Expat Life in Costa Rica: Simpler but not Easy

In Search of a Simpler Life? Come to Costa Rica

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Ahh…wouldn’t you love to have this expat lifestyle every single day in Costa Rica?

It’s common when you think about moving to Costa Rica, that your life is somehow going to be easier. After all, in that perfect dream (born when you fell in love with this tropical paradise), you might find yourself surfing those killer waves or sipping your morning coffee as you watch the tide roll in from your ocean view Costa Rica house.

Am I right? So many of us discover the Pura Vida essence of Costa Rica while visiting on vacation, and we carry that relaxed vision with us as we consider retiring to Costa Rica or moving here.

Expat Life in Costa Rica: Simpler but not Easy

So, what do I mean by that – expat life in Costa Rica: simpler but not easy, at least most of the time?

Well, it’s simple….kind of.

Expat living in Costa Rica is…very much so….simpler than life back “home”, assuming you’ve hailed from a country that’s more developed than Ticolandia (Costa Rican nationals are referred to as “Ticos”).

Your choices for toothpaste here are quite limited – at least here along the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The same goes for most of your food items in the grocery store and at the farmer’s market: you have limited choices which does make your selections simpler. Fewer options, no need to think much.

Finding Office Furniture in Costa Rica

My husband and I recently opened our own real estate firm. But since we live on the Pacific coast – almost four hours from Costa Rica’s capital, where all the major shopping is located, we chose to order our office furniture online and have it

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Finding office furniture in our new office in South Pacific Costa Rica proved quite a challenge…

shipped to us. (Shipping stuff to Costa Rica is an entirely different topic, which I’ll cover on another day.) Suffice it to say, the click click click of ordering online is simple, but the subsequent hiring of a trusted shipper, managing the shipment paperwork, paying for the shipment, picking it up and then installing it…none of that fell into the “Easy” category.

We did some previewing of office furniture at the limited selection stores in San Jose before we ordered, and quickly realized that the prices on identical merchandise were at least 30% higher than the U.S. and in some cases more than double. Plus, the selection is very, very limited.

Back in the U.S. in my former life, I’d have ordered my office furniture from one or two websites or visited my nearest Office Depot, pointed and purchased, and two days later, the shipment would have shown up at my door….including the install. Easy.

Sigh.

There are moments like these when I miss the ease of my former life in the U.S.

The reality is that it took three months to get all our office furniture ordered, shipped, picked up and then installed. THREE MONTHS. (Frankly, it makes me tired just to think about it. But at least now, I’m on this side of it.)

It’s part and parcel of living along the Costa Rican South Pacific coast.

Another example: coffee. Here in Costa Rica, coffee is grown like crazy. It’s delicious. You’d think there would be coffee shops on every corner. But in my little coastal town, there’s only one coffee shop and it’s not open every day. So, if I want coffee on a day when this little shop is closed (and I did not have the inclination to make my own at home), then my second option is to drive 15 minutes down the road to the next town.

Limited options make my choice simpler, yes. But, this is hardly the ease with which I used to walk to Starbucks, which sat – easily – across the street from my office in Denver and pick up a Chai without thinking twice.

There’s no Starbucks in the Costa Rican Jungle

I know, I know. None of us move to Costa Rica jungle in search of Starbucks. (Though there is one now in the international airport in San Jose, just so you know.) It’s just an example.

Car Repairs in Costa Rica

Ha ha! Here I have to laugh a bit, because this is so often a topic that NO ONE considers until they’ve actually bought their piece of Costa Rica real estate. But it should be considered, because the wear and tear and maintenance on your car in Costa Rica will cost you a lot more than it did back home. And the bigger question – for we coastal dwellers – is WHERE you will find that reputable, trusted repair shop.

Visit any online Costa Rica expat community group and you’ll see that one of the most frequently discussed subjects is where to get your car fixed. One person recommends XYZ shop; another complains that they got ripped off there. Someone else pipes up with another name; yet another expat will scream that their car sat there for three months and exited with the problem still in tact. It’s a never ending story.

Simpler versus Easy regarding Car Repair in Costa Rica

The choices are very simple: (1) you can buy a brand new car – expensive, yes, but it also comes with a three to five year maintenance package, hooray! or (2) you can buy a previously owned car and take your chances.

We’ve bought three used cars in recent years and have had pretty good luck with that route. However, we also choose to make our lives simpler by taking them back to the dealer (think, Ford or Toyota) to get their annual check-ups and for all the regular maintenance and repairs. (Believe me, when you bounce up and down 4 x 4 roads 365 days a year, your vehicle needs more regular maintenance than it did back home, especially when it comes to suspension. Now maybe if you came from the Australian Down Under, that won’t be the case, but for the bulk of new expats to Costa Rica, this is a very true statement.)

Is taking our cars to the dealer simpler? Yes. It is more expensive? Yes. But are the parts warrantied, as well as the work? Yes. Is this route easier? No. Because our dealers are between 1.5 hours drive (Toyota) and four hours drive (Ford) from where we live. When we take the Ford into San Jose, we need to schedule for pet care, house sitting, hotel rooms and eating out. All of that adds up. But, long term, does it mean our car will have less problems on all of our local roads during the rest of the year? Yes. So, long term simpler? Yes.

The alternative option would be to locate a local mechanic and take our

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Choosing the right mechanic in Costa Rica: just another example of the simpler expat life….or is it easy? Hmm…

cars to them for service. Easier, yes. Simpler, long term? No. With all three cars, we’ve tried this route – with three different mechanics – and though my hubby is a “Tico” (meaning a Costa Rican native), we’ve had less than stellar luck. Problems on each and every encounter. 🙁

After multiple attempts on the “easier” route, we gave up and abandoned the local mechanic option and have since gotten really good at planning those needed maintenance trips.

Now, the truth is, as many new Costa Rica expats as I may share this story with….at least half of them will still attempt the local mechanic route – over and over and over again – and then, the next five times I see them, it’s all they will talk about. (Part of that has to do with the 1% Rule of Meeting Other Expats Abroad – another recent post I did here.)

Which Do You Prefer for your Future Costa Rica Expat Lifestyle: Simpler or Easy?

You always have a choice. If you said, simpler, than life here on the South Pacific Costa Rica coast will appeal to you in a huge, huge way. Welcome. And if easy is your answer, that’s great….but once you make sure that Costa Rica is where you want to live, I’d suggest you choose a more populated area like San Jose or Escazu or any other area closer to the city. And even then….you’re still in Pura Vida land….where life moves at its own pace. 🙂

Want More on Expat Life in Costa Rica?

I’ve been living abroad in Costa Rica (and Panama, before) for almost ten years. I write about expat living in hopes that my experiences will be of help to others who are considering this lifestyle. On the right hand column, you should be able to see some other recent topics I’ve written about.

You’re also welcome to subscribe to my newsletter list here.

Interesting in buying your own piece of Pura Vida Costa Rica real estate paradise?

