Too Many “Gringos” View Costa Rica Through Distorted North American Eyes

The country is not going to change for you; one has to adapt to the lifestyle here


Christopher Howard’s Live in Costa Rica – It is very easy to look at the negatives in Costa Rica when one is comparing the country with the United States or Canada. They are too completely different countries and, above all, cultures.

Downtown San Jose from photo archives

It is really easy to distort the facts when one does not understand a country. This is especially true if you do not speak the language. Speaking Spanish well will make one’s life easier.

You will always be a “stranger in a strange land” if you don’t speak the language. Also, you will have the chance to really understand the Costa Rican people and make some great life-time friends if you no the lingo.


It is impossible to compare Costa Rica with North America. But far too many gringos fall into this trap and become “ugly Americans.”

I have lost count of the times that I have heard foreigners say, “In the States we do it this way. Why can’t they do it like us”.

You just cannot compare apples and oranges.

In many cases expats become frustrated because Costa Rica doesn’t meet their unrealistic expectations. They compare the current Costa Rica with the way the country was 30 years ago. Things change! The U.S. is even different that it was thirty years ago. Remember, “He who lives in the past, is dead in the present”.

The cost of living is higher here than most countries in the region, but once you get settled and know where to shop you can have a reasonably affordable lifestyle.

Although the gap between Costa Rica and the U.S. is narrower than when I came here 40 years ago, one cannot realistically expect everything to be like the U.S.

Yes, there is crime here.

The most common crime is theft. However, we do not have the level of violence that prevails in the United States. There are homicides but there aren’t the mass and indiscriminate shootings since the gun laws are much stricter. A person can only own three handguns legally and assault rifles are not permitted. Granted criminals always find a way to buy weapons on the black market.

Furthermore, there is no threat of terrorism since the country has no enemies.

I do not look at things through rose colored glasses but realize that the worst here are far better than the worst in the United States. Believe me!

Keep in mind that the country is not going to change for you; one has to adapt to the lifestyle here. If not, you will be truly unhappy and frustrated.

Most people who return home (as in leave Costa Rica) just can’t adapt to the culture, come with mental baggage and have unrealistic expectations.

I lived in Mexico and travelled through all of Central America and chose to live here because it is by far the best in Latin America.

Why do you think people from other countries in the region move here in search of the “Costa Rican Dream”.

Article first appeared at Live In Costa Rica Blog.