The smoking cone of Mount Arenal is visible on a perfectly clear day rising above lush jungle vegetation.

Stunning view of Mount Arenal on a rare, perfectly clear day. Photo © Arden, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

More and more North Americans are looking for a place to start a new life—whether it’s for retirement, a career change, or plying one’s current profession in a new market. Millions are choosing to live abroad, with many drawn to the physical beauty and lower prices of places like Costa Rica.

For those on a budget, Costa Rica is a place to live well for less.Many North American workers have been “made redundant” by ongoing corporate efforts to reduce operating costs. Other workers retain jobs that they feel are sucking the life out of them, and they dream of a time when they can get back in touch with themselves and with simple pleasures. Many fantasize about a place where living is cheaper and the pace more humane. Parents of young children may long for an environment where kids can be immersed in another language and culture, one that emphasizes basic human values over relentless accomplishment and acquisition.

And for those approaching retirement age (or already there), places like Costa Rica are looking better and better. Persons over age 65 make up one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, and many hit retirement with modest pensions and little savings. For those on a budget, Costa Rica is a place to live well for less.

Of course, Costa Rica is no paradise, and in fact it may be a victim of its own popularity. Tourism has mushroomed into an industry sometimes at odds with environmental protection. The influx of foreign visitors and residents can strain basic infrastructure in this country of about 4.5 million. “We weren’t ready for all of you,” laughs Anabelle Furtado, a Costa Rica native who worked for the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR). Economic hard times have meant cuts in previously flush social services, and locals complain that foreigners, with their easy spending habits, drive up prices on everything from pineapples to a four-bedroom house. And as in most other countries, crime and other social ills are on the rise.

Still, the benefits outweigh the problems. Costa Rica has an appealing combination of the exotic and the familiar. It’s a far-off land less than three hours by air from Miami, an international destination with a decidedly local feel, a sophisticated place where life is still fueled by basic human warmth.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Costa Rica.

Maps - Costa Rica 10e

Costa Rica Travel Map