I can help you with that too. We opened our new boutique real estate firm in South Pacific Costa Rica in April 2017. We’re one of the only local brokerages who’s

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Yours Truly, here, living and working the Costa Rica expat lifestyle along the South Pacific coast. 🙂

owned by a Tico and a North American (local connections, international expertise), and who are legal, licensed and committed to working in an ethical manner. Check us out here.

Costa Rica – Panama – Nicaragua: 5 Differences

In a recent trip to Nicaragua – a long weekend getaway and part of my Living La Pure Vida beyond the borders of my Costa Rica home, I was struck by a number of things that reminded me of my former expat life in Panama. This sparked this post: Costa Rica – Panama – Nicaragua: 5 Differences…and this is just the beginning. Read on. Perhaps this will whet your whistle for traveling between these three countries – so close – but with cultures a world away from one to the next.

Variety is the Spice of Life…isn’t it?

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When you celebrate differences between cultures, travel (and expat living) becomes much more interesting…and much more fun!

A resounding YES, and thus, I thought it might be fun for my fellow expats who travel the Central American region like I do, and anyone else who may be sojourning through same, or even considering a move to Panama, Costa Rica or Nicaragua to take a look at my recent observations.

Difference #1: “You’re Welcome”

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Say “Thank You” in Spanish in any of these countries the same, but the response will be quite different in each one…

In all three countries, you’ll use “Gracias” to say thanks. But how the locals respond….well, therein lies the subtle differences which reflect the nuances of the three cultures.

Panama: “De Nada” which literally means “You are welcome” (English Pronunciation: Day NAH-Dah). Panamanians also respond with “Claro”, which simply means “Sure”.

Costa Rica: “Con Gusto” which translates to “With Pleasure” (English Pronunciation: Cone GOOSE-toe). In Spanish, this is considered a more polished or sophisticated response than Panama’s more straightforward ones. (And in Costa Rica, you’ll also probably get a smile….not so often in Panama.)

Nicaragua: “A La Orden” which translates to “At Your Service” (English pronunciation: A Law ORD-N). Again, the Nicaraguan response is more polite generally than Panama’s, but equal with the Tico one.

Difference #2: The Nationals’ Nickname

Natives from Panama are called Panameños (in Spanish). (English pronunciation: Pan-a-MAIN-yos)

The formal name for Costa Rican natives is Costariccenses, but few people use that word unless you’re in a more formal setting. The nickname for those native-born in Costa Rica is Ticos (pronounced TEA-kos).

You’ll notice that the words Panameños and Ticos ends in O, which is correct in the Spanish language for a group of people that includes both genders.

Herein lies the difference: Nicaragua. Using that same rule in Spanish, one would think that the nickname for national citizens would be “Nicos”. But it’s not. It’s “Nicas” ending in A, which would normally indicate that the described group is female or that the word (like citizens) is feminine. But citizen in Spanish is “ciudadano”, clearly masculine. And quite obviously, the entire Nicaraguan population is NOT feminine either. (In fact, Nicaragua is one of the most machismo cultures in Central America!)

I turned to my Tico husband for an explanation to this query; his answer was a shrug. Sometimes you just gotta love Spanish…

Difference #3: Money

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Nicaraguan currency is referred to as Cordobas, pictured here.

Panamanians have the Balboa, which only includes their coinage. Otherwise, Panama uses the U.S. Dollar. (A major convenience for U.S. expats that choose to move to Panama.) Short answer: no exchange rate and no need to fool around with different bills when you visit.

In Costa Rica, the U.S. bills are accepted pretty much everywhere; U.S. coins, however, are not. But the Costa Rican national currency is called the Colon, and in multiples, Colones. Current exchange rate (as of August 2017): 570 Colones to one U.S. Dollar.

Nicaragua’s currency is the Cordoba; current exchange is 30 to one U.S. Dollar. Have no fear in carrying and using U.S. Dollars (not including coinage, once again) all over the country though, but expect to get Cordobas back as change.

Difference #4: Religious Leanings

Having lived in Panama for eight years, I personally witnessed how devout the local population is – to a grand extent – to the Catholic faith. I would deem to say that the average in the country is around 70% Catholic. Yes, other churches exist, but Catholicism is the main one, which Christianity far behind. Drive by a big Cathedral or church on Sunday morning in Panama – no matter where you are in the country – and you’ll find it packed with people. Religious holidays are strictly observed by ordinary citizens and a driving reason for extended families to congregate on a regular basis.

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The Catholic Basilica in Cartago, Costa Rica is the most photographed in the country.

Costa Rica is at the other end of the spectrum, which surprised me, because their conquistadors hailed from Spain, just as some of Panama’s did. Perhaps it has something to do with Costa Rica’s commitment to education (which they started investing in mightily since 1949 when they disbanded their military). It’s historically relevant that as the level of education increases, the commitment to planned religious systems normally decreases. (I’m sure someone will argue with that, but that’s how I see it). Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, only boasts one large, central Catholic Cathedral, versus Panama’s multiple ones. And, church attendance in Costa Rica – even in the country along the coast in more rural areas – has dropped to an estimated 30% of what it was twenty years ago.

Nicaragua falls somewhere in between; again, another surprise, at least to me, given that Nica’s level of poverty is much higher than either of the forenamed countries. Nica’s people are devout – yes – but in some areas of Nicaragua, it’s not the “expected” Catholicism; instead the church goers attend some sect of the Evangelical Church. But, again, even so, the churches we observed this past weekend on a Sunday morning drive were only about half full. So, more devout than Costa Rica, but far from Panama levels. Interesting.

Difference #5: Cleanliness

This is a favorite topic of mine, and one I wrote about significantly when I lived in Panama. Cleanliness – in my family of origin – was akin to Godliness. It’s something I notice, no matter where I go.

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Trash along the shores of the Panama Canal in Panama.

Panama gets a bad rap for cleanliness across the nation, but it’s justified, because the country as a whole cares little for picking up after themselves. The never-ending trash on the streets and the lack of care even in the bathrooms at the airports are one of the things most expats in Panama dislike the most. Unfortunately, it’s part of Panama’s culture. (Yes, the past two governments and some community influencers have begun campaigns to turn this unsavory trend around, but those things usually take quite some time to take hold.)

Costa Rica, on the other hand, educates their children – and has for years – about the need for recycling and putting trash in the right places. Is it a perfect system? No. But the country’s attention to detail when it comes to pollution is admirable on all fronts.

Nicaragua, surprisingly, parallels Costa Rica when it comes to trash on the streets. The prior First Lady evidently pushed a campaign for National Clean Up across the country, and it worked: today, even in rural  areas where the poorest of natives reside, the streetscapes are remarkably clean. At a mall in Managua on a recent trip, the tile floors actually sparkled when I crossed them. Needless to say, for such a poor country, I’m impressed!

Three Neighboring Countries But the Similarities Stop There

Hope you enjoyed this little sojourn into my travels as a Central American expat. It’s fun to peek into other countries’ cultures and observe what makes them tick (from an outside perspective, of course). Variety truly is the spice that makes travel so much fun!

