Fea­ture: Flock­ing Snow­birds

Howler Magazine - - Contents - _By Deb­bie Bride

The snow­birds are de­scend­ing on Costa Rica once again for a long win­ter stay. And re­cip­ro­cated or not, the fond­ness of north­ern refugees for this idyl­lic hot spot shows no signs of cool­ing.

Costa Rica ranks at or near the top of fa­vorite deep-freeze es­cape des­ti­na­tions out­side the United States. The web­site cana­di­an­buck­etlist.com — whose whim­si­cal Latin nomen­cla­ture for snow­bird is “es­ca­pus win­ter snow us” — ex­plains:

“Some species of snow­birds pre­fer a big­ger change: a dif­fer­ence in cul­ture, a dif­fer­ence in lan­guage, cur­rency, and scenic beauty. Costa Rica has the beaches, but it also has beau­ti­ful rain­for­est, and peace­ful moun­tain com­mu­ni­ties. The coun­try en­joys the third high­est life ex­pectancy in the western hemi­sphere, is af­ford­able, ac­ces­si­ble, and even of­fers Cana­dian-run health in­surance for ex­pats.”

“Par­adise meets con­ve­nience” is how trip­ping.com de­scribes Ta­marindo specif­i­cally, on its list of non-U.S. win­ter es­cape hubs:

”There isn't any other trop­i­cal gem like this one out there. An ar­ray of ho­tels, stores, bars, restau­rants, and tour com­pa­nies are just a short saunter from the seashore. So stargaze, sight­see, and zip-line, all in the con­fines of a re­mark­able rain­for­est within Cen­tral Amer­ica.”

For Pam Gra­ham and her hus­band, Larry, the warmth and open­ness of lo­cal Ti­cos are what give Costa Rica an edge as their cho­sen home away from home for six months dur­ing their Cana­dian win­ter.

“The peo­ple in the com­mu­nity are the best,” Pam said dur­ing a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion from Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta, where the cou­ple lives dur­ing the other half of the year. She was busy pre­par­ing for their early Novem­ber de­par­ture to the condo they pur­chased in 2014 near Mat­a­palo, Gua­nacaste.

“We're very happy with our de­ci­sion to spend win­ters in Costa Rica,” said Pam, adding that she and Larry plan to even­tu­ally make it their year-round per­ma­nent home. “We have no re­grets.”

Where snow­birds choose to live in Costa Rica de­pends on per­sonal pref­er­ence. Dif­fer­ences in cli­mate, ac­ces­si­bil­ity of ur­ban ameni­ties and de­gree of ex­po­sure to lo­cal cul­ture may be fac­tors. Some snow­birds get a feel for dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions be­fore mak­ing a longterm de­ci­sion. They might live in a va­ri­ety of places one sea­son at a time, or dur­ing the same high sea­son visit.

Many snow­birds de­ter­mine it's not only af­ford­able, but also prof­itable, to in­vest in a se­condary res­i­dence in Costa Rica. They can live in their trop­i­cal home as de­sired, make it avail­able as a va­ca­tion house for vis­it­ing friends and fam­ily mem­bers, and rent to oth­ers the rest of the time. A por­tion or even all of their rental in­come might come from other snow­birds.

With no room for doubt about Costa Rica's ap­peal to snow­birds — in­clud­ing those who may ul­ti­mately set­tle here full-time as “sun­birds” — is the feel­ing mu­tual? By all ap­pear­ances, lo­cals seem ea­ger to put out the high sea­son wel­come mat.

Clearly, snow­birds are a driv­ing force in Costa Rica's real es­tate and prop­erty man­age­ment sec­tors. Re­lated up­turns in build­ing trades ac­tiv­ity stim­u­late con­sumer mar­kets for de­sign con­sult­ing and house­hold fur­nish­ings.

Costa Rica ranks at or near the top of fa­vorite deep-freeze es­cape des­ti­na­tions out­side the United States.

“A lot of very nice homes are be­ing built for part-time use by snow­birds who might even­tu­ally live here year-round,“said Bruce Scott, pro­pri­etor of Scott Fur­ni­ture near Hua­cas. “We are for­tu­nate in be­ing able to pro­vide fur­ni­ture that ap­peals to this con­sumer mar­ket.”

Oth­er­wise, on a more con­cen­trated tourist-sea­son ba­sis, the eco­nomic boost from snow­birds is far-reach­ing.

From sun­set cruises and live en­ter­tain­ment to happy hours and karaoke nights, snow­birds en­joy be­ing out and about. They ap­pre­ci­ate that there is more to do here than kick back in a ham­mock and im­prove their tans. Noth­ing pleases them more than a new restau­rant dis­cov­ery, ex­cept for be­ing wel­comed like a reg­u­lar at the spot where they've dined count­less times.

As the owner and gen­eral man­ager of Sand­bar in Playa Her­mosa, Kent Scant­land has made a point of get­ting to know the restau­rant's pa­trons, in­clud­ing whether they are snow­birds, tourists or ex­pats liv­ing in the area year-round.

“The De­cem­ber to March pe­riod is nor­mally a very busy time of year,” he said. “Snow­birds have an im­pact on busi­ness but are usu­ally on a bud­get and do not spend as much or tip as well as tourists do. How­ever, our snow­birds do come out and sup­port nights where en­ter­tain­ment is avail­able. Or they take ad­van­tage of happy hours and dis­count days.”

Be­yond their im­por­tance to the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try and re­tail busi­nesses, snow­birds are of­ten keen to em­brace

Tico cul­ture and en­gage with their adopted lo­cal com­mu­nity. From lo­cal classes and work­shops to char­ity events, they par­tic­i­pate and con­trib­ute with en­thu­si­asm.

“I love my snow­birds and can't wait to see them all again soon,” said Sylvia Monge, owner of Span­ish for Ex­pats, a tu­tor­ing and trans­la­tion ser­vice. “They have an in­cred­i­ble en­ergy to learn and also have the time to get into it.“

De­scrib­ing her busi­ness in­come as “a roller­coaster” fol­low­ing the habits of snow­birds and sab­bat­i­cal fam­i­lies who come for the school year and then leave, Monge said the base clien­tele are these new­com­ers or re­turn­ing snow­birds.

“Classes hover around five peo­ple un­til Jan­uary, when the birds re­turn af­ter the hol­i­days. Then it goes up to 10 to 14 peo­ple in class.”

Cer­ti­fied yoga in­struc­tor Mar­ian Pa­ni­agua typ­i­cally sees at­ten­dance in her classes in­crease by about 30 per­cent dur­ing snow­bird sea­son.

Lo­cal vol­un­teer-run or­ga­ni­za­tions ben­e­fit from big-hearted snow­birds such as Pam Gra­ham. Her in­volve­ment with two pet res­cue groups in­cludes fundrais­ing and as­sist­ing with neu­ter­ing pro­grams.

Although only about 10 per­cent of all snow­birds have per­ma­nent homes out­side the United States, 80 per­cent of those in­ter­na­tional snow­birds are from Canada. Com­pli­ca­tions re­lat­ing to health in­surance cov­er­age and in­come tax rules dis­suade many Cana­dian snow­birds from spend­ing their win­ters in the United States, mak­ing trop­i­cal des­ti­na­tions like Costa Rica more ap­peal­ing.

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