“you’ve fallen in love with Costa Rica…but there’s only one problem…actually, no… 100s of problems… what is the FIRST step?”
Actually you’ve already taken the first step… you have admitted that you don’t have all of the answers… and you would be shocked to know how many people try to do everything online, then hop on a plane and expect no surprises.
I know… because we did it almost 20 years ago.
And the problems are geometrically worse today because people posting on the internet will claim to have your answers…and… well, you know what happens next in 99% of the time.
The major difference between 20 or 30 years ago and today is that communication is instant and you can virtually be in someone’s living room or office with the click of a button.
But the biggest problem is that … just as in REAL LIFE … you don’t know who to believe or who to trust. And people operate on two different planes… i.e., Costa Rica and America
And because today Costa Rica is on everyone’s “bucket list” it is doubly important to ensure that you have a game plan if you intend to move to Costa Rica or to stay here even part-time.
This is not a perfect list… but it has been assembled by someone who has been in CR for almost two decades, has a daughter here with a law degree and two grandchildren… and of course, literally hundreds of acquaintances and people that are proven trustworthy AND competent… and that education was not cheap.
You all know the joke about how easy it is to make a million dollars in Costa Rica, right? … start with TWO. Yeah, too much truth in it too
- No matter how much you study, how many books you read or how much time you spend on Facebook… you will NOT be prepared for Costa Rica. It is overwhelming. And if you really think that you are prepared… no matter how much you think you know… or how much of the language you can speak… be ready … because Costa Rica is unlike anything you have ever seen “back home.”
- Do not expect it to be a replica of “back home” but in Spanish and maybe 25 years behind the times. It definitely isn’t.
- The physical beauty of the country will absolutely stun you. Even if you think you are ready, you will be overwhelmed. Remember, Costa Rica is SMALL, about the size of W. Virginia… and it includes mountains, two oceans, rivers, lakes, volcanoes, jungle, rain forests, cities, small pueblos and villages so picturesque you will think you are in a National Geographic feature story… agricultural lands growing rice, fruits like banana and pineapple that seem to stretch without ending… and much more… and a huge part of it can be seen in ONE day’s drive… and every bend in the road is literally another Kodak minute. It is almost too much to take in. And remember… all of these are choices for you to stay, visit, or avoid… oh, and don’t forget the beaches… two oceans and they never seem to end.
- When you are on vacation in Costa Rica much of the time you will get the impression that EVERYONE speaks English and much of the country is VERY similar to the U.S. or Canada. True… maybe 10% of the population speaks some English and many of the larger cities may “vaguely” remind you of “back home” but it really is not even close… Perhaps some of the newer office buildings will resemble those in Des Moines, IA but the more you explore the more you will see the huge architectural differences.
- Is Costa Rica technologically advanced? Well, that depends upon your definition. If you turned back the clock for 50 years for much of the country, you would be accurate… but if you visited many of the international businesses which have moved to Costa Rica you would see very few differences. Keep in mind that it costs a great deal to have 4 or 5G internet or to have the latest technology for smaller Costa Rican businesses or even to upgrade much of the waste management systems. Costa Rica is smaller than most U.S. states and some larger cities. Most people completely forget that simple fact.
- “I have heard that living in Costa Rica is expensive… can I afford it?” IT obviously depends upon your standard of living. Do you plan on building a home… buying property or renting? Do you want the same lifestyle as you have now? Define what you are looking for. Many things in Costa Rica are expensive and if you are looking to duplicate your lifestyle “back home” it may not be possible OR it may be easier than you think. Cars… 50% more expensive due to taxation and duties … food… if you buy in the market, substantially less… if you want to duplicate with specific brand names, more expensive If you are expecting second or third world pricing, forget it and start over. BUT the good news is that almost everyone that wants to live here CAN. It may require some sacrifice… for example, taking the bus instead of buying a car… or eating fruits and vegetables rather than specific junk food that many of us had become used to… ASK QUESTIONS. It is not difficult provided that you do not just depend upon your own assumptions to guide you… and then become disappointed.