For more on expat life in Costa Rica, click elsewhere within this website. (If you’re interested in buying real estate in South Pacific Costa Rica where we live, I can help you with that too.)

For more on expat living in Panama, visit the Panama Gringo Guide website here.

And, if you’re interested in my writing – and my new book Dream Job – scheduled to hit the shelves (and the NY Times Bestseller list!) in 2018, take a look here.

Until next time, Pura Vida!

The 1% Rule when Meeting Other Expats Abroad

Meeting Other Expats Abroad – What’s the Reality?

When it comes to meeting other expats, many people think that they will make friends easily when they move abroad. I mean, we’re all expats, right? That’s a big thing to have in common! But when meeting other expats abroad, the reality is that the 1% rule governs.

What is the 1% Rule?

The 1% rule is a law of averages I’ve come up with to make sense of what my personal experience of living abroad in Costa Rica and in Panama for the past ten years. My experiences – and those of other expats who I’ve interviewed and known as friends and co-workers – leads me to believe this rule applies to expats as people…not to expats living in a particular location.

The 1% Rule is numbers driven. (Accountants and Mathemeticians,rejoice!) Let’s use the United States as our backdrop for this post, since it’s my home country.

Why the Rule is Called “1%”

The U.S. has 350 million citizens. Of those, 46% hold passports for international travel. In 2016, just 19% of U.S. citizens traveled abroad. But how many of those travelers venture out further and make the decision to actually move abroad?

While the diagram below gives a fun breakdown by Internations published in 2016 of what the average U.S. expat looks like, there are no firm numbers of how many U.S. citizens actually live outside the U.S., only estimates.

Expat Statistics on US Americans Abroad — infographic


Estimates of how many U.S. expats live abroad range from two to seven million. Hmm…that’s a pretty big range!

So back to our 1% Rule for Meeting Other Expats Abroad equation.

Let’s assume – since there are no firm numbers – that five million U.S. citizens live abroad. Five million of 350 million equates to 1.4% of the total U.S. population.

This 1.4% is why I named this Meeting Other Expats rule, “The 1% Rule”. I assume that this number is more or less going to be the case for most other countries (not taking into account those that are war-torn).

Let’s Keep Breaking It Down

Keeping the 1.4% in mind, consider Costa Rica and Panama – where I’ve resided full-time for the past ten years. Estimates in Panama for U.S. citizens in 2012 were around 20,000. In Costa Rica, according to the U.S. State Department in 2013, U.S. citizens in Costa Rica totaled 50,000, though only 12,000 held legal residency visas. (I have yet to see more recent statistics reported online to date.)

(Side note: I’ll do another post soon on legal residency in Costa Rica.)

Back to our numbers – let’s estimate 70,000 U.S. expats live between Costa Rica and Panama. When you split that number across all the little retirement towns along the Pacific coast and between the two capital cities in the two countries, 70,000 expats is really not that many. Yes, you’ll run into more expats from the U.S. and Canada than those from other countries, most likely, but even so, 70,000 is the size of the town I grew up in. It’s not that big.

Applying the 1% Rule when Meeting Other Expats Abroad

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It’s exciting to meet other expats abroad, but it’s wise to take your time in getting to know them.

Now remember, when you live abroad, you’re not just living with other expats from your country of origin. Our tiny coastal community of Costa Ballena in South Pacific Costa Rica is comprised of expats from around the world – Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Scotland, Spain….you get the picture. It’s colorful and it’s fun to have this much diversity, much less the local Costa Rican nationals!

So, assume that 1% of all the countries in the world are those that you will meet abroad.

Now, consider your city or state back home, wherever that might be, and think of it like this: when you live in your country of origin (the U.S., in our example), you have the entire diverse population of your citizenry around you. And from that pool of different personalities and backgrounds and sub-cultures within your own country, you select your friends from within your community. But even within your own community, you don’t get along with every one, do you? Nope. There are lots of people in your own home town or state or province that you would never choose to fraternize with.

Can’t We All Just Get Along? Well, Maybe…

Keeping that in mind….here’s the bottom line. You cannot expect that just because you meet other expats in your new country that you’re going to like them or that you’re going to have anything in common with them.

In fact, often, it’s just the opposite. Remember that guy at your old job back home that bugged the living sh#t out of you with his stupid jokes? Or the gal in your church who was always skating the line between legal and illegal with her business? Or the Peeping Tom in your community with a window washing company who got caught?

Yep. You’ll find those same kinds of characters here – whether Panama, Costa Rica, New Zealand or Timbuktu. You’ll encounter top of the line and bottom of the barrel folks and the truth is you’re just not gonna gel with everyone.

Why Can’t We Be Friends, Fellow Expats?

Let’s break down the final equation.

Every time I now meet an expat – no matter where they hail from, whether U.S. or not – I keep the 1% Rule in mind. I know that they too come from the 1% of “those who moved abroad” from their home country.

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What fun it is to connect with other expats until you realize that something about their story doesn’t feel right…

I then expect that 50% of all the people I meet will be people I have zero interest in socializing with.

Because these people will be living abroad for a reason that doesn’t jive with my values – maybe they’re running from the law, maybe they’re evading taxes, maybe they’re just living abroad illegally, who knows. It doesn’t really matter. The law of averages bears out such that I know that one out of two expats I meet is someone that I’ll say, “Hmm. Okay. Nope. Next.” (And by the way, this is not conjecture…this is not real….I’ve met these people – over and over and over again.)

Of the remaining 50% (of that original 1%), half of those people will be the characters I referenced above – the ones I would never have anything to do with if I met them in my home town. So why would I want to socialize with them here? Bottom line, I probably won’t, though I might on occasion if we’re in a larger social setting. (Except the Peeping Tom guy….assuming I figured that one out…ewww.)

The reality of living abroad is that the expat circle from which you select your friends – whether they turn into close ones or have-a-drink-with ones – is much smaller than the pool you had to choose from when you lived back home.

But don’t forget the remaining 25% (of the 1%)! Now, THESE are my people! Yahoo! They are fun, adventurous, open minded, interesting, educated and savvy. And this is where my social circle forms. And it’s probably where yours will too.

If you think about it, 25% of 1% is one of four, right? Those numbers are pretty good, aren’t they?

Expat Life in Costa Rica: It’s Paradise, but It Ain’t Perfect

Now you can be sure, as soon as I put this post up, I’ll hear it: Hey, JuliAnne, you’re being way too negative.

But this stuff is truth, my dear readers.

Keep in mind, I’ve lived abroad – as a corporate executive and now as an entrepreneur – for ten years.

So, this is not about slamming anyone or making stuff up.

This is REAL EXPAT LIFE, people. And I choose to share it – the good, the bad and the ugly – so that other future expats like you have a bit of a leg up on knowing what it’s really like.

With these morsels of shared experiences, perhaps you can avoid some of the heartache I and many others like me had along the way because of unrealistic expectations.

