'Gringo' Expat Makes Good in Costa Rica

Living for many years in Costa Rica and establishing a business there couldn't have been easy, but for American expat Casey, the experience has been well worth it. Learn more about how and why he moved to Costa Rica, his online travel agency, and why he prefers renting over owning property there.

Casey Halloran

-Where were you born?

Coudersport, Pennsylvania.  It's a tiny town with one stoplight in rural Pennyslvania...east coast, United States.

-In which country and city are you living now?

I divide my time between San Jose, Costa Rica and Panama City, Panama.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I live with my Panamanian wife, Keyra.  We've been married for just over 1 year.

-How long have you been living in Costa Rica?

Approaching 15 years!

-What is your age?


-When did you come up with the idea of living in Costa Rica?

I researched the Internet extensively while in university and the only Latin American country with lots of activity and chatter online back in 1997-1998 was Costa Rica.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

Work permit is nearly impossible, but starting a business wasn't as hard.  Residency and Visas are probably the biggest sticking point for most would-be expats and it's just not easy in Costa Rica.  Panama was slightly easier because I was more established and qualified for an investors' visa.  But like most expats with startups in CR, I just "winged it" for the first few years.  Luckily, laws weren't so tightly enforced then.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

I didn't have medical insurance for my first 6 or so years, then I was stabbed in a robbery and my business partner coerced me into getting coverage.  Getting international or local coverage in Costa Rica is quite easy and it's not terribly expensive.

-How do you make your living in Costa Rica? Do you have any type of income generated?

I operate an online travel agency that serves Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua.  Our clientele are primarily from the U.S.

-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

YES YES YES.  You must learn the language and culture or you'll get nowhere.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.

Of course.  I really miss my family (in addition to my parents I have two sisters) but do my best to keep in touch via email, Skype and occasional visits.  I even went so far as to open a B&B with my retired parents in Panama, mostly as an excuse to see them more often.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

Plenty of plans...yes.  Hoping to at some point return to the U.S. for a stint as I've now spent 14 of my 15 post-grad years abroad.  I'd like to raise my family for a period in the U.S.   But who knows, I might be too far gone now as an expat to reintegrate into my native culture?

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I've owned and rented.  I like renting better.  Loans are not easy to come by for foreigners and prices in both Panama and Costa Rica for newer homes are on par, if not more expensive, than most places in the U.S.  So right now, I prefer to rent. 

-What is the cost of living in Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica right now, very expensive.  I'd estimate it's on par with a mid-size U.S. city.  Panama is about 30% less.

-What do you think about the locals?

We're generalizing here, of course...but Costa Ricans are very kind people.  The drawback would be that they aren't big on planning and have a tough time with large projects and infrastructure.  It's holding the country back, but it's the "live for today" attitude that also makes the place great.  "Ticos" are mostly very nice to foreigners.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Costa Rica?


- fantastic weather
- kind people
- wonderful tourism destinations
- lots of business opportunities
- affordable healthcare


- rising cost of living
- terrible roads, increasing traffic
- high taxes
- plenty of scams
- petty theft, break-ins

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Costa Rica?

Prepare to spend 2x what you thought.  Try before you buy.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Costa Rica?