Although we frequently call Costa Rica “paradise,” expats living in the Southern Zone know that no place is perfect. Still, this is a pretty special land where it’s easy to invest, fairly inexpensive to live, and incredibly vibrant and full of life in a way that is really different to the typical places that expats in Costa Rica come from.
For a long time, the majority of expats in Costa Rica were people of retirement age who wanted to maximize their nest egg in a gorgeous and tranquil environment. Costa Rica has always been a great choice for its democratic stability, peaceful tendencies, very low amounts of violent crimes, a consistently stable economy, and good prices for food and health care. Expat currencies have traditionally been quite strong in this developing nation, helping to draw people who wanted to slow down and live more simply.
Despite promises from successive governments, Costa Rica is still a developing nation. But with the growing tourism economy– now the number one producer in this tiny, green nation– there are more and more parts that could be considered ‘developed’– where the poor no longer outnumber the middle-class and rich. In general, Costa Rica has experienced a growth in GDP of 81% since 2000 and a reduction in poverty levels of 46% in the last 25 years. Typical expat-style businesses are providing more and more opportunities to young Costa Ricans who, with their high-standard of education and good English (and often times German) language comprehension skills, are able to fill the positions that cater to foreign visitors.
Costa Rica is reaching a sort of symbiosis between its foreign investors, who come to appreciate the fertile ecosystems of this magical land, and Costa Rican nationals, who in turn benefit from the increase in local industry created by foreign money coming into the country. Gaining residency status in Costa Rica is as easy as investing $200,000 into a business or property, with minimal additional requirements (see here to learn more.).
Costa Rica’s high season for tourism extends from December to April, but because of the steady growth in numbers of expats who want to live in the tropics full time, the majority of local businesses in the Costa Ballena region of Costa Rica are sustainable year-round. Having a year-round economy has given more life to this region, attracting a younger set of expats who also come to enjoy this natural playground while choosing to continue to grow their lives and their families in a new location.
So what do not-yet-retired expats do to thrive in a developing country? Surely, they are not stealing jobs from locals to make ends meet, especially since the majority of expats are entirely unaccustomed to earning around $5/hour. There is a process for a foreigner to obtain a work visa in Costa Rica, but most find that the effort is not worth the small income. But there are other ways that non-retired expats are finding their feet in a new land. Below are a few options for making Costa Rica your forever home (or at least a place to spend a few adventurous years of your life).

Renting your BnB.

Airbnb’s hotel rentals grew 520% last year, and the $30 billion business is used by more than 200 million people worldwide. In Costa Rica, the percentage of that market is still small but growing every year thanks to the expectation of many of the visitors to this region of having an intimate experience with the natural surroundings.
” There are very few big hotels in the Costa Ballena, and no chains, so small places like ours have an opportunity to host and really wow our guests with the up-close experiences that living in a quiet, secluded place can offer,” says Rebecca Rowntree, owner of Vista Villas in Ojochal. She and her husband Darryl moved to the Costa Ballena in 2015 with the dream of starting their own BnB– a dream that came to life in early 2017.
Since then, they have hosted lots of satisfied guests, sustaining their dream getaway and meeting plenty of enthralled visitors in the meantime. “What we love most about this project is that we are able to share our dream with the world, in a way. Every guest gets a taste of what it’s like to live in paradise. Seeing monkeys and macaws a short reach away is truly an incredible experience.”.

Running a restaurant

Big-time food lovers will find that they are not disappointed by the culinary scene in Costa Rica in general, nor in the Costa Ballena in specific. Fresh food and water offer a brilliant platform for culinary creations, and Ticos love good fats and flavors in their traditional meals, like Casado. And with the influx of expats from around the world, a fusion of international recipes and exotic flavors from the tropics make for some amazing eats.
Restauranteurs from around the world have carved their niches in this culinary region of Costa Rica, famous for the large amount of fantastic restaurants packed into a small region. Enjoy great hospitality and a variety of entertainment at a number of venues in this incredibly scenic part of the world.
One such culinary couple are Priscilla and Caleb Ortiz from Texas, who began El Toro Loco in Uvita. They have brought traditional southern hospitality and incredible Texas BBQ to the Costa Ballena. Raising a young family, including two school-aged kids and a new baby, while owning and working the kitchen and front of house, this powerful team of two is making their mark in Uvita as a great place for meeting friends for food during the day times. The couple have decided to keep their operating hours from 7am-4pm so that they can enjoy a work-life balance in the land of pura vida.

Adventure tourism

High-energy expats who need to be active can find their place in navigating the wild landscapes that abound in this area. More than a few tourism business have been started by foreigners living in the Costa Ballena, who have fallen in love with this land and found a way to invest in a part of it. Many decide to turn their property into a preserve and sharing the message of conservation and appreciation of nature with local and foreign visitors.
Most tourists who flock to this region will spend a portion of their holiday fund on a mangrove kayaking tour, or a zip-line through the canopy. Other popular adventure activities in this area include: surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, paragliding, hand-gliding, skydiving, underwater diving, caving/rapelling, and spiritual adventure activities like yoga, meditation, and wellness retreats.

Becoming a craftsperson

Artist? Painter? Sculpter? Welder? Whatever your craft, start your own business in Costa Rica and sell your wares to your local neighborhood and beyond. Village markets have been created in every community for this purpose. Be it produce or face products that you are selling, stalls are quite diverse and bring an income to those willing to put their works on display.
For one example, artists who work on commission find that there is a consistent client base of expats who are hungry for lovely works to put on display in their homes– especially by artists from within their own community. It is a mark of pride in Ojochal to have a Brian Wall painting hanging on your own wall.

Freelancing

Independent contractors in IT, web development, blogging and writing can work from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. And thanks to fiber-optic internet providers like CableTica coming onto the local scene, digital nomads are finding it more and more possible to use Costa Rica as a home base. SkyLoft in Jaco is already finding its feet in the digital nomad community in the Central Pacific, with ideas for similar-style locations buzzing about in the Southern Zone.

Permaculture and intentional communities

Ever wished to start your own farm? Why not in Southern Costa Rica, where the land is fertile and almost everything grows. The climate is diverse, with the potential for cooler, moister, drier, hotter temperatures– with 11 microclimates around the country, there’s a comfortable zone to be found for everyone.
More than a few groups of people have discovered their way down to the Southern Zone to start intentional communities, which are created from their inception to have strong social ties, often based on shared work and support. Places like Selva Armonia or Posada Natura were founded by groups of like-minded people who wanted to make a space to grow food and relationships in a peaceful setting where, with a little work, they can live in appreciation of the abundance of the land.
There are a number of ways to make life in Costa Rica work for you. You may not have the income expectations of some of the first world capitals of the world, but the wealth of experience that this region affords keeps drawing people in consistently. If living with health, peace and wonder are at the top of your list, Costa Rica can be the right home for you.