Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts: The Many Truths About Life in Costa Rica

Primary tabs

‘Standing On the Verge of Getting It On’ is the title of an incredible album by the 1970s classic funk band Funkadelic.  It can also be a metaphor for our current position in the immigration cycle of Costa Rica’s Southern Zone: we are all standing on the verge of something.

About 8 to 12 years ago, a large movement of baby boomers who were transitioning towards retirement came to Costa Rica from foreign lands to seek out a new standard of living.  The economic climate for investment felt good and they wanted to experience more of what they considered to be the finer things in life: peace, relaxation, fresh air and fresh food.  In many cases, these simple dreams were easily fulfilled.  Costa Rica was, and is, a land of peace, relaxation, fresh air, water and food.  And this is, and has always been, a land that is also fraught with its own obstacles to completely sublime living.

In the years following the US economic crash of 2008, real estate prices dropped significantly in Costa Rica.  Property became an approachable and desirable investment opportunity for a new class of investors.  The original expat pioneers paved the way for a somewhat less adventuresome group to more easily join the growing southern Costa Rican communities, which now come complete with supermarkets, accessibility, and luxury first-world amenities. 

This wave of investors may have been a bit more impulsive than the pioneers, having bought into a dream of making a quick buck, rather than coming to Costa Rica to escape from first-world pressures and pollution.  And unfortunately, many markets around the world are still waiting to turn for the better, meaning that capital is not flowing as easily as many would hope.

The truth is that there are investors in Costa Rica who are unhappy with the recent performance of their investment.  It has underperformed based on their valuations at the time of purchase, and they want out.  And some of these unhappy investors end up relocating more permanently to Costa Rica due to economic circumstances, which was not in their initial plans.  So, the message that a potential investor may get when encountering one of these people is: don’t even bother – it’s not worth it!

Well, hang on…. There are many investors from 10, 20 – even 30 years ago – still living in our southern Costa Rican communities are absolutely ecstatic about it!  If a potential investor asked any of them, most would say that they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world.

And so, without further ado, here are some of the many two-sided thoughts about living in Costa Rica that you may encounter, depending on who you talk to.


“It’s very expensive to live here”/ “It’s way cheaper to live here than where I come from”

This is at the top of the typical dialogues between those deciding to move/visit here, and those who are advising them.  Expats in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone hail from many diverse backgrounds with equally diverse lifestyles and expectations. And as in any conversation about lifestyle, the dialogue is always awkward and difficult to negotiate because no one wants to offend anyone else (generally speaking...) Basically, some people can easily live on eating mostly home-prepared meals with simple ingredients and can live without shopping for fancy clothes or ostentatious items for around their home.  Some can’t.  If you want to live a life of luxury, with all of the finest products AND beautiful, natural surroundings, you can absolutely do that here… but you’re going to pay for it.  If you are happy to be living amongst beautiful, natural surroundings and have no need for frivolous things, you will find this place to be a financial dream.

Expensive: car repair, home décor, foreign imports in stores

Cheap: farmer’s markets, property taxes, basics, importing small electronics for personal use


“I feel unsafe”/ “I feel very safe here”

If you come from a first world nation, you are likely used to hearing the old adage: if you got it, flaunt it!  Well, in the developing world, this kind of attitude doesn’t fly.  Most people (including your neighbors) will simply look at you like you’re an arrogant idiot as you speed around their residential roads in your brand new SUV; others will balk at your stupidity for leaving bags full of shopping and electronics in your car at a road-side beach entrance.  And a few will be in a bad enough attitude to take advantage of a vulnerable situation.  If anyone fails to recognize this as a world-wide, human-related phenomenon, well, I’d like to know where they are from because I sure haven’t heard of it.

