How to Retire in Costa Rica: Meet Expat Alexis from Minnesota
There we sat, the two of us, in cross-legged relaxation drinking cool green tea, having a conversation, as the midday breeze caressed our faces, fluffing our hair. Between sips of tea and our discussion about how to retire in Costa Rica, I found myself gazing out at the view of the Pacific Ocean in the distance and the kaleidoscope of greens visible in the adjacent forest.
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? And indeed it was. This was a recent Tuesday, when Alexis Cress agreed to host me at her home yoga studio so that I could interview her for this first expat interview of 2017 for my La Pura Vida Costa Rica blog.
I met Alexis through her yoga teaching. She teaches an all-level Vinyasa Flow once a week down the street from my home on an open-air pavilion at a neighbor’s bed and breakfast. After several weeks, I realized that Alexis – who is around my age, in her late 40’s – had a story to tell about her sojourn to Costa Rica (which includes her husband) and some tips on their experience and how it might inform your choice on how to retire in Costa Rica – that might be interesting to you, my La Pura Vida Costa Rica readers. At my invitation, she agreed to speak with me.
So, first off, a very special thanks to Alexis Cress for her willingness to open her yoga studio to me (which was where we sat, pictured here), and for sharing her story.
Editor note: As in all my expat interviews, I do my best to let you the reader hear as much as possible directly from the person with whom I spoke. Thus, the following will be a back and forth of the conversation Alexis and I had. (She has also had the opportunity to review this interview and to make any edits that she felt were appropriate.)
So, without further ado, meet Alexis Cress.
The Journey from Minnesota to Costa Rica
JuliAnne: Alexis, first off, where are you from?
Alexis: We moved to Costa Rica from Bloomington, Minnesota, which is a suburb of Minneapolis.
JuliAnne: Alexis, how did you discover Costa Rica?
Alexis: We traveled to Costa Rica on vacation a few years ago; we treated ourselves to a trip each year to somewhere that had warm weather. Arenal, Costa Rica, was the first place we traveled to, and we loved it. There, we did the touristy stuff – white water rafting, zip lining, the hot springs.
(Arenal is in the mountainous volcano region of Costa Rica, and boasts its very own volcano, which is still active! It includes one of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica, which is a big tourist draw to the country.)
JuliAnne: What do you and Leo do for a living here in Costa Rica, Alexis?
Alexis: We are full time retirees. In the past, my husband Leo was a commodities trader and I was a certified financial planner and coach. I had my own businesses for quite a few of the last several years.
How did you choose Costa Rica for retirement?
JuliAnne: How did you decide to move to Costa Rica for retirement?
Alexis: We were not completely sold on moving abroad, to be honest. We considered a lot of areas – both Stateside and international before we chose Costa Rica.
JuliAnne: What areas in the United States did you consider?
Alexis: In the U.S., we had researched Florida quite a bit, and some areas in California. Because I have asthma, I feel better in a more humid, temperate climate. That was a plus for Florida. California fell off our list because of cost of living considerations. Many areas in the U.S. that have beach frontage or access are very pricey. We also looked at Hawaii and Washington.
JuliAnne: What countries did you consider outside the U.S.?
Alexis: Other than Costa Rica, we looked at Jamaica, Ecuador, Panama and Puerto Rico.
JuliAnne: How did those weigh out against Costa Rica as you did your research?
Alexis: We could not find a lot online about Ecuador really; there did not seem to be a strong presence of expats living in Ecuador that had community groups online or anything like that. Nor did there seem to be much online about expat experiences in Ecuador. That was a bit of a concern for us. We got married in Jamaica, and love the people there and the chill vibe, but once we looked into it further, weren’t comfortable with living on such a small island. Safety was also a concern for Jamaica. Though we visited Panama – that country did not feel right either. I’m not sure if this was due to the strong American influence we observed there, or because of the safety issues (we heard about). Puerto Rico was going through a financial crisis when we looked at it, so we decided to cut it from the list for that reason.
Researching Costa Rica prior to moving
JuliAnne: What kind of research did you do about Costa Rica as a place to live and retire?
Alexis: We read two or three books from Amazon on retiring to Costa Rica. We read a blog from one of the books, Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week and we followed that author for a while. The books had a lot of links, which we also explored. We also looked at the U.S. Embassy’s page for Costa Rica.
JuliAnne: What were the top three reasons you decided to move to Costa Rica, versus all of those other places?
Alexis: Costa Rica was said to be very peaceful – that resonated with us; we liked the fact that the country does not have a standing army. Second, we love the climate in Costa Rica. As I said, I have asthma and I do better in a temperate, humid environment. Costa Rica offers both. Access to the ocean was also very important for us, especially me, and we wanted to be close to nature. Finally, we were looking for a small type of community in which to settle – one that was not too over developed and Costa Rica seemed to have quite a few of those.
Falling in Love with Costa Rica’s Costa Ballena region
JuliAnne: So, now here you are settled in Costa Ballena along Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast.
While in the past a lot of retirees were choosing Guanacaste and Papagayo, Costa Ballena has risen in the past couple of years as an attractive option for retirees. Did you take a look at other areas inside Costa Rica before deciding that this was your preference or were you convinced that the South Pacific was where you wanted to be, as soon as you visited?
Alexis: When we left to go back to Minnesota after our third trip to Costa Rica, we felt like Costa Ballena was a strong option. The tipping point for moving here was us being able to sell our home in Minnesota before we could take the leap.
JuliAnne: What specifically drew you to the Costa Ballena region?
