RETIREMENT IN NICARAGUA
A Nicaraguan was lying in the street bleeding. He had been beaten and dumped there by a mercenary soldier. The soldier stood over him and told him point blank, “To Hell with you all, we came here for land and we will have it!” The occupying troops were drunk and taunting the residents of Granada as they pillaged the city.
It was November 23rd, 1856 and the would-be conqueror of Nicaragua, Tennessee native William Walker, had already evacuated Granada. General Walker was floating peacefully on a steamship in Lake Nicaragua while his troops burned Granada to the ground and then went on a drunken rampage through the town, terrorizing its citizens. At 9:00 a.m. the next morning a group of Walker’s administrative officers in Granada marched through the streets of the burnt and pillaged town. They walked in mock procession, wearing stolen priest robes, behind a fake coffin that in big letters said, “Granada” on it. When they reached Granada’s central square, they lowered the coffin into a gravesite they had previously excavated in the park and posted a giant sign above the buried coffin that said, “Here was Granada”.
The Spanish perpetrated one of the worst genocides in the history of this hemisphere when they ripped Nicaragua, its land and riches from Nicaragua’s indigenous cultures in 1524. After 297 years of occupation the Spanish finally left, but only 35 years later Walker’s forces would once again spill native blood in hope of dominating Nicaragua’s fertile soil. Nicaraguans celebrate annually the dates when they achieved their first victory over Walker and the final one over the Spanish as national holidays on September 14th and 15th. However, the attraction that inspired the mercenary soldiers of the Spanish and Walker still exits today. Thankfully the invasions of today are peaceful ones. Now they are stimulated by a dramatic international economic imbalance that makes land in Central America’s most beautiful country a bargain. For this reason Nicaragua’s fledging democracy and favorable real estate prices are beginning to make big noises with international real estate speculators and American retirees.
Foreign owned real estate companies are exploding in Nicaragua and English language real estate signs can be seen on colonial Granada homes that were built by invading Spaniards and rebuilt after Walker’s flaming departure. The same signs can be found at beach front developments where both the Spanish and Walker landed on their conquests.
Foreign investment in Nicaraguan real estate has doubled and tripled market property values in the last 5 years. US News and World Report has called Nicaragua an “expatriate haven” while including it on its list for the world’s 10 best retirement spots. USA Today claimed that “Almost 5,000 Americans have already discovered Nicaragua and call it their home”. Conde Nast Traveler classified Nicaragua as “seductive” and said that “land is still a bargain” though complaining that Nicaragua is “still a little rough around the edges”.
Is Nicaragua a retirement paradise for foreigners? Is it cheap to live here? The answers are: “yes for some” and “not really”
Nicaragua is a unique country shaped by its past with a welcoming population that has a strong cultural identity and knows its history. The foreigner who wishes to change his or her life style significantly, learn to think differently, at least partially master Spanish and become part of Nicaragua society will enjoy the country tremendously. However, the foreigner who is looking for a cheap, sunnier version of the USA or Costa Rica will quickly become disillusioned, frustrated and likely regret their investment here.
A prominent myth: Poor country = cheap living. Many draw the logical conclusion that Nicaragua’s statistical poverty will make it a place to live cheaply and raise one’s standard of living without raising one’s income. This can be partially true for those who come with a very healthy nest egg and/or completely change their way of living. For those who want the same comfort levels as in North America or Europe with Nicaragua’s sunny climate, things are really not that cheap. What is inexpensive is the initial investment.
Nicaragua experienced social change in the 1980’s that helped to level the socio-economic playing field in a limited sense, but as a whole the country remains semi-feudalistic in its class structure and distribution of wealth. In such a society there is a serious lack of a middle class. Many who decide to live in Nicaragua without a very healthy savings account will find themselves floating in a gray area. Maintaining a North American lifestyle in Nicaragua can be very expensive. Nicaragua has the highest taxes in Central America, the highest electricity (twice as expensive as Costa Rica) and fuel costs. Domestic items like refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers, televisions, stereos, etc. are more expensive in Nicaragua than the US, as are name brand clothing, toiletries and packaged foods.
Buying into Nicaragua’s land rush means that you will be exposed to the disorganized Nicaraguan property register, one that sports legal property claims that total three times the size of Nicaragua’s landmass. As a whole property titles are one of the biggest risks in Nicaragua. Anyone retiring or buying land in Nicaragua would be wise to examine the property title with a Nicaraguan insider; a person financially disinterested in the transaction, who can research the property in question and assure the potential buyer that there are no historical or social forces threatening its seemingly rock solid land title.
It should also be noted that living in Nicaragua and not speaking at least some Spanish is a bad idea. Nicaraguans probably have the lowest incidence of English proficiency in Central America, the exact opposite of southern neighbor Costa Rica. For important events a translator could be hired, but for the mundane day to day life chores like shopping, banking, fixing your car or house, getting a hair cut, sending a package, at least partial Spanish fluency is required.
If the potential foreign resident is sincere in his desire to integrate as best possible into Nicaraguan society, Nicaragua can in fact be paradise. The pace of life in Nicaragua is superb, the people are wonderful if you engage them, the local food is excellent and the scenery is second to none. It all depends on the potential investor’s attitude, willingness and ability to change and adapt, along with taking very necessary, clear-eyed precautions in terms of land titles. Don’t assume the same rules apply here in Nicaragua as in other countries.
Nicaragua’s sad history has miraculously failed to create a bitter or resentful populous. Nicaraguans are the most generous and humorous people in Central America. It is clear that Nicaragua is a special case in Latin America. It would be wise to consider not only inexpensive land, but also the beauty of Nicaragua’s culture and people as its greatest assets. If the investor in Nicaragua is capable of doing this, then he really has found his promised land.