Because at the end of the day, it’s your expectations which will make you sink or swim as an expat living aboard, no matter where you are.

So, pack your bags, get out there, shake some hands, throw back some cocktails (or a freshly-squeezed Costa Rica fruit juice) – it’s so much fun once you find your 25%! And, believe you me, they’re waiting for you too!

Want more insider input on Expat Life in Costa Rica?

Some other recent articles.

Expat Interview with a Recent Retiree to Costa Rica

The 101 on Buying Real Estate in Costa Rica

If you’re interested in Costa Rica real estate for sale in Costa Ballena including Dominical, Uvita, Ojochal and Tres Rios along the South Pacific coast, my husband and I own South Pacific Costa Rica Real Estate.

We recently published an article on Five Things You Need to Ask Before You Buy in Costa Rica. If that’s of interest, sign up and you can download that report for free (on the link in the line above)! It’s relevant no matter where you buy in Costa Rica.

Until next time, Pura Vida, and good luck to you as you start your new life as an expat abroad!

Buying Real Estate in Costa Rica 101

As owner and the Managing Partner of a boutique real estate firm in South Pacific Costa Rica, you will see that many of my future topics here relate to buying real estate in Costa Rica. (So many people asked me about real estate that I finally listened, and got back in the biz!)

Buying Real Estate in Costa Rica

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Does your dream of buying real estate in Costa Rica include endless views of the rainforest and the Pacific Ocean?

Well, first of all, who doesn’t have the dream of buying real estate in Costa Rica? Doesn’t everyone? 🙂 And if not, maybe you should. But how does buying real estate in Costa Rica really work and how is it different from other countries?

Bingo! You’re in the right place….let’s get to it.

Location, Location, Location

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Here’s a map of my hood in South Pacific Costa Rica.

As in almost anywhere in the world, the first thing you want to do is narrow down your choice of locations. For example, in our tiny coastal area – where we live – called Costa Ballena (pictured above & ‘ballena’ means ‘whale’ in Spanish) – there are three ‘main’ small towns: Uvita, Dominical, and Ojochal. (There are others but these are the main three.) What many people don’t fully get when they come on vacation, fall in love with the area, and then return to buy Costa Rican real estate – is that these three small towns have very unique personalities.

This is a common mistake, and can often lead to an investor buying in a place that does not fit them.

Determine where you want to live in Costa Rica BEFORE you buy

If you’re not absolutely sure where you want to LIVE (not just vacation!) in Costa Rica, then I have two suggestions: (1) come and stay for a month and do a TON of poking around to get to know the local flavors of several areas, or (2) come and go for about a year – including at least 10 days in each area you might consider living in – and rent an AirBNB or a VRBO and really get to know each place.

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This photo is of the main supermarket in Uvita de Osa, South Pacific Costa Rica. It’s called ‘BM’ which often triggers another word for many of us in English…

Shop at the supermarket. Go to a local ball game. Go to the farmer’s market. Talk to people, both Ticos (locals) and expats. Go visit the local vet (if you think you’ll be bringing or adopting pets when you move to Costa Rica). Do things you would do when you live here, versus hanging out at the beach all day working on your tan. (Because of course, we do that too, but living in Costa Rica is NOT like being on vacation in Costa Rica.)

The point is to get to know the town / area you’re considering BEFORE you put down a deposit.

When buying real estate in Costa Rica, do you need a broker or not?

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When buying real estate in Costa Rica, is it in your best interest to hire a real estate broker?

The short answer to this is that as an outsider / non-local, a legitimate, legal real estate broker can help you avoid a lot of pitfalls that you might otherwise not expect when buying real estate in Costa Rica. This is especially true when you don’t speak Spanish.

I do recommend having a broker when you buy in Costa Rica, no matter where you purchase. And that’s not based on me now having my own real estate firm – that’s based on living in Central America for almost ten years now. I’ve seen too many people burned because they thought they “knew better” and struck out on their own.

Does this mean that you CAN’T find a great deal on an amazing property for sale in Costa Rica without a broker? No. But the odds of doing so and doing so successfully and with little to no risk are way lower than most other markets.

As friendly as everyone in Costa Rica may appear, there are still plenty of questionable characters out there who are happy to take your money, “sell” you something they don’t even own, and get you into a load of trouble.

So, my opinion, get a broker. Please. And, to do any type of real estate transaction in Costa Rica, you also must find a good attorney. For this,

How do you make sure the broker you have chosen is legal to sell real estate in Costa Rica and is also licensed with the Costa Rica Real Estate Broker’s Association? Great question. Read this page to find out more of the questions to ask.

Finding your dream property in Costa Rica

south pacific costa rica, south pacific costa rica real estate, south pacific real estate costa rica, south costa rica, south costa rica real estate, costa ballena costa rica real estate, costa ballena real estate, costa ballena costa rica, author julianne murphy, la pura vida costa rica, pura vida, author julianne murphyGreat, so you know where you want to live. You have a trusted broker to show you around and lead you through your buying real estate in Costa Rica process. What’s next?

First, it’s important to know that Costa Rica does not yet have a “multiple listing service” for real estate. This is unfortunate. The Association of Brokers is working on implementing one and making it a legal requirement, but that’s already gone years in the making and has yet to actually happen.

As a result, properties for sale in Costa Rica are listed the old-fashioned way: online (by one brokerage or a multitude of them – often with different pricing), using For Sale signs and via word of mouth.

It seems crazy, doesn’t it? In the United States and Canada these days (and many other countries), you have Zillow, Trulia and a host of other apps and search engine tools to help you find your property or home. But not here in Costa Rica. Step back about 15-2o years and that’s about what the process of house hunting here in Costa Rica feels like.

Yes. It can be frustrating. It can be confusing. So, what’s the solution?

Consider hiring a Buyer’s Agent to represent you in buying Costa Rica real estate

Most of us from the U.S. or other more developed countries have heard of “Buyer’s Agency” services. A buyer’s agent is one that represents you – and ONLY you as the buyer – and therefore, goes out and searches high and low for your dream property, even if that means they have to find it with another broker.

Buyer’s agency services aren’t common in Costa Rica.

Let me give you a common example of why this type of service might be of interest to you.

Let’s say you hire Broker A to help you in buying real estate in Costa Rica. Broker A has 25 homes listed on his website for sale. You decide you like house #4 and you want to make an offer on that house. However, Broker A has a sales contract with the Seller of house #4. So, when you start negotiating with Broker A and he then goes to negotiate with the Seller – whose interest is he really representing: yours as the Buyer or the other guy that is the Seller?

Hmm…see how it can get convoluted and complicated?

Many people moving to Costa Rica or retiring to Costa Rica feel uncomfortable with having one broker as the middle man between Buyer and Seller. And, if that’s the case for you, then ask your broker to consider being your Buyer’s Agent. That means, it’s her job to go find your property – whether she has it listed among her 25 homes OR if she has to go find it at another brokerage.

