A common question that new expats to Costa Rica ask all the time is how can I shop online and ship to Costa Rica? Is it easy to get stuff shipped to me from abroad when I live here? Whether you retiring to Costa Rica, telecommuting or just moved to Costa Rica for the famed Pura Vida lifestyle, everyone has something they need that they just can’t find in the Tropics.
How to Ship Stuff to Yourself in Costa Rica
For some of us, the need (or desire) to shop online and ship to Costa Rica strikes more often than for others. Yours truly included. And that’s where this expat interview with Jerry and Lowell Thomas of a shipping company called Get It Here Jerry, was born. I met with them recently at the popular French Bistro, Ballena Bistro, in our neck of the woods here in South Pacific Costa Rica, and we had a nice long chat about the business.
But, as all conversations go – at least here in Costa Rica with other expats – this post is about much more than just their business – which is thriving.
So, put your attention on Cruise Control and join me as this conversation unfolds and covers topics like:
- Jerry’s previous work life in the U.S.,
- What brought them to Costa Ballena in South Pacific Costa Rica, and
- What led this family of entreprenuers into the shipping business.
Because this interview was long, I’m breaking it into three posts for brevity. Thus, this is Post One, which will tell Jerry’s story.
Meet Jerry Thomas (Costa Rica Expat & Dad)
In a past life, Jerry worked as a Consulting Engineer for American Express Technologies. (His degree is in Psychology…which is an entirely different story.) He took retirement in the late 90s, and did what many retirees do….started another business. For Jerry, that included opening an Ace Hardware store in Salt Lake City.
As it did for many others, the economic downturn had a big impact on Jerry and his family and the success of their hardware business, so he decided to sell. He intended to start an engineering company developing outdoor recreational equipment.
About that time in 2007, Jerry and his then partner Susanne took a vacation to Costa Rica and ended up in Costa Ballena (also known as the Ballena Coast) completely by accident. In 2007, the highway between Quepos and Dominical had not even been paved, so it’s safe to say that Jerry and his family are indeed explorers. As Jerry told me, “It was Susanne who decided at that point – 2007 – that we had to come back here, because it was so unique we just had to find out what this place was all about.”
When A Vacation Destination Ends Up Being Much, Much More
In 2008, Jerry and family came back and spent a month in Costa Ballena. That’s how much the rainforest and the national parks in the area enchanted them. Based on this time here, the family made it their goal to return in a year’s time in order to retire.
Why Choose Costa Rica for Retirement, Jerry?
Inevitably, this question must be asked…because, everyone always wants to know the answer to that one….including me.
Jerry’s answers were familiar.
Costa Rica has political stability via its stable government. No risk of your investments getting nationalized here! (Unlike its neighbor to the North, Nicaragua…)
The People – “They are so fabulous compared even to the people I’ve met in Panama,” Jerry said. “The Costa Rican locals here are helpful, friendly, patient and understanding. Plus, they look you in the eye when you speak to them. I like that.”
(Side note: I did a post a few months ago on my observations of the differences between the three cultures of Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. For being next door neighbors, the differences are pretty astounding. If that’s of interest, click here.)
Jerry’s third reason for Why he retired to Costa Rica?
The promise of a lower cost-of-living –(My eyebrow raised when I heard this. Costa Rica is far from cheap.)
“Please expound,” I said.
“If I live like a Tico,”he replied. “I can live economically. We eat frugally, which most often means fresh. That includes locally-grown chicken and fish, in addition to the astounding array of fruits and vegetables we have access to. I lost 20 pounds after being here a very short time!”
“Second,” he continued. “We have a small home. We take advantage of the outdoor (covered) living space we have around our home, and forego all air conditioning use.” Both of these things will contribute mightily to lower monthly cost-of-living, no doubt about it.
“Plus,”…he wasn’t done. ”This area is so gorgeous. The mountains come down to meet the ocean.” He started ticking off the national parks in Costa Ballena off his fingers….there’s a few….and ended with the turtle preserve at the entrance of Ojochal.
I made no argument. It’s many of those very reasons that drew me to South Pacific Costa Rica.
Economic Downturn, Low Supply & High Demand – A Funny Cocktail that Equaled Success in Costa Rica
“So, did you make it within your one-year plan for moving down here?”
Short answer, no. Fate had other plans.
While they had been vacationing in Costa Ballena that month in 2008, the banking system scandal came to an ugly head. When they returned home, an immediate repercussion was that the value of their U.S. home had been cut in half.
Ugh. So many people suffered huge impacts to their investments during that time period.
