Our story began in September 2009 when we
traveled from Chicago to CR to take part in a due diligence
tour. The tour not only gave us a chance to see a sampling
of what the country has to offer prospective Gringo
immigrants, it also afforded us the opportunity to connect
with a network of ex-pats willing to share their insights on
relocation in a Central American country.
Of the many pieces of sound advice we
received, the absolute best was: Rent first! This
admonition came from folks who had done just that. We
also heard it (and continue to hear it) from others who
bought the first piece of Paradise they saw and now regret
Heeding the admonition to rent, for at least
the first six months, has yielded two benefits. First, we
avoided the headaches that frequently accompany property
ownership and/or construction in CR. Second, we remain free
to explore the rich diversity of natural beauty, climate and
local culture that exists in our adopted homeland. There are
resources for learning more about the former, and I
encourage you to seek those out. However, it is on the
latter that I’m going to focus.
The first stop in our adventure was a
charming cluster of rental casitas perched on the side of a
hill just outside of San Ramon, Alajuela. There, a national
rain forest served as our front yard. (Sort of like living
in the garden section of a Home Depot, only better.) We
learned about this housing option from a Gringo couple who
befriended us during our diligence tour. During a follow-up
trip in early 2010, the couple invited us to join them for
dinner at their rental where we saw (up close) the awesome
natural beauty of the rain forest. The setting was quite
alluring. What we failed to understand was just how much
that setting would change come rainy season.
Fast-forward to June of 2010, when one of the
wettest “green” seasons in Costa Rican memory was now
underway. It rained and rained. Then, it rained some more.
When it wasn’t raining, it was foggy and cold, conditions we
soon realized were part of life at 3,900 feet above sea
We’d settled into bed #1 based on a limited
understanding of whether or not it met our needs. We came to
realize that what we needed (or wanted) turned out to be
quite different from what we had found. But because we
rented, we were free to seek out a more suitable
YA GOTTA LOVE FOG
Like our friends at the cabinas, everyone in
Gringolandia, and I do mean everyone, has an opinion about
the best place to live in Costa Rica. We were flat out told
not to even consider places like San José (“too dangerous”)
and Escazú (“too pricy”).
As we got to know better the lay of the land,
we saw that those characterizations didn’t always fit. After
all, not every neighborhood in San José abounds with pick
pockets; some areas are actually quite livable. Escazú has
housing bargains available if you just look. What’s more,
what didn’t suit others might actually appeal to us. It was
this open-mindedness that led us to discover bed #2 in our
tale. The Central Valley town of Atenas was such a
place we were told absolutely to avoid. Atenas was
reported to be too hot and too gringo! Thankfully we
visited Atenas and learned for ourselves what we felt to be
Our discovery did not arise through any
deliberate search. Rather, it resulted from a quest for, of
all things, reading material.
Atenas is home to a well-known ex-pat haunt,
Kay’s Gringo Postres. Kay’s owners, Tom and Kay Costello,
are refugees from the frozen land of North Dakota.
They serve up friendly conversation, North American-style
comfort food, and what I believe is the largest lending
library of English language books in Costa Rica.
It was our search for books that got us to
looking more closely at the town and surrounding area. We
liked what we saw and in October 2010, Leonard and I rented
an apartment in a tranquil, rustic setting just outside of
town. We definitely like the drier, sunnier climate
(even in the wet season). We find Atenas’ proximity to Costa
Rica’s Central Valley to be another big plus.
Alajuela, San José and a number of smaller cities are within
a 30-minute drive. The climate and locale draw in lots of
ex-pats who strive to maintain a sense of community that has
developed here over the years.
While we have been happy with our decision,
our story does not end here. You see, among the ex-pats
who’ve befriended us are your friends and mine Fran and Andy
Browne. You know them as Boomer’s Offshore. On two
occasions we’ve spent time with these two "funsters" roaming
parts of Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast.
Again, keeping an open mind is very
important. Had we listened strictly to the word of
others, we would have never visited the province of
Guanacaste. Everybody said it was too hot and yes, it
is hot. We purposely visited during the hottest and driest
part of the year (April) and as it turns out it’s not too
hot for us! Leonard and I also learned that we are
actually a couple of closet beachcombers. Consequently, bed
#3 may possibly be situated in a wet-and-wild part of
Guanacaste but then again maybe not. Time will tell.
Staying open to the possibilities has made our life
in Costa Rica interesting and enjoyable. Hopefully, something I’ve
shared here will help you as you look for your happy ending. ¡Pura
Tips for Adjusting to Life in Costa Rica
Don't become the Ugly
Make a list of
everything you don’t like about what immigrants to
the US do then post that list to your refrigerator
as a reminder of what you won’t do if and when you
move to Costa Rica.
Although many younger Ticos understand and may even
want to speak some English, Spanish is the official
language of CR. Learning more than just “dos
cervezas, por favor” (two beers, please) and “donde
está el baño” (where’s the bathroom) will gain you
respect of your Tico contacts as well as the
admiration of your Gringo compadres, especially
those who can’t be bothered with this task.
Take a due diligence
In addition to offering you a glimpse into daily
ex-pat life in CR, a good tour will also link you
with other ex-pats so that you can remain in contact
as your relocation plans unfold. Not all tours
(or tour operators) are created equal. Be sure to
ask for recommendations from former participants.
Communicate directly (i.e. offline) so that people
can feel comfortable with sharing their honest
reviews. The CostaRicaLiving group at Yahoo.com is a
great place to start.
Rent before you buy.
(See above article for details.) You'll come
to appreciate the fact that this probably will be
the best decision of your entire Costa Rican
Think critically -
use your head and not your heart.
Too many times our decisions are ruled by emotion.
That's when we tend to make the most mistakes.
Moving to Costa Rica should be looked upon the same
way to decide on what house to buy or what job offer
do I accept. The results of your decision will
have a profound impact on the rest of your lives.
Keep an open mind.
Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Further, what you think you know upon arriving in CR
is bound to change. Keep an open mind, and you give
yourself a chance to enrich your experience in ways
you might otherwise miss.
Frequently in Ticolandia, when someone tells you
they’ll take care of something mañana (tomorrow)
they really mean “not today.”
If you really
are patient enough to live with this attitude
without developing a bleeding ulcer, you just may be
right for life in Costa Rica. If not, consider
another country (and culture).
Get a GPS.
Maps are good; a good global positioning system is
better. Few Costa Rican streets have names or
numbers. Once you locate a spot you plan to visit
again, such as a friend's house or the vet's office,
save that location to your GPS. Next time you
make that trip, simply choose it from your list of
saved locations. This will allow you to think
about more important things while you drive, like
avoiding the car driving towards you in your lane of
Know your finances.
A fair number
of ex-pats have been lured to CR with the promise of
being able to live on Social Security. Can it
be done? Sure. Just consider a) there’s a wide
range of SS income checks out there and b) there’s a
difference between living and surviving. Inflation
and fluctuations in currency values places extreme
pressure on the ol’ bank account. Keep yourself in a
position to head to higher ground should rising
economic waters pose a threat.
Know your spouse.
Yes, love is patient, love is kind, yadda yadda. It
can also get really cranky after a three-day water
outage that’s kept both of you from taking a shower!
Relocating can be tough under the best of
circumstances. Talk with each other and develop a
plan for what to do when you’re standing on his (or
her) last nerve and there’s no place to go because
the road to town has been closed by a landslide.
The bottom line
is, BOTH of you must be in 100% agreement about
moving to Costa Rica. If there is anything but
total agreement, failure is likely.