How difficult is it for retired expats to make Costa Rican friends?

In countries like Mexico and Colombia, for example, as in the U.S, and Europe entertaining and socializing with foreign friends is more common. This definitely is not the case here in Costa Rica.


Costa Ricans are very friendly people and in general some of the happiest people in the world. They also are peace-loving and actually like expats. However, forming deep friendships with them may prove difficult for expats.

I have lived in Costa Rica for 40 years and during this time have had the opportunity to observe relationships between Costa Ricans and North Americans. As a result, I have arrived at some conclusions with respect to the title of this article.


Family is always first and every other personal relationship is secondary. Families often organize activities, outings, and get-togethers on weekends, vacations and holidays like Easter week (known Semana Santa in Spanish).

Family unity is important but it can often be an obstacle when trying to develop friendships with Costa Ricans, even if you speak fluent Spanish. In a way, Costa Rica is a closed society, cliquish and nepotistic ( favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship) which is the result of familial unity. This makes it difficult for outsiders like foreigners to form deeply-bonding relationships with the locals.

I have two friends who were born in Europe and have each lived here for nearly 50 years. Tamaño poco as we say here (a hell of a long time).

Interestingly despite speaking Spanish, neither of my friends has been able to develop lasting friendships with any Costa Ricans. Both are married to Costa Rica woman and do attend some family affairs.

I have another good friend who was born in Italy, who spent his youth in Canada and eventually ended up in Costa Rica over 20 years ago. We have talked endlessly about how difficult it is to make friends with the locals. My friend, Rico, once asked a Costa Rican, “Why is it so difficult for foreigners to have Costa Rica friends?” His Tico acquaintance stated, “it is not you. It is us.”

I know of scores of other expats who have never been able to form anything more than superficial friendships due to many of the reasons I allude to in this article.

I have also noticed that you can invite Costa Ricans to parties, barbecues and other activities but they seldom reciprocate.

I have a number of Costa Rican acquaintances (conocidos as we call them here) but only one real Costa Rican friend after living here all of this time.

There isn’t anything my friend Alonso would not do for me. He has demonstrated this repeatedly. He is trustworthy and even has a set of keys to my home.

However, I find it strange that he has NEVER invited me to dinner and any other social activity with his family.

In Mexico, where I lived and studied, as in the U.S, and Europe entertaining and socializing with foreign friends is more common. This definitely is not the case here in Costa Rica.

All of this is all strange to me since I am an outgoing, friendly and likable person who forms friendships rather easily.

Fortunately, expats tend to gravitate towards each other when living abroad. So, you will not find it difficult to socialize and have English-speaking friends here. I hear many of the people on my monthly relocation/retirement tours say that they want to avoid other expats and mingle with the locals.

This is fine but they better not expect to have anything more than superficial friendships.

Fortunately, the saving grace is that there is a large English-speaking expat community and wealth of activities, so it is easy to stay busy and happy without depending solely on Costa Rican friendships.

The above should not deter anyone from relocating here. Costa Rica is one of the best countries in the world for living, offers an excellent quality of life and expats find it very user-friendly. In fact, the country has more expats proportionately than any other country in the world. They cannot be wrong!

What has been your experience in making friends with Ticos (Costa Ricans)? Share your expierences (good and bad) in the comment section below or to our official Facebook page.