Costa Rica – Heaven or Hell?

Once again I draw inspiration from the letters to the editor sent to AM Costa Rica. Variations of these letters appear rather frequently on that site. Perhaps the editor feels it his duty to publish all opinion. Perhaps he likes that it’s free content for his web site. Probably both. In any case, the most frequent ‘discussion’ there is in regard to life for gringos in Costa Rica. There are the detractors (it’s HELL) and the defenders (it’s HEAVEN) and those who see a mixed situation (like me, for instance).

To cut to the chase, Costa Rica is definitely NOT for everyone. If you want to live in a place that has all the good points of the USA but is cheaper and with nicer weather, you WILL be disappointed. Living a USA-style middle class life is not easy here, and it’s not cheap either. The money you save on heating bills will be more than negated by the increased cost of buying and driving that shiny new car you require. What you save on cheap movies and cheaper produce will be more than counterbalanced by higher prices for consumer goods and gringo style food. To put it simply, the higher on the hog you want to live, the more it’s going to cost you relative to the USA. If you want to maintain your USA based health insurance, your costs will probably go up on that too.

People ‘back home’ have this dream of owning beach front property, or building a luxury home with an ocean view. Aside from the dangers of getting screwed buying property, there aren’t any ‘deals’ to be had here. If you own a time machine, maybe go back to 1999 or sooner, but now? You might luck out and find some fire-sale property. Some do exist. But if you want a gringo style place, you’ll be shown a lot of property for sale by gringos who bought at the top and refuse to take a loss when selling.

The other main complaint is about security and crime. On this one I lean towards the complainers. The national sport is NOT soccer, it is theft. I have lost 5 cameras in my six plus years here. My fault for not being vigilant, I admit. But the level of vigilance necessary to avoid theft here is a lot higher than ‘back home.’ It’s not just me, by any means. I know several Ticos/Ticas who have been mugged and a lot more who have had things stolen.

At the moment I live in a decent apartment building in downtown San Jose. We have 24 hour security and I feel quite safe when I’m at home. It’s not expensive and it’s very convenient. It’s also noisy and the streets are dirty. I would love to live in a quiet little place but I would be afraid of burglary at the very least, and at worst a bunch of armed thugs doing a home invasion. True, even downtown San Jose isn’t like the scary parts of Detroit or even Miami, but you don’t really escape crime by moving to the country here, unless you want to live without many possessions or build a fort and hire a platoon of security guards.

Crime IS a problem here. And the root of this evil, like most evils, is money (or lack thereof). Sure, there are criminals here who are just rotten individuals, like any other place in the world. But the lack of jobs here is a big contributor to the problem. I won’t beat this drum again, but unless the economy improves (not likely) we won’t see a marked decrease in the number of hoodlums.

The local justice (?) system leaves a LOT to be desired, and putting more criminals in jail would help, but it would not solve the problem of WAY too many people with nothing productive to do. You can wish that the underclass would just go away, but they won’t. What would it cost to build and staff prisons for 500,000 inmates? Do you think the gringos who complain about a luxury home tax will be willing to PAY for that with more taxes? No, of course not. Better to cut elsewhere in the budget, items like education, health care, food subsidies… you know, all those nanny-state programs. If more hungry and sick people turn to crime, we just build more prisons! Win-win!

But really, if you want to live in a country with the highest rate of incarceration in the developed world, WHY ON EARTH did you ever consider leaving the USA in the first place?

(random thought. Why is it that those who actually had nannies hate the nanny state idea so much? I’ll have to think about that)

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  1. Cy Bolinger says:

    Thanks for your article. As a retired expat, crime is becoming more than just something to "deal" with here, it's getting much worse almost on a daily basis. For instance, a recent home invasion-shooting/homicide in Atenas Sunday Aug 7, (AM Costa Rica carried the story Tuesday Aug 9). In the meantime, just since last weekend, there have been more robberies in San Jose/San Pedro and surrounding areas in the Central Valley. On the Pacific side in Jaco, theft is rampant. Many robberies including violent home invasions don't make the news. It's becoming "pro forma" for expats to accept the fact that there is little or no police protection in Costa Rica and the bad guys surely do know it. The crime wave goes on and on…
    Cy Bolinger, Retired U.S. journalist