Lifestyle Feature – Flocking Snowbirds
The snowbirds are descending on Costa Rica once again for a long winter stay. And reciprocated or not, the fondness of northern refugees for this idyllic hot spot shows no signs of cooling.
Costa Rica ranks at or near the top of favorite deep-freeze escape destinations outside the United States. The website canadianbucketlist.com — whose whimsical Latin nomenclature for snowbird is “escapus wintersnowus” — explains: “Some species of snowbirds prefer a bigger change: a difference in culture, a difference in language, currency, and scenic beauty. Costa Rica has the beaches, but it also has beautiful rainforest, and peaceful mountain communities. The country enjoys the third highest life expectancy in the western hemisphere, is affordable, accessible, and even offers Canadian-run health insurance for expats.” “Paradise meets convenience” is how tripping.com describes Tamarindo specifically, on its list of non-U.S. winter escape hubs:
”There isn’t any other tropical gem like this one out there. An array of hotels, stores, bars, restaurants, and tour companies are just a short saunter from the seashore. So stargaze, sightsee, and zip-line, all in the confines of a remarkable rainforest within Central America.”
For Pam Graham and her husband, Larry, the warmth and openness of local Ticos are what give Costa Rica an edge as their chosen home away from home for six months during their Canadian winter. “The people in the community are the best,” Pam said during a telephone conversation from Edmonton, Alberta, where the couple lives during the other half of the year. She was busy preparing for their early November departure to the condo they purchased in 2014 near Matapalo, Guanacaste.
“We’re very happy with our decision to spend winters in Costa Rica,” said Pam, adding that she and Larry plan to eventually make it their year-round permanent home. “We have no regrets.” Where snowbirds choose to live in Costa Rica depends on personal preference. Differences in climate, accessibility of urban amenities and degree of exposure to local culture may be factors. Some snowbirds get a feel for different locations before making a longterm decision. They might live in a variety of places one season at a time, or during the same high season visit.
Many snowbirds determine it’s not only affordable, but also profitable, to invest in a secondary residence in Costa Rica. They can live in their tropical home as desired, make it available as a vacation house for visiting friends and family members, and rent to others the rest of the time. A portion or even all of their rental income might come from other snowbirds.
With no room for doubt about Costa Rica’s appeal to snowbirds — including those who may ultimately settle here full-time as “sunbirds” — is the feeling mutual? By all appearances, locals seem eager to put out the high season welcome mat.
Clearly snowbirds are a driving force in Costa Rica’s real estate and property management sectors. Related upturns in building trades activity stimulate consumer markets for design consulting and household furnishings.
“A lot of very nice homes are being built for part-time use by snowbirds who might eventually live here year-round,“ said Bruce Scott, proprietor of Scott Furniture near Huacas. “We are fortunate in being able to provide furniture that appeals to this consumer market.” Otherwise, on a more concentrated tourist-season basis, the economic boost from snowbirds is far-reaching.
From sunset cruises and live entertainment to happy hours and karaoke nights, snowbirds enjoy being out and about. They appreciate that there is more to do here than kick back in a hammock and improve their tans. Nothing pleases them more than a new restaurant discovery, except for being welcomed like a regular at the spot where they’ve dined countless times.
As the owner and general manager of Sandbar in Playa Hermosa, Kent Scantland has made a point of getting to know the restaurant’s patrons, including whether they are snowbirds, tourists or expats living in the area year-round. “The December to March period is normally a very busy time of year,” he said. “Snowbirds have an impact on business but are usually on a budget and do not spend as much or tip as well as tourists do. However, our snowbirds do come out and support nights where entertainment is available. Or they take advantage of happy hours and discount days.”
Beyond their importance to the hospitality industry and retail businesses, snowbirds are often keen to embrace Tico culture and engage with their adopted local community. From local classes and workshops to charity events, they participate and contribute with enthusiasm.
“I love my snowbirds and can’t wait to see them all again soon,” said Sylvia Monge, owner of Spanish for Expats, a tutoring and translation service. “They have an incredible energy to learn and also have the time to get into it.“
Describing her business income as “a rollercoaster” following the habits of snowbirds and sabbatical families who come for the school year and then leave, Monge said the base clientele are these newcomers or returning snowbirds.
“Classes hover around five people until January, when the birds return after the holidays. Then it goes up to 10 to 14 people in class.”
Certified yoga instructor Marian Paniagua typically sees attendance in her classes increase by about 30 percent during snowbird season.
Local volunteer-run organizations benefit from big-hearted snowbirds such as Pam Graham. Her involvement with two pet rescue groups includes fundraising and assisting with neutering programs.
Although only about 10 percent of all snowbirds have permanent homes outside the United States, 80 percent of those international snowbirds are from Canada. Complications relating to health insurance coverage and income tax rules dissuade many Canadian snowbirds from spending their win