Alexis: I love water, so that was the biggest draw for me, since we are right on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica. (Editor’s Note: The Ballena Coast has numerous beaches for surfing, paddle boarding, walking and camping, some of which have been reported to be among the country’s prettiest.)
Because Leo, my husband, and I liked this area so much, we came two more times over a three-year period to the Ballena Coast. Between the second and third visit, we had researched other places besides this area here in Costa Rica that we might also want to consider.
We did a lot of research on the Central Valley of Costa Rica – cost of living and so forth, and we looked into Guanacaste online. In the Central Pacific, we looked at Jaco, which is a big town but it did not speak to us at all.
Your Choices for Moving to Costa Ballena: Uvita, Dominical or Ojochal?
JuliAnne: Did you look at other towns here in Costa Ballena, other than Ojochal?
Alexis: In this area, we had looked at Dominical and Uvita. I originally thought that because of my yoga interest that perhaps Dominical would be good for me, but I did not feel a connection there. Dominical is home to more of a hippy, surfer crowd.
When we checked out Uvita, we found there were a lot of other Minnesotans there. But, the housing there seemed to be more expensive.
When we drove South to Ojochal, where we live now, we liked the people we met here; they were very down to earth. We met Canadians, some Coloradans – everyone was really nice. One of the realtors we met also had asthma like me so it was nice to compare notes with someone who had similar health concerns.
JuliAnne: So, once you found Ojochal, was your mind made up after seeing some homes in the area?
Alexis: On our final visit before we moved, we joined the Ojochal Community Page on Facebook, which allowed us to see what was going on day-to-day down here prior to making that final decision.
We tried to put ourselves in the situations we read about, what we would be doing day to day. I also reached out to people online through the community page and asked about yoga and teaching yoga and people seemed to be very interested in having a new teacher in town.
JuliAnne: I have to say, Alexis, it does sound like you and Leo really did your homework. I often hear very different stories from other expats who fell in love but did not look go to the lengths that you all did in terms of finding out what it was going to be like day to day before they picked up and moved. That’s great.
Alexis: We’re big on research (giggling). Before we purchased our first home together many years ago, we looked at 50 homes before we made an offer. So, yes, we are meticulous. As we did the research on all the areas we looked at for retirement, my husband would play devil’s advocate on everything and I would find the positive aspects.
Based on all the time we took and the homework we did, we do feel like we picked the right place.
Building a House in Costa Rica
JuliAnne: You and Leo have built a home here in Ojochal, correct?
Alexis: Yes. We moved to Ojochal and rented for about nine months while our home was being constructed.
JuliAnne: I hear so many complaints from expats in Costa Rica about the construction process locally. I believe some of that is due to people not understanding the cultural differences in work ethic and processes here along the coast. Could you run me through the timeline of when you moved here, when you bought your lot and how long building your home took? I think a lot of people considering Costa Rica would be interested in hearing that.
Alexis: We moved down here on June 1, 2015. We purchased our lot in August that same year. Then, we started construction on our house in October, just two months later.
JuliAnne: That’s actually a pretty quick timeline! How long did your overall construction take, start to finish?
Alexis: It only took five months. We moved in on March 1 of 2016.
JuliAnne: Wow! That’s much faster than most people I hear from. Granted your home is a modest size versus some of the others in this market, but was that the timeline that your builder had promised you?
Alexis: The contractor had promised three months, and it took five, so that’s not too bad.
Retirement in Costa Rica: What’s it like day to day?
JuliAnne: Well, congratulations on reaching retirement and finding your paradise here in the tropics! Many people are interested in retiring earlier and earlier these days. How do you and Leo find that you spend your time differently, now that you are retired?
Alexis: We always wanted to work with the community as retirees. There are community groups here that we’re getting involved with, as time goes by, and we’re enjoying that.
With the acreage we have – our lot is three acres, we are pretty busy caring for our land. Plus, as you know, I teach yoga.
JuliAnne: Some retirees tell me that once they move to Costa Rica, they get bored. Have you found yourself bored since you’ve been here? The Costa Ballena community is very small.
Alexis: No. I have not felt like there was a moment that I didn’t have enough to do, since we’ve been here. On our land alone, we’ve planted 150 fruit trees in the past nine months, as well as a ton of flowers and pineapple plants. Plus, we’ve recently put in a new nursey. We plan to grow our own food, at least vegetables and herbs.
JuliAnne: Wow, you guys are busy! That’s great. Are you guys completely off the municipal grid up here, since you’re pretty far up the mountainside?
Alexis: No, we’re not, though we like the idea of being as sustainable as possible. Our new house is solar powered, however, with a back-up to the electrical company.
And there’s more to come…
Alexis talks shares further about retirement in Costa Rica in our next segment, which will come out next week. Stay tuned for more on:
- Making social connections when you live on the coast,
- Teaching yoga, and
- The surprises she didn’t expect before they moved abroad to Costa Rica.
For more about Alexis and her style of yoga, visit her website.
Want to know more about what living in Costa Rica is really like from a nine-year expat?
You’ve found the right place! You can read more about me, JuliAnne Murphy, my bestselling books about moving to Panama, and more on my full-time life in Costa Rica by clicking around on these links. If you’d like to hear from some other expats in Costa Rica, check out my recent chat with Enzo from Italy who owns a thriving boutique hotel and Italian restaurant, as well as some others I’ve spoken with on my Panama Gringo Guide blog here.
Pura Vida, and see you next week, right here, with more from Alexis!