Costa Rica Top Retirement Destination in 2021


Last updated 3/3/2021 at 7:46am | View PDF

A church and park in Sarchi (Photo courtesy of International Living magazine)

In the wake of recent volatility in Washington, International Living's editors report a significant spike in traffic to their website on January 6, with people searching for intel on the best places to move overseas.

According to the publication's just-released 30th Annual Global Retirement Index, Costa Rica takes the top spot as the world's #1 destination for 2021. The Index, created through a combination of statistic crunching and on-the-ground input from in-country correspondents, ranks and rates the world's top 25 retirement locales across 10 categories, including cost of living, retiree benefits, climate, healthcare and more.

Costa Rica topped the healthcare category while also scoring well in the fitting in, development, visa and residency, and cost-of-living categories.

Earning the nickname "Switzerland of Central America," this peace-loving democracy attracts millions of visitors and foreign residents throughout the year with its tropical climate, lower cost of living, friendly locals, affordable medical care, vast real estate options and, of course, its natural beauty.

"Retirees that have moved to Costa Rica will tell you they are living a much healthier lifestyle than before they moved," said Kathleen Evans, International Living Costa Rica correspondent. "Perhaps it's the beautiful weather that beckons you to enjoy the outdoors, or maybe it's the massive selection of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables at your fingertips.

"One of the things you hear often from expats is how warm and welcoming the ticos (Costa Ricans) are," Evans said. "They are wonderful people, eager to share the magic of their culture, food and traditions with foreigners. You will also find engaging international communities of expats who will help you through the process of acclimation."

That's another bonus: expats needn't be pioneers in Costa Rica. There are well-established expat communities throughout the country. Things are "set up" so to speak, when it comes to shipping household goods, using the healthcare system, buying property, and more. And by following this well-trodden path, the transition to a new life can be much easier.

Costa Rica is a country where the older generation is treated with respect by custom. And things like head-of-line privileges at banks and government offices are inscribed in the law. But there is also a government program available to those age 65 or older that gives discounts on a variety of products and services.

"Being 'viejo' or old is a rite of passage, a badge of honor in Costa Rica," said Evans. "And you will see simple things like seniors going to the front of the line - any line, enjoying special early shopping hours, free bus rides and the Ciudando de Oro (or Golden Citizen) card."

Cost of living, of course, depends on lifestyle, but in many ways Costa Rica is much more affordable than the U.S. or Canada.

"A couple can live comfortably, but not necessarily extravagantly, here for around $2,000 a month," said Evans. "This includes renting a two-bedroom home with North American amenities, air-conditioning, plus groceries, entertainment, transportation and healthcare. If your monthly budget is closer to $2,500 to $3,000, you will find a relaxed lifestyle with every comfort you require.

"The residency process in Costa Rica is also very straightforward," she added. "For expats, there are three initial options. Choosing any of these programs allows you to file jointly, as well as claim any dependent children under the age of 18 (up to 25 years old if enrolled in a university)."

• The Pensionado option requires proof of $1,000 per month minimum income from a life-long pension or social security.

• The Rentista program requires proof of $2,500 per month income for at least two years, guaranteed by a banking institution. Or you can deposit $60,000 in an approved Costa Rican bank.

• The third option is the Investment program. The applicant needs to prove they have invested a minimum of $200,000 in a business or property in Costa Rica.

After three years of one of these statuses, one can apply for permanent residency. (Those married to a Costa Rican or have a child born in Costa Rica can apply to this category immediately.)

Healthcare Options

"One of the reasons Costa Rica is so appealing for retirees, and expats in general, is because of the low cost, excellent healthcare options," said Evans.

Costa Rica provides some of the best healthcare options in Latin America for its citizens and residents. The World Health Organization places Costa Rica in the top rankings for life expectancy and the United Nations ranks the country's public healthcare system in the top 20 worldwide.

The country has three Joint Commission International-certified medical centers in the nation's capital, San José, a prestigious worldwide accreditation which medical centers can receive based on a scale of various criteria.

The country's public and private health systems are regularly upgraded with new equipment, new clinics and improved training. Many of the country's doctors work in both sectors, have studied in North America or Europe, and most in the private field speak English.

"Pura vida is a common Costa Rican phrase. Although it translates to "pure life," this definition merely scratches the surface of a phrase deeply woven into Costa Rican culture, and used to convey anything from "hello" and "goodbye," to "great news," "cheers!" and countless declarations in between.

As expat Nicole Rangel explains, "What makes pura vida such a check-all statement is that it translates to more than just a greeting. It is a solution, an action and a way of life.

"When you approach life with a pura vida state of mind, you are opening yourself up to the possibilities of life beyond what you experienced before. You are sharing together in this communal acceptance that life doesn't have to be controlled or mandated. You can make it what you want. You can have friends you never thought you would have. You experience things you never thought possible because you are opening up to a life less complicated.

"That is why so many people come to Costa Rica and find the best version of themselves - they embrace a new appreciation of life. It is just a bonus that it is in such a beautiful setting," she added.

While Costa Rica wins the top spot in this year's Annual Global Retirement Index, it was just one of 25 countries examined in 10 categories, including housing, benefits and discounts, visas and residence, cost of living, fitting in/entertainment, healthcare, development, climate, opportunity and governance.

Since 1979, has used a widespread network of editors, correspondents, contributors and contacts based around the world to accumulate the information, data, and insights used to prepare the Annual Global Retirement Index.

Lake Arenal (Photo courtesy of International Living magazine)

The main role of the Index is to help retirees find locations where their dollar goes further - where they can get the best value for money in terms of cost of living, housing and overall quality of life.

International Living's complete 2021 Annual Global Retirement Index at includes more information on Costa Rica and the other nine countries that made it in to the top 10 - as well as the individual rankings in all 10 categories for all 25 countries included.

Through its monthly magazine and related e-letters, extensive website, podcasts, online bookstore, and events held around the world, has been a valuable source of information for anyone looking for global retirement or relocation opportunities.


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