Nothing is permanent or forever...
Don't come with the
expectation that this will be your final
destination till you die. Look at it as a way
station. If you find it suits you stay longer,
if not choose another home. This takes a lot of
the burden off the idea that I'm coming to a
foreign country to live till I die. You always
have an escape clause.
Leave a back door if you can...
While we looked at our move
here with no expectations of returning back
anytime in the foreseeable future, we did leave
a back door. We purchased a foreclosure home in
Florida and furnished it with what we had left
over from our downsize move to act primarily as
a rental, but also to act as our "Plan B" should
the whole experience blow up in our faces. We
were not in a position to keep our old home and
old household, so this was the next best thing.
Downsizing will free you...
As hard as it was, the
process of downsizing freed us from the burden
of being a slave to our "stuff". We have kept
enough to be comfortable, but shed enough so
that we won't always feel we are carrying a boat
anchor. We're beginning to learn how to live
Choosing between the familiar and unfamiliar...
When you consider living
here, it really becomes a choice between living
comfortably in a world you know, understand and
can easily function in without much thought and
one where most everything is new and different.
Even moving to another state, you don't face the
challenges of new language, customs and even
holidays. A supermarket and shopping center are
pretty homogenous across the country today.
In the USA, you know how
you can find things, be it car repair, health
food, or healthcare. Even the most exotic things
can be sent "overnight" to your place of
residence, if you are willing to pay for it.
That is just not the case here in Costa Rica.
Most things will seem very unfamiliar - from the
food at the supermarket to the medicines at the
farmacia. It will take some time before
you feel comfortable searching for sources.
Your patience will become taxed to the point
where things can become very frustrating.
Living here has its rewards
but it also has some real challenges. It you
can't deal with the unfamiliar, you are going to
have a difficult time living here.
#5: Leave the Politics at Home...
One of the nice things
about living in another country and especially
in an International expat community is that you
have the luxury of leaving your political
opinions at home. Whether you think that the USA
is going to HELL or is the Kingdom of GOD,
people here just don't care. The biggest way to
make yourself a bore is to drag out your
political opinions at every gathering.
Tranquila y cállate! - Be quiet and shut up!
A Little Help From My Friends...
The one overriding factor that
tipped the balance toward moving to Playa Hermosa, was
the feeling that we had a ready made community of
friends here, and that we would never be left hanging on
a branch over the cliff on our own. Without this close
community, we would not have made it here. Your expat
and Tico friends that become your new community will
guide you through the rough spots and help you to enjoy
the smooth ones. They are in my opinion essential to
your survival here.
#7: Thank God for the Internet...
Two decades ago when we
lived in Scotland, the Internet was in its
infancy. Compuserve was the main vehicle for
email, and not many of our friends even had
that. Internet speed was measure in Baud Speed -
14K was considered fast, and everything was by
dialup modem. Today, the Internet is everywhere
and Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Netflix and and
Magic Jack phones will enable you feel quite
connected back to your friends and family in the
USA. You can watch the same TV shows with just a
little time adjustment here via the Internet.
Bills can be paid, documents can be sent - all
via the internet.
What do you mean you don't
have an Address?
The hardest thing to
explain to people, is that there are no real
addresses here in Costa Rica. This is a source
of incredible frustration for me in an era when
I can plug any address in the USA into my GPS
and it will find it.
My current address reds
like a pirate treasure map - "Go 150 feet past
the big tree at the fork of the road, turn Left
and climb the steps and go down three doors"
Arrrh Jim Harkins, there be where ye find us and
the treasure. Seriously, that is very similar to
our actual "address". But to my utter
amazement, letters actually do get delivered to
us, although I am totally amazed at how.
It does present obstacles
though when people want to find you or you want
to find a place or shop. Often the address will
by so many meters North and West past …..
Streets may or may not even have names, and
signage is pretty scarce, even if you have a
GPS. Also you can't always believe your GPS.
Money May Not Grow on Trees here, but it Does
Come Out of Walls...
You do not need to bring
Wads of Cash here. It is both a bad idea from a
Security Stand point, and a practical one of
"where to keep it". Until you get you residency,
you cannot open a bank account here in Costa
Rica. Not a real problem. In most every town
there are ATM's can dispense money from your US
bank account to you here in either US dollars or
Colones. For larger transactions, you can wire
money or even use Credit Cards. Some banks will
even waive their transaction fees, and you will
often get a better exchange rate.
Do NOT get seduced by CR Eye Candy...
It is very easy to become
seduced by "Eye Candy" here. You look on the
Internet and see a picture of a home or rental
that looks like it was plucked from "Life-Styles
of The Rich and Famous" complete with infinity
pools, jaw dropping views and miles of secluded
jungle teaming with exotic birds and wild life.
