As you begin to do your research, you get bombarded by opinions on where you should move.  You will hear and read great things about the Central Valley, the Caribbean coast, the Southern Zone or life in the rain forest.  At the end of the day, your head will be swimming in confusion if not pulsating from pain.

I guarantee, everything you read, every video you see that promotes one particular area over another will be biased.  But that's not all that bad.  What is bad is when the "sales pitch" comes from people or companies whose enterprises will profit by your decision on where to move.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not against advertising or selling dreams but in the end, the decision will be yours and it needs to be based on fact, not hype.

LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP

You think just because you watched a few episodes of House Hunters International, you know Costa Rica?  The show makes it look easy to simply pick up and move to a foreign land.  But in reality, you need to be here and sample life as a resident before you make the big decision to embrace an expatriate life style.

We suggest that before making this all important decision, you make at least two extended trips here.  Each trip should be for no less than two weeks in length and should occur in both the dry and wet seasons.  This way you will see Costa Rica at our best and (possibly) our worst.

WHAT IS DUE DILIGENCE

For nearly four years, Fran and I have been preaching the concept of due diligence but never really went into depth as to what it is.  Due diligence is defined as "an investigation or audit of a potential investment that serves to confirm all material facts in regards to a sale or transaction.  It generally refers to the care a reasonable person should take before entering into an agreement or a transaction with another party."   

Before you ever leave on a due diligence trip, do your homework.  Identify everything that is important for you, in a perfect world.  Now, you'll never achieve this because we don't live in a perfect world.  But the more of these you can check off, the better your chances of success and happiness.

Don't take this lightly.  This list could take you weeks or more to compile.  And the more complete this list is, the more accurate your due diligence.

For starters, you should be considering:

  • Local climate.  Strangely enough, you may have an entirely different weather pattern, 6 km up the road.

  • Security.  Just because there are bars on the windows, don't assume that this place is crime infested.

  • City life or rural life?

  • Proximity of quality health care: medical, dental and emergency.  Meet local doctors.  Do they speak your language?

  • What is the local expat community like.  How many live there?  Can you meet them.

  • What are the roads like?  Paved.  Dirt?  What about the drainage?

  • Have you seen any local police in the area?  I sure hope so. 

  • What happens in the event of an emergency?

  • Where do the gringos hang out?

  • How is the shopping?  Availability of quality goods and foods.  How far is the closest feria (farmers market)?

  • How many banks are in the area? 

  • Are you bringing an animal with you or maybe you have plans on adopting one once you move here. Check out the availability of a good quality vet.  English speaking is always a plus.

  • What about overall infrastructure?  Is high quality cell service available?  What about cellular dead zones.  Are quality Internet and television services available.  What about Internet down time?  Quality and availability of electric and water?

  • Availability of public transportation (busses and taxis)

  • What are your housing expectations?  Are local housing rentals available?

ORGANIZED TOUR OR MAJOR ROAD TRIP?

When planning your due diligence trip, you have but two options, guided tour or self guided tour.  We have done both and each have their pros and cons.

Guided Tour

Guided tours can be confusing because most are recreational in scope.  You get on board a bus, visit a volcano, check out a coffee plantation and maybe a furniture factory but not before stopping by a local restaurant to dine on so called "comidas tipico" (typical local food).  Local tour busses like these spots because the bus drivers generally receive healthy financial kick backs for every seat they can fill.

Your other option is to sign up with a Costa Rican Relocation/Retirement tour.  But please be careful.  Several of these tours are nothing more than sophisticated real estate pitches designed to get you to buy property or homes. 

When you look for a legitimate Relocation/Retirement tour, look for ones that offer a broad spectrum of education that answers your questions about what possible expat life may be like.  Real estate examples should be part of any well designed tour, just make sure that you are seeing examples from multiple developers and the tour also includes rental options and opportunities.  If what you are going to see is just one developer's property... run like hell!

Self-Guided Road Trip

Another really cool way of getting to know what Costa Rica has to offer is by renting a car and hitting the road.  What we especially like about this method is you get to experience life at your own pace, up close and personal.  Our only suggestion is to make sure your mindset is focused on due diligence and not just on having fun.  However the latter may happen anyway!

If you opt for doing a road trip, I have taken the liberty of preparing one possible itinerary and route.  The objective of this itinerary is to see and experience as much of local Costa Rican life, its micro-climates and culture, as possible. 

This route is designed to be a Costa Rican Sampler sand it includes the vast majority of the country with the exception of the Caribbean coast.

  • Your road trip begins with your arrival at the San Jose Airport (SJO).  Based on the time of your arrival, plan on spending your first night in one of the nearby hotels by the airport.  Pickup your rental car the next day.

  • Now that you have wheels, feel free to begin exploring by heading out from Alajuela (A) to the North East towards Heredia.  Or if you want, just stay on the Pan American Highway (Ruta 1) to San Ramon (B).  Plan on staying in San Ramon a day or so.  Many expats live there and most are always eager to talk and meet potential expats.

  • Head north out of San Ramon towards the town of La Fortuna (C) and the rainforest region near the Arenal Volcano.  You will notice many climatic changes as you heard towards the lake.  Avoid driving at night and be prepared for some foggy conditions just north of San Ramon.

  • There are tons of places to stay in the Arenal area anywhere from La Fortuna around to Nuevo Arenal.  Reservations would be recommended if you are traveling during the dry season. 

  • Keep driving around Lake Arenal (D), through the town of Tilaran until you reach the Pan American Highway and the town of Caņas (E).  Then head north towards Liberia (F), the provincial capital of Guanacaste.  The change in climate will become quite noticeable as you transit from the more humid lake region to the drier Guanacaste area of Caņas.

  • You'll know you are in Liberia because you cant miss the signs for McDonalds and Burger King.  At the traffic light, make a left turn and due west towards the beach towns of Hermosa (G) and Coco .  This is where we live.  From here, you are only 90 minutes from the Nicaraguan border (to the north), very convenient for border runs to renew tourist visas.

  • Continue south through the towns of Santa Cruz and Nicoya (H), across the Puente Amistad (Friendship Bridge) back to the Pan American Highway where you begin your transit to Costa Rica's Central Pacific and Southern Zone in Dominical (I)Another option is to continue further south, beyond Nicoya to the ferry port at Naranjo.  There, you and your car can board the ferry for the one hour trip across the Gulf of Nicoya to the fishing port of Puntarenas.

  • From Dominical, you leave the beach zone and and head back inland to the town of San Isidro El General (J), then Cartago (K).

  • Your circumnavigation of Costa Rica ends with trip back through the heart of San Jose to Alajuela (L), your starting point.



This trip can take you as little as a week or as long as your investigative heart desires but the goal is to experience Costa Rica in all her natural glory, as a resident, not as a tourist.