Good Places to Retire in Central America

••• Photo by M. Earhart

A lower cost of living and beautiful surroundings in Central America have been capturing the hearts of retirees in the Western world for some time. But which country is the most favorable to the dreams of baby boomers? A country-by-country look at the safety and stability of governments and the ease of becoming a resident pensioner and property owner may shed light on this important decision.


Guatemala's Lake Atitlan has spring-like weather all year. Volcanoes and exceptionally preserved Mayan ruins are major attractions in this large country that borders Mexico and El Salvador. Property ownership is legal, and foreign investment invited by the government. The Guatemalan army is a presence everywhere; it is hard to say which is more worrisome--young soldiers with guns or bandits on roadways.


Belize, formerly British Honduras, is the only English-speaking country in Central America, and it enjoys a stable government. The money exchange is an easy two-to-one and U.S. currency is welcomed. An income of $2,000 a month is necessary to become a pensioner, and goods may be imported tax-free. Foreigners may not own property.


Panama features inexpensive and modern health care. Pensioners receive discounts on prescription goods and services. Panama enjoys close ties with the government of the United States and other Western nations. Costa Rica borders Panama and the exchange between the two countries is very friendly. Foreigners may own property, and retirees are exempt from property taxes for 20 years.


While the 1979 Civil War devastated Nicaragua, peace reigns in that country now. The government has issued rules designed to lure retirees based on earlier Costa Rican laws that have since been watered down. In Nicaragua, an income of $400 a month is qualifying, plus $100 a month for dependents, and pensioners are allowed to bring personal household appliances and a car duty-free. There are no restrictions on foreigners owning property.

Costa Rica

The government of Costa Rica is a democracy with close ties to the United States. Costa Rica does not have an army, although it does have police that stop drug smugglers and those who would exploit children. The main industry in Costa Rica is eco-tourism, so laws favor the environment. Owning property requires a citizen partner and is subject to many laws that were enacted to stop foreign corporations from taking over pristine areas. Becoming a resident is possible for pensioners with at least $600-a-month income, though it is a bit more costly than in some poorer countries and can be a long, drawn-out process.