If your broker offers this type of service, they will likely ask you to sign a Buyer’s Agency Representation agreement. (That’s what we do.) This protects them and the time they are spending in conducting the search for your piece of paradise, without worrying that you’re going to run off and find another broker (and then they would not get paid).

Make sense? It’s not a perfect world here in Costa Rica real estate terms, but for some clients, having a broker as their Buyer’s Agent makes them feel more comfortable and better represented.

Did you learn something about buying real estate in Costa Rica here?

Great. That was the point. I’m all about education, and helping people find their way – in a smart, protected fashion – in Costa Rica whether they are moving here, retiring here or just coming here to live for a while.

Find your tropical oasis in South Pacific Costa Rica

You can reach me at our offices here in South Pacific Costa Rica via our US/Canada phone line at 1-929-229-2022. Or visit us on the web at CostaRicaPacificRealEstate.com. If you’re a Facebook person, you can check out our page there as well to see what’s new and get the latest listings.

Want to sign up for our South Pacific Costa Rica Real Estate newsletter? You can do that here.

Best of luck as you start your process of buying real estate in Costa Rica!

How to Retire in Costa Rica: Expat Alexis Cress

How to Retire in Costa Rica – Expat Interview with Alexis Cress, Part II

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Alexis is certified to teach Vinyasa yoga, which she does 2-4 days a week in Costa Rica.

Many of you who read this blog are interested in, most often, how to retire in Costa Rica. Expat Alexis Cress hails originally from Minnesota, and she and her husband recently retired here to Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast. We met and talked in early January, and you can see Part I of this interview here. Part II, which follows, will share more from Alexis’s perspective about finding social connections, her love for teaching yoga, the surprises she’s found since moving to Costa Rica, and recommendations she makes to people looking at how to retire in Costa Rica.

Finding Social Connections as a New Expat in Costa Rica

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In Costa RIca, the Pura Vida life does allow you to catch plenty of sunsets.

JuliAnne: Alexis, retiring to Costa Rica means you’ve essentially left all your old friends back at home behind. A common complaint I hear often – especially from women – is that they have problems finding and making friends, once they are here. What’s your experience with that so far?

Alexis: I’m an introvert so I need to make myself get connected. So for me, I’m finally at the point – 18 months after we moved here full-time in June 2015 – when I have the chance to get connected because we’ve been so busy.  I think for introverts it can be a challenge here, because you can get isolated. And I think, you have to make an effort to go out. In rainy season, I don’t like to go out after a certain time due to the rain because the roads can be dangerous and visibility can be challenging.

JuliAnne: Your home is here on the side of the mountain, which offers beautiful views, but I imagine you have to plan your outings. It’s not like you are down the street from 7-11 or from the hardware store. You’re a good 20 minutes up the hillside from the town below, correct?

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Want to know how to retire in Costa RIca? Alexis and Leo did it in 2015.

Alexis: Yes. We chose to build on the edge of town, not in town, so that does have its own challenges.

JuliAnne: You don’t have a ton of neighbors from what I can see.

Alexis: Actually, we do have a handful, and we’ve become acquainted with all of them. Most of them also hail from Canada or the U.S., and we’ve gotten to know their Tico caretakers, as well. We all help each other out. I don’t ever feel isolated, really, because I know all these people are within arm’s reach if needed.

JuliAnne: What about making friends and social connections?

Alexis: I do a lot of stuff with women. There’s a ladies’ luncheon here in town every two weeks that I attend. Plus, I teach yoga two to four times a week, depending on the season. My hubby, however, is more of a homebody, so we don’t do out a lot of socializing outside our home as a couple.

Vinyasa Yoga Classes with a View in Ojochal, Costa Rica

La Pura Vida Costa Rica expat blog
Alexis built her own yoga studio on their property in Costa Rica on the side of a mountain.

JuliAnne: Tell me more about your yoga practice. We’re sitting in this beautiful wood and steel pavilion here that you built on your property. It’s stunning with the views both the ocean and the rainforest. I can imagine it’s a really unique experience to practice up here.

Alexis: I taught a lot of yoga in the U.S. (I am a registered 200-hour yoga instructor.) I’m also certified in Mindfulness Meditation. I have taught yoga for three years now and I love it! I love teaching. I used to be a triathlete and a marathoner. I’m also certified in Yoga Sculpt. I’m really into fitness, so all of that has evolved into a way for me to share that passion with others – getting the meditation in, as well – plus it’s great for me in my own spiritual practice.

JuliAnne: Tell me more about the local yoga classes that you offer.

Alexis: I started initially at Bali Rica in August 2015 teaching one morning a week. Here, in my own studio, I teach yoga on Tuesday mornings. Everyone is welcome to come to my classes; they are designed for all levels. In the future, I’m thinking of offering some special events on special topics here in my open-air studio.

JuliAnne: What can one expect to pay for one of your yoga classes?

Alexis: If the class takes place here in my studio, the person may make a donation for the class. All that money goes to charity here in the community. For classes at Bali Rica, I offer packages for multiple classes, or a drop-in costs $10.

The Surprises Alexis found when she moved to Costa Rica

JuliAnne: The donation class is a great option for retirees on a fixed income or people that live on a budget. I like that. Alexis, there’s always a few things that can never be anticipated before one moves abroad. Since this is your first experience in that, tell me what was surprising about moving to this part of Costa Rica for you and Leo?

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Another shot of Alexis’ home yoga studio in Costa Rica with the sun setting behind.

Alexis: There have been a few surprises we weren’t prepared for, I’ll admit.

  • For starters, I miss the ability to go down to the corner store to get what I need; there’s a lot of planning that goes into living here. The grocery is 30 minutes away.
  • Also, the famed Pura Vida lifestyle. It’s been a big adjustment for us. A good one! But, I have had to learn how to “go with the flow” a lot more here than I did ever did back in Minnesota.
  • The starting over in establishing a girlfriend network can be tough. I miss my girlfriends back in Minnesota so much. Even though we didn’t see each other that often – just once a month probably – just knowing that I could see them if I needed to was comforting. That feeling is a lot different here than I anticipated.
  • I love to run outside. In Minnesota, I did that a lot. But here, with roads constructed of mountain rock that gets either very dusty or very muddy, that can be a challenge (at the minimum) or even dangerous (when they are slick). So, I miss that.

Three Recommendations for New Expats Moving to Costa Rica

JuliAnne: Thank you for sharing those things, Alexis. All of those are significant changes, most of which new expats never think about. Now that you and Leo are 18 months into your Costa Rica retirement, what three recommendations would you make to new expats considering such a move?

La Pura Vida Costa Rica lifestyle blog by author JuliAnne Murphy
Alexis is a former Certified Financial Planner who retired with her husband to Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast

Alexis: First, I would say rent for a long time. Some recommend that when you are new, you should rent for two years; I would say rent for at least a year, if you know the area you’re interested in. During that time period, you will find out what it’s really like to live there, and if it’s the place you think it will be.

