I wanted to write this post on living and retiring in Costa Rica with a novel approach on how to find a real expert that can give sound advice on Costa Rica real estate, property and investing. I watched with curiosity and slight amusement on the many “experts” now to be found on Costa Rica.
You need to be careful about who you go to for advice about moving to Costa Rica for retirement. There are some who are in the business of selling something (maybe a book, newsletter, your personal, info, property in their project) or just flat our looking to just take your money.
Many, but not all speak little or very poor Spanish. The real truth is almost nothing in Costa Rica is written in “stone” so almost anything can happen. That is part of the “charm” and also why when you get good advice, work hard and smart, (and a little lucky) can do quite well here.
How to Retire in Costa Rica
You can take full advantage of what Costa Rica has to offer and enjoy a new exciting lifestyle or the “pura vida”. Over the many years that I have lived in Costa Rica I have had the opportunity to observe 1000s of foreigners who have moved here.
Some have been very successful while others have not. Those who found happiness and saw their dreams come true followed most of the time-tested rules below.
Hopefully if you choose to live or retire here you will keep these simple principles in mind so you can take full advantage of what Costa Rica has to offer and enjoy a new exciting lifestyle or the pura vida (pure life/good life) which abounds everywhere.
- Don’t have false expectations.
- Don’t assume that what worked at home works here. You have to adapt to the reality of the country.
- Don’t go into business unless you want to complicate your life.
- Most people come here to simplify their lives.
- The happiest people are those with pensions or other fixed sources of income who don’t have to work. If you do work, don’t expect to get rich.
- Stay busy and or find an interesting hobby. Almost everyone has a hobby. If you don’t have one, find a new one here. Costa Rica offers 100s of stimulating activities from which to choose.
- Don’t hang out in bars. I have seen scores of people come down here and because they were bored they went off the deep end by drinking themselves to death.
- Stay active and have a good exercise program.
- Have a good doctor or teams of doctors to meet your specific health needs. Costa Rica has an excellent and affordable health care system which draws retirees from all over the world.
- Single men shouldn’t get involved with low-life women or prostitutes (the easiest women to meet). Single women should watch out for younger men who are gold diggers. Take time to develop healthy relationships.
- Don’t leave your brain on the plane by forgetting to use your common sense.
- Don’t try to cut corners by thinking you can outsmart the locals by paying bribes, etc. It will all catch up to you sooner or later.
- Don’t make bad investments. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
- Try not to live in isolated areas with no home security. Burglary can be a problem in some parts of Costa Rica. There is safety in numbers.
- Don’t walk around alone at night. If you have to, be sure to know the neighborhood where you are and take a friend. Do your homework! Read all of the books and newspapers about Costa Rica, talk to other who have lived here for a long time, go to the ARCR’s monthly seminar and in general stay informed by reading the local Spanish newspapers.
- Learn as much as you can about the Costa Rica culture.
- Try to always check your sources of information especially what you see on the on-line Costa Rica news groups. Something happens to people who move here. They think they are overnight experts just because they have made the move. It takes years of living here to really be considered an expert. Funny things happen to JCL’s (Johnny Come Lately) minds when they come to the tropics.
- It is VERY important to have a good BILINGUAL lawyer. Most Americans brag they have the “best lawyer”. Make sure this is true by doing your homework and getting good references from other expatriates. Having a competent/honest lawyer can make the difference between success and failure.
- LEARN Spanish! You need at least a survival level Spanish to get by here. Find a school that fits your learning style. Also read my best selling Spanish book, Christopher Howard’s Guide to Costa Rica Spanish (amazon.com). It is designed to give you what you need to survive linguistically in Costa Rica.
- Mix with the locals. Part of living in a foreign country is enjoying the people and culture. Don’t isolate yourself in a Gringo enclave like Escazú. That’s exactly why you need to learn some Spanish.
- Form a network of friends so you can lean on them in hard times. Making friends is easy here since foreigners tend to gravitate toward each other when living abroad.
