This scenario has repeated itself many times: I have friends visiting, and the first morning they wake up to fresh coffee, a homemade breakfast and a beautiful view from my balcony, and they say dreamily but decidedly, “I could SO live here and be an expat in Costa Rica!”
I have to agree with them, even though most of us could happily live anywhere in a house we didn’t pay for, sleeping in a bed we didn’t put sheets on, and enjoying coffee and breakfast we didn’t prepare. I have personally made that statement almost everywhere I have traveled to on vacation.
But is Costa Rica really livable? Is it an endless vacation? Is being an expat in Costa Rica as good as it seems that first morning?
Well yes, no and almost. If you are really prepared! Costa Rica is a very livable country. With its famous ‘pura vida’ lifestyle and the potential of a lower cost of living, it’s not difficult to understand why Costa Rica is consistently in the top 10 of the Expat Insider Survey’s best places for expats.
Costa Rica is a surprisingly diverse country for its size, with tropical rainforests, mountainous regions and of course, breathtaking coastlines.
With so much geographical diversity, picking the right place to relocate to ultimately comes down to personal preference. But I highly recommend the northern Pacific region—Guanacaste province—and specifically the area around Playa Hermosa for those of you who need the conveniences of North America.
The Guanacaste region is popular with expats because of its pristine, beautiful and safe beach communities. The area is a fisherman’s and surfer’s paradise and offers a variety of outdoor (mainly water-based) activities, as well as abundant flora and fauna. Housing can be found at any price point, and a teeming expat population makes for quick friends, fun activities, and availability of familiar products.
What makes Costa Rica very livable? It is not a large country, so everything is close, although the rough roads make travel time a bit longer than the distance would indicate. U.S. products are becoming increasingly more plentiful, so although you are going to want to integrate more and more Costa Rica products into your life as time goes by, at first you will be able to find familiar brand names and foods. Your long-term goal should be to live like Ticos live and eat what Ticos eat, and the closer you get to that goal, the lower your monthly budget will go. Of course, you will never be 100% Tico—you may still need to air condition your bedroom and not be able to eat rice 3 times a day—but you will find a cornucopia of inexpensive fruits and vegetables, fresh fish and more filling your refrigerator each week. All Costa Rican beef is grass-fed, and the pork is so low in fat you have to add liquid or oil to keep if from sticking to the pan when you cook.
Ticos themselves are what make Costa Rica livable. They are unbelievably tolerant of me butchering their language. It is important for you to learn Spanish out of respect for the country you live in, and to that end you should study it rather than just think you will “pick it up.” Only children and the occasional linguistic savant can do that. The rest of us have to study, practice, fall flat on our faces, and keep studying. But miraculously, Ticos will patiently bear with you throughout the process. I didn’t get that level of tolerance from the French!
Costa Ricans are extremely kind and helpful. If you are ever in an emergency in Costa Rica, people will help you to a degree you might not believe possible. I have put it to the test and I am pretty sure I could stop at any home in the middle of nowhere and ask for a cup of coffee and get a “Claro que si!” (Of course!)
Where an expat in Costa Rica finds expectations go unfulfilled is when they have, well, expectations. Especially when they expect Costa Rica to be just like the North America but cheaper with better weather. Only the latter is true. The cost of living can be lower here, depending on where and how you lived in the States, and where and how you live here. Do your research and get a good real estate agent. Use him or her as your first and most valuable resource in the area you are thinking of. Visit the area extensively and ask a lot of specific questions of everyone you come across. As you Know that’s what I do. I help people make the right choice. I don’t force or push a sale, That’s why I have been in this business for almost 12 years.
It has been stated accurately that Costa Ricans don’t worship time like Americans do. You will drive yourself crazy if you want to expedite everything like you did back home. Get used to waiting a little longer, and find ways to keep yourself busy. As frustrating as it is, that slower pace is one of the reasons you are coming to Costa Rica. Embrace it and it will reduce your stress. Allow it to complete its work on you.
The take away? Do your research and keep an open mind. There is no perfect world. Paradise does exist, you have to be open to accept it. That said, if you embrace the differences from what you are used to, Costa Rica can come very close to being your personal perfect paradise.
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