Many Americans are now familiar with Costa Rica and its many charms, from beautiful beaches to lush forests and wonderful haciendas. With a huge coast line along both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, Costa Rica represents a true tropical paradise for those interested. However, there are also some other major benefits to living Costa Rica as well.
For example, unlike virtually all of its neighbors, Costa Rica is an oasis of calm in a region where politics tends to be turbulent and violent. In 1948 a military junta overthrew the government and installed a democratic constitution, dissolved the country’s military and then stepped aside leading to a degree of political stability that is virtually unheard of in Central America. Since 1949, Costa Rica has had thirteen national elections – the last of which was in 2010 – and is universally recognized as one of the world’s oldest and most successful democratic states.
Further, unlike Belize and some of the other politically stable states in the region, the country is not overrun by crime gangs and the like, making it both a safe and secure country to live in, within a region not known for being either of these. Though there is still poverty, the Costa Rican government has taken effective measures to correct many of the worst problems and in 2007 ranked fifty-fourth in the world on the Human Development Index. By North American standards, the country is still relatively poor, but by Central American standards it is a prominent success story.
Costa Rica has also taken an aggressive stance towards the environment at a national level. In the 2010 Environmental Performance Index, Costa Rica ranked as the third best country in the world and the first in the Americas. According to the Happy Planet Index, operated by the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica is the “greenest” country in the world today. Building upon these successes, Costa Rica intends to be the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2021. One effect of the aggressive environmental policy is that virtually all construction or land development requires an environmental evaluation and approval from the Costa Rican National Environmental Office (SETENA). Americans moving to Costa Rica should learn about these requirements from their attorney or real estate agent before purchasing any land.
Economically, Costa Rica has profited by orienting itself with the United States and pursuing a free market agenda and in 2007 approved a major free trade agreement with both the United States and the European Union. Offering a low cost alternative to North American business operations, Costa Rica is gradually evolving into the “Silicon Valley of Central America” with a large number of high tech firms opening up operations and facilities in the country. As a consequence, Costa Rica is very well wired, making it one of the most Internet friendly countries in Latin America. Indeed, the high tech sector has finally outpaced the more traditional agricultural sector as the leading sector in the country’s economy.
While Costa Rica still has many problems and is still considered a “developing country” by almost all measures, it is one of the most stable and American-friendly countries in Central America. Further, due to its many successes, the country’s conditions continue to improve at a rate that is far faster than many of the other countries in the region. If you are looking for a tropical paradise in Central America, Costa Rica is certainly worth investigating very closely.