- Don’t Jugar de vivo as we say in Spanish. Thus means to not act like a WAG (a wise ass know-it-all Gringo).
- Don’t be the Ugly America, Ugly Canadian, Ugly Englishman of ugly foreigner. This is the Costa Rica people’s country, you have to live in it and you can’t change it. So, DON’T wear out your welcome.
- Obey the law here and above all traffic laws.
- Travel around the country. Costa Rica is small yet very big at the same time and there are lot of incredibly beautiful places to see.
- Get Skype or an unlocked cell phone with a local SIM card , both of which you can find on Amazon, to stay in contact with friends back home so as to avoid homesickness. Get cable or satellite TV to get a slice of home and stay up with events there when you need it.
- Try to leave your hang ups and serious problems at home. If you had serious issues there, you will probably have them here too. Give back to the community. Try to help but don’t impose the
Gringo way of doing things.
- Just because a person speaks English doesn’t mean he or she is trustworthy.
- The single most important thing you need to survive is good sense of humor. Go with the flow and don’t take things too seriously.
Follow this Time-tested Advice and you will almost never go wrong
How To Safely Invest in Costa Rica
“Is it safe to invest in Costa Rica?” This is one of the most frequent questions I get asked by the guests on my monthly retirement/relocation tours. During my nearly 30 years of living in Costa Rica I have had the opportunity to observe a lot of people make money and other lose it.
I have also bought and sold a lot of property here and have currently have some sizeable money invested in property. Consequently, I have a good idea of what it takes to invest safely here and have seen many common denominators in cases where people have “lost their shirts” through poor investments, especially in real estate.
The whole process basically boils down to perception and common sense. It is easy to over pay for something in Costa Rica if you haven’t done your homework.
Because there is corruption, bribery in Costa Rica and most people have heard or read about the horror stories, most English speakers assume that if someone speaks English they are trustworthy.
This is the BIGGEST mistake you can make. Just because someone speaks good English or is from the States, Canada or Europe does not make the individual a good person. Some people here will take advantage of naive newcomers.
As I state in my perennial bestseller “The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica,” “One ‘dangerous breed of animal’ you may encounter are a few foreigners between 30 and 60 years of age who are in business but do not have pensions. Most are struggling to survive and have to really hustle to make a living in Costa Rica.
Since they have no fixed income like a retiree they are desperate and will go to almost any means to make money including overcharging you. Notice I use the word overcharge.
They may even have a legitimate business but most certainly try to take advantage of you to make a few extra dollars. Some of these people may own hotels, have tourism-related businesses, own restaurants or pass themselves off as local experts.
Almost all of these characters have very convincing websites extolling their expertise and knowledge of the country. Most complaints we hear concerning people being “ripped off” are caused by individuals who fit this description.”
Here is an example in Costa Rica:
A few years ago while conducting one of my retirement tours near Dominical I met a portly North American who called himself Gringo Mel (not his real name but similar). He owned a hotel at the time and billed himself as the best cook in Costa Rica among other things.
I should have known that anyone who was so full of himself had to be a conman. Anyway he told me he wanted show me some property that he was selling because the owner was out of the country.
We went there and I fell in love with the place. It had an incredible ocean view and a couple of building lots. I told him I was interested and to find out the price of the land and home on it.
He told me was $165,000 dollars. A few months passed and the property and home had not sold. On my next trip to Dominical I mentioned to a friend who lives and works in the area that I was interested in said property. She told me she had talked with the owner and the real price was around $120 dollars.
This meant our friend Gringo Mel was charging a $45,000 dollars commission as the middleman or 30 percent for his services. Needless to say, I never purchased the property but almost got taken to the cleaners by a fellow gringo.
On your first trip to Costa Rica you will probably be besieged by con- artists anxious to help you make an investment. Be wary of blue ribbon business deals that seem too good to be true, or any other get-rich-quick schemes i.e. non-existent land, fantastic sounding real estate projects, phony high-interest bank investments or property not belonging to the person selling it. If potential profit sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
There seems to be something about the ambiance here that causes one to trust total strangers. The secret is to be cautious without being afraid to invest. Before jumping into what seems to be a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity, ask yourself this question: Would I make the same investment in my hometown?