That was what we were planning on doing, but I was itching to buy. We looked at so many homes around here and could not find what we wanted that it was discouraging. So then we started thinking about lots. When we found this lot where we’re sitting, we fell in love with it. But, that said, it would not have hurt to have waited a year.

JuliAnne: It’s a common to mistake to fall in love with an area and to move lock, stock and barrel and then discover you really didn’t know what you were getting into. What you said makes a ton of sense. What else?

Alexis: One really big surprise to us was the cost of living and how expensive it is to live in Costa Rica. We could not find a lot of research here on cost of living data before we moved. We’re spending a lot less on food here (though we’re not meat eaters; we eat vegetables, beans, rice, etc. so the cost of food is not so bad for us.) But all the car stuff – the car purchase, the car maintenance, the gas, the auto parts – living in the area with the dirt roads and the mud and the 4 x 4 and ongoing dangers plays into all of those ongoing bills in a big way.

JuliAnne: Agreed. The cost of personal transportation here in Costa Rica is much higher than in many other countries. Buying a car here by itself normally costs about double of what you would pay in Panama or Nicaragua because of the taxes alone.

Alexis: Third, I recommend that new people get join the community forums or Facebook pages for the area they are interested in and check in often to see what’s really happening. People are very honest, most of the time, in these forums, and you can learn a lot.

JuliAnne: A good idea, to be sure. Most future expats who contact me are always hoping to connect with more established expats to ask questions and so forth.

Alexis: Fourth, living in a rural area like here along the South Pacific coast, it’s really important to speak Spanish. If possible, learn as much as you can prior to your move. I am taking Spanish lessons now and beginning to get a feel for the language. This seems to be much more important along the coast than in the more developed areas around San Jose, the capitol.

JuliAnne: I don’t think enough can be said about the important of learning some Spanish before you relocate to or retire in Costa Rica. So many expats – especially those from the U.S. – come and assume they can make it and be happy without any language skills. This is simply very difficult to do.

Finding Happiness in Costa Rica

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Alexis is seated here on one of Costa Ballena’s gorgeous beaches. How does it get any better?

JuliAnne: On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being very satisfied, how would you rate your happiness level at this point with your retirement in Costa Rica?

Alexis: I would say I’m at an 8 overall. Adjusting – as I described – is a big part of living here, especially at first. There are a lot of healing modalities and providers in Costa Rica (such as alternative medicine providers: acupuncture, massage, reiki, chiropractors, etc.) – especially in the Costa Ballena area that have been very helpful to me personally, as we’ve gotten settled. That has been a huge gift and has made the transition easier.

JuliAnne: Alexis, thank you again for your openness, your transparency and your willingness to share with me and the La Pura Vida Costa Rica readership about your move to Costa Rica and your experience so far. And, most of all, congratulations on your new home and your land! You’ve created a beautiful space here!

Alexis: Thank you, JuliAnne. We love our new space and all of the nature that goes with it – it’s gorgeous. We’re very happy with it. It was a pleasure to chat with you.

For more on Alexis, visit her website.

Want to keep abreast of future posts about my Costa Rica expat life?

If so, follow me on Facebook, connect with me on Twitter, or sign up for my e-newsletter list here. I look forward to it!

Why I chose Costa Rica: Meet Alexis Cress

How to Retire in Costa Rica: Meet Expat Alexis from Minnesota

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Alexis Cress is a former certified financial planner & coach who moved to Costa Rica

There we sat, the two of us, in cross-legged relaxation drinking cool green tea, having a conversation, as the midday breeze caressed our faces, fluffing our hair. Between sips of tea and our discussion about how to retire in Costa Rica, I found myself gazing out at the view of the Pacific Ocean in the distance and the kaleidoscope of greens visible in the adjacent forest.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? And indeed it was. This was a recent Tuesday, when Alexis Cress agreed to host me at her home yoga studio so that I could interview her for this first expat interview of 2017 for my La Pura Vida Costa Rica blog.

I met Alexis through her yoga teaching. She teaches an all-level Vinyasa Flow once a week down the street from my home on an open-air pavilion at a neighbor’s bed and breakfast. After several weeks, I realized that Alexis – who is around my age, in her late 40’s – had a story to tell about her sojourn to Costa Rica (which includes her husband) and some tips on their experience and how it might inform your choice on how to retire in Costa Rica – that might be interesting to you, my La Pura Vida Costa Rica readers. At my invitation, she agreed to speak with me.

So, first off, a very special thanks to Alexis Cress for her willingness to open her yoga studio to me (which was where we sat, pictured here), and for sharing her story.

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Alexis’ home studio overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the rainforest in Costa Rica

Editor note: As in all my expat interviews, I do my best to let you the reader hear as much as possible directly from the person with whom I spoke. Thus, the following will be a back and forth of the conversation Alexis and I had. (She has also had the opportunity to review this interview and to make any edits that she felt were appropriate.)

So, without further ado, meet Alexis Cress.

The Journey from Minnesota to Costa Rica

JuliAnne: Alexis, first off, where are you from?

Alexis: We moved to Costa Rica from Bloomington, Minnesota, which is a suburb of Minneapolis.

JuliAnne: Alexis, how did you discover Costa Rica?

Alexis: We traveled to Costa Rica on vacation a few years ago; we treated ourselves to a trip each year to somewhere that had warm weather. Arenal, Costa Rica, was the first place we traveled to, and we loved it. There, we did the touristy stuff – white water rafting, zip lining, the hot springs.

(Arenal is in the mountainous volcano region of Costa Rica, and boasts its very own volcano, which is still active! It includes one of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica, which is a big tourist draw to the country.)

JuliAnne: What do you and Leo do for a living here in Costa Rica, Alexis?

Alexis:  We are full time retirees.  In the past, my husband Leo was a commodities trader and I was a certified financial planner and coach. I had my own businesses for quite a few of the last several years.

How did you choose Costa Rica for retirement?

JuliAnne: How did you decide to move to Costa Rica for retirement?

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Alexis shot this photo herself from their home in Ojochal, Costa Rica.

Alexis: We were not completely sold on moving abroad, to be honest. We considered a lot of areas – both Stateside and international before we chose Costa Rica.

JuliAnne: What areas in the United States did you consider?

Alexis: In the U.S., we had researched Florida quite a bit, and some areas in California. Because I have asthma, I feel better in a more humid, temperate climate. That was a plus for Florida. California fell off our list because of cost of living considerations. Many areas in the U.S. that have beach frontage or access are very pricey. We also looked at Hawaii and Washington.

JuliAnne: What countries did you consider outside the U.S.?

Alexis: Other than Costa Rica, we looked at Jamaica, Ecuador, Panama and Puerto Rico.

JuliAnne: How did those weigh out against Costa Rica as you did your research?

Alexis: We could not find a lot online about Ecuador really; there did not seem to be a strong presence of expats living in Ecuador that had community groups online or anything like that. Nor did there seem to be much online about expat experiences in Ecuador. That was a bit of a concern for us. We got married in Jamaica, and love the people there and the chill vibe, but once we looked into it further, weren’t comfortable with living on such a small island. Safety was also a concern for Jamaica. Though we visited Panama – that country did not feel right either. I’m not sure if this was due to the strong American influence we observed there, or because of the safety issues (we heard about). Puerto Rico was going through a financial crisis when we looked at it, so we decided to cut it from the list for that reason.

