In a move designed to lure more Americans to Costa Rica, the country is designating certain areas with good medical facilities to be “retirement clusters.” The country wants to better compete with Panama and Mexico, both destinations that have lured lots of retirees with the combination of lower costs and good hospitals.

The Tico Times reported the story back in February (see a reprint here), so I’m late to the party on this, but it has interesting ramifications for the future. Anecdotal evidence says foreign investment in Costa Rica has declined during this recession, especially in areas where the property bubble had spread south. This government program aims to spread out that investment to more areas. The zones include Lake Arenal, Miramar, Cartago, and Rincon de la Vieja in Guanacaste. According to this story on Mathaba, getting residency should become easier.

The concept is simple, and includes slashing red tape to the minimum by providing one-stop residence permits at the Migration Directorate, so that foreigners, especially the well-heeled, can come to live in the country. Tax exemptions on real estate and vehicles are on offer, and a promotional campaign aimed at older adults abroad will be run by the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT).

Time will tell whether the plans turn to reality and whether there is longevity in the mix. Costa Rica was the first country to launch big incentives for foreign retirees, but the country has become less attractive over time as those incentives were removed and real estate prices kept rising. If this program actually works, it could turn things around.

Don’t pull a House Hunters International move though and just fly down for a weekend to buy a house. Spend some time in a Costa Rica rental first and do your homework. Keep in mind too that the U.S. dollar is at its lowest exchange rate in two years in Costa Rica, which may limit your bargaining power for anything sold by a local company. Take your time.

Get info here on luxury travel in Costa Rica.