TCRN STAFF: Brian Smith,

It seems that there are enough forward-thinkers among the powers-that-be in Costa Rica that a new wave of economic prosperity is currently in the works. The Costa Rican government has begun to reemphasize retirement communities as a priority, something unseen in this country in a decade or more. Considered to be of national interest, this new direction aimed at attracting U.S. retirees, particularly those with hefty economic means, is to give a sustained jolt to the economy of this small Central American nation. Planners are currently working on creating retirement “clusters” that include complete health facilities and services for the elderly which should create income streams and profits for decades to come.

Visualizing retirees as income producing isn’t a new idea; it’s just been pushed up as a priority for both the Costa Rican government and the private sector that want to benefit from providing ongoing services. A short survey around the Western Hemisphere shows rapidly developing “health communities” from Panama and Mexico to Ecuador and Brazil are already a reality today. Private entrepreneurs and government officials alike are preparing to tap into the newest gold mine of upper income and wealthy senior citizens from industrialized countries around the globe. Costa Rica’s reawakening to the potential of resident pensioners should serve it well in this quest for steady income and economic boost from the masses searching for that perfect paradise for enjoying their golden years.

“Private entrepreneurs and government officials alike are preparing to tap into the newest gold mine…”

Harking back to earlier days when Costa Rican officials spent much time and effort to attract and settle newcomers backed by monthly income in the 80’s, today’s new emphasis is once again toward simplifying the process. Cutting back red tape and easing the burden by granting one-stop residency permits from the Immigration authorities, shortening qualification times and supplying concise information all combine to make the procedure less intimidating and less time consuming. This makes for a much higher percentage of successful retirement immigration and hence more wealthy pensioners calling Costa Rica home.
30 years ago Costa Rica retiree hopefuls were offered substantial welcoming “gifts” such as tax exemptions on real estate, imported household items and even vehicles.

Today the plan is for a revival of these perks accompanied by an international promotional campaign run by the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT) designed for older adults nearing retirement age. In a world wracked with recession, these offers will stand out to those millions of people aged 55+ with a shrinking “nest egg” that will simply not stretch far enough for a minimally decent lifestyle in many expensive industrialized nations.

“In a world wracked with recession, these offers will stand out to those millions of people aged 55+ with a shrinking “nest egg”…”

Both the Costa Rican health and social security system and the private health services sector are working diligently to train and produce new health service providers and specialists to handle all of the expected new arrivals. Recently the Costa Rican government passed regulations obliging virtually every resident of the country to be a dues-paying member of the Caja (socialized medicine provider) and by their own act must now insure adequate personnel to handle all of those included in the national health plan. The private sector wants to take advantage of the thousands of new customers and attract investment as well.

The Costa Rican government has already identified eight locations for retirement clusters in Costa Rica. These places exist in areas of natural beauty, centered around popular tourist attractions and nearby to everything from small private clinics to large hospital complexes and other health facilities.

The promotion of Costa Rica as a haven for retirement must include much more than advancing sales of real estate or simply espousing medical tourism, it must advance on a broad front. Government officials recognize the importance of the overall trend. Competitiveness Minister Jorge Woodbridge explains “It includes the hotel sector, travel, hospitals and research. Costa Rica will benefit from it. Patients and their relatives are likely to travel all over the country, staying at hotels and engaging tour operators and so on.”

It is estimated that each 10,000 retirees could generate employment for 40,000 people per year, perhaps 10,000 employed in direct jobs and 30,000 indirect jobs produced as well. It is estimated that the average income of the target population of middle class and wealthy foreign residents is over $3,500 per month, with an accompanying economic impact of millions of dollars each year for Costa Rica in both the public and private domains.
“…each 10,000 retirees could generate employment for 40,000 people per year…”
The very first area impacted by this new direction in retirement planning is found in the city of Liberia. This northern location is the centerpiece of the incredibly popular Guanacaste province of Costa Rica, one of the top tourist destinations and location of the second busiest international airport in the nation.

Two major hospital complexes are currently under construction with an eye towards the future influx of aging Baby Boomers and other 55+ age group members. These facilities include a hospital and residential zone where health and personal services will be provided in active retirement, independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing, each increasing in order of patient needs.

Brian L. Smith