Moving to Costa Rica is something that more families are choosing to do as a gentle shift in their lives. Expat families in Costa Rica still want the convenience of civilization: community, shopping, services, and, of course, schools! But they also want the opportunity to live a different style of life that is away from many of the distracting modern conveniences of the first world and one that is generally simpler.
We all know that we are living in a complicated world to be raising kids. Generation gaps are growing wider thanks to the quickening pace of technological advancements. There are many apps and products vying for our individual attention all of the time. Costa Rica has almost all of those same distractions here, just in a far lesser frequency. For these and many other reasons, parents are choosing to relocate to Costa Rica so that they can spend more time interacting as a family while getting back to their nature-based roots.
But are families genuinely happier in Costa Rica? In our many conversations with new buyers coming to Costa Rica with children, we can sense the excitement of the adventure that they are about to embark on. And when we communicate with families living in Costa Rica, we can see that although they struggle in the same ways that families struggle all over the world it is clear that there is a connection between parents and their children that is rarer to see elsewhere. We see parents and children everywhere playing in nature together, visiting parks, beaches, and reserves in the Southern Zone. They laugh, run, and eat together, among other things. They have a wider sense of community and feel a connection to the land and the people.
Does this sound like the right move for you and your family? Read on to learn more about the intricate details of moving with your loved ones to the South Pacific region of Costa Rica.
Earning An Income in Costa Rica
Resourceful expat parents are finding ways to earn an income in Costa Rica legally either by working remotely online or by starting a business from their Costa Rica property. They may not be earning as much vacation money as before (although some do). But their everyday lives have become more like an extended family holiday, surrounded by wildlife, beaches, and tropical weather.
Expat families in the Costa Ballena own a number of businesses, including tour companies, restaurants, farms, hand-crafted goods purveyors, event companies, and even real estate companies! And a fair number of parents are choosing to spend more time at home working online as teachers, writers, consultants, designers, and engineers. As many ways as you can think of to make money anywhere else, there is likely a way to do it legally in Costa Rica.
Schools in the Costa Ballena
Costa Ballena schools come in three varieties. There is one fully bilingual school in the region and two English-language schools that also teach Spanish classes. The rest are local Spanish-language schools that may also teach a little bit of English. Parents of primary school-aged children can send them to any of these schools. Secondary school-aged teens are a bit more difficult to place and will require some planning as each school offers classes for older grades depending on the demand that year. Depending on the demand from year to year, teens may to enroll in local schools where Spanish-language comprehension is a must.
Many expat parents want their children to graduate with a US or international diploma for ease of applying to universities around the world. In order to do so, they need to begin attending a US accredited school in secondary school. Most of the English language and bilingual schools in the area are working on their MEP accreditation because of the increase in demand from parents moving to the Costa Ballena. There are MEP accredited schools around Costa Rica and it won’t be long before our local schools are granted these tools for success. Even still, many parents find that schools here are not limiting. Expat children who have graduated from local secondary schools locally have gone on to study around the world with success.
There are three English language private schools in which Spanish is taught as a second language. There are also a number of Costa Rican public schools.
Centro Educativo Costa Ballena – Formerly known as Escuela Verde, this true bilingual school is now offering classes from kindergarten to grade 12 as of 2020. Their aim is to teach beyond classroom studies and students are exposed to experts from a variety of fields who teach them hands-on experience in topics like botany and permaculture aside from regular US course material.
Uvita Christian Academy – This faith-based school teaches values that go beyond religion and extend into community and a respect for nature. The school supplements their regular teachers with graduates from Greenhead College in the UK who come for one term exchange programs and teach subjects in ecology and environmentalism. They take classes for fun and educational field trips and put a strong focus on independent learning with dedicated teacher support, teaching students up to the twelfth grade in multi-grade classes.
Kabe International Academy – Newly opened in 2018, this English-language school’s mission is to passionately educate for the future in order to contribute positively to our community and world. Their classes currently only cater to children in primary school and do not offer high-school classes presently.
All of the above schools are recommended by parents for their good curriculums, avenues for social and lingual development (with UCA also spiritual), and teachers who have a passion for teaching children.
Local schools – Public, Spanish-language schools are less frequently chosen by expat families but many still choose these schools for convenience and diversity of experience. Those who do choose to put their children in the local public school system are richly rewarded with learning to speak and write fluently in Spanish. These children also integrate more easily into the local community. Families who choose Costa Rica for the long-haul rarely regret choosing this option for their children, even with the more limited local post-secondary options.
Different Age Groups Adjusting to Life in Costa Rica
Every year, more families are finding that it’s far easier to move to Costa Rica than they imagined. From our conversations with families in the Costa Ballena, young kids up to pre-teen find it easiest to cope with the change in pace. Many find that it’s not so difficult to enjoy a stunning natural setting and a friendly, welcoming community even if they don’t speak the same language. They may go to school in English but they get to learn another language by interacting with local kids and have the impactful experience of being immersed in another culture.
Teens may find moving to Costa Rica a bit more challenging as they have a more difficult time being removed from their peer groups. The English language high school system in the Southern Zone is limited to a small number of teens and only two schools that offer classes in those grades. Most parents tend to arrive with younger children who grow up in the community and will either have a close relationship with their English language school peers or they will have already been in the Spanish language public school system for a number of years. Both of these variables are key for teens to find their comfort zone in Costa Rica and those who fit that bill seem to truly love their pura vida lifestyle.
