Over the past ten years, there have been many exchanges between myself and clients or would-be clients about the advantages of living in Costa Rica vs other so-called popular countries recommended by such sources as International Living. The list includes but is not limited to Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and Uruguay.
Inquirers initiated some of these conversations before they even set foot in any of the countries mentioned, including Costa Rica. Others were by infrequent visitors to Costa Rica who were surprised at the cost of living here being higher than they expected.
My suggestion remains the same. Travel to the alternative country or countries that hold interest, roam about, ask a lot of questions, especially of ex-pats there, do some transactions there, then come back to Costa Rica to compare and contrast. I would also strongly suggest auditing information sources that recommend these other countries. Based on a lot of client feedback, the differences seem quite stark. The overwhelming majority of “explorers” end up choosing Costa Rica. It’s kind of a you-get-what-you-pay-for reality.
Panama seems the country closest in comparison to Costa Rica. It boasts better tax incentives, more relaxed and economic immigration processes, and more efficient bureaucracy. Panama City, without a doubt, is a fascinating global hub that has a far more cosmopolitan downtown area than San Jose, Costa Rica. A great place to bank and to visit from time to time. Step outside that extremely hot and humid city and the quality of life drops off significantly. The ubiquitous soldiers also prove disquieting. The majority of clients who have given Panama serious consideration have quickly settled upon Costa Rica as their final choice for a retirement venue. Yes. It is more costly. But overall better value. They concluded that Costa Rica is more secure, has a wider variety of places to live or travel within the country and has the best year-round weather by far. A friendlier populace with no army also provides a more peaceful feeling. The COVID-19 mortality rate in Panama as of this writing is five times that of Costa Rica.
Then there is Nicaragua. It remains a communist-backed dictatorship. That means if you annoy the government or own something a government insider covets, it can be taken from you with no recourse. That is how dictators role. In 2018, there was an attempt at a coup. Two hundred protesters were murdered for speaking out. That resulted in thousands of Nicaraguans attempting to gain asylum here in Costa Rica. You can read my previous article on why there are such long delays on approvals at Immigration since 2018 here,
As of this writing, the government of Nicaragua has snubbed WHO and the Pan American Health Organization protocols. The populace is being encouraged by the government to party hearty at the beach. There is no trustworthy data on the situation there. What is also not known is the whereabouts of President Ortega, who has been M.I.A. for the past month (Could he be dead?). One shutters to think what the COVID-19 mortality rate might be right now in Nicaragua. Its border with Costa Rica will be sealed shut for months and months to come.
Mexico is also a beautiful country with overall wonderful people. It also boasts the second-highest population of billionaires in the world as it remains an economic powerhouse. Its massive size is much more challenging to manage than compact Costa Rica. Unfortunately, it is the choke point and hub of international crime and drug cartels. Corruption continues to be widespread with little abatement. Mexico City is highly polluted, as are many of the coastal tourist centers. Several of my U.S. and Canadian ex-pat clients lived in some of the “safer” and esthetically gorgeous outlying areas of Mexico. But they felt the steady encroachment of cartel danger over the last decade before eventually moving to Costa Rica. When it comes to COVID-19 results, that corruption and incompetence translates into a mortality rate of a whopping twelve times that of Costa Rica.
Ecuador boasts a much lower cost of living, is a beautiful, bio-diverse country, and also owns the Galapagos Islands. But the corruption quotient is over the top with serious infrastructure issues and widespread, pernicious disorganization. International corporations doing business there say it borders on hopelessness. Bodies of COVID-19 victims in body bags line the streets as of this writing. Based on highly questionable data, their COVID-19 mortality rate is conservatively ten times that of Costa Rica.
Colombia is a vast, beautiful, bio-diverse country, and on the mend through many initiatives over the last 15 years. Its two main cities are impressive with stunning colonial architecture. After decades of Cartel strangleholds with crime and corruption things are certainly improving but they have a way to go. Also, many feel it is still too far south. It’s current COVID-19 mortality rate is eight times that of Costa Rica.
While Uruguay is quite Americanized and has modern amenities, it is a long way south and still does not “feel” as secure as living in Costa Rica. It has serious security issues that prevail. The country is also vulnerable to extreme weather that bring seasonal floods, droughts as well as high winds.
Now that all these countries are dealing with the same COVID-19 issue, comparing how each fare throughout this ordeal will show even more dramatic contrasts once this pandemic passes through. The final tallies by country will show that Costa Rica was a far safer place to wait things out. The universal and private Costa Rica health care systems and country management, even with its flaws, have delivered outcomes far superior to those other countries.
Access to a wider variety of affordable produce year-round in Costa Rica will be an even more compelling reason to be here. Global food prices are set to skyrocket. Pay very close attention over the next six months. As things settle down, you will have access to more conclusive data to affirm your choice of Costa Rica as your optimal place to reside. We have been in these dramatic situations before and always have done well.
When those “scores” show overwhelmingly why Costa Rica is the safest and healthiest country to live in, there will invariably be an uptick in residency applicants. So after careful thought about your plans here, I would strongly recommend getting the jump on your residency process now.
By Laura Gutierrez of Immigration Help Costa Rica