This is the first in a new series of interviews and guest posts about living as a “digital nomad.” My friend Shay has kindly agreed to talk with us and share a bit about her experiences as a single millennial, living in Costa Rica.
¡Buen día Shay! Thank you for your willingness to share about what it’s like to live in Costa Rica. Many of my readers are seriously considering moving abroad, so I’d like them to have as much information as possible as they consider this significant life change. let’s get started!
Where are you from, originally? Southern California, USA
How long have you lived in Costa Rica? 10.5 years…Wow!!
What are you looking at right now? Right now I am on a work trip visiting the Osa Peninsula, which is one of Costa Rica’s most untouched and biologically diverse rainforests. Sitting on the balcony looking out at the lush green rainforest and the bright blue Pacific Ocean….it’s absolutely breathtaking!
I just watched a sloth slowly making its way up a tree, just feet away! I never tire of seeing how they navigate the dense jungle in such an incremental and methodical way. My hotel, Lapa Rios, is known for the many scarlet macaws that live nearby. Fortunately, you hear macaws before you see them so you can easily see them fly by, usually in pairs, with their bright red, blue, and yellow feathers….AMAZING!
What made you decide to move to Costa Rica? What you were doing and where did you live before Costa Rica? Living and working in a foreign country was always a dream of mine, so I spent my leisure time in college researching jobs abroad. I never did anything about it, because I didn’t have a clue how someone would make something like that happen.
Immediately after graduation from the University of California, Santa Barbara, my backpack and I headed to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. I planned to travel around for a year, but after six months of backpacking (translation = partying with new friends on Costa Rican beaches,) I decided to go back to ‘SoCal’ and get my first real job. I got a job at The Princeton Review in Orange County, and settled into real life.
I saved a lot of money living with my Grandma, but as the days wore on, the travel bug returned. I began saving for a long-term trip exploring South America, and two and a half years later at the age of 25, I set off for my solo South American adventure!
I flew from LA to Lima Peru, and spent 4 months backpacking around Peru, Brazil, and Argentina. Each country had it’s own unique flavor and charm, but my mind kept drifting back to the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica.
Realizing that I wanted to make Costa Rica my ‘home,’ I spent a lot of time contemplating what career path to follow. I decided to try to look for something that would combine my love of travel, ability to speak Spanish, and my growing interest in the real estate market.
Once I made the decision to return to Costa Rica, I began checking Craigslist Costa Rica every day while I continued travelling in South America. While sipping coffee in a small cafe in Santiago, Chile, I came across company looking for a ‘research intern,’ for a villa management and rental agency in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.
This seemed PERFECT for me because it combined real estate, travel, speaking Spanish and I would be living at the beach! I responded to the ad and soon had a phone interview with the owner. The interview seemed to go well, but I was a little unsure if the opportunity was actually legit.
I still had money saved up to continue traveling throughout South America, but I decided the opportunity was too good to pass up so I took the plunge! I flew from Buenos Aires to San Jose, Costa Rica, got on a five-hour bus ride to Manuel Antonio, met with the owner, got hired….and 10.5 years later, I’m still in Costa Rica!
Did you have any idea how long you’d be living in Costa Rica? LOL no way! Everyone would always ask me how long I planned to live in Costa Rica, and my response was always, “Well, I’m happy for now, I’ll just see what happens.”
To be honest, I feel like I’ve never really committed to living in Costa Rica, and I occasionally consider moving elsewhere, but it’s very hard to “break up” with Costa Rica. I’m lucky to call this lovely place home.
How did your family and friends respond to the news that you were moving to another country? Oh, I’m sure my parents never thought my living abroad would last 10 years, but after a few years they stopped asking. They realize now, that I’m happy and have accepted the fact that I am an “expat” 🙂 I think my friends were all excited for me, although they do miss me and always ask when I’ll be coming back.
So, you spoke Spanish when you moved to Costa Rica? Yes, I minored in Spanish when I was in college and studied abroad in Spain. Living here of course has improved my Spanish immensely.
