What’s An Ugly American?
By Christopher Howard*

The following article had been reprinted with the permission of the author.  Editor's Note: It is the belief of Boomers Offshore

that the term Ugly American can be applied to any person of any nationality who demonstrates behaviors as described below.
It is nor should it only be restricted to Americans.




Ugly American is an epithet (term) used to refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad.

I have lived and worked in Costa Rica for over thirty years and consequently had the chance to observe a lot of foreigner’s behavior. Some of them are tourists, a few work here while others are retirees. The majority of the expats are very nice people who want nothing more than to live tranquilly and enjoy all of the wonderful things that Costa Rica has to offer.

Unfortunately there is a handful of bad apples who give all of us a bad name and embarrass a lot of good expats. Below I have listed some common traits which make “Ugly Americans” stand out.  However, not all expats fall into all of these categories.

The purpose of this article in not to offend anyone but to share one aspect of living here.

  1. A general lack of understanding and low tolerance of the Costa Rican and Latin cultures

  2. Little or no Spanish language skills

  3. Being very overweight (not all overweight people are obnoxious and ugly Americans)

  4. Foreigners who are pushy, rude, impatient and very demanding of the local’s services like they owe it to us because we have more money

  5. Wanting everything to be like it is in the U.S. and complaining if it isn’t.

  6. Complaining in general about everything in Costa Rica from the rain to the traffic, etc.

  7. Becoming an overnight expert on everything and pontificating about it. It is strange that most gringos start to dole out advice after only living here for less than a year to those who have been here for a shorter period of time. Always consider the source!

  8. Bringing a lot of baggage and problems from the States and dumping it on everyone here.

  9. Having a blog and/or website about Costa Rica that is seemingly helpful but really is designed to manipulate or scare people into buying a product or one’s services. Often these sites claim to be the only “real” source of information and offer so-called “expert services.” Most of the cast of characters behind these sites have only lived here a few years, arrived after the year 2000 and prey on naïve would-be residents.

  10. Gringo men who think all Costa Rican women are for sale. Most of these guys treat all women here like whores which gives the rest of us a bad name. No wonder some Costa Rican women don’t want to be seen with Americans.


The are countless other examples of the “Ugly American” syndrome. On my award-winning relocation/retirement tours, at the many seminars where I speak and in my best-selling guidebook “The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica”, I always make it a point to talk about this subject at length.

Christopher Howard





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