Central America Expat Guide

by David Tompkins
Central America Expat Guide

A Central America Expat Guide for Living

Planning to move to Central America? Relocating to Central America and starting an expat or retired life can be a very good decision, especially if you savor the flavors of Central American cuisine and enjoy its moderate weather. Surrounded by two oceans — the Pacific and the Atlantic, this part of the globe is home to some of the excellent destinations for expats from almost every country of the globe. Comprising seven countries — Panama, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, Central America has it all to ensure that you enjoy an easy and hassle-free lifestyle in your chosen destination.

Here are top 4 countries that are considered as favorites with expats looking for a relaxed and peaceful Central American lifestyle:

Costa Rica Guide

Costa Rica is one country you can’t afford to miss. Just a few days’ vacations in this country will lure you into staying here forever. Experience total peace in its purest form as you explore the Pura Vida (Pure Life) the Costa Rican way. Enjoy the simple pleasures of life, like mild climate, a good healthcare system, fresh fruits, and vegetables supplied from the local farms, a peaceful environment, a slow-paced lifestyle, etc., as you gradually settle in one of the Costa Rican cities. This has been a popular destination for retired expats for decades because there are plenty of things to explore here, that too, without burning a hole in your pocket. Expats communities across Costa Rica are very welcoming and helpful, so you won’t feel lost during your initial days. Explore the jungle with friends and loved ones, or simply watch the sunset while relaxing on a beach. The Costa Rican life absorbs you completely. The coffee there is also excellent! There are numerous English-speaking people present, but learning a little Spanish would be an added advantage.

Live in Belize


Belize the beautiful Caribbean coast city is on the eastern part of Central America. You will love the spectacular Mayan ruins dotting the mainland of the country, apart from the popular lure — its historical sites. If you want to live and retire here, the island of Ambergris Caye can be a great option. This is a paradise for beach lovers and is home to a lot of beach activities and entertainment. Adventure lovers at Ambergris Caye can also indulge in snorkeling and scuba diving at the world’s second-largest coral reef. The main town of San Pedro can be a great place to spend your evenings and relish some mouth-watering food and local drinks. The best part about Belize is that English is the official language, so new expats can hope for a smooth relocation and transition. Learning Spanish will help as it is the second most spoken language in this nation.

Nicaragua - Central America


In the past few years, Nicaragua has been added to the list of most-loved countries for travelers and expats. The poor reputation that it earned due to the civil war it experienced in the 1980s made people think negatively about this small nation. However, with time it has evolved as one of the most popular destinations in Central America. Today it is not only a safe country to live in but also has a stable democracy to boost its progress. Today it prides itself of being Western Hemisphere’s second safest nation. Nicaragua is very appealing to expats also because of the affordability factor. For instance, as compared to the United States, grocery prices are 43% lower. You can also hire help like a maid or driver at much cheaper rates. This means that you can enjoy an improved quality of life as you won’t have to worry too much about household chores and the like. Apart from boasting rich culture, Nicaragua offers a great nightlife and an appropriate environment for outdoor activities. Popular travel attractions in the country include the 19 volcanoes, the Bosawás UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and the amazingly beautiful Lake Nicaragua. You can have a taste of urban fun at Managua and San Juan del Sur as they have fabulous night lives.

Central America Guide


Panama is an excellent option for expats from across the globe. The thriving expat community in this country comprises of more than 50,000 Americans who have settled here as permanent residents. Real estate is reasonably priced and the lifestyle expenses are not too high. Panama City is a favorite with avid vacationers and expats because of the exciting dining and entertainment options. The nightlife experience of Panama City is very high, so you can simply indulge in almost everything that this place offers without worrying much about safety or expenses. You can also spend your days exploring the beaches while tasting some incredibly sumptuous dishes with a local flavor. Interestingly, amongst all the countries globally, Panama ranked first as the country with the highest well-being according to the Gallup 2014 Country Well-Being Rankings Poll report. So expats can expect a good quality of life when planning to relocate or retire to Panama.

Some Other Central American Destinations

We really need to mention that expats should also consider moving to countries like Honduras and Guatamela.

Travel Guide to Central America

Today, Central America is a major hub for visitors and expats, because moving around Central America is safe, beautiful, and thrilling experience. It is a paradise for a budget traveler because transportation is affordable and easily available. The common mode of public transportation between cities and countries is the train; however, there are overnight buses that charge as low as USD 10-15 for long routes. You can also use taxis and cabs for inter-city travel. Air connectivity between most Central American cities is good, but flight tickets can be very expensive. Unless you are very pressed for time, you can opt for other modes of travel to save money.

Live in Belize

Safety Guidance for Expats Moving to Central America

Backpackers and travelers usually find it safe to travel to Central America, but being a little cautious always helps. Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have a few places that you wouldn’t mind giving a miss. In the bigger cities, some places are better avoided, especially at night. Even though violent attacks on expats are rare, you can be robbed off your money or prized possessions if you are traveling on night buses. Drug-related incidents do happen, so the use of drugs should be avoided. Don’t carry lots of cash and flashy or expensive items with you when you are traveling alone, and keep your belongings safe with you if you are using any public transport. Hiring a cab would be wise if you are traveling to an unknown city. Be cautious when you are in a crowd and trust your gut instinct. Always inform your loved ones about your whereabouts if you are traveling to another place. As an expat, you should purchase a robust travel insurance policy that can protect you during unexpected eventualities like illness, robbery, and flight cancellations. In the end, you have to make common-sense decisions about your safety in Central America.

Working in Central America

The economic diversity in Central America is evident from the fact that some countries are developed, whereas others are underdeveloped. Compared to Nicaragua, the countries of Costa Rica and Panama are far more economically stable, so expats have numerous job opportunities to explore. You need to have a work permit to start working in any Central American country; however, the documentation process differs for each of them. Expats can easily opt for English teaching jobs or work in multi-national companies and call centers. In Costa Rica, these positions are quite lucrative as they pay much more than the average wage in the region. In general, expats can easily find jobs in various industries such as tourism and real estate.

International Health Insurance

Healthcare Guide in Central America

For most expatriates, global healthcare is a major factor while deciding to move to a foreign land. The countries within Central America have diverse healthcare systems for permanent residents as well as expats. Costa Rica’s healthcare system is globally praised because of the high-quality services and that too at low costs. All the residents can enjoy the facilities offered by the universal healthcare system. You can expect advanced health treatment facilities in all the major cities of Costa Rica. Similarly, Panama offers top-quality healthcare at affordable rates with a large number of hospitals and clinics sited in hubs across the country. Even though public healthcare is cheaper than private care, expats in other Central American countries like Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua usually opt for private healthcare. For complicated treatments, expats have the option to go to neighboring North American countries as well.

Health Insurance is Vital for Expats in Central America

No matter how good the healthcare system of a particular destination in Central America is, it is always recommended to go for international health insurance for adequate coverage. Medical evacuation or treatment for various critical illnesses can be a little expensive in Central American countries, so choosing a global health plan can save you from a lot of worries and financial pressure. Even an appropriate local insurance plan can protect you from unexpected expenditures if you fall sick during your stay in your dream Central American destination.  Expat Financial offers an excellent Insurance plan from Cigna that can provide excellent coverage for most expats in Central America.

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