Relocation Hotspot: Heredia
Nestled between the picturesque foothills of Barva Volcano and urban San Jose, Heredia is the land of coffee-dappled countryside and city conveniences. Nicknamed the City of Flowers, the city is known for its constant spring-like temperatures and safe neighborhoods. It's also one of Costa Rica's most popular expat hotspots.
Heredia's standard of living is high, and its cost of living is comparatively low. Cable television, high-speed Internet, and other services are readily available, and public transportation is extensive and cheap. A bus from downtown to any outlying suburb costs less than 50¢; buses to San Jose or Alajuela run about 70¢. Heredia has a weekly farmers' market, a great place to get fresh produce at incredible prices. Rents vary greatly depending on your style and needs -- a basic one-bedroom apartment can run less than $200 per month, while a posh mountain mansion can cost upwards of $2,000 monthly.
One of the things I love most about Heredia is that it's possible to live well on a small budget. For less than $550 per month, I live in a four-bedroom semi-furnished mountain home with high-speed Internet (1 mbps), cable TV, and a home phone. I take the public bus everywhere. I hang my laundry out to dry and have hot water only in the shower. My electric bill is seldom more than $15 a month. I love my town and my home, and the low cost of living frees up funds to splurge on extras like date nights or fancy dinners on the town.
Heredia is a bustling mini-metropolis full of modern amenities. Paseo de las Flores is one of Costa Rica's nicest malls, with a multi-screen theater, upscale shopping, and plenty of familiar fast-food joints. Bargain hunters can shop at Pricemart, a warehouse store similar to Sam's Club or Costco, that has deep discounts on bulk purchases. And "Florenses" -- residents of Heredia -- feed their inner foodies at Automercado, Costa Rica's premier grocery store that carries organic goods, fines wines, artisan cheeses, and imported items.
The city and suburbs are also big on entertainment: museums, gourmet restaurants, live theater, and laid-back dance clubs line downtown streets. In the mountains, residents pass their time at local parks, public swimming pools, and family-run cafes. Monte de la Cruz, in San Rafael de Heredia, is one of my favorite places -- the huge park has picnic grounds, hiking trails, and one of the Central Valley's best views.
Families take advantage of good public education and high-quality bilingual and English language schools. Popular pre-K-12 options include the Lincoln School, American International School, and the Pan-American School. Each has English classes and offers a choice of U.S. or Costa Rican diploma. The European School, located in San Pablo, is a high-quality bilingual program that provides International Baccalaureate (IB) and National Baccalaureate degrees.
Young newcomers love the nightlife and flourishing under-30 expat community. Retirees appreciate the quiet suburbs and access to first-rate medical facilities. The new, state-of-the-art Heredia Hospital opens in May 2010 -- the facility cost $85 million to build and will provide medical consultations, x-rays, emergency care, surgical facilities, and more.
This eclectic mix of city fun and the great outdoors draws people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities. The Heredia expat community includes Americans, Canadians, Spaniards, Venezuelans, and Italians, among others. In addition to the area's amenities, everybody loves Heredia's convenient location -- it's just 15 minutes to San Jose and an hour to the Pacific coast. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
Expat Spotlight: Emma, Age 27
1) Why did you choose Heredia?
Heredia offers the best of both worlds: peace and convenience. I love living in the mountains, away from the city sounds (and smog), but I'm only a 30-minute bus ride to major shopping, the movie theater, or anything else I could want. I also love how safe it is. In my mountain suburb, I'm not scared to walk alone at night -- that's very important when you don't have a car.
2) What are the positive and negative aspects about living in Heredia?
What I love most is easy -- the views! My husband and I love to walk, and every morning we hike by coffee fields, corn plantations, and grass-covered mountains. From our balcony (about 4,300 feet above sea level), we can watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes I wish I lived in a town where no one spoke English -- there are a lot of expats here. However, the expat community is my support system and I could never live without my wonderful friends.
3) What's the expat community like?
It's a very strong and supportive community and represents all ages. There are plenty of interest groups that meet on a regular basis, and that's a great way to meet like-minded people. I've met some of my best friends in the world right here in Heredia.
4) What are Heredia's best neighborhoods for expats?
That really depends on what you're looking for. If you love an urban lifestyle with plenty of restaurants, shopping, and the arts at your front door, you can't beat the neighborhoods of San Francisco, Santo Domingo, San Joaquin, and Belen. But if you love the mountains with the views, serenity, and slow pace, then I'd recommend San Jose de la Montana, Barva, Santa Barbara, San Rafael, or San Isidro. Each area has its own personality, so newcomers should visit them all before deciding.
5) Any tips or advice about moving to Costa Rica?
Finding your Costa Rican home takes some work, so give yourself plenty of time to explore the country. Don't buy a home or even sign a long-term lease before seeing as much as possible. Do your research, target a few promising places, and then live in each for a little while. And if you decide on Heredia, welcome!