A decade ago, Allen Dickinson sold his mortgage brokerage in Florida just before the housing market crash and moved down to Costa Rica as a retiree looking for a relaxing, inexpensive country where he could quietly live out the rest of his days.
An increasingly expensive economy and an unexpected introduction to the woman who is now wife his taught Dickinson early on that sometimes life doesn’t happen according to one’s plans.
Originally from Oregon, Dickinson, who served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years, has been living in the Central Valley since he moved here, citing ever-growing political tension and partisanship as his reasons for leaving the United States. In today’s especially hostile political climate, which has led many U.S. citizens to ponder whether they should take similar steps, Dickinson has some words of wisdom – and caution – for those looking to expatriate. He serves as the editor of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica’s (ARCR) El Residente magazine, which caters to retirees and those looking to come to Costa Rica.
Dickinson sat down with The Tico Times to discuss his story. Excerpts follow.
What brought you to Costa Rica?
I never have figured out exactly what it was that got me to Costa Rica. I know what it was that got me out of the United States, though.
What was that?
I was sick and tired of the change in the culture. We are no longer a melting pot of different ideas and different perspectives. The country is now fractionalized into little groups of people who have their own cause and will do anything to destroy anything or anybody different from them.
Now you’re able to look back at a United States that has gotten much more extreme to that effect. Are you glad that you’re seeing this from afar?
I thought one of the things that would happen when I moved out of the country is that I would not be interested in what was going on there and not feel emotionally connected to it. And that hasn’t happened. I can’t seem to get it out of my system. I follow the news and read a lot on the internet. I’ve read a lot of negative messages from my friends.
How long has been El Residente been running?
El Residente has been going on for about 25 years and I’ve been behind the scenes editing for many years. A few years ago, when the director of ARCR was kidnapped, I was asked to take over because he was doing that job. When he came back he asked me to continue, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What were you doing when you initially came down to Costa Rica?
I was in the mortgage brokerage business, and owned my own brokerage in Pensacola, Florida. In 2005 or 2006, I saw the writing on the wall. I couldn’t read it specifically but I knew that there was something going on that was going to be bad. So I took that opportunity to sell my business before everything collapsed and take off.
What made you think something was going on? From what I’ve seen and read, no one knew it was coming, and those who did know were being laughed out of boardrooms.
Those were the guys who had big money involved and didn’t want to see the obvious. There were just a lot of little things, little changes in the industry that when you added them all together, spelled bad things. And there was gossip – I can’t classify it any more than that – but there was gossip. You took a piece of information here and someone talking about something else there. Nothing that you could put your finger on, but just a feeling more than anything else that this is not good and things are not going to get better.
That’s a lucky feeling to have. And at just the right time.
Yeah, it certainly was.
What has been the biggest challenge for you living here?
Patience… Thank God I’m not a type-A personality. I just walked out of a store because they have an incorrect amount for the balance that I owe them; I have to go home to get the receipts to prove to them that the payments they’re showing I haven’t made actually have been made. It’s just a lack of sophistication in record-keeping, and that’s kind of indicative of a lot of things in this country.
On the other side of the coin, you probably wouldn’t be living here still if it wasn’t worth it. What balances it out for you?
I’m married to a Tica, and quite possibly I would be someplace else if I were not, if for no other reason than what has happened with the economy here. Everything is expensive. I have a limited income and that goes pretty quickly. Ten years ago it was relatively inexpensive… one of the reasons that I did end up here was anticipating that.
If you could send a message to someone who’s looking to retire down here, what your initial piece of wisdom be?
Certainly to do your research. Read online and buy any books you can find. If you then decide this is a place you want to come to, come with the idea that you are going to investigate it. Don’t come here and buy a house in the first three weeks that you’re here. People don’t know what the country is like and don’t know where they want to live, but they see someplace beautiful and buy it, and find out that’s not the area of the country for them. Come here with an open mind and don’t make any commitments for at least a year.
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Read more stories of Costa Rican immigration here.