Jerry turned lemons into lemonade, however, by taking an extra year to do a major renovation project on their home. Because the housing industry crashed, the finest construction materials were available at pennies on the dollar. They took advantage of it, and then, turned around and sold their home in 2010. In that sale of that house, Jerry and his wife made enough to pay cash for their home here in Costa Ballena. But while they were fortunate enough to have that investment covered, there was still a need to cover their daily living expenses after they moved to Costa Rica.
Retiring in the Rainforest is Not for the Faint of Heart
Was that when Get It Here Jerry was born, I asked? Right off the bat when you relocated to Costa Rica? Jerry and Susanne, now his wife, have lived in Ojochal now for seven years, so they’re certainly not newbies.
Jerry attempted to do some construction design and engineering services and construction management in the Southern Pacific Costa Rica. “That wasn’t entirely successful,” he confided. “Home design is hodge-podge at best in this region; engineering (in my humble opinion) leaves a lot to be desired, and most people think they can do their construction management themselves.”
This made me laugh out loud as Jerry is absolutely correct on all counts. The Costa Ballena area could certainly use more professionals like Jerry (in that stead) but the demand for such services is tiny – and the willingness to pay for them – is even smaller.
“What did you do?” I asked.
Jerry had been in Costa Rica three full years by that point, and like most expats, was trying to get creative about how to get stuff here.
“You mean you hadn’t brought everything with you from the start?” (It’s common in this area – and in Costa Rica as a whole – that many people skinny down to the bare minimums when they move here…which makes sense. Much of that purging is often related to the tropical weather conditions. Things that make sense in other climates fall apart here in days or weeks.)
“Nope,” Jerry answered. “We arrived with four suitcases and a big wooden box of stuff we didn’t want to throw out from the U.S. (A big chunk of which, he says, is still unpacked….)”
It was their necessity to stock their own home with things they could buy and bring back from the United States that drove Jerry to get creative.
A conversation and a proposal to another freight forwarder in the region led to the family being able to pool their shipping needs with an existing operation.
The opportunity quickly arose to let others pool with them. “Then, we doubled our orders every six months for three solid years,” Jerry reports. What had started with just five friends grew to ten then 15 and today, Get It Here Jerry’s client list is 800 strong.
“Turns out there was a lot of pent-up demand for this type of service.”
There came a time along this road of massive expansion when Jerry realized he had to make a decision to turn “this part-time thing” into a business, or maintain the levels he could support but restrict the service to a limited number of friends.
The other option was to refer the people who kept calling him to someone else.
When Opportunity Leads to Not One Job, But Two!
As is the case with almost every expat story in Costa Rica, timing is everything. And so it was for Jerry’s son (and now business partner), Lowell.
Lowell had worked in the family-owned Ace Hardware while he was in college. But eventually, he tired of it and wanted to do something different. He did what many people do – dabbling in a number of other endeavors in order to find something that made him tick – including managing a shoe store, and working as a swim instructor. Then, one day, he had the opportunity to travel to Viet Nam to visit a friend. While there, he met the owner of a consulting company and was offered a job related to his early childhood development degree.
Again, nothing happened overnight in this expat experience for Lowell, but a year later in 2011, he relocated to Vietnam, his new bride in tow. This was immediately following their one-month honeymoon in Costa Rica. (The girl obviously loves him!) After their trip to the Costa Rican tropics, they headed to Viet Nam, taking only four suitcases with them.
The teaching/consulting gig in Vietnam lasted for five years. “That was never the plan,” Lowell reports. “We thought it would maybe be a year or two.”
Funny how life works, isn’t it?
The partnership opportunity with Jerry emerged at the same time Lowell was approaching his five-year anniversary of expat living in Vietnam. “Because we’d been to Costa Ballena, Costa Rica before – on that one-month vacation – we knew this region would work for us.”
Lowell’s wife, Jenni, loves all the beaches within a 30-minute drive in Costa Ballena, plus she was able to secure a teaching position right away at one of the area’s private schools.
Thus, the young couple moved to South Pacific Costa Rica in 2016, and Lowell jumped into the Get It Here Jerry shipping business with both feet.
Wait….How do I Shop Online and Ship to Costa Rica?
As promised, I’m wrapping this post up for brevity’s sake…and next week, a following post will provide more of Jerry and Lowell’s story including….
- What type of lifestyle a young(er) couple can find in South Pacific Costa Rica
- How the shop online and ship to Costa Rica process with Get It Here Jerry works
- How you can take advantage of freight forwarding to get your personal items sent from the U.S.
- And, more.
- Special thanks to Jerry and Lowell for sharing their collective Costa Rica Expat stories…
Please check back next week for the next segment!