- Can I find a job in Costa Rica to support myself? Likely NO. It is technically against the law for an outsider or foreigner to accept a job that a Costa Rican can do. Exceptions are real estate, online work which is almost never-ending if you know where to look and have a skill in demand… Talk to other expats in many of the available forums to find out if there is a specific possibility for you. There was a North American in my town that I met when I first came to Costa Rica that had been a mechanic in the States… word circulated that he was at least as good as the locals and most of the time, better… so people started coming to him for diagnosis and eventually for fixing their cars. He didn’t make a fortune but he definitely supported himself. There are a lot of companies in Costa Rica that have no websites or that could use videos for marketing… team up with someone who speaks perfect English to get you in the door. And don’t let this one stop you. An awful lot of people make money online. Possibilities DO exist.
- This is one you have heard before. And many people disregard it and ultimately pay the price. RENT before you buy land or build your own home. It is easy to fall in love with a specific area and take the next logical step to own your own home… but far too many people discover “warts” and problems before long. An example… at least half of people that buy and build close to the beach leave before five years has elapsed. Why? It is TOO hot and crime is more prevalent there… AC bills for ONE room only will run you $500 per month. Make certain that you LOVE it as much after six months of a year as you did on first sight.
- Many of you are concerned about the medical services in Costa Rica. And yes, in many areas the service is substandard… but overall it is superb. Rhonda and I have had to avail ourselves of the medical care several times and have found it superior to what is in the States… and it is obviously far less cost. And prescription drugs? FAR less cost. We honestly would recommend the medical profession and public services over “back home.”
- It is hard to imagine the diversity that exists in Costa Rica, both physical and otherwise. One of our favorite things is just taking “one day adventures” or drives to specific areas or town where we have never been before. And unlike “back home” there are almost endless “adventures” that we have taken over the years… and we are still definitely not done. It is mind-boggling… consider being able to see the ocean, mountains, thousands of acres of bananas and pineapples, lakes, rivers, rain forests, butterfly farms, jungle, the list goes on and on. There are wildlife tours in nearly every corner of the country, each featuring their own local wildlife. All in ONE DAY.
- Always remember that natives of Costa Rica are different than anywhere else. Nationalities are always different and many times in ways unseen. This is not meant to be a negative … it simply means DO NOT make assumptions about Ticos or others just because of something you have read or something that you “think” might be true. Cultures are nearly always different from country to country. How you or I react to others is an individual thing. And please… this is NOT negative, it is simply meant to remind you that cultures and people from other places are different… and that is what makes it our adventure even more interesting.
- I remember once a woman complained to Rhonda about the fact that there were spiders that were unlike anything she had back in Kansas… and she was petrified of them. This may seem laughable to most of you but please… know as much as you can about the flora and fauna from the area you will be living in… even temporarily. Spiders, scorpions, snakes, strange birds, even the four legged variety here are different… how many of you have ever seen an anteater close up?… or an ocelot?… or even an iguana? Get used to the differences… they are a big part of what Costa Rica is all about.
- Learn some Spanish… even if it is only a little. You will be glad you did.
- As a generalization, most “gringos” (North Americans) have more money than their counterparts in Costa Rica. And this brings up a topic here that incites anger, disbelief and even rage. So… here goes: Ticos, because they know ( or… believe ) that gringos have more money than they do… accept that gringos will not miss “just a little” if they don’t know that it has been “diverted.” A good example is restaurants… many will charge gringos more than Ticos and nearly all gringos never notice… thus proving the accepted theory about gringos have more money. Because gringos are “guests’ and visitors they obviously do not know accepted pricing. I see this as a simple cultural difference… not something worse. Always watch what you pay for anything as you can almost count on being “overcharged”… we looked at it as a “surcharge” for the privilege of living in CR. Just be careful. As a sidebar… this can add up to thousands of dollars when buying property. To prevent this from happening… ask me for a copy of “The Greater Fool Theory of Real Estate in Costa Rica”… no charge.
- You may hear a lot about the condition of the roads in Costa Rica… IMO, the roads in Costa Rica are now better than what they are “back home”. They WERE horrible… really horrible… but no longer. You may need a 4×4 for some back roads so always ask before venturing onto roads where you have never driven.
- There are a great many things that you will encounter that are definitely not the same and no one can predict what will upset you or make you totally uncomfortable. Most of the differences now make us smile… because many of the differences resemble “back home” but perhaps half a century ago: things like … gasoline is never self serve in Costa Rica… it is just as it was 40 -50 years ago in the States…I like that… OR… flat tires are almost always fixed on the spot at many service stations and cost is always less than $5.