Researching Costa Rica prior to moving

JuliAnne: What kind of research did you do about Costa Rica as a place to live and retire?

Alexis: We read two or three books from Amazon on retiring to Costa Rica. We read a blog from one of the books, Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week and we followed that author for a while. The books had a lot of links, which we also explored. We also looked at the U.S. Embassy’s page for Costa Rica.

JuliAnne: What were the top three reasons you decided to move to Costa Rica, versus all of those other places?

Alexis:  Costa Rica was said to be very peaceful – that resonated with us; we liked the fact that the country does not have a standing army. Second, we love the climate in Costa Rica. As I said, I have asthma and I do better in a temperate, humid environment. Costa Rica offers both. Access to the ocean was also very important for us, especially me, and we wanted to be close to nature. Finally, we were looking for a small type of community in which to settle – one that was not too over developed and Costa Rica seemed to have quite a few of those.

Falling in Love with Costa Rica’s Costa Ballena region

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Alexis is seated here on one of Costa Ballena’s gorgeous beaches. How does it get any better?

JuliAnne: So, now here you are settled in Costa Ballena along Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast.

While in the past a lot of retirees were choosing Guanacaste and Papagayo, Costa Ballena has risen in the past couple of years as an attractive option for retirees. Did you take a look at other areas inside Costa Rica before deciding that this was your preference or were you convinced that the South Pacific was where you wanted to be, as soon as you visited?

Alexis: When we left to go back to Minnesota after our third trip to Costa Rica, we felt like Costa Ballena was a strong option. The tipping point for moving here was us being able to sell our home in Minnesota before we could take the leap.

JuliAnne: What specifically drew you to the Costa Ballena region?

Alexis: I love water, so that was the biggest draw for me, since we are right on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica. (Editor’s Note: The Ballena Coast has numerous beaches for surfing, paddle boarding, walking and camping, some of which have been reported to be among the country’s prettiest.)

Because Leo, my husband, and I liked this area so much, we came two more times over a three-year period to the Ballena Coast. Between the second and third visit, we had researched other places besides this area here in Costa Rica that we might also want to consider.

We did a lot of research on the Central Valley of Costa Rica – cost of living and so forth, and we looked into Guanacaste online. In the Central Pacific, we looked at Jaco, which is a big town but it did not speak to us at all.

Your Choices for Moving to Costa Ballena: Uvita, Dominical or Ojochal?

JuliAnne: Did you look at other towns here in Costa Ballena, other than Ojochal?

Alexis: In this area, we had looked at Dominical and Uvita.  I originally thought that because of my yoga interest that perhaps Dominical would be good for me, but I did not feel a connection there. Dominical is home to more of a hippy, surfer crowd.

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Even Alexis’ mutt enjoys yoga! It helps when mom teaches…

When we checked out Uvita, we found there were a lot of other Minnesotans there. But, the housing there seemed to be more expensive.

When we drove South to Ojochal, where we live now, we liked the people we met here; they were very down to earth. We met Canadians, some Coloradans – everyone was really nice. One of the realtors we met also had asthma like me so it was nice to compare notes with someone who had similar health concerns.

JuliAnne: So, once you found Ojochal, was your mind made up after seeing some homes in the area?

Alexis: On our final visit before we moved, we joined the Ojochal Community Page on Facebook, which allowed us to see what was going on day-to-day down here prior to making that final decision.

We tried to put ourselves in the situations we read about, what we would be doing day to day. I also reached out to people online through the community page and asked about yoga and teaching yoga and people seemed to be very interested in having a new teacher in town.

JuliAnne: I have to say, Alexis, it does sound like you and Leo really did your homework. I often hear very different stories from other expats who fell in love but did not look go to the lengths that you all did in terms of finding out what it was going to be like day to day before they picked up and moved. That’s great.

Alexis: We’re big on research (giggling). Before we purchased our first home together many years ago, we looked at 50 homes before we made an offer. So, yes, we are meticulous. As we did the research on all the areas we looked at for retirement, my husband would play devil’s advocate on everything and I would find the positive aspects.

Based on all the time we took and the homework we did, we do feel like we picked the right place.

Building a House in Costa Rica

JuliAnne: You and Leo have built a home here in Ojochal, correct?

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Alexis and Leo moved to Costa Rica in 2015 to retire.

Alexis: Yes. We moved to Ojochal and rented for about nine months while our home was being constructed.

JuliAnne: I hear so many complaints from expats in Costa Rica about the construction process locally. I believe some of that is due to people not understanding the cultural differences in work ethic and processes here along the coast. Could you run me through the timeline of when you moved here, when you bought your lot and how long building your home took? I think a lot of people considering Costa Rica would be interested in hearing that.

Alexis: We moved down here on June 1, 2015. We purchased our lot in August that same year. Then, we started construction on our house in October, just two months later.

JuliAnne: That’s actually a pretty quick timeline! How long did your overall construction take, start to finish?

Alexis: It only took five months. We moved in on March 1 of 2016.

JuliAnne: Wow! That’s much faster than most people I hear from. Granted your home is a modest size versus some of the others in this market, but was that the timeline that your builder had promised you?

Alexis: The contractor had promised three months, and it took five, so that’s not too bad.

Retirement in Costa Rica: What’s it like day to day?

JuliAnne: Well, congratulations on reaching retirement and finding your paradise here in the tropics! Many people are interested in retiring earlier and earlier these days. How do you and Leo find that you spend your time differently, now that you are retired?

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Retiring in Costa Rica is not all sunsets and cocktails…but you do get a few!

Alexis: We always wanted to work with the community as retirees. There are community groups here that we’re getting involved with, as time goes by, and we’re enjoying that.

With the acreage we have – our lot is three acres, we are pretty busy caring for our land. Plus, as you know, I teach yoga.

JuliAnne: Some retirees tell me that once they move to Costa Rica, they get bored. Have you found yourself bored since you’ve been here? The Costa Ballena community is very small.

Alexis: No. I have not felt like there was a moment that I didn’t have enough to do, since we’ve been here. On our land alone, we’ve planted 150 fruit trees in the past nine months, as well as a ton of flowers and pineapple plants. Plus, we’ve recently put in a new nursey. We plan to grow our own food, at least vegetables and herbs.

JuliAnne: Wow, you guys are busy! That’s great. Are you guys completely off the municipal grid up here, since you’re pretty far up the mountainside?

Alexis: No, we’re not, though we like the idea of being as sustainable as possible. Our new house is solar powered, however, with a back-up to the electrical company.

And there’s more to come…

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More from Alexis in this exclusive chat about what her retirement to Costa Rica has been like…next week!

