A Costa Rica Curious reader, Steve Friedman, recently contacted me saying he had written down some thoughts on his first year in Costa Rica and he wanted to know if I wanted to share them with my readers.
What he sent was a comprehensive, well thought out list (that I have broken up into 2 blog posts) of lessons learned. As with just about every thing in Costa Rica – “Your Milage May Vary”
Steve and Martha Friedman moved to Costa Rica from Denver Colorado last year after retiring. They are currently living in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste. Steve blogs at his satirical site here.
Lessons From My First Year in Costa Rica
As we draw close to our one year anniversary since we landed in Costa Rica to find a new life in our retirement, I’ve collected a few lessons that we’ve learned from our own experiences that I can pass on to those who might consider such a venture. To begin with, there is no one true source.
Everyone’s expectations and experiences are different. This is based on ours.
Nothing is permanent or forever
Don’t come with the expectation that this will be your final destination till you die. Look at it as a way station. If you find it suits you stay longer, if not choose another home. This takes a lot of the burden off the idea that I’m coming to a foreign country to live till I die. You always have an escape clause.
Leave a back door if you can
While we looked at our move here with no expectations of returning back anytime in the foreseeable future, we did leave a back door. We purchased a foreclosure home in Florida and furnished it with what we had left over from our downsize move to act primarily as a rental, but also to act as our “Plan B” should the whole experience blow up in our faces. We were not in a position to keep our old home and old household, so this was the next best thing.
Downsizing will free you!
As hard as it was the process of downsizing freed us from the burden of being a slave to our “stuff”. We have kept enough to be comfortable, but shed enough so that we won’t always feel we are carrying a boat anchor. We’re beginning to learn how to live without.
It All boils down to a choice between the familiar and unfamiliar.
When you consider living here it really becomes a choice between living comfortably in a world you know, understand, and can easily function in without much thought , and one where most everything is new and different. Even moving to another state, you don’t face the challenges of new language, customs – even holidays. A supermarket, shopping center, you name it are pretty homogenous across the USA today. In the USA you know how you can find things -be it Car repair, health food, or healthcare That is just not the case here. Most things will seem very unfamiliar – from the food at the supermarket to the medicines at the farmacia. It will take some time, searching, and a lot of patience to feel OK with that, and sometimes it can become very frustrating. It is something you face once, but everyday. Living here has its rewards but it also has some real challenges. It you can’t deal with the unfamiliar, you are going to have a difficult time living here.
Leave the Politics at Home!
One of the nice things about living in another country and an International expat community is that you have the luxury of leaving your political opinions at home. Whether you think that the USA is going to HELL or is the Kingdom of GOD, people here just don’t care. The biggest way to make yourself a bore is to drag out your political opinions at every gathering. Tranquilo y cállate!
A little Help from My Friends.
The one overriding factor that tipped the balance toward moving to Playa Hermosa, was the feeling that we had a readymade community of friends here, and that we would never be left hanging on a branch over the cliff on our own. Without this close community, we would not have made it here. Your expat and Tico friends that become your new community will guide you through the rough spots and help you to enjoy the smooth ones. They are in my opinion essential to your survival here.
Thank GOD for the Internet!
Two decades ago when we lived in Scotland, the Internet was in its infancy. Compuserve was the main vehicle for email, and not many of our friends even had that. Internet speed was measure in Baud Speed – 14K was considered fast, and everything was by dialup modem. Today, the Internet is everywhere and Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Netflix and Magic Jack phones will enable you feel quite connected back to your friends and family in the USA. You can watch the same TV shows with just a little time adjustment here via the Internet. Bills can be paid; documents can be sent – all via the Internet.
What do you mean you don’t have an Address?
The hardest thing to explain to people is that there are no real addresses here in Costa Rica. This is a source of incredible frustration for me in an era when I can plug any address in the USA into my GPS and it will find it. My current address reads like a Pirate Treasure map – “Go 150 feet past the big tree at the fork of the road, turn Left and climb the steps and go down three doors” Arrrh Jim Harkins, there be where ye find us and the treasure. Seriously, that is very similar to our actual “address”. To my utter amazement, letters actually do get delivered to us, although I am totally amazed at how. It does present obstacles though when people want to find you or you want to find a place or shop. Often the address will by so many meters North and West past ….. Streets may or may not even have names, and signage is pretty scarce, even if you have a GPS. Also you can’t always believe your GPS.
Money May Not Grow on Trees here, but it Does Come Out of Walls.
You do not need to bring Wads of Cash here. It is both a bad idea from a Security Stand point, and a practical one of “where to keep it”. Until you get you residency, you cannot open a bank account here in Costa Rica. Not a real problem. In most every town there are ATM’s can dispense money from your US bank account to you here in either US dollars or Colones. For larger transactions, you can wire money or even use Credit Cards. Some banks will even waive their transaction fees, and you will often get a better exchange rate.
Do NOT get seduced by Eye Candy!
It is very easy to become seduced by “Eye Candy” here. You look on the Internet and see a picture of a home or rental that looks like it was plucked from “Life-Styles-of-The-Rich-And-Famous”. Infinity Pools drop dead gorgeous views, miles of secluded jungle all around you teaming with exotic birds and wild life….. Think about this from a more practical standpoint. 1. Just how much isolation do you want? Living in an isolated location might not be such a great Paradise when you consider it takes more than an hour to get to the nearest market, that the dirt roads turn into mud bath in the rainy season, that internet service might not reliable, or that the nearest hospital is more than 2 hours away. 2. How hard is it to get into and out from. Will you need a car, 4X4? Is it perched on the side of a hill with a 45-degree slope into it? Despite the gorgeous view of the Ocean, is it way too far and steep to easily walk (or even drive to) regularly? What is it like in the rainy season? Are you sleeping in a rain cloud (literally!) 3. Is it too big, too small, or just right. What looks great in a picture on the Internet may not be quite as attractive in real life. It may neighbor onto a tico farmer with their perro bravos, free-range chickens and free-range cows. Is the water source reliable? Pumps are notorious here for breaking down. Is there trash pick-up or do you have to haul it yourself. What are the costs of using the air conditioning – Ticos usually get by with just fans. The only real way to find a home to rent is to come down for a month or so and find one in person when you are here.
More To Come…
Stayed tuned later this week for Part 2 of Lessons Learned.