Featured Columnist – Retirement & Living
Kat Sunlove

TCRN Volunteer:
Back in the day, songster Randy Newman penned his celebrated anthem “I Love LA,” singing the praises of Los Angeles, California. As anyone who has ever visited that grand metropolis knows, there is much to love about the place: glorious sunshine, abundant palm trees, exciting entertainment, colorful ethnic neighborhoods, beautiful mountains and expansive beaches. Of course, there’s also smog, traffic jams and poverty, but hey! Randy was looking on the bright side.

That’s very much how I feel about Costa Rica. Many commentators and websites are quick to point out the negatives about this small Central American nation, emphasizing that retirement living in Costa Rica may not be for everyone. As true as that may be, you won’t find me disparaging much about this place, even as I roll my eyes at the potholes in the roads or chuckle about the slow and inefficient bureaucracy. Mostly you will hear my voice singing the praises of this beautiful country that has made me and my husband Layne feel so welcome and at home.

Just what is it about Costa Rica that has made me fall in love with it? Many friends and relatives back in the U.S. have asked exactly that and it is a good question. There are many other choices for retirement if one is ready to consider an expat lifestyle. Certainly we do save money compared to our lives in Northern California, but there are cheaper places to live, even in the States and definitely in other Latin American countries. Yes, the climate is quite to our liking but there are other tropical locales from which to choose if one is set on living abroad, and it’s not as if either of us is exactly fluent in Spanish. Without doubt the Costa Rican medical and dental services deserve the high marks they receive in the world marketplace, but other nations such as Canada have good health care. And although Costa Rica is only a few hours flight from Texas or Florida, Mexico or Belize are even closer. So what is so attractive about this land besides the obvious: verdant rain forests, pristine beaches, a wonderful climate and friendly people?

For us, the journey from Northern California to Costa Rica began with my need for a dental implant. With the imminent loss of a key tooth, my dentist sent me to a specialist for an evaluation and estimate. With an eye-popping quote of $4000 for one implant, I started investigating medical tourism online. Costa Rican dental care quickly filtered to the top of my research, based on quality and costs, and of the many dentists available, Dr. Alberto Meza of Meza Dental Clinic in San Jose stood out from the rest. One reason was an exceptional website, offering not only considerable detail on services offered and pricing but also testimonials from people you could contact directly for references. After speaking by telephone to a few of these former patients and receiving consistently favorable comments, I realized that for the cost of one tooth in the United States, I could get the implant and Layne and I could enjoy a vacation in a beautiful tropical land. Talk about win-win!

As we began making plans for our holiday, we stumbled upon extensive information and recommendations regarding Costa Rica as a retirement destination. Although I was still short of Social Security age and at that point had a good-paying job, we knew that within a few years we might well want to consider moving from our 5-acre horse ranch to a less labor-intensive home. We were both tired of stacking wood for the cold winters, shoveling horse manure and dealing with the constant upkeep of a three-bedroom home. So we began to compile an outline of what we wanted for our retirement and as we checked the factors off the list, Costa Rica began to look better and better to us.

And indeed, since making the move earlier this year, we have been delighted to discover what a comfortable lifestyle we can have here on limited retirement income. Many soon-to-be retirees from North America will face that challenge in coming months and years as pocketbooks are squeezed by the economic realities of a tight job market, depleted 401Ks, depressed real estate values and looming health care costs. But if they look south to Costa Rica, they may find a possible escape route from a future of scrimping to pay the many bills associated with life in the United States: the expense of heating and cooling in most states, rising food costs, automobile insurance and repair, electricity to run the numerous gadgets that society demands, with only “stay-cations” to look forward to instead of holidays in the tropics.

I say, why not live in the tropics?

For decades now, life in the United States has been premised on the concept that bigger is better. Companies struggled to increase production, labor bargained for higher wages and benefits, everyone longed for a bigger house, fancier car, newer computer, more extravagant vacation. It was as if Americans had bought into the old myth that “He who dies with the most ‘toys’ wins.” The whole population – from CEO to taxi driver, from schoolteacher to plumber – was engaged in a stressful race to make more money in order to consume more goods. They were running at full speed just to stay in place. But in the process, an all-important quality of life was lost.

It’s that elusive quality of life that we feel we have recaptured here in Costa Rica. The locals, known as Ticos, refer to it as “Pura Vida,” literally Pure Life. But it really means so much more than that. As Ticos use the term it encompasses a sense of community, cheerful perseverance, resilience in rising above life’s difficulties, taking life at a slow pace and celebrating whatever good fortune life may bring. With that philosophy as a guiding principle, no wonder Costa Rica has flourished as a democracy since 1821. And no wonder we find it to be the ideal locale to pursue the dream of a comfortable, affordable retirement in a tropical paradise!