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Your Guide to The Most Popular Expat Businesses


Karan Jain

Many people dream of one day retiring to somewhere sunny in Central America. But what about those who want to invest or live abroad before retirement?

Individuals from all over the world have created lives for themselves in Central America by starting an expat business. In fact it typically requires much less start up investment to open a business in Central America; land and labor are inexpensive and few permits are required.

Tourism is an area that expats may gain interest in as most towns with established communities of foreigners have a solid influx of tourists bringing business.

Here are some of the most popular tourism-based businesses that expats have been running in Central America for years. Perhaps one of these businesses could offer you the lifestyle you long for abroad, before retirement.

Vacation Rentals

Opening and managing vacation rentals is a popular and often highly profitable business in Central America. Properties or land sell for a fraction of the price of those in the United States and can often be rented at slightly discounted U.S. rates.

During the high season it’s not uncommon for vacation rentals to completely book up. Sites like,, and even Craigslist make marketing your properties much more straightforward.

Managing the properties themselves can be a lot of work, but for those passionate about real estate this is a great fit.


Expat-owned restaurants, cafes, and bars are a much appreciated luxury for locals, other expats living in the area, and travelers of all kinds.

Most expat towns in Central America have a least a few offering anything from fair trade lattes and French pastries to green smoothies and Thai fusion food.

Owning this type of business in another country can be challenging with the different language, laws, and culture, however it’s an incredible opportunity to really connect with the community.

Some become more like local institutions that serve as a gathering place bringing locals, tourists, and expats together.

Tour Company


Lance Gardner

Are you a passionate traveler, outdoor enthusiast, or adventure lover? Opening a tour company could be a great fit for you. Designing tours based on your favorite experiences is a way to share your passion with other travelers.

If you decide to work as one of the guides you have the added advantage of being able to experience the adventure with your groups. This is also a great way to give back to the community by employing locals, using sustainable practices, and educating tourists on local environmental and social concerns.


As long as there are backpackers there will be a demand for hostels. The prices for board may be low, but the capacity can be high and plenty of other businesses can be rolled in.

Most hostels have some sort of bar or restaurant that guests frequent often. They also arrange tours and transportation which provides them with a commission. Special events hosted in the onsite bars enable hostels to earn an additional income as well.

Hostels can range from small and privately owned for a more bed and breakfast type of experience, to large and managed by an entire staff. Some open additional locations in towns in other countries which expands their presence and also helps them receive repeat customers who are traveling to multiple locations.

Yoga Retreat Center


Bettina N.

Central America, Costa Rica in particular, is a popular place for those looking to study yoga or transform themselves on a retreat. For decades expats have been running these kinds of businesses and find their lives take on a new level of joy.

There are many opportunities for multiple sources of income including drop-in yoga classes, full yoga retreats, yoga teacher trainings, and bodywork sessions.

Surf School

Central America is known worldwide as a destination for incredible surfing. Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua are particularly frequented by surf enthusiasts from all over the world.

Many people come to these countries with the intention of learning to surf and enroll in immersion surf schools. Most travelers to these locations plan to at least take a lesson and try standing on a board. Surf schools are an essential tourism business in this part of the world and surf lovers can combine their passion for surfing with a business that earns them an income.

There is plenty of income to be made by surf schools which often combine other services like full retreats and board rentals. Some even open hostels, stores selling surf clothes and other merchandise, and onsite restaurants.

These are just a few of the popular businesses in tourism other expats have opened in Central America. Get creative and use your passions to start a business that makes your life abroad even richer. Investment is often significantly less than at home and many people find they experience a great deal of fulfillment running a business abroad.

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One thought on “Your Guide to The Most Popular Expat Businesses

  1. 1

    Great info, I’m thinking about coming to one of the favored Central American countries and restarting my concierge company. My forte here was to connect with developers for new properties and/or homeowner associations, to pair concierge services for owners/guests, along with the expertise and diligence to look after the property as for repairs/maintenance, keeping it booked, and remitting the net fees to owners wherever they may be located.

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