Because it’s right on our doorstep, many Americans and Canadians forget to appreciate Central America as a travel destination. For holidays, Cancun and the Caribbean do get a lot of love and rightly so – Iberostar’s Punta Cana all inclusive resorts showcase why. But, let’s take a closer look why these destinations – and Central America specifically – are the focus for digital nomads.
You’re on US time
Being in Central America, you’re running on Central Standard Time (GMT-6) for the most part. With just a few exceptions, you’re going to be on US/Canada time. This is great news if you’re looking for remote work because you can fit within the work schedule you have back home.
Working for a US or Canadian company will likely result in higher wages than working locally. Of course, the likes of Guatemala’s cost of living is cheaper than North America too, so this could also benefit you in the labor market; you may be more willing to accept a lower wage because it will still be a good wage in relation to the Central American economy. Without the requirement for super high US wages, getting a job may be easier.
It’s also just easier for communicating with friends and family back home. Staying in touch becomes important, particularly if you’re prone to getting homesick.
Like with any country, you’re not going to feel like a local right off the bat – and that’s okay. This is why having a strong expat community is important to help ease you in – a stepping stone when integrating.
There are many bustling expat communities throughout Central America, partly because it’s so close to the US. A welcoming foreign community is great insurance in case you do get a bit homesick or lonely. There are plenty of Americans, Canadians, and other nationalities that are living an expatriate lifestyle in Costa Rica for example, meaning there are a fair few coworking spaces in the likes of San José and other big towns.
If you end up settling in a smaller town or more obscure country, what you trade away in expat communities, you gain in a more local, tight-knit community bond.
Cheap cost of living
Now, much of Central America often has a reputation for being expensive, but it may really not the case depending on your context. For example, coming from North America and most of Europe, you’re going to find Costa Rica (the most expensive CA country) cheaper than what you’re used to. However, if you compare it to its neighboring Central and South American countries, then it is more expensive.
Electricity, imported groceries, and many luxury goods and services can be similarly priced (or sometimes more expensive) than in the US. However, two major costs in life – rent and running a car – are going to save you a tonne of money overall. Rent in Costa Rica is well under half the price of most Canadian cities and will be even cheaper if you share accommodation as a student. Secondly, there’s no need for a car because most things are within walking distance, and if they’re not, public transport is widely used and is very cheap.
If you’re living a non-lavish lifestyle (i.e. eating local produce, using public transport) then Costa Rica is cheaper than most of the developed western world. Again, Costa Rica is the most expensive country in Central America. In regards to the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands, it can be a slightly more mixed bag.
Another unfair stereotype is that Central America is dangerous. Again, totally unfair. The likes of LA and Texas score worse in crime statistics than Panama. The reputation likely comes from the fact that Belize and El Salvador are dangerous places, so it does matter where you visit (and nuance is the enemy of stereotypes). But it also comes from conflating Central America with all of Latin America, in which there are many dangerous countries like Venezuela and Bolivia.
As for the Caribbean, it’s another mixed bag. But, there’s a reason why so many tourists go to the Bahamas and Dominica, and why these are becoming increasingly popular among digital nomads.
Getting back in touch with nature is something that many of us are feeling an itch for. For a few decades, humans seemed to desire the cozy office job. Now, we’re desiring to leave our cubicles and work remotely in a more natural environment.
Of course, we can do that in North America, but there’s something unique about Central America. The more tropical climate produces more vibrant rainforests, lagoons, and there are a plethora of otherworldly volcanos. As for those who love culture and history, some of the oldest civilizations in the world lived in Central America. The Maya was centered around the Yucatan Peninsula.
So, after a hard day’s work clicking buttons in front of a screen, we can better cleanse ourselves by stepping outside into some of the most stunning nature in the world. Waterfalls, jungles, volcanos, and some of the best ocean waters in the world. Not to mention the rich spirituality of yoga retreats and other, medicinal and tribal retreats.
Food isn’t often taken into account when picking a travel destination, but it should be. Exotic food can be a blessing and a curse; it can be incredible to try, but it can also leave you feeling homesick after missing dishes from back home.
This is why Central America is so great for North Americans. Things like Shucos, a hot dog/sandwich meal with ketchup and mayo are both delicious as it is familiar. Not too familiar, of course, as that would be boring, but Central American food isn’t going to leave you homesick anytime soon (ever try eating rice or noodles for breakfast every day?).
Baleada, Casados, Gallo Pinto, Tacos, and many other dishes popular here are foods that North Americans will have tasted before – or close to it. Of course, this is the authentic stuff, so it’s bound to be better, but it won’t be a culture shock.