Shortly after I arrived for an extended visit to Costa Rica I ran across a story from USA Today about foreigners buying retirement homes in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica.
As I traveled around Guanacaste with my parents, we saw some of the luxury beach compounds being marketed to foreigners, mainly Americans. The billboards advertising them are in English, and even modest properties being sold by local families have signs that say “for sale” instead of “se vende.”
Costa Rica has long been a retirement destination for Americans, and the government has an active program to bring retirees and their dollars here. Many of these pensionados live in gated
communities in the hills around the capital, San Jose, but some of those who settled farther afield have become integrated into local villages.
No doubt the money that foreigners bring into the local economy is welcome. But there are problems.
One is that these beach compounds for wealthy foreigners can stress the infrastructure. Costa Rica’s roads, sewers and water systems are not necessarily ready for huge condominium complexes with golf courses.
Another is that local people are being priced out of the most desireable real estate in their own country.
And yet another is what Americans could come to represent to Costa Ricans — a wealthy elite who hire local people as domestic servants but never become real neighbors.
My parents came to Costa Rica almost 20 years ago as Peace Corps volunteers, lived in a modest house without an oven or hot water, and made lifelong friends in the area they served. No doubt some Americans still come here in this spirit, but Costa Ricans may have reason to think otherwise.