Not really sure if Costa Rica is the right place for you to live your best life? Here’s a list of inspiring, seductive, and strange qualities about expat life in Costa Rica — uncovered for all to see! If you are going to move to a place as magical as Costa Rica, it’s best to do it with your eyes open!
It is such a luxury to be able to create the life you want as an expat in Costa Rica. Not only does this country accept foreigners as their own, there are a number of pleasant realities that it offers all of us as a gift for wanting to be in this magical land.
There are plenty of swoon-worthy tropical destinations for expats to choose from in Central America. Nicaragua, for one, is almost equally grippingly beautiful to Costa Rica. Both nations have gigantic mountains, dynamic volcanic landscapes, and sensational beaches. But Costa Rica’s safe atmosphere is what differentiates it from its regional counterparts. There is no fear of military police raiding the streets of Costa Rica or of rioters causing havoc. Some unlucky people experience petty theft but violent crime is statistically far less of a reality than most other places in the world, especially in our remote communities of the South Pacific.
2. Peaceful Politics
A growing percentage of the people who decide to move to Costa Rica are doing it for the sake of politics. Costa Rica is a nation that has a politically-conscious population but Ticos do not fight in the streets over policy. Things are expected by all to be resolved within the frame of government and in a peaceful manner. This is the reason why the Costa Rican army was abolished in 1948 — they all agree that there should ever be a need for their citizens and the military to clash in the streets. One of the many interesting things to note about Ticos is that despite their differences of opinions on some issues, there are many more that bind the majority, like the rights to universal education and healthcare.
3. Intentional Communities
Ticos’ peace-loving mentality extends into Costa Rica’s expat population. People from all over the world with all kinds of political backgrounds have chosen to come together to live in the small towns and villages of the Costa Ballena and all over the country. We take to our message boards and public forums to discuss and deliberate as a group on all community issues. Our collective goal is to understand public issues with a broad perspective that takes all community members into account. Anyone is free to join and participate in the many councils that manage community issues as the end links in the chain of Costa Rican bureaucracy. Our own community members manage the allocation of government funds for things like water, roads, schools, and distributing public information.
4. Spending Less
And what’s not to like about spending less of your nest egg to live a satisfying life? The cost of living in Costa Rica works out to be far less than you will pay in most other retirement destinations around North America and Europe. If you and your partner are receiving a pension or foreign income that are a combined $2000-$3000 USD, you can be living an exciting — albeit naturally minimalist — lifestyle that still includes you regularly dining out at delightful international cuisine restaurants, like in Southern Costa Rica’s culinary capital, Ojochal. On top of that, you have the free bonuses of fresh air, very inexpensive clean drinking water everywhere, being surrounded by incredible nature, very inexpensive universal healthcare, and genuinely happy people who love their lives.
Not all people who love Costa Rica are looking to escape. Some simply fall in love with this unforgettable nation for their own reasons.
5. The Biodiversity
Costa Rica has so many climates and geographies that you will think you are in a perpetual Kodak Minute. It’s incredibly easy to drive to a place you have never been before and see another of the country’s many diverse and riveting landscapes. This tiny nation is small enough that you can basically drive anywhere in the country (and sometimes back) in a single day and there will be stunning vistas around every corner. Living in the Costa Ballena, we can be in the mountains, mangroves, waterfalls, beaches, and cloud forest all in one day, seeing all of the fascinating wildlife endemic to each of these biodiverse regions. This is one point where we can say, without any hesitation, that Costa Rica stands out as unique.
6. The People
One of the main reasons to love Costa Rica is that it has some of the friendliest and kindest people you may ever meet. English is widely spoken all over the country, especially by younger generations. However learning a few Spanish phrases will be greatly appreciated by locals, who feel a sense of pride when foreigners want to speak their language. And they will go out of their way to teach you words and grammar — all you have to do is take the first step and try!
7. The Weather
Those of us who choose to live here for part or all of the year are likely doing it because we love the warm weather. And Costa Rica delivers year-round! Even in the rainy season, it is not uncommon for people to visit the beaches for a picnic and a swim. Many of us are happy to allow ourselves to get wet in the rain because there is hardly ever a worry about getting cold. This is especially the case in our coastal southern region, which sees year round average temperatures of between 77.7 °F. and 82.0 °F.
8. The Savings (yes, we had to include it twice!)
The biggest bonus of shifting your weather for the better is not having to deal with the hidden high costs of winter. Those who have taken account of their sub-zero weather spending know how scary the bills add up to for winter clothes, heaters in cars, heating homes, running cars to get them warm, car starters, and more! Especially when compared to having one small set of clothes for the entire year, fresh breezes cooling your high elevation home, and fresh, clean, and free rivers to cool off in all around you. Yes, you can spend money on a pool and a/c if you want to but you surely don’t have to in order to love your life in the South Pacific!
9. The Accessibility
There is something special about living a slower lifestyle in a more “rural” type of community that still has all of the amenities most people need. Doctors, pharmacies, banks, grocery stores, delis, salons, hardware stores, and fantastic restaurants are just some of the many businesses that populate our “remote” Costa Ballena communities in the South Pacific.
10.The Health Benefits
Because we are nowhere near any major cities, many expats are able to afford an acreage, a beautiful modern home, and regular maintenance costs. We can also grow lots of food, raise free-range animals, and have lots of privacy. The results of this are often a mega-boost in health for new arrivals. People lose dozens of pounds, throw away canes, and ditch their cholesterol medications. All of these benefits come directly from moving to a less stressful, cleaner, and greener environment and they are why our bodies are so grateful to be here!
