Moving to Costa Rica was not that overwhelming for us. My husband and I both share a sense of adventure that has not been dampened by having children. When the opportunity first presented itself, we had already been contemplating a major move, due to our changing financial situation. I was working for an airline, and there were many opportunities to relocate virtually anywhere in the US, or Caribbean. I love researching online, and spent hours familiarizing myself with possible new communities for our family. We love winter sports and in my 20’s, I had lived in the Colorado rocky mountains. On the flip side, the thought of not wearing layers and procuring snow tires and firewood every six months had lot of appeal too! It’s amazing how things do come to you when you are open to receive them. Once the call came in, we both said, “OK, I guess we’re moving to Costa Rica!”
There are some very informative websites, like therealcostarica.com, and before we moved, I read some blogs to see what other expats’ experiences had been. You must first gain an understanding of the current residency laws. They change often, and are confusing to say the least. Some options available are: You can “retire” here with proof of a steady income coming to you each month or you can open a business, as long as you are committing a qualifying investment. The Real Costa Rica has good basic residency information on their site, so I would start there, but we would strongly recommend hiring a professional!
Once you have a residency plan, you need to decide what to bring. You may be moving “Lock, Stock and Barrel, or you may choose store some items in your country of origin. There are two versions of the afore mentioned “LSB” method: ship everything in a crate/s, or sell everything and start over when you arrive. Shipping is costly, can be frustrating and unnerving. We decided to let everything go and start fresh in our new home. We advertised on Craigslist and then liquidated the balance at two moving sales. It was liberating! I’m crafty and thrifty, which is the kiss of death for trying to live simply, so once the decision was made, getting rid of ALL OF MY STUFF was fantastic! We were not dependent on the sales to move, so we were able to make others happy while achieving our goal.
Of course you’ll be unsure of what to bring, so let me share our list…I brought our favorite bedding/linens, a couple of dishes with sentimental value, small electronic appliances (mobile phones, flat iron, razors, dvd player, cameras,) a few toys, a few collectibles, pictures,laptops, cd’s, etc. You can buy almost everything you need here. Walmart has stores here, and on Craigslist,bargains can be found. You won’t find thrift stores here, nor will you see any garage sales in the majority of the country, so don’t count on those for purchasing. There are furniture stores, even one large chain with modern offerings, but there are no IKEAS here, 🙁 Electrical appliances and electronics are expensive here. Don’t bother bringing your cell phones, unless the chip can be removed and another service provider can be used, probably not likely. Clothes are easily acquired here, and there are used clothing stores everywhere, called Ropa Americana. These are stores that buy big lots of clothes from thrift stores in the states, as they rotate their stock regularly. I have had great success shopping at ropas, and there are other bargain stores for new clothes too. We lived in the Lake Tahoe area for years, so we had a huge collection of winter clothes and toys…we got rid of all of it! You will not need any of it, unless you are travelling to those cold areas often. Knit hats and gloves are for sale, but even in living in the “mountains” here, we never needed more than a sweatshirt and socks. Regrets? I’ve had a few… There will be moments when you say, “Gosh I wish we hadn’t sold that!” but overall, this has been a great lesson for our entire family of American consumer alumni.
San Jose is the largest city here, and as the capital, is the major commerce center. Tourists and future residents alike, will fly into the airport near San Jose, spend a night and head out of the city to their destinations. The city is congested, and has less than desirable areas, however, there is a ton of culture, a real mix of interesting architecture, and an atmosphere that should be experienced by every visitor for at least a day. Before you come, you will hear about the crime, maybe even hear expats personal experiences, but we believe these stories should be balanced by research and common sense. Research who the victims often are, where the crime most often takes place and don’t be a victim! We’ve met tourists who have had items stolen, but by staying away from areas where you would be more vulnerable, and being aware of your surroundings you can probably avoid being a victim. We have walked around much of San Jose without incident.
Our business interests are in the central valley, so we would not be living on either coast. Looking for our new home, we wandered around the “mountain” communities and liked the feel of a more rural lifestyle, but wanted to be able to commute to the city within about 30 minutes when needed. Not far from San Jose, are the cities of Escazu and Santa Ana. These are wealthier communities with lots of familiar American restaurants and expensive shops. These areas are popular with expats because they can find lots of English-speaking friends to spend time with and perhaps, it makes them feel less like a stranger in a strange land. This was not what we were looking for. We wanted to embrace our new home and neighbors. The Costa Ricans we’ve met in the communities where we have lived, have been welcoming, generous and eager to get to know us too. We help each other with our “language learning,” and spend hours talking, but we have also spent quiet walks witnessing incredible beauty with our new friends. Our children have attended local private (Catholic) schools and have also made lots of wonderful friends. We have, neither the desire, or the money to enroll our children in any of the international schools here. They are very good, emphasize English, and can offer enrichment activities that most other schools without the nearly $1,000. per month tuition, can not. All of these schools are located near areas where many gringos live, and that is not close to us. We were looking for a Latin American experience for our children and ourselves, we feel it would be crazy to not make the most of this opportunity.
Rents are cheap in Costa Rica, period. You will spend less on your housing and utilities here than in the US. Before we knew better, we were spending $900. for our first home on a big chunk of land with a view looking over the central valley, that I still daydream about. We then began looking for a rental for my mother to come spend time in here, and that’s when we unexpectedly, found our next home. It was on about ten acres, and was a non-working farm which included a dairy, chicken coop, vegetable garden, re-naturalized rain forests, fruit orchard, a large lawn area, and a funky, rambling five bedroom house. All this for $695. per month, only problem? The property is jointly owned by a father and his daughter and son. The kids (both in their 20’s now) are products of a marriage between an American hippy and his Tica wife. The parents’ marriage ended when the kids were young, and their daughter is still pissed at her “papi!” I could go on and on about this young woman, but I’m going to keep it simple, and just say, she has a lot of growing up to do. My husband was spending more time in Alejuela, so we relocated for convenience and the chance to get away from our landlord!
At this point, you’re probably asking about the legalities of renting/leasing, basically, there is a lot of wiggle (walking) room in lease agreements here. That does not mean that you shouldn’t secure the advise of a lawyer, because the landlords will, and it is expected. Our current home is on the oposite side of the central valley, far from the hills above Heredia, where we were before. It is fairly rural, impossibly peaceful and we are happier here than in any other area we’ve been in before!
It takes time to find your perfect place in Costa Rica, so don’t get “wedded” to any place too quickly. If you don’t speak much Spanish and are not committed to learning the language, one of the cities with more gringos, may be a good bet for you, just know, that when you live in gated communities, those who would steal, may be drawn to that type of enclave. Costa Rica so is so diverse, you will ultimately find your perfect fit!