Costa Rica relies heavily on tourism as you most likely know as an Insider. For the last couple of decades, the country has promoted itself as a leader in adventure eco-tourism and runs slick ad campaigns showcasing incredible volcanos, brightly colored waterfalls, empty beaches, verdant mountains, and loveable sloths—amongst other jaw-dropping biodiversity. Then it expanded successfully into luxury tourism: glamping, gaycations, and wedding destinations. According to the Knoema numbers for 2019, 13.5% of Costa Rica’s GDP came from tourism—bringing in approximately US$1.9 billion. It is safe to say that in many of the popular beach communities and national park areas, well over half of the income comes directly or indirectly from visitors.
Healthcare coverage and proper medical care can often be a daunting and costly process in just about any country around the world. On top of that, add in a world-wide pandemic and it leaves most of us with questions about future costs and the strength of healthcare systems—whether private or public. Fortunately, Costa Rica has a highly regarded national healthcare program compared to many of its Latin American neighbors.
You may ask, “Do unhappy expats exist? Aren’t they living their best life?” The short answer is yes. Although expats put in the time and effort to live in their chosen country, some can still be unhappy, lonely, frustrated, or angry anywhere in the world—especially considering the politically charged year the planet has just experienced.
“OK, hold on. We’re going to Costa Rica to visit some random friend of a girl you met in a bar in Chicago, who you hardly know?” My husband looked at me with that typical incredulous look he reserves for when I plan adventurous vacations.
After spending four years living and working in Sydney, Australia, we returned home to Vancouver, Canada, vowing that it would only be for a few years, and then we’d be off again, living and working somewhere new. However, we soon fell into the rat race of demanding careers, buying a house in the suburbs, getting a dog, and starting a family. Our “in a few years” plan became a “someday” plan with no set deadline.
Most formal volunteering programs are based in the San José area. But there are ways to give back to the community in nearly every location across Costa Rica. Many formal programs charge a weekly or monthly fee. This is a common practice for "voluntourism" trips.
Three years ago, my wife Anne Marie and I took our first trip to Costa Rica. We arrived in the Central Valley and immediately felt comfortable. Staying for three months, we traveled to the Pacific side, spending time in Jacó and the surrounding coastal areas.
Costa Rica has certainly been discovered as an ecotourism destination. Are you 20 years too late, or are there still places where you can be an ecotourist and have an authentic Costa Rican experience?
New Jersey native Phil Eitman moved to Costa Rica around the housing crash of 2008, with plans to oversee sales and financing for a mega-development on the Gold Coast. When the project evaporated, Phil learned to pivot and decided to open an insurance agency targeting expats.
Turtle nesting tours are fairly common in the coastal areas of the country. Annually, during nesting season, female sea turtles swim hundreds, if not thousands of miles—returning to the very beach where they were hatched to lay their own eggs.