Are you satisfied with the available nearby activities/classes? Manuel Antonio is a small beach/rainforest village with limited access to classes/activities, however I got lucky because right when I moved to MA they opened up an indoor cycling studio. I was able to do my Spinning classes 4-5 times a week which was awesome! There was also a popular small gym, but it’s machines were older. These days, there is a newer gym and great Pilates and yoga classes available.
I now live in Escazu (near the capital, San Jose,) so I have more access to classes and activities, and I go to a huge, modern gym with lots of classes. There are definitely classes and activities available in Costa Rica, but nowhere near the amount of offerings available in the US. It would be nice if there were more options, and that classes and gym memberships were more affordable. The gym I go to is $80/month. and I took a cooking course and that was $60 for 3 hours, which seemed like a lot to me.
Are you satisfied with the available cultural offerings? No, I wish there were more concerts, live music, workshops, spiritual meditation and “breathwork” classes.
How do you make a living? I work online in travel sales.
Are you spending less, more, or about the same amount of money to live as you would in your home country? Honestly it’s been 10 years so it is very hard for me to know, but in general I believe my rent, car, and other living expenses are definitely less than what I’d be spending in California. However, most of the healthier food products that I like to buy, are often imported and significantly more expensive than the USA. I rarely shop for clothes etc. here, because they’re also imported, and the prices are almost double than what they’d be in the USA.
Can you share about your healthcare? Costs, coverage, treatment, experiences, etc. I pay $125-$150/month for ‘global health insurance’ that covers me anywhere except the USA. I have it just in case there is a catastrophic incident or some major medical issue. When I go to the doctor here in Costa Rica, I just pay cash and it’s about $80-$100 per visit for a specialist like a dermatologist, gynecologist, ear/nose/throat doctor etc. There are cheaper options and cheaper clinics for general medicine. Medicine and prescriptions are way cheaper here and I pay cash for them. You can also purchase many meds over the counter here without a prescription which is great! I haven’t had any major medical issues but definitely there are great and way cheaper options here.
What has your experience been making friends and finding a support system (circle of accountability) in your “new home country?” Oh very easy, there is a large expat network here and I have made some wonderful friends, mostly from Canada and the US.
How often do you connect (via phone or internet) with your family “back home?” Probably twice a month by phone, but more often on Facebook or chats with friends.
How often do you travel “back home?” 1-2 times per year
How has it been to live away from family members? I do miss my family and sometimes it makes me sad to know that I have been away from home for 10 years and missed out on so much, however it has not affected me so much that I’ve moved back yet!
How do you spend holidays? There’s a lot less pressure and fuss about holidays here, but if I am here for a Thanksgiving or Christmas, I usually get together with expat friends for a potluck, or activity.
What is your favorite time of day? I love the early mornings here in Costa Rica. This is a very ‘early bed early to rise’ place since the sun always sets at about the same time year-round, 5:30pm, and rises at 5am every day. The mornings are so fresh, and the best time for spotting blue morpho butterflies or monkeys on my early morning walks!
What does a perfect day look like to you? How do you spend your free time? I like to wake up and go to organic Farmer’s market and then go to the gym for my Spin class, or take a hike through the rainforest or nearby mountains. I get so energized by all the green and my beautiful surroundings! I also love meeting friends for coffee or meals out. When I’m at the beach, I spend my time soaking up the sun and taking in the ocean views. Basically, RELAX, RELAX, RELAX!
Why do you continue to live in Costa Rica? Ha, Ha, Ha, million dollar question! I ask myself this everyday, but I’ve never found a place as amazing as Costa Rica, with its’ incredible natural diversity, spectacular beauty and warm and friendly people. My quality of life is incredible. I enjoy a relaxed and simple lifestyle that is stress free. Who wouldn’t want to live here?
