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Living in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is one of the cheapest countries in Central America for retirement—and it’s fast becoming one of the most pleasant. One can become a pensionado or residencia (pensioner or resident) for only $130, no legal fee required (compared to $400 to $700 in Costa Rica). A 2-bedroom house costs about $30,000 to buy, $250 a month to rent. A 1-bedroom apartment rents for $100-$150, depending on location. The dollar stretches up to three times further than in the U.S. for everything from housing to food and drink.

The tiny nation, about the size of Virginia, has a population of five million friendly “Nicas,” as they call themselves. Tourism Minister Pedro Joaquin Chamoro says the country is just discovering tourism. Of the 5,000 retirees who live there, about half are Americans, followed by Canadians and Germans.

“The personal finance situation is the major attraction for myself and most other retirees,” says Richard Johnson, a U.S. Army retiree and 1-man chamber of commerce for Nicaragua. “But the mild climate and quality of life are equally important.” “One can live here comfortably on about $500 to $800 a month, including domestic help, utilities, and taxes. Health insurance is available for $90 a month. Outpatient care is free.”

There are a few warts, however. The climate, with the exception of a few high-altitude towns, is a bit on the warm and humid side. It rains heavily from May through December. And the paperwork needed for gaining pesionado-residencia status discourages many potential retirees.

Johnson concedes that the red tape puts off three quarters of those who consider becoming a permanent retiree—including himself. He remains an illegal tourist.

Tourists who remain in the country for over 30 days must pay a $25 visa renewal fee. This can be done twice, but many illegal tourists ignore the requirement and pay the penalty when they leave the country.

Advantages Outweigh Problems

While the bureaucracy is sometimes maddening, say the residents, the advantages still outway the problems. Granada, the oldest and once one of the most resplendent cities of the Americas, is today somnolent but charming. Destroyed three times by war and earthquakes, it still has a number of historic churches of remarkable beauty and architectural interest. Horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the primary modes of transportation.

The city is situated on lovely Lago Nicaragua, the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world. It’s the major jumping off point to the 300 islands on the lake.

Leon, in the northwest, near Lake Xolotian, Nicaragua’s capital from colonial times to the mid-19th century and Sandanista headquarters during the civil war, is a liberal bastion. Like Granada, it has a host of old churches and ornate colonial buildings.

The Pacific Coast is lined with pristine beaches. Montelimar resort, the largest and only resort that meets international standards, was once a retreat for the Somoza family and later for Sandanista officials.

The nearby village of Poghogni, popular with Managuans, features cheap ($5-$10) hotels and restaurants. Peneloya and La Boquita are also lovely coastal beaches, but accommodations are basic.

The Caribbean coast is isolated and neglected, with few roads. But once you’re there, you find it has an easy-going Jamaican charm and feels remote from the rest of Nicaragua. English, inherited from British colonization and native Jamaicans, is the predominant language.

Nicaragua Websites

www.lonelyplanet.com. Similar to their guidebook, suggests other websites.

www.state.gov. Check its “Tips for Travellers.” Contains broad background, description, and information.