41-year-old and her household left the U.S. for Costa Rica and reside on lower than $30,000 a yr: ‘We’re so much happier’ and by no means transferring again


Kema Ward-Hopper by no means imagined she’d increase her youngsters in the course of a jungle.

However in 2018, after Hurricane Harvey destroyed her Houston house, a visit to Costa Rica along with her husband Nicholas Hopper after which 9-year-old daughter Aaralyn grew to become a everlasting transfer. 

“The housing market was simply insane in Houston due to so many individuals shedding their properties to the storm,” Ward-Hopper tells CNBC Make It. “On the time, we had been dwelling in a small storage house above a neighbor’s house, with no aid in sight.”

Hopper recommended they home hunt elsewhere. “I assumed he meant we must always transfer to a special metropolis in Texas or a special state, however he checked out me and stated, ‘No Kema, let’s go away the nation,'” Ward-Hopper, 41, remembers. 

From Hopper’s perspective, transferring to Costa Rica was a no brainer. 

The couple acquired married there in 2016 and had been itching to return, however life — whether or not or not it’s payments, jobs or household obligations — stored delaying their plans. 

“After we got here again to Houston [after the wedding], we each had this calmness about us, and I felt like we had been lacking out on one thing by staying within the states,” Hopper, 43, says.

In July 2018, after spending six weeks scoping out totally different neighborhoods alongside Costa Rica’s northern shoreline and debating in the event that they had been able to turn out to be expats, the Ward-Hoppers signed a one-year lease on a home (or “casita” in Spanish) in the course of the jungle on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. 

The Ward-Hoppers’ canine, Heidi, enjoys the view from their yard in Nicoya.

Picture: Kema Ward-Hopper

The 2-bedroom, one-bathroom home sat on seven acres of land in the course of the jungle close to Playa San Miguel and got here with an out of doors kitchen in addition to panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean — plus, hire was solely $500 a month. 

“Ten years in the past, I might not have believed you if you happen to instructed me that that is the place we’d be,” Ward-Hopper says. “But it surely looks like luck or destiny led us right here.”

Quick-forward six years later, and the Ward-Hoppers are actually everlasting residents of Costa Rica, with no plans to maneuver again to Texas. “We’re so much happier dwelling right here than within the U.S.,” Ward-Hopper says.

Discovering a more healthy life-style for physique and soul in Costa Rica

One other pivotal second within the couple’s determination to depart america was Ward-Hopper’s most cancers restoration.

In April 2016, mere months earlier than her marriage ceremony, Ward-Hopper found she had stage 2B breast most cancers. 

“Present process chemotherapy was one of many hardest issues I’ve ever executed in my life,” she says. “I solely accomplished half of the prescribed infusions as a result of I felt like if I did any extra, it could kill me.” 

Ward-Hopper paused remedy proper earlier than her marriage ceremony. She anticipated to really feel sick throughout her ceremony and honeymoon however, a lot to her shock, Ward-Hopper says she felt higher than she had in months whereas vacationing in Costa Rica.

“Instantly I had sufficient power to rise up within the morning and do yoga and go on hikes, I used to be consuming extra,” she says. “I actually felt like I used to be therapeutic whereas we had been there, in no small half due to the contemporary fruit, clear air and water.”

The Nicoya Peninsula is among the 5 authentic Blue Zones, house to the longest-lived folks and highest life expectations, in keeping with longevity researcher Dan Buettner.

A few of the components that make Nicoya a Blue Zone, Buettner found, are the Nicoyans’ food plan, which incorporates contemporary fruit, greens and entire grains in addition to their deal with household and group.

Each Ward-Hopper and her husband say that they noticed rapid advantages from dwelling in a Blue Zone for his or her well being together with getting sick much less, losing a few pounds, feeling extra energized and fewer careworn. 

An added bonus was the start of their son Nico in 2020, even after docs stated chemotherapy had rendered Ward-Hopper unable to conceive. “I acquired pregnant inside 13 months of dwelling right here, which I assumed was unattainable,” she says. “It was a small miracle.”

The Ward-Hoppers reside in Costa Rica with their daughter Aaralyn, 15, and son Nico, 3.

Picture: Alejandro Ferlini

Nico’s arrival additionally launched one other aspect of stability to their lives by making your complete household eligible for citizenship in Costa Rica. Beforehand, the Ward-Hoppers stayed in Costa Rica on vacationer visas, which meant they needed to go away the nation each 90 days, time they used as alternatives to discover neighboring international locations like Nicaragua or go to household within the U.S.

Ward-Hopper’s docs within the U.S. stated they not detected most cancers calls in her physique in 2017, and in 2021, her physician re-affirmed that she was cancer-free, an final result she attributes partly to her determination to reside in Costa Rica. For a lot of breast most cancers survivors, the danger of recurrence 5 years post-diagnosis considerably decreases, in keeping with the American Most cancers Society.

