‘It feels like home’: why are Black Americans moving to Costa Rica? (2023)

When she first set foot in Costa Rica, Davia Shannon knew instantly that she would eventually return permanently. She loved being able to do yoga with the jungle as her backdrop and surf whenever she pleased. Even more, she valued the sense of freedom she gained. Free of the fear, anxiety and pain driven by not feeling accepted in the US, Shannon had found her future home.

Upon arriving back in California after her 10-day visit, Shannon, now 46, developed a one-year exit plan which consisted of renting out her house, selling her car, rehoming her furniture and downsizing to 12 suitcases.

In March 2016, Davia Shannon packed up her belongings and left her lifelong home in Los Angeles to move 3,500 miles away with her twin daughters.

The adjustment wasn’t simple. Shannon, who comes from a large family, was hoping to recreate the same communal atmosphere in Puerto Viejo, with people who understood her struggles and came from a similar lifestyle, but admits that settling in was challenging. “I couldn’t find anybody that looked like me and when I did, I felt like I couldn’t really connect with them,” she says.

(Video) 8 Reasons Why Americans LEAVE Costa Rica [Why I Left]

Even the Caribbean women proved difficult to get close to, and Shannon says they rarely showed her kindness. “I was even having a really difficult time getting information and doing the basic things, like figuring out where to pay my light bill,” she says. Most of the Caribbean people in the area speak English and Shannon is fluent in Spanish, so a cultural barrier played a greater role than language.

Learning from her struggles, Shannon decided to open a relocation business, Life-A-Holic Costa Rica, to assist other Black American expats moving to the country. Since launching in 2017, the business has assisted 176 Black and brown people with their desire to relocate to the south Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The relocation company also offers membership into a support group, referred to as the Tribe. Shannon describes the group as a ready-made family that helps expats comfortably transition to life in Puerto Viejo. A directory, numerous resources and social events like Soul Food Sundays, karaoke nights, family dinners and birthday celebrations, are just a few offerings provided in the Tribe.

Shannon decided to extend her services to Black and brown folks for two reasons: most information about relocation was geared towards white people and most of what she read about Costa Rica online was negative and untrue. “I know the reason the negative information was perpetuated was because a vast majority of the people here have brown skin, and for some, that’s too scary to explore,” she says. “That’s fine, because my service is geared toward people who want to live in peace and harmony with people of the African diaspora.” She also notes that moving to another country can be difficult for people who started traveling later in life. Because Black Americans have less disposable income, and therefore less free time to travel during their youth, the transition to living in another country as an adult is not always smooth.

Think pieces and travel vlogs showcase that Black Americans move to Costa Rica for various reasons, but most say they are looking for an improved lifestyle. “The main thing my clients want to do is get off the hamster wheel. They want to stop having to work 80-hour weeks. They want to come buy some land, build a home and use that as a base to create,” says Shannon, who has bought three properties since moving to Costa Rica five years ago.

(Video) 10 Countries Black Americans are Leaving America & Moving To | #BLAXIT #BlackExcellist

Although she had a high-paying job in Los Angeles, Shannon couldn’t accumulate enough wealth to pass down. “I felt if I was to continue living in California with this lifestyle, then I wouldn’t be able to leave anything to my kids. I didn’t want them to have to repeat what I was doing, which was working really hard, working weekends and always being in hustle mode,” Shannon says. She worked as a district manager for a leading human capital management company, but now she earns a livable income through her relocation company and renting out property on Airbnb.

‘It feels like home’: why are Black Americans moving to Costa Rica? (2)

In the United States, generational wealth is mostly obtained through property inheritance, career advancement or owning stocks. But Black people in America are the least likely group to own a home. And given that Black women in America make only 63% of what white men are paid, are the highest unemployed group among women, and are less likely to receive promotions, generational wealth is an unattainable feat for many. But in Puerto Viejo, where the average waterfront house costs roughly $100,000, owning a home or land is a more achievable goal.

Sequoia Carr, a 37-year-old freelance writer and editor, is shopping for land in Costa Rica with plans to build a house. She had never seen the value in paying the exorbitant prices of homes in the US – and farmland has always been her focus.

