your way to Costa Rica and they’ll sigh with envy. If they haven’t been here, it’s high on their list. If they’ve already visited, they feel they’ve discovered gold and want to hurry back to mine that vein. Those ready to take the next step—to morph from visitor to resident—will discover a more complex alloy, as real life is always richer than fantasy.