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Moving to Costa Rica

Updated on June 4, 2012
Moving to Costa Rica
Moving to Costa Rica

Top 10 things to make your first year easier if you are planning on moving to Costa Rica.

There are plenty of websites out there that will give you information on moving to Costa Rica. Topics such as the different types of residency, how to choose a lawyer and how to ship your products down here.

This is a light hearted yet practical list of things to expect should you choose to move to Costa Rica.

Tip #1 on Moving to Costa Rica

When you make the decision to move to Costa Rica you will have to tell friends and family. Unless of course, you are running from the law, in that case telling friends and family is a bad idea. For those of you not running from the law, telling friends and family may seem one of the more daunting tasks. Don't worry about it, you have to follow your life's path and follow your own heart.

You are probably making this decision because there is something about Costa Rica calling out to you. In life, many times we are forced to choose between love and fear. Always choose love. So, “follow your heart” is the best advice I can give you in this article.

You will likely have friends and family who are not supportive and question why you want to move to Costa Rica. They will ask you questions that may make you feel that you need to defend your decision. You don't need to defend your decision or try to explain why you are doing it. People who choose to live in Minnesota aren't asked constantly why they are living in Minnesota, yet I can guarantee you will be asked “why are you wanting to live in Costa Rica”. The other big one is “What do you plan to do with yourself”. I think a simple honest answer without a lot of details is the best. Don't defend or try to sell your position. You aren't going to change peoples minds. They will either think its great that you are following your passion or they will not.

Moving to beautiful Costa Rica
Moving to beautiful Costa Rica

Tip #2 on Moving to Costa Rica

Rent a house when you first get here, for crying out loud don't buy one. Homes down here are like sailboats, they are almost all for sale. Most books giving advice on moving or retiring to Costa Rica will tell you to rent for 6 months before deciding to buy a property. After traveling and now living in Costa Rica for several years, I can assure you that you need to go through a complete year here to get an idea of where you want to live and what type of house you would want to build or buy.

When I first moved here with my family, we had a house style in mind that we thought would be perfect. After living through the seasons here and visiting many friends homes, the style of home we would choose to purchase or build has changed dramatically.

Costa Rica is a beautiful place and it is easy to think you have found the perfect location. You will quickly discover that this country is full of perfect places. Which one is perfect for you? Live here for a year first and I bet you will have a list larger than when you arrived. Moving to Costa Rica is perhaps an easier decision than where to live in Costa Rica. Before moving to Costa Rica, we visited this country several times between 1997 and 2008 and thought we knew all of the areas that would interest us. Then in 2008 we discovered the Southern Pacific area of Costa Rica, near Dominical and it was clear that this was the area of Costa Rica for us.

Tip #3 on Moving to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a Spanish speaking country. Learn the language. It isn't reasonable to expect everyone you interact with to know English. A little goes a long way. It's all in your attitude. It amazes me how many expats I've met trying to get by down here that don't want to learn the language.

Even if you only know how to say hello, thanks and a few other basic words, as long as you are willing to keep trying to add to your vocabulary you will do just fine down here. My Spanish is far from fluent but I am able to get my needs across, and each day I am learning more.

Where I have seen problems for some people moving to Costa Rica is that they try to get by without learning the language and search out mechanics, plumbers etc that speak English. You can do that to, but it is going to narrow your cultural contacts and you will pay more.

If you put yourself out there and stumble through with what you are looking for or want done, your confidence will grow and each day your Spanish will improve. Sure there will be hard days where the words just won't come, but stick with it and tell yourself, next time it will be easier. If you are going to move to Costa Rica, you do not need to know Spanish yet, but you should be willing to learn the language. It is easy to find a Spanish language instructor in Costa Rica. Either formally through a Spanish language school or a private tutor.

Tip #4 on Moving to Costa Rica

If you are in a relationship, Costa Rica will test it. You will be away from your usual supports and distractions, and will need to vent/talk with each other. You may find this strengthens your relationship because you will learn that you have each others backs. If you have issues, they'll come to the surface quickly. I can tell you that for my spouse and I, the process of moving and now living in Costa Rica has strengthened our relationship, but we have seen it fracture others.