Have you ever considered moving back to your “home country?” What stopped you? YES! I often think, “I should move back soon, because the longer I am away from the US, the harder it will be for me to integrate back into work life and career culture in the US.” Also, the dating pool is very, very small here and opportunities in that department are quite limited. I’ve had several friends try to encourage me to move back to the US for more opportunities, but honestly the idea of living a fast paced consumer driven lifestyle just doesn’t appeal to me. My spirit soars, living in a foreign country especially one as beautiful and magical as Costa Rica! I have thought a lot about moving back but not because I was eager to live in the US, but because it seemed like that is what I SHOULD do at this point in my life, having moved here when I was only 25. However, if I really wanted to move back, I would have done it already!
What do you miss most about your “home country?” Family, friends, efficient service, variety of products and cheap shopping.
Do you feel you are safer in Costa Rica, than in your “home country?” I guess I’d say safer in different respects…petty theft is pretty common here so I am much more guarded about taking valuables out and about or leaving things in my car in plain sight, making sure where I live is super safe and secure etc. However, I certainly don’t ever worry about mass shootings or crazy acts of serious violence like you see in the USA. Costa Rica is a very safe country and even as a woman traveling and living alone here, I very rarely feel unsafe…of course I am not walking alone at night etc.
Do you feel you are less stressed in Costa Rica, than you would be in your “home country?” FOR SURE. I also feel like Costa Rica is the fountain of youth. People always think I am much younger than I am and even though most of my friends here are older than me, I feel like they are all my age. I’m sure the stress-free lifestyle has A LOT to do with that. I also don’t feel the stress/pressures that many back home feel to get married, have kids, make tons of money, and have, or do this or that. That’s another reason I love living here, I don’t have to deal with those pressures…No thank you!
Do you feel you are healthier in Costa Rica, than you would be in your “home country?” I feel I’m probably the same, perhaps healthier in Costa Rica since we don’t have access to all the millions of varieties of tempting junk food or desserts etc. I’m committed to staying healthy, exercising, eating well etc. wherever I go 🙂
Do you feel you are happier in Costa Rica, than you would be in your “home country?” This is hard for me to say…I’ve come to realize that wherever you go, there you are, and that my happiness doesn’t come from my circumstance or surroundings, but rather from the inside 🙂
If you had a chance for a “do-over” throughout this experience, what would you do differently and why? I would have made more of an effort to keep my mind stimulated and explored more opportunities like online courses etc. I do feel like the slow pace of life, and limited resources/opportunities here, can lead me to feel “behind” my peers in the USA.
However, I am now taking action to develop, grow and seek new opportunities…turns out there’s a whole world of opportunities on the internet!!!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10? Good question!! No idea, but I do like the idea of having Costa Rica as a home base and then traveling, or spending a few months in other countries like the US or Bali. The rest of the time I want to be right here in Costa Rica. 🙂
What advice would you give someone considering a move to Costa Rica? Come here and check it out first! Do not expect living here to be anything like home, and remain open-minded, tolerant and most of all PATIENT.
How has living in Costa Rica changed you? I am far less materialistic and appreciate the simple things in life, much more so than before. I’ve been more drawn to nature and have a deep gratitude for my natural surroundings and just how absolutely magical and beautiful this Earth is, especially in Costa Rica!
Because of the slower pace here, I lead a pretty stress free life. There is just not as much outside “noise” or as many distractions here, which has helped me to become more spiritual and have time to develop that side of me. With fewer distractions here, it is much easier to focus on inner peace and personal freedom 🙂
What’s something you’re looking forward to right now? Well I just got back from a month sabbatical in Bali which was AMAZING! I loved it there so much…leaving was hard, but knowing I was coming home to Costa Rica made it much easier! I would like to plan another trip somewhere in either September or October, but nothing on the books quite yet!
Want to learn more about living in Costa Rica? Get my free ebook, 5 Truths About Expat Living here. You’ll be the first to learn about upcoming interviews with other expats, and when my Ultimate Guide To Moving To Costa Rica is coming out, later this year.
Get in touch with Shay:
Shay is a luxury travel consultant and would love to help arrange your customized vacation package. You can reach her at 1 (800) 606 1860, ext. 1209 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out her Facebook Page and give her a Like!
Pura vida, Penny