When considering a second home abroad, Nicaragua is not only a convenient option but is also a pragmatic choice. Nicaragua, with its fantastic retirement program, universal health care, and low taxes, offers a high quality of life at an affordable price. Still, it can be daunting to make such a big step without a little guidance.
Ideally, that advice should come from some with both knowledge and expertise in Central American real estate, as well as the lived experience of making that big move for themselves and their family. That is where Mike Cobb comes in. Mike is the CEO of ECI Development—an established Latin American Real Estate and investment company—who himself used to live in Nicaragua.
We had the chance to interview Mike and he was more than happy to help by sharing his experience as an expat in Nicaragua for nearly 14 years. For a written summary, keep on reading.
1. Can you tell us more about the process of moving to Nicaragua?
In 2002, with his wife Carol and their two-year-old daughter, Mike moved to Nicaragua from Shepard’s Town, West Virginia. They packed all their belongings into a 40 feet container that was shipped ahead of them; 30 days later they arrived in Nicaragua.
Mike says it was an interesting process. In the beginning they didn’t really understand what would be involved, or how everything was going to turn out. Carol jumped right in, doing a great job handling the customs process to get their shipping container and car released to them.
In the end, everything worked out well. Thanks to Carol’s quick work they were able to move their belongings to their new home and settle into the new culture around them. Initially, they were renting as they only planned to stay a few years. But after a short adjustment period they all decided they liked living in Nicaragua and wanted to stay. So, they bought a piece of property, built a home and lived in Nicaragua for 14 years.
2. Had you ever visited Nicaragua before moving?
Although he had visited Nicaragua many times, Mike never spent any significant amount of time there before moving. Carol had been twice before, but both times were for less than a week.
3. Did you speak Spanish when you moved, or did you have to learn?
Neither Mike nor Carol spoke any Spanish before moving to Nicaragua. They eventually took Spanish lessons together, but their two-year-old daughter was much quicker to pick up the language. Shortly after arriving, she started a pre-school program called Kiddie Stop. After a week her first Spanish word was “mío” which means “mine” in Spanish.
Mike thinks Carol picked up the language much quicker due to her engagement in the local community. Because she worked more closely with their local personnel, Carol was able to practice her Spanish on a daily basis. Whereas Mike went to the office (which was staffed with bilingual employees) after Spanish lessons and spoke English all-day. Their second daughter Emily, born a few years after they arrived in Nicaragua, and their first daughter are both perfectly fluent in Spanish.
4. Did not speaking Spanish cause any major issues or challenges?
Not really, because Mike knew he needed fully bilingual staff, many who have stayed with us from the very beginning… some people in the ECI Development team, or specifically in the Gran Pacifica team, have been with them for 14-16 years, and they were excellent. They understood that the business had to be internally run in English and then externally in Spanish. But we have very competent, capable, bilingual staff, so it is great for the company but a disadvantage for Mike, as he never had the chance to force himself to learn Spanish.
5. What are some differences between living in Nicaragua vs the U.S.?
They truly enjoyed the expat life in Nicaragua. After being there for three years, they could have left, they had hired the right team and a local COO, so Mike didn’t need to be on site anymore if he didn’t want to. So, one night, Mike and Carol went out to dinner, and made a list of all the reasons to stay in Nicaragua, and a list of all the reasons to go back home. By the end of dinner it was clear to them that staying in Nicaragua was what they wanted most. They found that in Nicaragua their quality of life was better and their cost of living far less compared to the States.
In Nicaragua Mike and Carol were able to afford small conveniences like housekeepers that gave them for time to spend together as a family. On weekends, they could leave, plan out a day trip, or an event to attend, and spend quality time as a family without worrying about the little things.
Family activities are also more affordable in Nicaragua. They can enjoy the movies for only a few US Dollars or go to a 5-star restaurant for $20 a person. You can camp on the beach for free or go hiking in the cloud forest with ease.
They were quite sad in some ways to go back to the US, but they did it to support their daughter who was accepted into a high school dance program in New York City. But if it were not for that, Mike says they would probably still be in Nicaragua.
6. Did you have any concerns about the schooling and health system in Nicaragua?
Not at all. Mike mentions the pre-school Kiddie Stop their daughters attended, and notes that there are also American schools with US curriculum, a French school, a Science and Technology school, a German school, and some Christian schools. They ended up choosing the German school for their daughters, because although the American School is a great option, they were looking for an Spanish-based school with a secondary language, so their options were either the French or German school, and they preferred the curriculum of the German School. So, the girls’ classes were instructed in Spanish, and then they learned German, as a second language at school.
Regarding healthcare, Mike confidently says, it is phenomenal. Of course, it depends in the region one is based. In the countryside, healthcare is adequate, but in Managua’s major metropolitan areas, the healthcare and facilities are excellent. They took care of most of their medical needs in Nicaragua, being very affordable. Healthcare in Nicaragua is affordable, easy to access, and technologically advanced. Giving the example of his wife’s ultrasounds, they were able to get 3D ultrasounds— the latest technology—whereas most people in the U.S. do not have access to 3D technology.
7. What do you like the most about Nicaragua?
Mike says it is a mix of things but there is one specific thing he would like to highlight: the warmth of the relationships they had in Nicaragua. They were able to develop close relationships with families of their children’s friends, finding themselves in close knit social circle of other professionals and families. The traditional culture in Nicaragua is family-oriented one that is warm and welcoming to all, and they truly enjoyed that.
Mike says the affordability in Nicaragua was also tremendous. For example, they were able to have fresh organic foods delivered weekly for $8 USD, and their daughters were able to take part in a ballet program with a prima ballerina. While these opportunities might be possible state side, they were certainly not be as affordable or accessible.
For Mike and Carol, there is not one thing they like most about Nicaragua, it is the entire package of affordability, engaging activities, and community, that make living in Nicaragua an incredible and rewarding experience for them.
Again, the quality of life is phenomenal, the cost of living is far less, and it is one of the reasons why many people are moving into the region. To live this amazing life quality, especially for people who are to retire or have been retired in the past. Now, post-COVID, what is very interesting is that people and companies know that personnel can work from home remotely. So, now people are asking themselves: why wait until retirement to move overseas? This can happen now, while enjoying this incredible life quality, the reduced living costs, great weather, and doing enjoyable activities on spare days. So, this might be a game-changer for many countries, for if one can run a business remotely, it can be from anywhere in the world, including a beautiful beach house in the Pacific coastline.
Living in Nicaragua as an expat has been an incredibly rewarding experience for Mike and many other expats. It is an opportunity, to learn a new language and create the quality of life you have always wanted and deserve at an affordable price. Nicaragua offers safety, health care and healthy living, adventures and luxury in a single tropical location. If you are considering Nicaragua as a second home, rest assured, here you will find a welcoming community and easy access to the tools to build the lifestyle you want most.