Not everything is all hunky-dory for all expats who choose to make Costa Rica their new home. There are some things that people just cannot stomach when they first arrive and the length of their stay tends to be determined more by how much they are willing to bend because this is a country and a people who are slow to most things, including change.
11. The Culture
As controversial as this may sound to begin with, in a lot of ways, Costa Ricans have a very conservative culture. This can be a very harsh realization for foreigners who value their personal freedoms. For instance, Costa Ricans prefer that you keep your clothes on! Topless sunbathing is not acceptable in Costa Rica, and while you may find that being shirtless is tolerated at some private establishments, it’s best to do as the locals do and keep covered. They also prefer that you keep your voice calm and low and that you are respectful of elders. Most Ticos are religious and they value their family unit above all else. This can all be a bit of a shock to the more boisterous of us, but there are also great life lessons to learn from sharing land with this gentle culture
12. The Bug Life
Areas close to the coast can be hot and laden with biting insect life. Expats in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica, for example, will often choose to live higher in the coastal foothills of the Talamanca Mountains where they can have a beautiful ocean view as well as delicious mountain and ocean breezes. It may be a longer drive to the beach from home but it’s worth it to get away from the mosquitoes and sandflies that populate beach areas in the mornings and evenings.
13. The Lack of Options
There are certain items that are almost impossible to find (or impossibly expensive!) in Costa Rica — especially in relation to food. This makes it a challenge for those with big cravings. For some, their favorite brand of peanut butter may become a big reason for traveling between their home nation and Costa Rica. Some expats take up going on holiday to neighboring Panama or Mexico since both are much more international in their offerings. But with the rise in expat arrivals, Costa Rica is importing more foreign goods every year and newcomers are opening restaurants that serve the foods they crave. The Costa Ballena and it’s dozens of international restaurants is a strong example of desperation breeding creativity.
14. The Quality of Schools
The public education standards in Costa Rica is lower than what parents expect in the US or Europe. Costa Ricans are proud to have a high-level of literacy (98%) and free education up to and including the post-secondary levels for all its citizens and residents. Younger expats with school-aged children may choose to enrol their kids into bilingual private schools that offer MEP accreditation so that they have the option to attend a US university since they operate on US standards.
15. Telecommunication Deficiencies
Historically, Internet and other telecommunications networks in Costa Rica have been spotty at best. But this is changing quickly with the rise of international expats and tourists traveling to Costa Rica and the growing number of tech companies following suit. Expats who want to telework or depend on staying connected should make sure that they choose an area with good network coverage. Uvita in the Costa Ballena already offers 200mbps connections in the town center and up to 30mbps in the higher elevation regions and high-speed services are available all over the South Pacific.
There is pollution in Costa Rica, despite the emphasis on renewable energy supplying more than 99% of the national grid. But this pollution is minimal compared to other places around the world. You can clean spring water from the tap almost anywhere in the Southern Zone and beaches and roads are regularly cleaned by volunteers who care about the quality of our shared environment.
17. The Expats (gasp!!)
There is an unfortunate influx of those looking to escape from their homes who are bringing their same angry ideals with them. These strange escape artists are unable to assimilate into the pura vida and will tend to believe that the problem is always on the other side. They want nothing to do with the people they don’t agree with so they bring division with them, which is what many others are looking to escape. Luckily, these people don’t tend to last in our South Pacific coastal communities where people are more likely to fully embrace a guilt-free relaxation in their minds, bodies and spirits. Anger and division rarely find a home here, where people prefer to live healthy, effortless, and all-around satisfying lives. You cannot quickly remake Costa Rica into the image of utopia that fits your mind. Many people have tried and none have succeeded. This country is home to a fascinating mix of people from all over the world who seek to feel a profound sense of peace.
18. The Need To Relearn Everything
Patience, resilience and a drive to succeed independently are traits that hold great value for those who start a life in Costa Rica. In North America or Europe, you might simply hire a builder after purchasing a lot and they would handle everything to do with your project. This is not so clearly the case in Costa Rica. It is advisable here that you first educate yourself. Talking to other expats is easy enough, though, these days, and you will almost always find someone who will have traveled the road you are about to embark on. Those who appreciate community will be inspired to know that neighborly outreach is a common thing in Costa Rica and you will be heart-warmed by the amount of helping hands you receive.
19. The Need for Patience
Waiting and more waiting are two of the biggest dislikes that expats have about living in Costa Rica. Ticos seem to have infinite patience and seemingly do not mind waiting in the least. They have an uncanny ability to pick up a conversation with anyone anywhere or to retreat to a corner of their minds and entertain themselves. Their patience is almost miraculous and so expats must either accept waiting or move on because this is one attribute that most of us wish we had. And the lines never get smaller.
20. The Tico Expectations of Expats
Costa Ricans expect that all expats are wealthy. You may not have anything more than your social security pension but locals will not likely distinguish the difference between you and the richest person in town. As a result, expats are often charged extra on their bills, whether at a restaurant, hardware store, or grocery shop. There is crime here and most of it is petty. It is important to take steps to protect yourself, including being informed. We learn to keep watch over expensive items and to check our bills and politely point out errors because being exposed for exploiting this preconception can be crushing to Ticos, who truly do not like confrontation. Those who attempt to exploit expat ignorance are acting on stereotypes that can only be broken if expats are aware of how they are being perceived. It’s best not to flaunt your wealth here if you have it amongst people living much more simple lives.
Is Costa Rica sounding more and more like a place that you want to live? Contact our friendly and expert real estate team who are ready to help you answer any questions you have about if our South Pacific is right for you. And sign up to our newsletter below to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in Costa Ballena real estate every week!