Expat explains exactly why he and wife are leaving here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Here’s why we’ve decided to leave Costa Rica

You’ve heard all the complaints of Costa Rica before. So had we. Our thoughts were usually of dismissal and in hindsight denial. We actually got mad and were secretly telling them to leave if they didn’t like it.  The common statistics for expatriates living in Costa Rica are not good. Most move back within five years. But, I thought our situation was different. I’m married to a Tica. She speaks English, and I speak Spanish. We live in a local community and most of our friends are Ticos. She’s a professional, and we live frugally.

We also have had many friends who are in similar situations to ours: foreigners married to Costa Ricans. Almost all have left. When I first came to Costa Rica nine years ago, life was different. People bitched about other things, like the roads. But for a while things seemed to be getting a bit better. Unfortunately, we can’t think of anything that is getting better now. The price of groceries and restaurants is crazy (I know, eat rice & beans), gas is the highest in Central America, Consumer prices are ridiculous, and real estate prices are not even close to being justified.

On the surface the Caja looks good. But if you need to see a doctor, try lining up for hours to see one. And, you’ll never see the same doctor twice. So we always use private doctors. They used to be reasonable but not anymore.

Most doing business here will sing a similar song. Fees, regulations, bureaucracy, permitting and labor costs have all spiked. Many business people that I know have closed their operations down or are struggling to survive. Electricity costs have doubled in a few years. The tourism and hospitality industries are in pain, mostly because they’ve been forced to price themselves out of the market. Taxes have gone up on rental income, homes over $230,000 and S.A.’s. 50 percent of the Costa Rican government’s annual expenditures are made with borrowed funds, not sustainable says the big credit rating agencies. Now the government is pondering new taxes like targeting passive income (interest), money coming into the country, a VAT and a wealth tax. The official unemployment rate is already over 10 percent and supposed to rise.

My wife is educated and holds two masters degrees. She has seniority, and yet she takes home about $1,200. This is very good compared to most in Costa Rica. For the average Tico, life is incredibly difficult. Mortgage and loan rates are nuts. We realized that things were different when we had our first child. It’s difficult to find activities for them. Playing in the neighborhood is unheard of without supervision. The streets and roads are dangerous: no pedestrian rights and terrible drivers. Everybody lives either with locked gates, bars, razor wire or in tight gated communities. There is spectacular nature, but you have to drive for hours to get to it and fight horrendous traffic. Pollution is terrible: garbage everywhere, sewage in the rivers, the air in the Central Valley is horrible and trash is an epidemic countrywide. The public schools are substandard (in my opinion), and private schools have become very expensive.

Over the last few year most people that we know, expats, or expats married to Costa Ricans, have left. We were always slightly offended when another one did. But, now we’ve given up the fight and are starting a new life elsewhere (Canada). We’ll come back to Costa Rica to visit the wonderful nature and our relatives. Maybe we’ll enjoy it more in small doses.

Bill Hiller,
Santo Domingo
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