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Escape to Paradise: Property in Costa Rica

With its friendly people, first-world amenities, and excellent medical care, it's no wonder that Costa Rica is home to one of the world's largest communities of North American expatriates. With a lush interior and two beautiful coastlines, Costa Rica is ideal for a vacation home or a second home, and its relative affordability and mild climate do much to endear it to retirees.

With a democratic government going back to 1949, Costa Rica is also one of Latin America's most stable and peaceful countries. Compared to surrounding nations, it enjoys low crime rates, a 94% literacy rate, and low poverty rates. It's also the "greenest" nation in the Americas, and in 2007 announced plans to become the world's first carbon-neutral nation by 2021. A whopping 25% of the country is designated as national park in order to preserve its vast biodiversity.

While owning a piece of this beautiful land is not as cheap as it used to be, nor as cheap as other Latin American countries, owning property in Costa Rica is still an affordable option for many North Americans or Europeans seeking a second home, investment property, vacation home, or retirement home. A contemporary home in an upper middle-class area can be found for about U.S. $100,000 to $300,000 – perhaps around the same as one might pay for a decent house "back home."

The difference is that in Costa Rica, the cost of utilities, transportation, food, hired help, and especially health care, are all substantially less than they are in the U.S. While a couple in most regions of the U.S. will feel that they are barely scraping by on an income of $2,000 per month, that same amount feels fairly luxurious in Costa Rica. Given the country's peaceful ambience and how far a dollar goes, many expats wouldn't live anywhere else.

San Jose is the capital and largest city of Costa Rica. Located in a valley in the mountainous central highlands, the greater San Jose area is home to around 70% of the country's population of 4.6 million. Since the terrain is hilly, many properties in this area offer stunning views of the city and the thickly wooded hills that surround it. "Ticos" (Costa Rican natives) have a reputation for being friendly and honest, which makes the country's capital city a pleasant place to visit or live. Many expatriates choose to live about an hour from the city itself, however, in order to take advantage of slightly more peace and quiet as well as lower home ownership or rental costs. People who settle here also enjoy the mild climate, which, while tropical, is not hot or humid, with little rain.

Other expatriates choose to buy Costa Rica property along the coastline, especially the Pacific coast. The Guanacaste region, in the northwest of the country, really began opening up to tourism in the early 2000s, and real estate development soon followed, with a Four Seasons hotel and luxury golf courses. Developments of oceanfront homes and condominiums also cater to second homeowners and retirees, and those looking for property in Costa Rica with a water view would be well advised to look into this area.

Since expatriates generally feel safe and welcome here, it's not uncommon to find them living not in small English-speaking enclaves, but mixed in with the locals across all areas of the country: the beach, the mountains, and in between. Regardless of where they live, however, expatriates and locals in Costa Rica all seem united in their pursuit of "pura vida" – the good life.