In the last year, Costa Rica has become the remote worker’s dream, and, for a number of reasons, digital nomads are choosing this country as their destination of choice.
After a year of stay-at-home orders in many nations around the world, remote work is now mainstream. People have moved their offices into their home’s extra spaces — the spare bedroom, an under used breakfast nook, or even some kitchen counter space. With more home life came many benefits, such as being able to cook more of our meals, walking the dog on our lunch break, and spending more time with the family. But there’s more to work-from-home than seeing the same four walls every day and countries like Costa Rica are beckoning for a chance at playing landlord to the global workforce.
Before the pandemic, many people looked at remote work as “crazy.” Now, it appears that digital nomads had it right all along. The idea of answering emails from the beach has hit the mainstream. Once the domain of freelancers, the digital working world is now open to those with steady jobs who are increasingly tempted to upgrade their work station by moving to a place that offers a better all-around lifestyle.
The pandemic may have made travel a far higher hurdle but there is undoubtedly a movement of ‘living in the now’ growing alongside the uncertainty about the future. Millions of traditional employees were unshackled from location by the pandemic and even with increased vaccination rates and case counts dropping some people are not even sure if they’d like to return to the formal office at all.
Experts believe there are currently millions of digital nomads working around the world. 10.9 million U.S. citizens were working remotely in 2020, according to Steve King of Emergent Research. This is one third more than the previous year. Estimates are that around 60 percent of digital nomads in 2020 were traditional stable employees as opposed to freelancers — a figure that is up 30 percent from 2019.
As a result of a year spent at home, white-collar workers are burned out and flush with savings (special thanks to soaring asset prices). This has made many of them ripe for quitting stable jobs in search of a post-pandemic adventure. They have gone from being stability-seekers to feeling more risk-prone after being stuck indoors on Zoom calls and online shopping, with very little real engagement with the world.
Not everyone can throw caution to the wind but a growing number are able to afford to take more chances. But dread and anxiety have given rise to a new sense of fearlessness. The pandemic has changed priorities and people are more apt to see that we only live this life once. Workers who are not feeling enticed by their company’s return-to-office mandates are willing to take a chance and ask for what they want, which is to continue working whenever and wherever they want.
The top three reasons for digital workers seeking a change of pace
1. The pandemic has made some workers evaluate their lifestyle
After spending more time in a less regimented environment, people have found that the change has been restorative. As such, they have begun imagining how much more restorative a bigger upgrade in their environment could be. And for those already in that line of thinking, Costa Rica’s incredible natural environments continue to pop up on their radar.
Younger workers are questioning the equation of work hard, pay off loans, then enjoy retirement, wondering, “can we be happy now?” Lots of things were put on hold and cabin fever has brewed a need for big life changes.
2. Enjoying the freedom to be able to adjust schedules
In the last year, many full-time employees have relished in their ability to be able to spend more time interacting with family and less time at a desk. In between working, they are getting involved in passion projects and taking more quality time doing the things they love. Those who love beaches and nature are taking work a bit more remote than within commuting distance. Some are even choosing a half-time nomad lifestyle, adding a few weeks of distance work to their regular schedule. These are the people who are dreaming about catching a mid-day surf break when the tide is right, just in between working hours.
3. Living in paradise while saving money
The most recent global economy is changing and it appears to want to punish the cautious in many instances. Bosses are failing to support traditional white-collar workers and many jobs are being threatened with automation, while riskier entrepreneurs and investors are making it big. Those who have some savings and are able to work remotely are making the choice to move somewhere with a lower cost of living that is also more enjoyable on a daily basis. Many expat forums will tell you that a couple can easily rent a home and live in Costa Rica for less than $2000 per month, which is much less than any North American city, where most people work and live. Rather than spending exorbitant amounts on rent or mortgage payments for a tiny apartment in a city that is closed, people are choosing to have tranquility and privacy in a remarkable location with fresh air and the sounds of nature. Plus, saving time and money on the commute makes great savings, too.
Why are digital nomads specifically choosing Costa Rica?
Expat Insider just published their 2021 InterNations Expat Survey, for which Costa Rica comes in at number three. Home to picture-perfect tropical beaches and incredible national parks that feature an array of rare species of plants and animals, this country is a timeless favourite with tourists who want to immerse themselves in concentrated, inspirational biodiversity. Great coffee and the mantra ‘pura vida’ can be added to the list of appeal.
According to the world-spanning survey of 12,000 expats, the pandemic has convinced around 1 in 10 people to move abroad, with hopes that 2021 will be their year. Thanks to technology, the work environment has become an important non-negotiable for this 10% of the workforce, who now know that they can and must live AND work somewhere that they truly love.
Costa Rica is drawing up plans to let distance workers stay longer, with a tourism visa that can see remotely-working visitors staying for up to a year. These workers are not taking local jobs and are getting paid their usual foreign rates in most cases. This would be a huge stop-gap for the country that, in 2019, had 8-9% of the country’s economy based on tourism, according to Luis Jara, a spokesperson for Costa Rica’s Tourism Board (this percentage is far higher in areas outside of the metropolitan centers, which are much more dependent on tourism dollars). There is also movement in the government to change the investor visa threshold to $150,000 usd to entice a larger group of people to make Costa Rica their more permanent home.
Costa Rica’s tourism minister, Gustavo Segura, is touting the country’s investment in “connectivity” as a big draw. High speed fiber optic internet can be found in most of the well-known destinations, including in our Southern Zone, where high speed connections can be from 20-200mbps.
Some examples of jobs that people are finding success working remotely
- Virtual assistant
- Web designer
- Community manager
Sound advice for people thinking about becoming digital nomads in Costa Rica
- Spend at least one month in each location – gives you some stability while allowing you to explore and not get sucked into any one spot
- Join a co-working space – can provide many benefits, including fast internet connections, a physical workspace, and a community of other individuals who are also working.
- Use apps to meet new people – a great way to learn more about a culture or place from people actually living there.
- Sign up for ‘Nomad Insurance’ – avoid getting stuck with a large medical bill in a foreign country.
- Set boundaries with your boss or clients – establish expectations about what appropriate work times are for you in your new location.
- Get multiple debit and credit cards – in case you lose one and it is a challenge to get a replacement
- Commit to mental and physical daily routines – the excitement of a new place can draw us away from the daily activities that give our lives stability