- Because most Costa Ricans have less money than their counterparts in the States… if you are shopping for more expensive furniture or appliances, you will not find pricing equivalent to “back home”… What you will find is Mexican and Chinese brands and many knockoffs… most are not as good as “back home”. If you have questions about a purchase ask other on FB or your potential new neighbors and see what they recommend.
- If you have a limited budget and don’t mind being in a smaller town, there are literally hundreds of towns throughout the country and almost any of them will remind you of a Spanish “Leave it to Beaver” show. And the people are friendly… and nearly all will have bus service available to larger towns. This is a way to see the “real Costa Rica” but it is not for everyone.
- I have mentioned this before but it is almost mind boggling how many different types of locations are available for consideration for your new residence. It is not only ocean but it could easily be mountain, small pueblo or villa, lake, volcano, wildlife areas ( most are further south like the Osa or others, Perez Zeledon is mountainous but almost “hippie lik” in atmosphere and is close to beach areas… and “less developed “… See as many as you can… After we purchased and built our homes I cannot tell you how many times we fell in love with another area and said that we wished we had built there…I even purchased land on an island because I fell in love with its location, geography AND history ( supposedly Spaniards had left treasure buried on the island.. and there are, as legend goes, even crocodiles guarding the gold )
- There will always be “hot tips” and secrets that you will find. If you want to know the best ( and most honest ) place to get your car repaired… ask on FB or a forum OR your neighbor… get a referral first. Where can you find a repairman for your washing machine or dryer? Again… ask. It helps to have one or two people you can trust in the area where you are living. In fact, it is necessary… friends in CR should never be “optional”… you will find that many will want to be friends with you. The States or Canada still carries some status with Costa Ricans so don’t think that it is just your sterling personality that wins Ticos over. Especially when you don’t even know the language… except maybe for the word baño.
- Enjoy the country… remember WHY you love the country. It is NOT all exaggeration and not all press releases. The phrase Pura Vida or “pure life” really does mean something to Costa Ricans. It is their country and in the time of stress and isolation because of a virus it is important to even pay attention to how Costa Rica responded to it vs. other countries. Their attitude and responses have gotten them huge recognition when nearly all other countries have “dropped the ball” in their responses.
- Many of you will be upset with the amount of litter and garbage that exists in a country that promotes sustainability, conservation and energy renewal. It is a touchy subject and it is, IMO, a simple matter of money. The country is fiscally in poor shape and to consider items like electric trains and other large projects which spotlight its beliefs … makes it even more difficult to address litter in general. It is, for the most part, all about money… there is not enough of it to do everything including building dams and windmill farms to assist with power generation. Oftentimes, because Costa Rica is in the forefront of our thoughts it is easy to forget how truly small the country is. There ARE countries which are 10 to 100 times larger which do not have the impact or the positives that Costa Rica does. Baby steps here.
- There are a tremendous amount of “things”… little things… that will likely upset you. But it is simply because they are different. We all know that Ticos have the patience of Job and if “standing in lines” was an Olympic event, they would win every time. Bad driving is another… get used to it. Corruption is another… it is more common if you are in the real estate business like I was and people were holding up permits to extort money ( no, not all the time ) it is most common when you happen to be speeding or at least are stopped by the transit police… most expats know that tickets and citations can be made to vanish with a subtle payment of perhaps $50. Is that corruption? Sure it is. Corruption goes on everywhere in the world and at the upper levels of the country it is usually left unsaid. It is common but do not let it spoil your overall perception of Pura vida. There is petty theft and there is crime, usually minor.
- One of the most prevalent pet peeves that I have… as well as most expats… is the lenient stance on punishment and crime. If anyone is convicted of a minor crime, the punishment is usually negligible. However, it is when more serious crimes occur and a conviction and trial happen… that the outrage starts. Often even those convicted of murder are given a relatively small jail sentence… and the same for the more serious crimes. If the country really wishes to deter crime it must make the perpetrator truly punished. Please know that there will always be actions and “things” that you are uncomfortable with or just plain “do not like” about the people in Costa Rica or their customs or government. If you cannot handle them… well, there is the door.
But, for Rhonda and I… we cannot say enough good things about the years we have spent here… even in spite of the problems we have encountered on our journey.
We would not trade it for anything… and we are still on our ‘last great adventure.”