After living in New York and Los Angeles for most of her life, Carr found herself planting roots in Puerto Viejo at the height of the pandemic, in March 2020. Originally, Carr planned to visit the country for three months, but two weeks after she arrived, the borders were closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Her vacation morphed into a permanent move.

(Video) 7 Largest Communities African Americans Moved Abroad To | Black Women Expats

“I’ve traveled all throughout the world and this was the only place that I actually felt like it was a privilege to be Black. Not just welcomed, but people were happy that I was here, not just as a foreigner, but as someone who is Black,” she says. “In turn, this place felt like home.”

Safety also played into her decision to stay. “The very apparent racism and political uprisings made me feel as though it just isn’t safe to be in the United States as a Black person any longer,” Carr says, noting that her ability to work remotely made it easier for her to leave. “I get to wake up in a place where I feel less stress, less anxiety. It feels like home, I feel welcomed and I have all the things that I need to make me happy.”

The belief that America is not a safe place for Black people is shared among many expats seeking a more promising life in countries that are more accepting of diversity. In fact, according to Amali Tower, the founder and executive director of Climate Refugees, the oppression Black people in the US face is so severe that if Black Americans were to seek asylum in another country, they would qualify.

Costa Rica, which is ranked the most peaceful country in Central America, is one of the most politically stable countries in the world and experiences acts of gun violence nine times less frequently than the US. “In LA I would never allow my children out of the house without me, but here they can ride their bikes wherever they want and come and go as they please. They go to the beach, they walk the dogs, they surf, they’re happy and they’re safe,” says Shannon.

‘It feels like home’: why are Black Americans moving to Costa Rica? (3)
(Video) Costa Rica for Black Women Expats 🇨🇷 | Black Women Abroad

Janna Zinzi describes her life in Costa Rica as safe and stress-free as well. The 41-year-old travel writer made the decision to leave New Orleans during a three-month stay in Costa Rica after watching the US Capitol attack on 6 January on television. “I saw what was going on in the States and I booked an extra three months. After seeing that foolishness, I really had no desire to come back to America,” she says. (The same fears resulted in a spike in consultations for Shannon’s business – averaging five to 10 consultations a day for a month after the riot.)

Zinzi met Shannon through friends soon after moving to Puerto Viejo, speaking to the close-knit atmosphere in the Black expat community. She is now in Florida to renew her travel visa, sell her car and get her belongings out of storage before making her move permanent. Just being back in the US since June has reminded Zinzi why she left.

“Every time I leave [Costa Rica] for longer than a week, I can almost feel the stress, the tension, the rage, the trauma and the anger. Especially in Black folks and communities of color,” she says. “I know my mental health and my physical health is a lot better when I’m outside of the United States.”

Her worries surrounding police brutality, mass shootings and constant exposure to microaggressions do not exist in Costa Rica. “I feel more relaxed, I feel freer because there’s things that you don’t have to think about there that you think about in the States.”

Despite the welcoming culture and feeling of belonging, being a Black American woman in Costa Rica does have some downsides, expats say, but none too large to handle. Natural hair salons are not easy to come by, ethnic hair products at the supermarket are scarce, and dating can be challenging if you’re seeking out a Black partner with a favorable economic standing, due to a limited economy as well as racial exclusion in employment opportunities.

(Video) Pt 1 -Black Expats Speak Out on Life in Panama & Costa Rica (Part 1 of 2)

Because of Costa Rica’s suffering economy and strict work visa policy, the majority of Shannon’s expat clients are freelancers, work remotely or are retired. Many of them speak Spanish on an intermediate level, but fluency in the language is not at all necessary to get around. Nevertheless, the minor setbacks do not outweigh the pros of living in a safe environment where your existence is humanized.

As Carr said: “There’s a lack of convenience here, but the beauty of it is that I get access to the ocean and the mountains, and a different quality of life.”


What percent of Costa Rica is Black? ›

About 8% of the population is of African descent or Mulatto (mix of European and African) who are called Afro-Costa Ricans.