Surfing in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is blessed with hundreds of miles of beautiful Pacific Coast beaches. On the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula you will find the charming coastal towns of Santa Teresa and Mal Pais. Playa Carmen separates the two towns and it is here at Playa Carmen where you will find one of the best beaches in the world to learn to surf.

If you want to read up a little to Learn Surf Basics you will find the website is a great resource with detailed instructions on all the basic surfing maneuvers. There are also some good videos covering topics such as how to pop up (stand up) on a surfboard. Also there is a section on Costa Rica, with videos of the top 10 surf beaches in Costa Rica.

Tip #5 on Moving to Costa Rica

Soft crime does happen. How are you going to react when it happens to you. Don't be one of these ugly expats constantly complaining about the crime. If you leave your backpack on the beach and go for a walk it isn't reasonable to expect it to be there when you come back. If you lock up your car with valuables clearly in sight and leave it out of sight for several hours possibly past dark, again that isn't reasonable. I have had one incidence of theft against me in my time here in Costa Rica and it was something that was left out in the open. My bad. On the other hand, I was out surfing for two hours and left an expensive pair of sunglasses on a bench. When I was getting ready to drive away I realized I didn't have my sunglasses and there they were still sitting on the bench. While I was surfing I saw several Ticos sit down on that bench. What would have happened in California?

Tip #6 on Moving to Costa Rica

If you want to eat and live the same way you do in the US, expect to pay more. If you buy local products and purchase fresh local produce expect to pay a fraction of what you would in the US. You're gonna pay for it if you have to have your Fruit Loops in the morning.

Tip #7 on Moving to Costa Rica

At night, roosters will crow, dogs will bark and there will be many other strange noises. I don't know what to tell you, other than you do get used to it. You might need to throw stones at dogs when you are out walking. Especially in the country, it's the way of things here. Now don't aim right at them, that's cruel, just a shot off the bow does the trick.

Tip #8 on Moving to Costa Rica

When driving, you will be passed by cars on blind corners. Also, your left turn signal does not necessarily mean that you intend to turn left. Frustrating? Yes. What can you do about it? Nothing. This means use extreme caution when turning left because for some reason many Tico's assume you are telling them to pass you on the left when you use your “turn signal indicator”.

Tip #9 on Moving to Costa Rica

Wait on getting your residency until you have made up your mind that you want to live down here full time. So many people rush this process, because they don't want to have to leave the country every 90 days. Residency has its challenges too. Look at the map, Costa Rica is a small country. Every three months you can have a little vacation in Panama or Nicaragua. The city of Granada is absolutely beautiful, check it out.

Tip #10 on Moving to Costa Rica

Put away the rose colored glasses. You are moving to a beautiful country, that is a given. It doesn't mean that your days will always be sunny. Just because the people seem content it doesn't mean that they are happy living with less than you, it is just their situation. You can't change things. If you want things to be the same as they are in the US, you will not make it. Turn back now. Moving from the US to Costa Rica is a completely different ball game. It is a very different culture and that is what's great about it.

Costa Rica is an amazing experience and you will be filled with doubts about moving here. Just follow your heart, the doubts may linger, but you only get one shot at life, so go for it.


Submit a Comment

  • surf traveler profile image

    surf traveler 7 years ago

    Hi Curt, that is the million dollar question for most people living here that aren't collecting a pension. Yes the wages are very low and also even if the wages weren't low I wouldn't want to have a wage job here as I would be taking away a job from a Tico.

    We volunteered for a long time at a farm and that kept our living costs down.

    For the longer term view, I've been developing websites.

  • Curt_Swinndorf profile image

    Curt_Swinndorf 7 years ago from Germany

    I was backpacking through Costa Rica 3 weeks ago and also thought about living there. But there is the question how to earn money in Costa Rica. I am curious, what do you do for a living there? I mean the average worker gets paid 2 Dollars per hour.

  • surf traveler profile image

    surf traveler 7 years ago

    Good call on the "boat person". I had a reference in tip #4 on relationships down here being somewhat like a couple living together on a small boat, but it made it onto the editing floor.

  • dallas93444 profile image

    Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

    You gotta be a "boat person.." Your resilience, living with the "natives" is indicative of a well-seasoned traveler. Thanks for your tips. I am saving for later which I hope will be sooner...