Unsafe: leaving valuables visible and vulnerable, driving recklessly

Safe: walking around anywhere as long as you are visible to vehicles, stopping and speaking to anyone you pass by


“Locals are unfriendly”/ “Ticos are some of the friendliest people in the world”

Those who have been the victims of crime will naturally feel attacked and position themselves on the defensive front.  They look at unknown persons as potential aggressors and are paranoid of any stranger’s intentions.  For those who have lived in this region without incident, we are thankful for our luck and appreciative of living in communities where everyone you pass will make eye contact, smile and wave.  We are welcomed to share a beverage and/or conversation with anyone we meet.  Locals here will never turn you away with a sneer of condescension.  Any condescension you find here has been imported.

Unfriendly: know-it-all foreigners, aggressive drivers from the city

Friendly: all Ticos and anyone who has been infected with the pura vida attitude


“It’s too hot”/ “The weather is so fantastic”

This one is so subjective, but all I can ask is: what were you thinking when you came to a tropical area in a tropical nation?  There are 12 climate zones in Costa Rica that range from hot and humid to cold and frosty, giving visitors a full-range of environments from which to choose.  The Southern Zone is on the ‘hot and humid’ side of the scale, and anyone misrepresenting that should be forced to stand outside with only room-temperature beverages all day.

For the rest of us who are happy to enjoy frosty beverages during the four months of hot weather, we are also blessed with a pleasant drop of a few degrees for the rest of the year and periodic fresh rains that fill our skies with a diversity of colors and patterns, and keep our jungles lush and green. 

Also, need I mention northern winters? 

Too hot for: sweat pants, jackets, milk

Ideal temperature for: getting in the pool/ocean/margarita-maker


“The roads aren’t good”/ “The village has a relaxed pace and rustic charm”

Expats coming to the Southern Zone will generally take great care to buy the best vehicle they can afford that will be best able to climb hills and negotiate pot holes.  This is the nature of the beast when you live in a small population center, without a large tax base to pay for timely road repair.  I think we would all like to spend less money on tire realignment. Car maintenance is less expensive here than in North America and European nations.  However, it’s the frequency with which we need to visit our friendly mechanics that has us keeping a budget for “unexpected” car repairs at all times. 

It is annoying when we hear a new rattle in the car.  But it is also painful to see drivers ripping up the roads, going at the top safety speed for their own vehicles and passengers, with hardly any consideration for how it digs up the roads and their vehicle spits up clouds of dust or mud, depending on the season.  Driving 20kph is not only a safe speed limit for small roadside communities full of pedestrians, pets and cyclists, it is also a polite speed for interacting with those you pass by on your during your drive.  And we are thankful for the quick response with any obstacles on the roads that pose a real danger.

The roads are not good for: speeding, trying to walk somewhere without eating dust

The roads are good for: cruising, enjoying some tunes, taking it easy


“It’s far from home”/ “The commute is getting easier every year”

Wherever your home is, I doubt it’s as far as my most recent home in Wellington, New Zealand. I flew to Costa Rica and back 3 times in the six years I lived there and did it as cheaply as possible.  This meant 30+ hours of travel time each way and at least four airplane changeovers.  Most people currently visiting Costa Rica will be coming from North America and Europe, where many major cities have at least once-weekly direct flights.  This means that most journeys to San Jose will be a maximum of 8 hours’ flight time.  And with the frequent great deals on flights and travel to Costa Rica, thanks in part to the recent promotion from the National Tourism Board of Costa Rica, friends and family are always eager to visit one of the most beautiful countries in the world (and maybe us, too.)

It’s far for: Australasian backpackers

It’s close for: North Americans, Europeans, and increasingly China and other East Asian nations


As George Clinton says, “change your mind and you change your relation to time.” Things can be better for all of us.  They will run more smoothly when we adjust ourselves to fit comfortably into our surroundings.  For those who think that living in a tropical, natural paradise sounds about right, we invite you to contact our Costa Ballena office.  There are many of us who will say that it’s easy to find comfort in this natural paradise.

We’re about to hit another upcycle in immigration to Costa Rica – will you be a part of it?  Call Osa Tropical Properties today to find out how.