Why do so many Americans move to Costa Rica? ›

Costa Rica is a beautiful Central American country, with rich culture, friendly local people, and what draws many Americans to this amazing country is the very affordable cost of living in Costa Rica. Especially for US citizens, moving to Costa Rica is not a very daunting or complicated process.

Where are the Black population in Costa Rica? ›

Most Costa Rican Blacks today still live in the province of Limón, an area that produces the majority of Costa Rica's bananas and cacao and that boasts the country's principal commerical port. The people there are mostly working-class poor, and the region is not densely populated.

What is the Black side of Costa Rica? ›

Costa Rica's Caribbean side has a unique atmosphere and a fascinating history. Limon is largely known for its creole and black population. It has evolved separately from the rest of Costa Rica for many years and so developed its own styles, languages, and ways of life.

What is the black city in Costa Rica? ›

Límon is a city located on Costa Rica's Atlantic coast. With stunning landscapes, world-class beaches and beautiful and diverse fauna and flora, it is also the land of Afro-Costa Ricans. According to official data, Costa Rica has a population of nearly 5 million people.

What is the biggest race in Costa Rica? ›

According to the United Nations, in 2021 Costa Rica had an estimated population of 5,153,957 people. White and Mestizos make up 83.4% of the population, 7% are black people (including mixed race), 2.4% Amerindians, 0.2% Chinese and 7% other/none.

What is the biggest problem in Costa Rica? ›

Poverty. The poverty level is one in four in Costa Rica.

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Costa Rica? ›

While it is possible to live on $1,000 per month in Costa Rica, you will enjoy life more by expanding your budget and allowing for extra activities and events. A baseline of $1,400 a month is reasonable for a nice life in many desirable areas of the country.

Do US citizens living in Costa Rica pay taxes? ›

All Americans living in Costa Rica are required to pay taxes on any income they receive from a Costa Rican source. This applies to both residents and non-residents. However, neither category will be taxed on income from a non-Costa Rican source, such as US-source income.

Where is the best place for African American to live? ›

  • Jacksonville, FL. 22.5. 97.7. 162,000. 32,246. ...
  • Indianapolis, IN. 14.6. 97.6. 136,500. 29,877. ...
  • Charlotte, NC. 23.4. 92.7. 150,900. 30,781. ...
  • Dallas, TX. 14.2. 91.8. 133,900. 34,388. ...
  • Nashville, TN. 15.3. 90.9. 148,500. 27,153. ...
  • Houston, TX. 16.8. 90.0. 123,400. 31,809. ...
  • Raleigh-Durham, NC. 21.3. 94.8. 166,500. 34,301. ...
  • Atlanta, GA. 30.8. 95.6. 177,200. 39,516.

What is the safest city to live in Costa Rica? ›

There are many safe cities in Costa Rica to call home. Several of the safest towns include Tamarindo, Atenas, Escazu, San Mateo, Puerto Viejo, Dota, Heredia and Dominical.

Is there a lot of violence in Costa Rica? ›

Costa Rica's homicide rate in 2021 was 11.5 per 100,000.

Are Costa Ricans friendly? ›

Costa Ricans tend to be proud, friendly, and diverse people who enjoy sharing their culture and social activities with newcomers. Costa Rica is the place of pura vida (pure life), a contagious attitude of living life to the fullest.

Is Costa Rica a rich or poor country? ›

Economy of Costa Rica
Country groupDeveloping/Emerging Upper-middle income economy
Population5,213,362 (2022 estimate)
GDP$68.489 billion (nominal, 2022) $129.950 billion (PPP, 2022)
GDP rank84th (nominal, 2022) 88th (PPP, 2022)
34 more rows

Why dont they flush toilet paper in Costa Rica? ›

Except in exclusive hotels and gated communities that are constructed with advanced plumbing, flushing toilet paper in Costa Rica is a no-no. The simple reason for the request is that Costa Rica's small and antiquated septic systems can't accommodate discarded toilet paper without clogging.

Are there slums in Costa Rica? ›

Triángulo de Solidaridad is located off Route 32, just north of downtown San José. Residents must cross the highway daily as they walk to and from work. Costa Rican slums appear colorful because their improvised homes are made of tin, wood and other scrap materials.

