“Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” – Samuel Butler
Experiences and opinions can vary when it comes to the subject of relocating to Costa Rica. My husband and I just recently moved here and we love it – after about 2 months in country we finally decided to rent long term in an area between Alajuela and Grecia near the Central Valley.
Based on our experience, this is what I recommend:
Make your due diligence visit at minimum 10 days long.
- Schedule a trip to Costa Rica to start to get acquainted with the country. Make it at least 10 days long to give yourself a chance to get, really get, a good taste of Costa Rica and an idea of where you want to initially land. Of course, the longer the duration, the more in-depth and valuable your research will be.
- If you are so inclined, combine your vacation with a mission trip to get to know and help the locals. At the same time, give yourself opportunities to meet expats who have already made the move and can give you solid advice.
- Take a relocation tour by someone reputable. We took Christopher Howard’s “Live In Costa Rica” Tour, which included a seminar by Association of Residents in Costa Rica. Invaluable information and advice. Very thorough. Christopher is top notch; very trustworthy and extremely helpful. He is the best in our opinion.
- Explore a little on your own – this will depend on your interests and priorities. We stayed on a small farm in Puriscal and in a B&B in Escazu, an upscale neighborhood near San Jose, just for variety. We also did some touristy stuff.
- For most people this step is a big reality check. Although Costa Rica has its fair share of expats, for various reasons the majority, after initially checking it out, decide NOT to relocate here. For example, out of seven couples, we were the only couple in our tour group to move here (so far).
Back home, continue to research and prepare for your trial run.
- Connect with contacts made on your due diligence trip and via the web. Let them know you would like to meet with them in person once you get to Costa Rica for advice.
- Read up on the topic of relocating here. There are many great blogs and books out there about living in Costa Rica. I spent countless hours inhaling all the information I could find pertinent to us. You will find you will connect more with some sources than with others depending on your priorities and reading style. There’s something out there for everyone.
- Give yourself a timeframe on which you will experience Costa Rica and decide whether or not you want to make a permanent move, whether it be 6 months to a year. Some people say that 6 months is too short because it takes time to get over home sickness and to get used to a new culture and language. I agree 100%, but to each his or her own . . . some people know right away. No need to prolong the misery if you know something is not right for you.
- Decide what you will want to bring with you short-term and and possibly long-term. If you own a home, decide whether you want to sell it or not. If you decide not to sell it, decide whether or not you want to rent it. Some people decide to sell and donate everything save for a few small items they can bring on the flight over. Others put some or all of their belongings in storage to be shipped at a later date if they decide Costa Rica is for them (this is what we did). Do your research to see what is right for you. Take some time to strategize and determine what is truly important.
Get on the ground to conduct in-depth research.
- You can research online all you like, but until you are on the ground experiencing life here first hand, there are things that you just won’t understand, and some you never will.
- Find a safe and convenient short-term place to rent. With your short term rental as home base, check out the country first hand to see what area is best for you. We found a nice place on Air BnB that was centrally located, economical and met our basic needs. If your Spanish isn’t too good, there are plenty of expats who rent places here. Our landlord was an American, spoke English and Spanish, and his wife is Costa Rican. They became great friends and are still an invaluable resource.
- Schedule lunch or a meeting with each of your connections in Costa Rica. Ask for their stories and advice on relocating and living here. Make new and possibly life-long friends!
- Find an experienced and honest realtor to show you longer term rental properties in the areas that you are interested in living.
- Before we moved here we were advised to rent long term and not buy property right away. After living here for a couple of months, we quickly realized that this advice is GOLDEN. There are so many stories of people who purchase property too quickly, end up not liking the property or needing to go back to their native country, and then are unable to sell it. RENT RENT RENT for a good while (at least a year or two) before committing to buying! Try living in different areas too.
- Realize that moving to a different elevation or even ridge/valley can change your weather and experience completely.
Reality check: I had fantasies of living by the beach but found that it was too hot and humid for our tastes.
The 4 major factors that most influenced us on where to live were:
- Community and Convenience – Before moving here we connected with a ministry that shared our beliefs. They are good friends now and most of them live in Grecia. But while living in Alajuela, we made friends there as well. So now we live in the middle, between Grecia and Alajuela. Our friends in Costa Rica are our greatest resources. They have been a tremendous help by sharing their experience and recommendations with us. Other advantages with our choice of location include shopping conveniences like a PriceSmart (similar to Costco), Walmart and Auto Mercado (super nice grocery store), which are located in Alajuela. Also, proximity to the airport and San Jose are a plus!
- Budget and Lifestyle – In general, we have had to readjust our budget – some things are more expensive than we expected. For example, we had to increase our rent budget because the places we wanted to rent were more to North American standards, and hence a little more expensive. When you get here, a realtor can take you around so you can see what is out there – there are all kinds from very Tico (Costa Ricans refer to themselves as Tico or Tica) to very North American style dwellings.
- Climate – I had fantasies of living by the beach but found that it was too hot and humid for our tastes, plus there were reports that electricity bills are pretty high because of running the air conditioner all the time. Electricity is expensive in Costa Rica! Where we live now the highs are in the mid 80s and the lows are in the low 60s. No need for A/C or heat.
- Priorities – The three factors above heavily determined where we are living today, but other things such as private healthcare, safety, shopping, and decent internet service helped determine where we finally decided to live long term.
Hopefully this post will be helpful to some of you. It’s a plan that we unintentionally developed as we moved forward in our decision making, and we tried to be as prudent and practical as possible. Honestly I think it is a rational and solid plan that can be applied when moving to almost anywhere, especially abroad.
There is a wealth of information out there and it can be overwhelming. I believe that if you are researching and reaching out, following a visit, you will find out soon enough if Costa Rica is right for you.
We found our community in doing our research and due diligence. The journey of exploration itself will determine your outcome. Oftentimes you will be pleasantly surprised.
Good luck and Pura Vida!