Phoenix Man Faces Challenge Of Retiring Abroad
May 29, 2013

Photo by Peter O'Dowd
The Los Tucanes development in Herradura, Costa Rica, caters to American retirees.
Bill Peace sees his new home in Costa Rica for the first time. He moves in next January.
PLAYA HERRADURA, Costa Rica — As many as 50,000 Americans live in Costa Rica and many of them are Baby Boomers flocking to the country’s tropical beaches to retire, according to the U.S. State Department.

They’re drawn to Costa Rica's biodiversity, the political stability, and its cheap healthcare. For one Phoenix man, who is about to embark on the journey, Costa Rica is all about adventure.

“It's sort of like my last big hurrah, my bucket list,” Bill Peace said.

Peace, 64, is single and counting the days until next January when he'll leave his management job at the University of Advancing Technology. From his office in Phoenix, Peace pulls up photos of his life-to-be in Costa Rica. He's bought a parcel of land in a development for gringos on the central Pacific coast, and he’s building a 720-square foot house on it.

Peace said he’s also leaving behind the days of 24-hour television and constant connectivity.

“I'm looking forward to settling down, and living life for the sake of living life,” he said.

Peace is jumping in headfirst with his entire life savings. The land and the house cost $85,000. He even had to get a loan to close the deal. But Peace is in good company. The number of American retirees living abroad has steadily climbed in the past decade or so. Mexico and Canada still dwarf places like Costa Rica by sheer numbers. But data from the Social Security Administration show there's been a 67 percent jump in Americans receiving Social Security benefits there since 2002.

“Costa Rica has the economic and political stability that a lot of people crave,” said Erin Van Rheenen, the author of "Living Abroad in Costa Rica".

“People who go to a place like Costa Rica thinking their life will be the same, only cheaper and warmer, those are the people are who are going to have a little bit of trouble," Van Rheenen said.

This is not lost on Bill Peace. A month after meeting in Phoenix, we visit his new home in Costa Rica. It's the first time he's seen it in person.

Minnesota native Rhonda Berg and her husband began developing houses in Costa Rica about five years ago.

More On This Story

Read more about retiring to Costa Rica.

The first phase of Los Tucanes is a development of a dozen or so colorful casitas cast against the deep green of the surrounding jungle. All around us, birds squawk and cicadas buzz. Peace’s casita is simple as can be. It’s made of concrete construction. It has two small bedrooms. To save money, Peace doesn’t have cabinets or a full stove in the kitchen. As we pull up to the driveway, the developer, Rhonda Berg, is there to meet us.

Berg is a Minnesota native who started developing in Costa Rica with her husband five years ago. At Los Tucanes, they’re working with the Costa Rican landowners to split the proceeds from the sales. Berg says she caters mostly to middle-class Americans, who are demanding basic accommodations after the U.S. economic crisis.

“People will complain about the type of building we do. We build in the price range people can afford. We are not building high buck. That's not us,” Berg said.

Still, the second and third phase of Los Tucanes have struggled to sell, Berg said. When Peace moves in, he'll be one of two full-time residents, and undoubtedly he'll be challenged with expected issues like expensive electric bills, opening bank accounts, and the task of learning a new language. He’ll also face a host of unknowns that come with living in a foreign country.

“There's a lot of anxiety, yeah,” Peace said.

Peace hopes to live on $2,000 a month, which he'll start collecting next year on Social Security. To make it, he'll work remotely on the side, sell his car and leave almost everything behind, except his grandmother's Dutch oven and a half dozen suitcases. He'll shop at local markets. Volunteer at local schools. Peace is not worried about money, because adventure is calling.

“I don't want to say 'gosh, I wish I had done this' 10 years from now if I'm still alive. I don't want that to be my legacy to myself,” he said.