Now think about this from a more practical
Just how much isolation
do you want? Living in an isolated location
might not be "paradise" when you
consider things like: drive time to do
essential errands, driving on rutted dirt
roads that turn into mud pits in the rainy
season, internet service that cuts out every
time the wind blows or the fact that the
nearest hospital may be more than 2 hours
How hard is it to get
into and out from. Will you need a car, 4X4?
Is it perched on the side of a hill with a
45 degree slope into it? Despite the
gorgeous view of the Ocean, is it way too
far and steep to easily walk (or even drive
to) regularly? What is it like in the rainy
season. Are you sleeping in a rain cloud
Is it too big, too
small, or just right.
What looks great in
a picture on the Internet may not be
quite as attractive in real life. You
might be living next to a farmer with
their perro bravos (guard dogs)
raising free range chickens and cows.
Is the water source
reliable? Pumps are notorious here for
breaking down and finding someone to
repair it may take some doing.
Is there trash
pick-up or do you have to haul it
What are the true
costs of using the air conditioning?
Ticos usually get by with just fans.
The only real way
to find a home to rent is to come down
for a month or so and find one in person
when you are here.
Know what you can handle and what you can't...
As I stated before, every
day can be a journey into the unfamiliar, but
you can minimize it.
If you are accustomed
to US style décor and appliances, find a
rental that has those and not go with the
expectation that you'll just adapt.
Truth be told, few expats adapt.
If you are
uncomfortable going to a carnaceria
or Tico market to buy fresh meat, then shop
at the Auto Mercado or SuperCompro.
Just note, you will pay much more and not
necessarily receive better quality.
If you can't stand the
weather... look to another area.
If you are not adept at
driving on windy steep dirt roads, or crazy
city traffic, pick a place that won't put
you into those situations.
If your Spanish
language skills are not up to par, don't
consider living in a tiny town where no one
Make your choices based on
what you can handle, and where it is possible to
mitigate the foreignness of living here. Even
the famed anthropologist Margaret Mead took time
to adjust to "going native".
believe all the reports about how cheaply you
can live here
If your sole reason for
moving to Costa Rica is to live cheaper than you
do in the USA, you might be in for a
disappointment. Everything depends on
where you live and how you live.
Yes there are some people
who profess to show you an itemized spreadsheet
to prove that they live fine on less than $1400
per month, but they might make very different
choices than you.
In the Central Valley food,
rent and utilities cost less than they do at the
beach. Also depending on where you live,
you might be able to get by without a car. Where
I live (northwest coast on the beach), food,
rents, and utilities tend to be pricier and
public transportation not as reliable.
Overall in Costa Rica, cars
and gasoline are twice as expensive as the USA.
Since people seem to hang onto cars forever,
even a very old model used car will cost at
least double what it might sell for in the USA.
However, the good news is auto repair service
tends to be cheaper except when it comes to
buying new parts!
Healthcare is more affordable and reliable in Costa Rica
To begin with you have to
distinguish between what type of healthcare and
where it is delivered. In San Jose, one will
find both modern hospitals that closely rival US
hospitals in everyway (except for the price of
care) as well as a plethora of public hospitals,
those which are run by the government.
Outside of San Jose the
picture can be a bit murkier. Depending on
where you live, your nearest hospital, public or
private, maybe a 1-3 hour drive (or more).
All legal residents of
Costa Rica must contribute to the CAJA (national
healthcare), whether you use it or not. It
is a condition of one's residency. Another
option you have is to obtain health insurance
through an International Health Plan. But
note, this can be every bit as expensive as
those in the USA and most likely will exclude
The other option is to go
bare, in other words self-fund your
healthcare. In the USA this would be
tantamount to economic suicide, but in Costa
Rica, you really can afford to pay as you go for
a good portion of your healthcare needs. Case in
I received cataract surgery for
both eyes here for $3200 as opposed to more than
$7000 in the USA.
Prescription meds tend to be
about the same here as you might pay in the USA, but
be careful, some medicines may not even be available
Routine doctor visits and minor
emergencies cost less than what you would pay at a
local Urgent care center and the care is equally as
good ($40-50). Specialists run on average
$70-80 per visit.
Laboratory and X-rays are very
reasonable. CAT scans and mammograms cost
around $200 compared to the US where they can cost
5x as much back in the States. Also, take into
consideration that you are NOT paying a hefty
monthly insurance premium. In the end you come
The biggest downside (depending
on where you live) can be what happens in the event
of a really serious medical emergency. Even though
you may not be a resident and not belong
to the CAJA, you will still be treated in a CAJA
hospital at no cost. All tourists (non
residents) in Costa Rica are not required to pay for
emergency healthcare at CAJA hospitals.
However, you also have the option of being taken to
one of Costa Rica's private hospitals.
Just note, your standard US insurance may not cover
you. Check first before traveling.