“Well being-wise, I did an entire 180 after transferring right here,” Ward-Hopper says. “I healed each bodily and emotionally.”

Ward-Hopper additionally credit Costa Rica’s health-care system for her improved well-being. 

As residents, the Ward-Hoppers obtain their well being care by way of the CAJA system, a government-run program that grants 100% protection for all medical procedures, appointments, hospital visits and pharmaceuticals. The Ward-Hoppers spend about $83 per thirty days on their household’s health-care plan. 

Even after they had been uninsured, Ward-Hopper says their medical bills had been negligible at finest. “I bear in mind one go to I needed to the emergency room for chest pains and anticipating a invoice that will value 1000’s of {dollars}, as it could within the U.S., and it was lower than $200,” she provides.

Residing comfortably on $30,000 a yr

Proper earlier than they moved to Costa Rica, the Ward-Hoppers give up their company jobs as a analysis analyst and mortgage dealer, respectively, to pursue new careers as entrepreneurs overseas. 

Navigating their new careers — and lives — in Costa Rica did not contain a lot of a language barrier, Ward-Hopper says, as most Costa Ricans communicate English, and she or he and her daughter are proficient in Spanish. Hopper, in the meantime, is enrolled in a newbie Spanish course.

Ward-Hopper now balances 4 part-time jobs: She’s a well being and health coach, a Spanish instructor, a number for wellness retreats and, most lately, an writer. She self-published her first ebook, “For my Beloveds: An Finish-of-life Journal for Steering & Knowledge,” in September 2023.

Final yr, her totally different earnings streams earned her about $10,500, in keeping with monetary paperwork reviewed by CNBC Make It. 

Hopper, in the meantime, runs his personal distant logistics enterprise, which earned him about $19,500 in 2023.

“Residing right here has allowed me to discover my passions in order that my strategies of incomes earnings do not feel like a job, it simply looks like I am attending to do the issues that I like to do, which is to be of service to others,” Ward-Hopper says. “We make much less cash, however we’re nonetheless dwelling fairly comfortably … our cash undoubtedly goes additional right here than within the U.S.” 

In Might 2023, the Ward-Hoppers moved to a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home in Nicoya to be nearer to Aaralyn’s faculty, which is public and tuition-free.

This is a month-to-month breakdown of the Ward-Hoppers’ spending (as of November 2023):

The Ward-Hoppers’ common month-to-month spending

Mithra Krishnan for CNBC Make It

Meals: $1,200

Lease and utilities: $628

Discretionary: $330

Nico’s faculty tuition: $284

Telephone (U.S. cellphone plan): $223

Insurance coverage (well being, life, automobile): $99

Subscriptions and memberships: $78

Gasoline: $67

Complete: $2,909

Each day common: $97

Discovering their ceaselessly house overseas

For the Ward-Hoppers, the largest problem of relocating to Costa Rica has been being removed from their household and mates within the U.S., and likewise shedding entry to sure American assets and merchandise, like Reese’s peanut butter cups, a household favourite they have not present in native supermarkets.

However by most measures, the Ward-Hoppers have discovered the qualify of life to be “significantly better” in Costa Rica than within the U.S. 

“I’ve had nice experiences within the U.S., however we will not deny the best way that individuals of colour are handled there, and we now have not had that have right here in any respect,” Ward-Hopper says. “In Costa Rica, I really feel that persons are handled as people first, persons are extremely respectful and sort right here.”

In banks and grocery shops, for instance, Ward-Hopper has seen that individuals will encourage pregnant folks and aged prospects to skip to the entrance of the road. “Whereas it isn’t unattainable to get that within the States, the baseline is not this theme of affection, acceptance and group the identical manner it’s right here,” she provides. 

The Ward-Hoppers say they plan to remain in Costa Rica for the remainder of their lives, even when they plan prolonged journeys to Africa, Europe and different international locations in South America. 

“That is the place we at all times need to return to,” Hopper says. “Finally, our aim is to construct up our financial savings and construct a pleasant finca [the Spanish word for “estate”] for our household right here.”

Hopper says the decrease value of dwelling and group in Costa Rica has far outweighed any emotions of homesickness he is felt because the transfer.

He provides: “I am undoubtedly happier dwelling in Costa Rica than I was within the U.S. I’ve gained my household again being right here, I’ve gained the chance to spend extra time with them and never solely create extra freedom in myself but additionally extra freedom inside our household to discover our goals.”

Wish to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new on-line course How you can Ace Your Job Interview to study what hiring managers are actually in search of, physique language methods, what to say and to not say, and one of the best ways to speak about pay. CNBC Make It readers can save 25% with low cost code 25OFF.

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