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Common Complaints About Costa Rica (And Why They Won’t Apply to You)

There are a number of common complaints about Costa Rica that you will find while floating around expat and travel message boards. And although the sensationalism may get your attention, we recommend that you have a read of the following article to get a little bit more information why many of these common complaints need not worry you too much.

About 15-20 years ago, a large movement of early baby boomers from the U.S. and Canada came to Costa Rica to seek out a new standard of living in their retirement years. 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 by these adventurous and open-minded expats.

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

The truth is that there are some in this second wave of investors in Costa Rica who are unhappy with the performance of their investment. They don’t enjoy living here and so their investment in Costa Rica feels like a burden. They go onto message boards and share their pain about how much maintenance their investment requires and how expensive and awful everything is!

On the other hand, there are also many investors from 10, 20, and 30 years ago still living in our southern Costa Rica communities and absolutely ecstatic about it! So depending on who you ask, you may get a variety of differing opinions about what it’s like to invest and live in Costa Rica. Below are some of the more contentious thoughts that you may encounter depending on who you talk to.

“It’s very expensive to live in Costa Rica”

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 choose to eat mostly home-prepared meals with simple ingredients and can live without shopping for fancy clothes or ostentatious items for around their home. Some cannot fathom such an existence for their everyday. 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 little desire for frivolous things, you will find Costa Rica to be a financial dream. Most of us fall somewhere in between, enjoying the cheap and fresh produce from the farmer’s markets and treating ourselves to a night out once in a while. And when it comes to health care and housing, Costa Rica is hard to beat for price and quality.

Expensive: Car repair, home décor, foreign imports in stores
Cheap: Farmer’s markets, property taxes, everyday essentials, health care, importing electronics for personal use

“Costa Rica is unsafe for visitors”

If you are from the first world, you have probably heard the saying: “if you got it, flaunt it!” Well, in the developing world, this kind of attitude attracts the wrong kind of attention. Expats and locals in Costa Rica are likely to view you as arrogant if you speed around their residential roads in your brand new SUV. And they will balk at your ignorance for leaving bags full of shopping and electronics in your car at a road-side beach entrance. 

There are many opportunists here, ready to take advantage of a vulnerable situation. It is too hard to resist an opportunity to take something that someone would not regularly be able to afford. This is a worldwide, human-related phenomenon and not isolated to Costa Rica. Our region is privileged to be visited by wealthy people from around the world who add value to our local communities. And as long as visitors know to mind their valuables, their interactions with Costa Ricans is likely to be nothing but pleasant.

Unsafe: Leaving valuables visible and vulnerable, driving recklessly
Safe: Walking around any community in the Costa Ballena, stopping and speaking to locals and foreigners, visiting tourist attractions while your valuables are safely stowed away out of sight (preferably in your home safe)

“Ticos (Costa Ricans) are unfriendly”

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 strangers’ 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 those we meet. Locals won’t turn you away if you approach them with a positive attitude. Any condescension you find here has likely been imported.

Unfriendly: Know-it-all foreigners, aggressive drivers from the city
Friendly: Costa Ricans and anyone who has been influenced by the pura vida attitude

“It’s too hot to live in the jungle”

This is a very subjective topic and we will begin with the understanding that Costa Rica is a tropical nation, which often does mean hot. There are actually 12 climate zones in Costa Rica that range from hot and humid to cool and dry, giving visitors a full-range of environments from which to choose. The Southern Zone is on the ‘hot and humid’ side of the scale but with delightful mountain and ocean breezes, especially when living in the hillside communities of the Costa Ballena. We drink pipas frias and other frosty beverages during the four months of hot and dry weather between December and April. The rest of the year, we are blessed with a pleasant drop of a few degrees in temperature and periodic fresh rains that fill our skies with a diversity of colors and patterns and keep our jungles lush and green. Need I mention northern winters for comparison? 

Too hot for: Sweat pants, jackets, milk
Ideal temperature for: Getting in the pool, ocean and waterfalls any time of year, not freezing in cold, wet snow

“The roads aren’t good in Costa Rica’s small villages”

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 with relative ease. 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. And truly, we would all like to spend less money on tire realignment. Car maintenance procedures do thankfully tend to be less expensive in Costa Rica than in North America and European nations. However, it is 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 be spending numerous hours every week sitting in traffic in the middle of a concrete jungle. In our small Costa Rican communities, we drive slowly, winding on dirt roads lined with green jungle and colorful flowers. We learn to slow down our expectations and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

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

“Costa Rica is far from home”

Most of us who migrate to Costa Rica come from North America and Europe. Many of our home countries’ major cities will have at least one direct flight to Costa Rica per week. This means that most journeys to San Jose will be a maximum of 8 hours’ flight time. And thanks in part to the National Tourism Board of Costa Rica, which continues to promote tourism in Costa Rica around the world, there are frequently great deals to be found on flights to and from our beautiful new home. This means that friends and family will be even more eager to visit one of the most beautiful countries in the world (and us, too).

It’s far for: Destinations that do not offer direct flights to Costa Rica
It’s close for: North Americans, Europeans, and increasingly China

For those who think that living in a tropical, natural paradise sounds about right, we invite you to contact our Osa Tropical Properties real estate office in the Costa Ballena. We know that it can be simple to find comfort in this natural paradise. Let us show you how! Call us today.

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