A third option would be to purchase a "travelers"
policy that covers emergency medical care for
"extended vacations" outside your home country. Some
of these policies will cover you for up to a year
and you can add on riders for extreme sports and air
evacuation. These policies will not cover
routine medical costs but can save you from a huge
financial hit if you should ever really need it.
The cost of an airlift from Liberia or Tamarindo to
San Jose alone could cost you more than $7000. You
still may pay more than $2500 a year, but compared
to monthly premiums nearly that with Full Expat
health plans, it may be your best bet.
Costa Rican Food: better quality and cheaper -
I am not sure who started
that myth that "everything grown here is NOT
organically produced and pesticide free!"
country uses every bit as many pesticides as in
other developing countries, many of which have
been banned from use in the US for 40 years or
more. Anything you purchase here which has
been certified as being "organic," will cost you
more than what you'd pay at Whole Foods Markets
in the USA.
Costa Rican beef tends to
be leaner by the fact that cows are all grass
fed. Chickens too are much leaner, and more free
range than comparable US ones but also cost a
lot more than in the US. Local cheeses are about
equal or more expensive than even imported ones
from the USA, and ones from the US cost double.
The main exceptions are locally produced fruits
and vegetables, rice and beans, and locally
caught fish. Some meat too can be cheaper than
comparable cuts in the USA. All imported
food and alcohol items will cost you (on
average) twice what it costs in the
All in all, depending on what you buy
and where you shop, the cost of food is about
what you'd pay if you shopped at Whole Foods or
one of the other premium markets.
really helps to be proficient in Spanish
While you will never have to utter
a word of Spanish at any of the resorts or tourist
destinations, outside, in the real Costa Rica, you will
not fare as well. Luckily, Ticos are very
understanding and with enough patience and gesturing,
you'll be able to make yourself understood. All the same,
it can be daunting to try to communicate with a
housekeeper, supermarket employee, auto service person,
yard worker, or even some medical personnel without an
interpreter or intermediate level of Spanish.
So what it boils down to, knowing
even a little bit of Spanish will get you farther and
make your life in country that much more rewarding.
If you Are here - You Are Family
There is a natural affinity
within the expat community - far more than
anything I've found in the USA. It is quite true
that unless you show yourself to be a total
asshole, the expats in the community will
embrace you with open arms and will always be there
for you in the event of emergency.
That does come with some
responsibility and understanding of how things
work here. News travels at the speed of
Facebook, and very little is kept secret for
long. Like any small community gossip can strain
friendships and do harm to your reputation.
It is not very different than when you were in
High School. Cliques will form and sometimes you
are not included.
By their very nature, the
expats here are an international mix of people
who are willing to go out on a limb more than
your average person. That's what makes living
here more interesting. Just remember here that
"Loose Lips Sink Ships". Also you need to make
an effort to reach out. If you want to keep to
yourself and not try to integrate into the expat
or Tico community you will miss out on one of
the best reasons for coming here.
Mule Train Express
Many things that you have
come to enjoy in life are simply not available in Costa
Rica or are prohibitively expensive. That's why we
have come to rely on having items "muled in."
This is when you rely on your visiting friends or
friends of friends to
bring things from the USA in their luggage. This
is pretty much the accepted practice in a country where
import duties are exorbitantly high, and package delivery is not always an
easy or reliable option.
Don't be shocked or surprised
at these requests when you are visiting the States. Still you have to draw some
lines. Obviously bringing back controlled substances is
not a great idea. Also consider that some food or
agricultural items might be confiscated although it can
be hit or miss depending on what kind of day the Customs
inspector has and how soon his break is. Also consider
how easy it is going to be for the person to bring it
back - Is it going to require another suitcase or extra
baggage fee. It is pretty much the expectation that if
you want others to bring stuff in for you, you need to
do the same, but you are entitled to make your own rules
and draw your own lines.
It's Always Paradise Here- Sometimes
There is an old joke that goes
something like this.
"A man dies and goes to
heaven. St. Peter greets him at the gates with a harp
and sends him on thru. At first he's completely
overwhelmed by the beauty he sees everywhere and how
stress- free it is there. After about three months,
though he comes back to St. Peter and says to him "Wow!
Heaven is everything I ever imagined it to be! I have
just one question - Aside from strolling around
strumming on their harps, just what do people do here?"
St. Peter replies "They go the HELL for vacations -
there's more to do there and the food's better!"
Living in Costa Rica is a lot like
that. In many ways it is a true Paradise, but even
Paradise can get a little monotonous. I found that even
here I can get bored and restless for something
different to do, or even long for a radical change in
weather or season or scenery.
I am gradually adjusting
to a very different tempo of life, especially since we
are both now retired, and have lots of free time on our
hands. At first there was the overwhelming desire to do
everything on the "Things to Do in Costa Rica List" all
at once. Soon we found this tiring and expensive, and
realized that those things could be done next week or
next month, and we didn't have to do something
adventurous every day. Finding Pura Vida means scaling
back your life a little and taking it slower.