A number of organized after-school activities and programs exist for kids and families in the Costa Ballena. Families can learn skills, engage their talents, and explore the wonders of the region in safe care. Below are a few examples of what types of organized activities are available and popular with families in the Costa Ballena:
Team sports – pick up games can be found on any beach or field but playing on a competitive level is available, too. Team sports are a great way for kids to learn Spanish in a fun environment while also learning team etiquette and getting exercise. Places like the Eden Community Center in Uvita have a calendar of events open to the public. But every community in the Costa Ballena will have a futbol (soccer) league for boys and girls to join.
Junior Lifeguard Program – The Costa Ballena Lifeguards occasionally provide a Junior Lifeguard Program for youth in the Costa Ballena region. Their aim is to teach respect for the ocean and the dangerous currents and big waves by practicing a bit of endurance training, swimming, and other exercises. They also teach their junior lifeguards about treating common injuries.
Dance classes – Happy Feet Ballet Academy and Starlight Productions are two dance schools in the Costa Ballena that have world-renowned instructors and producers who regularly put on local productions of exemplary quality and skill.
Family meetups – A number of private meetup groups exist in the Costa Ballena that are welcoming to new members and easy enough to find on social media.
Entertainment for Families
The thing about living in the Costa Ballena is that typical vacation-type activities can be an everyday norm! Here are a few that families can partake in without a huge financial investment: surfing, boogie boarding, playing in waterfalls, hiking/exploration, horseback riding, visiting National Parks and animal sanctuaries, snorkeling, river cruising, ziplining, night animal tours, and quite a few more that are free or cheap.
Live Music – Because kids love dining out and live music, places like the Jolly Roger in Dominical and the Bamboo Room in Ojochal offer earlier live music for the whole family to enjoy. Many local and international cuisine restaurants have kid-friendly menus available and the indoor-outdoor environments typical in Costa Rica mean that kids have room to play while waiting for food.
Museums – San Jose has a few options to offer, including the Children’s Museum, National Theatre, and Jade Museum. But a bit closer to here is Finca 6, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can learn about the mysterious Diquis Spheres.
Animal sanctuaries and nature reserves – there are many volunteer organized shelters, sanctuaries and reserves that have a number of programs that help educate kids and adults in the local community about protecting species and their environment. See Playa Reserva Tortuga in Ojochal for great environmental education experiences for all ages.
Shared events – Things like community movie nights are becoming more regularly scheduled events at the Escuela Verde, with doors opening at 5pm and a small entrance fee, with all are welcome to attend and lots of families with young kids as regulars.
Public playgrounds – A new playground has just opened in 2019 on Playa Dominical that has an outdoor jungle gym. Many families in Costa Rica are flocking to this new hub for small kids while the bigger kids can play in the surf nearby. Ojochal community is also working on a playground for young kids in the center of the village that is expected to be completed in the early part of 2020.
Public pools – Our region doesn’t exactly have public pools but more so hotel and restaurant pools that are open to the public and regularly enjoyed by families and others looking to refresh from the heat in good company. These are fun places to meet people and spend the day enjoying good food and music.
Shopping and Services
Expat families in Costa Rica who want to live a more natural lifestyle are happy to find abundant healthy and organic food options in the Costa Ballena. Our farmer’s markets, for one, are plentiful and great places to interact with friends while buying fresh foods. Mama Toucans in Dominical offers daily shopping of over 5000 items that are all certified organic. Sur Organico is a daily vendor of organic produce in Uvita. And there are a growing number of restaurants that focus on healthy, fresh meals that are favorites with families in the Costa Ballena.
For your family’s medical needs, there are English-speaking pediatricians available in the Costa Ballena. Dr. Maria Gustavo speaks English and works out of her office in Uvita and at the Cortes Hospital (2743-8743). And Dr. Jaime at the Ibarra Pharmacy in Uvita provides cards and vaccinations.
Daycare options are also readily available in the Costa Ballena. Uvita Daycare as an example charges $250 a month for 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. Their staff are able to communicate in German, English, French, and Spanish. Uvita also has the Centro Educativo, which hosts a Daycare/After-School care as part of their main school services. In Ojochal, there is the Beit-El Guarderia that is said to have reasonable prices and the daycare director has a degree in education.
Community Action and Support
Many expat-organized activities and program welcome all participation, regardless of financial circumstances (operating on sliding scales). There is a strong community desire for creating recreational and professional opportunities for children through sponsorship programs or teaching for free. Many parents of young children choose to get involved as a way of giving back to the community and sharing their teaching resources.
This region has been blessed by expats and locals who have seen needs and sought to fill them. One example is Ojochal’s annual Christmas party for children. People donate presents beforehand to be distributed and families from all over the region attend the day’s festivities that include games, bouncy castles, face painting, popular character appearances, and a visit from Santa.
Along the same lines is a Christmas party for the children and parents in Boruca–a nearby indigenous community. Organized by a group of expats from the Costa Ballena, they distribute toys and supply lunch, soft drinks, and ice cream. The event has grown over 18 years and depends entirely on donations.
Families in Costa Ballena also get involved and give back by participating in beach clean-ups, community fundraisers, and events that are meant to bring anyone and everyone together from the community to help create a safe and cooperative future for all to enjoy.
Dozens of groups exist for the purpose of networking in our Costa Ballena region, both online and off. For those who want to meet in the physical world, parents throw parties and sleepovers for their little ones after connecting over time through daily encounters on the local family circuit. Whether your kids go to school together, take surf lessons together, share yoga classes, or just bump into each other at the feria, it’s easy to feel a sense of community in the Costa Ballena between young families of any background.
The Costa Ballena is full of opportunities for families of all ages and backgrounds to share in the enjoyment of the natural environment and it’s all thanks to our close-knit communities. Come and share in the growth of a better future for your family and all of us in Costa Rica. Reach out to one of our expert agents who are here to answer all of your questions about transitioning to life in Costa Rica: firstname.lastname@example.org