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Read Richard's Story...
Richard: I'm living in Costa Rica right now, just outside the Guanacaste Region. I’m originally from the United States, specifically Washington state. I never got used to the cold weather. I hate shoveling snow. Whenever I had vacation time, I would drive down to Oregon or Shasta Lake in Northern California so I could enjoy the warmer weather. I don’t know what kept me in Washington for so long, except that I was used to it—humans are adverse to change, I guess.
I had a miserable job working for the state as a Data Analyst. I tried to stick it out until retirement, but I had a mild heart attack at 45. That was my wake-up call. I knew I would never make it to retirement if I stayed. I would end up in the hospital, instead. I knew that I needed serenity in my life, or I knew that I was going to end up in an early grave.
I decided to make a change. I took time off. I requested FMLA leave (due to health reasons and my heart attack). My employer was understanding about it, but I knew that they expected me to come back. I didn’t want to return to my job, but I needed time to think.
I never intended to become an expat, I went down to Costa Rica just to relax and decide what the next step in my life would be. I was recently divorced, and my kids were in college. I didn’t have anything tying me to the U.S. except my house—and a job that I despised.
While in Costa Rica, I met other expats. They all seemed a lot happier than me. That was what convinced me that I could live the rest of my life here. I spent three weeks in Costa Rica; a lot of time fishing and exploring the jungle. I lost 10 pounds! It ended up a very reflective period of my life.
I knew only basic Spanish (I took 4 years of Spanish in High School and spoke it occasionally at work, but I was very rusty). Still, I managed to communicate with the locals, who were all friendly and understanding.
After literally a few days of research, I went back to the U.S. and got my stuff in order. I sold my condo and most of my furniture and other belongings. That took about two months.
I contacted a few relocation companies and decided it wasn’t worth it to hold on to all my old stuff and take it with me. I kept some clothes, my golf clubs, and a few sentimental items that I packed up in boxes that I left in my brother’s garage. That’s it.
There wasn’t much profit in the home sale, but it was enough to pay for my move. I quit my job a month after that. All my coworkers were shocked. Some were even a little jealous. Everyone wanted to know how I was going to survive. I simply told them, “I’ll manage.” And it was true!
You can live on less than $1,000 per month down here depending on how you want to live. That’s especially true if you’re single and live away from the tourist zones. That’s certainly a lot more money than most of the local ticos earn in a single month.
I didn’t apply for Costa Rican residency right away. I did what a lot of other expats do—I entered on a visitor’s visa and did a “visa run” every 90 days to renew my visa. I’ve done border runs to Panama and Nicaragua, sometimes even staying up to a week to explore those other countries. But I always come back to Costa Rica.
I kept two U.S. bank accounts, just in case. One with a big bank and one with a smaller, regional bank. I had a problem with Bank of America a few years ago where a scammer drained my bank account, and I was without money for several weeks while the B of A’s fraud department sorted it out. Having all your eggs in one basket can be a recipe for disaster. I’ll never keep all my money in just one bank ever again.
For income, I had some carpentry experience and did some odd jobs for other expats who wanted to build an outdoor deck or some shelving. Nothing regular, though, so I knew I would have to get a “legitimate” source of income eventually.
I decided to become a landlord. I ended up purchasing a “fixer-upper” home and subdivided it into three rental studios, plus a small main house for me to live. Each studio is a separate vacation rental. Each one sleeps up to 4 people and has two beds plus a futon. I have a crib for couples with small children and some other small amenities, but they are pretty simple.
Each one has a simple kitchen with a 2-burner hotplate and a dorm-style refrigerator. I keep the price low in order to attract bargain hunters and students. I get some retirees, too, older couples who want to come down and enjoy Costa Rica on a budget.
I advertise online using Airbnb and Flipkey. I’ve used a few other websites, but most of my rental income comes from bookings on those two. I also maintain a simple website that I pay about $10 a month for through Weebly. I just upload pictures of the property and modify the website myself. I’ll put up a blog post every now and then if there’s something happening around town. I want to make sure that I have an actual website so renters can look me up and see that I’m legitimate, and not some fly-by-night scammer.
It’s worked out well for me. I stay pretty busy and usually have at least one of the studios occupied.
That’s how I make my living down here. If I can do it, anyone can.
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