Costa Rica or Panama

Many baby boomers researching central american countries as a possible retirement destination look closely at Panama and Costa Rica. Both countries have large north american expat communities so there is plenty of information available to the newcomer to help determine the best country to move to.

Costa Rica

In the 1990s everyone was moving to Costa Rica because land and houses were cheap, taxes were low, and security and safety was acceptable. So many land developers, new high priced hotels and other tourist businesses opened up and everyone needed to make a buck so prices started climbing. Soon Costa Rica was the most expensive travel destination in all of latin america. Then in 2008 the world financial crisis brought reality here and real estate prices fell to what is now an acceptable level. Food and other necessities are still quite expensive in Costa Rica, but these costs are increasing daily in Panama as well.

Costa Rica offers mature internet infrastructure, competitive telephone systems, extensive roads and almost anything you can ever want to buy is available in Costa Rica. For duty free shopping the Golfito area allows you to save money on big ticket items but you can only spend so much money every six months there.

The tourism industry in Costa Rica is mature and provides hotels and destinations to suit any and all life styles and budgets.


In order to compete with Costa Rica, Panama provided expats registering as residents a large package or incentives including discounted import duties on important items like household goods and vehicles, as well as shopping discount cards accepted all over the country. And many expats moved from over priced Costa Rica to Panama in the 2100’s. But now many of these incentives are gone and prices have risen making Panama not such an easy decision. Also reports of increased criminal activities in the popular expat spots has put more retirees off.

 Choose Costa Rica

Now that daily costs are competitive, comparing quality of life issues, there is no question that Costa Rica is a superior choice over Panama.

Move to Costa Rica

When i first visited Costa Rica in 1989, I flew from Portland, Oregon to Miami, Florida and then rested for most of the afternoon at the Miami airport hotel which has a roof top swimming pool free to passengers smart enough to stumble upon it! And then a RACSA flight direct to San Jose started out with a booze cart pushed down the isle just as the wheels touched off the runway. I can tell you we were very high by the time we arrived at Juan Santa Maria International Airport and I stumbled out onto the tarmac and the greeting customs agents who waved us all thru and into paradise.

My friend Jay was waiting for me and we wizzed off to find some fun. What a two week vacation that was! I can still remember it, the girls, the beaches, the booze, the excitement.
I returned to my work in Portland only to reminisce and miss my good times in Costa Rica. Eventually i was able to sell everything and travel, stopping in Hawaii, Mexico and Costa Rica again to see where i wanted to stop for a few years to learn spanish and write The Great American Novel. I loved Hawaii, but it was very expensive in 1990 and the sun was some how so hot that i could only go into the ocean at the earliest and latest part of the day. Mexico on the other hand held magic and mystery and sexiness and fun and i stayed some many months at my friends house in Bucerias Just north of Puerto Vallarta. However while living in Mexico there were a number of daylight armed thefts right near me and i personally had both police and criminals point guns at me a number of times – to which i am thankful i survived those assaults to tell you of them.

I left Mexico and flew back to Costa Rica and rented a house in Tibas where i setup my Macintosh computer and started to write and study spanish. The first part of business was of course finding a girl friend to teach me – and this was solved almost over night with quite a few young women available for the position. Suddenly i found myself in an ideal situation. No stress. No worries. Plenty of loving and great educational opportunities. I decided to move to Costa Rica.

But moving to Costa Rica 20 years ago was not the same as it is today. In some ways it was easier before 911 and in some ways now adays it’s easier because so many Americans are moving to costa rica to live and retire or invest. But back then i had to fill an airline shipping container pod with my most important possessions and have it airfreighted into san jose airport where after three days of paperwork i filled my van with my household goods and headed for home.

Now you can call one moving company and they will pack and ship all your personal items for you while you sit and the beach and sip a chilling beverage. Even the emergence of PODS and UNITS Portable Storage container systems is facilitating this allowing the home owner to pack their stuff into a portable container and have it shipped anywhere in the world with ease.