A friend and long-time resident here always says jokingly when referring to the business logic of foreigners who come to Costa Rica: “When they step off the plane they seem to go brain-dead.”
Here is more advice from my bestseller. “One should be extremely cautious when dealing with foreigners who consider themselves experts in Costa Rica. Just because a person was a professional in his home country or has gone through the process of moving here does NOT qualify him to be an expert here.
Some foreigners consider themselves experts just because they have lived here for a short time. Remember, anyone can build a website and say anything about themselves.” I know people who move here, and go into business and miraculously become experts overnight. Costa Rica is indeed a magical country!
Many naive newcomers have been taken advantage of by other foreigners who call themselves “experts,” but are really incompetent imposters.
Be Careful When Retiring in Costa Rica!
I suggest that if you happen to come into contact with any foreigner who calls himself an “expert,” no matter how convincing he may be, do all of the following:
- Ask for references from other foreign residents who have used the expert’s services. Don’t rely on the testimonials that appear on a person’s website. They may be slanted. If your expert will not give you any references, you will know immediately you are being duped or sold shoddy second-rate services. Also, try to contact the person’s last employer before they moved to Costa Rica. Again, if they will not give you the contact information, you can bet the person is hiding something. If a person who is not of retirement age and claims to have been highly successful in his or her former country, they may be trying to cover up something about their background.
- Check with the Association of Residents of Costa Rica to see if they are familiar with the person’s services.
- Enter the person’s name in a search engine such as Google to see what comes up. Be careful because many of these rascals use an alias. There are even companies you can pay to do a background check if you suspect something.
- Ask how long the person has lived in Costa Rica. If they have been here for less than 10 years, be careful. It takes years to understand this country. It takes more than a year or two to know the ropes. Many of these neophyte relocation gurus and entrepreneurs mean well but just don’t have enough experience under their belt.
- Find out what the person’s educational background was when they lived in their home country and if they have any formal training in the Latin American culture, studies or foreign investments. If someone was a plumber, janitor, welder or doctor, for example, prior to moving here, this does not qualify them to give professional advice in Costa Rica.
- Beware of colorful, well-designed web sites built by the so- called experts to express their admiration for the country to attract naive foreigners. Many of these sites try to scare you into to thinking their services are the only ones that can keep you from being taken advantage of. In reality, they are manipulating you into doing business through them.
- Be cautious of publications that appear to be helpful on the surface but incessantly hype the services of the person(s) or organization behind them.
- Over the years I have run into so-called foreign experts who live comfortably in upscale in “Ivory Towers” and gated communities in gringo enclaves such as Escazú. The majority of their friends are other English speakers, so they have never have really immersed themselves in the local culture. They are virtually still foreigners living among other foreigners. These people live in isolation from the real Costa Rica. Few of them have any contact with Costa Ricans except for their maids and servants and rich Costa Rican friends from the country-club set. They rarely venture out of their safe environment to gather the necessary experience to confront real life situations here. Most live as if they were still in their home country, and give advice about a country and culture they really don’t know.
- Most important find out if the person is truly fluent in Spanish. There is no way a person can have expertise unless he or she can communicate with the locals and understand the nuances of the l ocal humor, culture and language. Beware: there are many foreigners who say they speak fluent Spanish with a vocabulary of only a couple of hundred words. I have run into many of them in my nearly 30 years here.
- Always ask to see a person’s residency card with their real name on it. Many Americans are working illegally here. Would you buy property from an illegal alien in the U.S.?
Christopher Howard is the author of the perennial best-selling “New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica” and “Guide to Spanish in Costa Rica.” His newest creation is “Christopher Howard’s Guide to real Estate in Costa Rica.” All of these books are available on Amazon or your local book store. Mr. Howard, on occasion, conducts tours for those thinking of moving here. Please see www.liveincostarica.com for more information.