Los Angeles chiropractor Jim Beverlin, 72, fell in love twice in 1987--first with Costa Rica, which has become his adopted homeland, then with one of its citizens, Sigrid Rocio, who became his wife. Beverlin is not alone in his love of Costa Rica and its people. The spectacular landscape and the embracing warmth of the literate, cosmopolitan populace have captured the hearts of an estimated 50,000 other American retirees who have made this Central American country their home.
Beverlin's marriage eased his adjustment to his adopted country, since spouses of Costa Ricans are automatically entitled to be residents. For Americans without that advantage, retiring in Costa Rica can be somewhat more complicated. A foreign-born retiree who wants to live in Costa Rica part time can obtain a 90-day visa and renew it by leaving the country for at least 72 hours, then re-entering. For full-time residency, retirees must demonstrate monthly incomes of at least $600 and labor through a pile of paperwork. For a modest fee, the Association of Residents of Costa Rica helps newcomers navigate the red tape.
Americans feel at home just about anywhere in Costa Rica, but Beverlin and his bride spent a year searching for the perfect setting for their life together before deciding on the Cariari neighborhood of Belen, a 15-minute drive from both the international airport and the Hospital Mexico medical center, the largest in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose. For $83,000 they bought a four-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath, two-garage house--with a terrace and servants' quarters--surrounded by gardens that bloom year round in the region's springlike climate (average temperature: 72[degrees]F). Nearby is the Cariari Country Club, an exclusive resort with an 18-hole golf course, spa and swimming pool. Further afield lie the wilds for which the country is famous: more than a quarter of Costa Rica's territory--which includes everything from cloud forests and tropical beaches to mountains and volcanic craters--is protected. A word of advice: hire a competent, English-speaking attorney--not always easy to find in this Spanish-speaking land--to handle any real estate purchase.
Property taxes in Costa Rica are lower than in the U.S., capital gains are tax free, and the dollar's value against the local currency, the colon, has enjoyed a steady upward trajectory that keeps pace with the increase in the cost of living. On the other hand, sales tax is a steep 13%, and heavy import duties are levied on some assets, like cars. Complicating many financial transactions is the Costa Rican banking system: waiting for a check to clear requires extreme patience.
Costa Rica may not be the best choice for Americans looking for bargain-basement retirement venues. But it is a match made in heaven for those whose top priorities are natural beauty, friendly compatriots and an easy standard of living.
--Reported by Mishelle Mitchell/San Jose