Why Not To Retire To Costa Rica

“How is Manuel Noriega doing now that he’s back home in Panama? Does he hold a grudge against Americans?”

–N.M., United States

Lief Simon replies:

Don’t know and don’t care.

Manuel Antonio Noriega is a sick old man who will likely end up under house arrest until he dies here in Panama. Currently, at least last I knew, before leaving Panama last week, he’s in jail.


“Kathleen, we moved to Costa Rica in January, partly as a result of your continued push to get us out of the United States. Thanks for that. As far as taxes in Costa Rica, which you’ve written about recently, I totally understand how most people are fearing the tax man in this country. But there’s another thing you might want to look into more urgently that makes Costa Rica a hard place to retire.

“We filed for residency in Costa Rica in March of this year, and we miraculously got our temporary residency in December, only nine months later! But we had a powerful businessman/lawyer who pushed our paperwork through with his signature. I know people who have had their paperwork in process for years, and they can’t get the government to move and give them residency.

“Also, the residency paperwork is horrendous! Once we jumped through all the hoops on the U.S. side, we were glad it was over. When we got to Costa Rica, we found that we were only halfway through. It’s a 19th-century get-in-line nation here. It’s enough to wear you out, just getting all the paperwork you need within their 90-day window. If you don’t make the 90 days, you must start over with re-authentication of all documents.

“Because the residency rules are changing multiple times per year, people don’t know where they stand. I just found that they reduced the duration for residency status. You now can get temporary residency for only two years. But you need to have temporary residency for three years before you can file for permanent residency. Then you must be a resident for seven years (previously five years, only a few months ago) before you can apply for citizenship.

“It’s a mess, and they are clearly attempting to deter people from moving here. This whole thing is a fiasco here. I say this for the benefit of the many people who may be planning to come to Costa Rica to take flight from the garbage that’s coming down in the United States.

“Just consider it an update from a friend in Costa Rica. We’re looking at other options, places with good business opportunities, some nicer roads, and some forms of sanity in government. If you have ideas, we’re all ears. We’re not locked down to anywhere. We just want to be productive where we’re planted.”

–Daniel D., Costa Rica

Other options you might consider in this region include Panama, Nicaragua, and Belize, depending what kind of lifestyle you’re looking for. The geography of Panama and Nicaragua is very similar to that in Costa Rica. In Panama, the roads and the infrastructure overall are far superior. In both Panama, Nicaragua, and Belize, you’ll find the process of establishing residency hugely easier.

Costa Rica is probably also the most expensive choice among the four countries I’ve named.

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