Pura Vida

October was Costa Rica research month.

Population: 5,097,988

Costa Rica has one of the most diverse bio-systems on the planet (they have 12 of them!). They are super into eco-tourism and sustainability. This is like catnip to us. The country aims to be carbon neutral by 2021—the first country to do so. They already generate 93% of their energy through renewable sources like geothermal, wind, and hydroelectric. Having no gold, silver, or oil meant no natural desolation over the years. Several decades ago they began to go into logging, but they soon discovered that all their water came from the rain forests and you better not mess with that shit. Today, 25% of the country’s land is protected national park. You are likely to have many close encounters with monkeys, iguanas, toucans, parrots, sloths, and an incredible variety of other birds.

Vibe: Pura vida (pure life). It is their motto, their mood, and serves as both a greeting and a response to “How are you doing?”

Climate: Costa Rica has two types of climate, tropical and subtropical. Its dry season runs from December to April, while rainy season runs from May to November. Temperatures are generally cooler in highlands. It’s proximity to the equator means constant temperatures throughout the year and no hurricanes. There are earthquakes and volcanoes, however.

Currency: The legal tender is the colón. Exchange rate: $1US = 569 colónes (CRC). But the US dollar is also widely accepted.


  • Beaches, surf, and sunsets
  • Pura vida vibe.
  • Very welcoming to expats, with large communities of them almost everywhere.
  • Steady year-round climate, either in the 70s and 80s in the mountains or the 80s and 90s by the beach.
  • You can drink the tap water. Seriously, it’s higher quality than that in the US.
  • Low-hassle residency programs. Easiest is Pensionado program, which requires proof of $1,000 a month income (pension or Social Security only, not savings, IRA, or 401K). There are other programs available too, but they take a little more money.
  • Excellent low-cost healthcare, with rapid access into the national system. Many young people just pay cash and forego insurance. Most medications (other than opiates and sedatives) are available over the counter and are much cheaper than in the US.
  • Low cost of living. Couples can live well for $2000/mo., even better for $3000, which includes all costs, including housing, insurance, transportation, medical care, utilities, Internet, phone, food, and entertainment.
  • Nature: variety of ecosystems/sunsets/flora and fauna
  • Proximity to U.S., only 3 hours from Miami or Houston.


  • Humidity
  • Bureaucracy is unpredictable and variable. Everything is a process that takes patience and possibly the assistance of a lawyer
  • Low reliability of mail/packages/etc. (goodbye Amazon)
  • Unless you want to pay more, living conditions may be below what you are used to, i.e. no dishwasher, limited hot water, no dryer (Ticos use clotheslines), and diligent cleaning to discourage mold.
  • No income tax on foreign-made money. Very low property taxes.
  • No real culture—food, music, arts, etc. Few indigenous people. Little turmoil, which generally leads to great art. Most culture is imported.

Okay, how about scores from 1-5, low to high.

Environment/natural beauty: 5

Residential visa process: 5

Climate: 4 (hey, not a huge fan of high humidity)

Food: 3 (No one goes out for Costa Rican food but fresh fruit and veggies are plentiful and grow here year round)

Housing: 3 (affordable and many with spectacular views, but may have to do without some US amenities)

Culture: 2 (for the Pura Vida alone)

Public transportation: 3 (buses, taxis, and Uber in cities, but depends on where you live). Road conditions have a bad reputation.

Crime: 4 (San Jose is dodgy, but elsewhere it’s just petty theft)

Cost of Living: 5

Healthcare: 4 (some government healthcare waits, but the care is top notch)

Infrastructure: 3 (getting better every year)

Handling of COVID: 4 (the only 5s are South Korea and New Zealand, but CR is reopening for tourists in November)

I may adjust these categories or add more as we go on. But Costa Rica tops our list right now and taking on all challengers.

November: France

Published by Tom Cox

Tom & Jean, a couple of contemplative ex-pats from Pittsburgh, shed all their earthly belongings and move to Costa Rica. What could possibly go wrong?

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