Can Costa Ricans be black? ›

According to the latest national census, 8% of Costa Ricans are of African descent, half of whom live in the province of Limón, on the Caribbean coast.

Why are Costa Ricans so healthy? ›

Costa Ricans have access to free education and a guaranteed state pension. It is the only country in Central America where 100 percent of the population has access to electricity and a source of drinking water. It is also one of the few countries in the region that offers universal health coverage.

What food is Costa Rica known for? ›

Pinto and beans are a staple of Costa Rica and common denominator among different culinary tastes in different regions of the country. As a whole, the three most famous dishes of the country are Casado, Gallo Pinto and Arroz con Pollo.

Is Costa Rica very religious? ›

Costa Rica is the only state on the American continent which has established Catholicism as its state religion, making religion a big part of Costa Rican culture. The importance of religion is evidenced in the language, holidays and traditions.

What is the racial makeup of Costa Rica? ›

The majority of the Costa Rican Population comes from Europe since it was a Spanish colony for a long time. 83.6% of the Ticos are white or mestizo, 6.7% mulattoes, 2.4% Native American and 1.1% black or Afro-Caribbean. This makes Costa Rica one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in Central America.

Are most Costa Ricans black? ›

According to the latest national census, 8% of Costa Ricans are of African descent, half of whom live in the province of Limón, on the Caribbean coast.

Is Costa Rica ethnically diverse? ›

Costa Rica has a diverse population filled with indigenous groups, expats from foreign countries, and everyone in between, but create a welcoming environment for those entering their country! Meaning “rich coast” in Spanish, Costa Rica certainly lives up to its name.

How diverse is Costa Rica? ›

Nestled in the middle of Central America, Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Around half a million species are known to live there, which is equal to about 5% of the estimated species on Earth.

What are the negatives of Costa Rica? ›

Cons of Living in Costa Rica
  • Undeveloped Roads. Many of the roads in Costa Rica do not have signs, lights, or guardrails. ...
  • Dangerous Local Driving. ...
  • Long Health and Government Wait Lines. ...
  • Rainy Season. ...
  • Slow Business Service (ex: Plumbers showing up late) ...
  • Slow Shipping. ...
  • Earthquakes. ...
  • Slow Public Transportation.

Can I collect social Security and live in Costa Rica? ›

So, the answer to the question is yes; a person can retire on social security in Costa Rica. But unless they are financially “comfortable,” they may need to be prepared to change their lifestyle.

What are female Costa Ricans called? ›

Costa Rican men are called Ticos and women are called Ticas.

Is it easy to live in Costa Rica as an American? ›

One of the reasons why Costa Rica is popular with expats, including students and retirees, is the country's exceptionally low cost of living. With housing costs and consumer prices much lower than in the U.S., it's easy to stretch your dollars and live like a king in Costa Rica.

What do Costa Ricans do in their free time? ›

Theatre has played a prominent role in Costa Rican cultural life. Many prominent houses date back to the 1950's. For tourists and Costa Ricans, environmental activities like zip lines, hiking, surfing, are a key ingredient to having a good time.

Do people speak English in Costa Rica? ›

Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica: it's also the most widely spoken language throughout the country. Other languages spoken are English, Creole, and some Indian languages. All official business and major newspapers are in Spanish, whereas English is widely used in areas frequented by tourists.

Is Costa Rica safer than the US? ›

“Average global homicide rate: 6.2 per 100,000. US homicide rate: 5.3 per 100,000. Costa Rica homicide rate: 12.1 per 100,000.

Is living in Costa Rica worth it? ›

Pros of Living in Costa Rica

If you are trying to escape the cold of your home country only seasonally or for the long-haul, this country is ideal for you. The crime rate is low. Costa Rica is especially safe for solo female expats, although a standard amount of caution is always advised.

Is Costa Rica healthier than the US? ›

Costa Rica ranks 1st in terms of healthiness in Latin America, and it ranks 24th globally. (In case you were wondering, the United States ranks 33rd.) In addition to being the healthiest, Costa Rica also takes the distinction of being the happiest country in Latin America.


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