Alexis talks shares further about retirement in Costa Rica in our next segment, which will come out next week. Stay tuned for more on:

  • Making social connections when you live on the coast,
  • Teaching yoga, and
  • The surprises she didn’t expect before they moved abroad to Costa Rica.

For more about Alexis and her style of yoga, visit her website.

Want to know more about what living in Costa Rica is really like from a nine-year expat?

You’ve found the right place! You can read more about me, JuliAnne Murphy, my bestselling books about moving to Panama, and more on my full-time life in Costa Rica by clicking around on these links. If you’d like to hear from some other expats in Costa Rica, check out my recent chat with Enzo from Italy who owns a thriving boutique hotel and Italian restaurant, as well as some others I’ve spoken with on my Panama Gringo Guide blog here.

Pura Vida, and see you next week, right here, with more from Alexis!

Time Differences in Costa Rica

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This is how coffee is prepared table side in coastal Costa Rica. Believe me, you want it to take its time!

Time Differences in Costa Rica & how they will affect you as an expat

I’m having a war path day – anyone who’s ever been married know what that looks like when the woman of the house is on the war path, right? 🙂 But what does this have to do with the time differences in Costa Rica that I’m going to post about today?

First, when you move to Costa Rica – and sometimes even when you visit Costa Rica as a tourist – you may find yourself surprised about some of the things that you ‘thought’ would be different, that are not. On the flip side, you may find yourself equally surprised when the things you thought would be the same, are definitely NOT.

I am having one of those days. The ones where everything seems to piss me off about living on the coast of Costa Rica. And, yes, I live close to the beach and in the rainforest, and  as such, have NO reason to do a whole lot of griping. But as today is – what I used to term a “bad Panama day” when I lived in Panama – …well, I’m gonna turn my bitching into a post instead and let you see the inside scoop of how time differences in Costa Rica can both benefit you and plague you, when you live here. Read on, if you please.

Cultural Difference #1 in Costa Rica: Time

Costa RIca sunset, La Pura Vida Costa Rica, JuliAnne Murphy, Costa Ballena Costa Rica, Ballena Coast sunset
In Costa RIca, the Pura Vida life does allow you to catch plenty of sunsets.

Yes, you’ve heard about it. After all, this is Ticolandia, the land of “Pura Vida“, and complete relaxation. That’s right. There’s a definite Yin and Yang related to the concept of time (and especially time management) here in the tropics, and along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

When The Concept of Time in Costa Rica is to your benefit

One example, on the Yang side, we had an appointment with the mechanic this morning and were asked to drop off the truck for some work between 9 and 10 a.m.

Side note: Few places here on the coast do anything before 9 a.m. unless they serve breakfast or sell products for farmers who are up at the crack of dawn. Another aspect of Pura Vida!

Back to the truck repair – the guy asked us to drop it off between 9 and 10 a.m. So, we scuttled out of bed early and left the house at around 8:30 a.m. (it’s an hour and a half drive) only to get on the road and realize, “Hmm. We’re hungry.”

“No worries,” said my Tico partner. “Let’s stop for breakfast.” So, we did. Meanwhile, while we munched, he texted the shop to tell them we were enroute with an anticipated later arrival. An hour later (still enroute, behind a huge truck on a two-lane road through the mountains), we realized his phone had been on Airplane mode and the text had not gone through. Ugh.

The good news: when we arrived (only 20 minutes past the original scheduled appointment slot at 10:20 a.m.), the mechanic not only had not received the text, he was non-plussed,  happy to see us and promised, “It will be done within an hour.”

(In Costa Rica, please take note – when someone says “it will be ready in an hour”, you auto-assume it means 2-3 hours.)

So, that’s the Yang side – you can stop to have breakfast on the way to the mechanic and it won’t screw up your entire time table for getting your fixed car back…on the same day. 🙂

time differences in costa rica, costa rica expat, costa rica pura vida, julianne murphy
At a recent kids event, the kids lined up almost an hour early, they were so excited! A cute example of time differences in Costa Rica.

When the Concept of Time in Costa Rica bites you…

On the Yin side (and I may have Yang and Yin mixed up here, feel free to correct me), we left the mechanic and took a taxi 10 minutes down the road to our next appointment. This one was a “loose” appointment, and we had called from the road earlier to say, “Hey! We won’t be there at 10, as planned, but probably will be by 10:30.”

“No worries,” said the guy. “I’ll be there in ten minutes myself.” (As the call originated at 10:07 a.m., that should have meant he’d be there by 10:17 a.m., more or less.)

Good news, we arrived at 10:37 a.m. (Not bad, since we had been more delayed than we had planned because of our own Pura Vida breakfast.)

Bad news, the guy left us waiting…until 11:17 a.m. And, here we are, more than an hour later, and the appointment still hasn’t started. It’s 11:52 a.m. I have to be honest. Now, I’m pissed.

Time Considerations the Pura Vida Costa Rica way

Costa Rica expat, Costa Rica pura vida, costa rica ballena coast
Another example of marked time differences in Costa Rica: when the pool guys show up a day (or two) late.

This is the definite downside of Pura Vida; when the concept of time management (or time consideration) has been either forgotten or pushed back because of the other person’s own Pura Vida relaxed journey, and well, you are simply S.O.L. or at their mercy.

Sometimes, dealing with people related to the concept of time in Costa Rica simply sucks, let’s be honest. Today, for us, has been a mixed bag.

Time Considerations between Panama & Costa Rica – do they differ?

Great question! I’m so glad you asked. 🙂 Yes, they do.

Living as an expat in Costa Rica now for almost two years, and having lived in Panama for eight years prior to that, I’d say that time considerations in Panama are actually worse. (I’m ducking now because my Panamanian friends may be throwing rotten apples at me for saying that.) But, it’s true.

Because Panama has a concentrated dose of Caribbean integrated into the mezcla of culture in the country, you can expect that time considerations in Panama are indeed more pronounced. I covered that topic – with many other examples – in my books about Panama, if you’re interested.

In fact, I did a recent expat interview with an executive in Panama, who commented on her struggles related to time considerations there. Here’s a link to that part of that recent conversation.

In Costa Rica, time is less important in the coastal areas. People are watching the tides for when to go surf or paddle board, after all. In San Jose, the capitol of Costa Rica, people are much more attuned to schedules, perhaps because of the education levels are higher.

Costa Rica Pura Vida, Costa Rica Tico Times, Costa Rica JuliAnne Murphy expat, Costa Ballena, Ballena Coast, pets in Costa Rica
One last thing…things are so relaxed here in Costa RIca, that you have a lot more time for naps. One thing I really like!

So, that’s it for today, kids! I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about time considerations in Costa Rica. It’s now 12:07 and my husband has just been called in…only an hour and a half late…so, I’ll be here for a while longer.

Pura Vida!

Costa Rica Expat Interview: Meet Enzo from Italy

One of my favorite things about living and writing in Costa Rica is the new friends I meet. That’s where this Costa Rica Expat Interview comes in! A good number of those new friends and colleagues are expats from other countries, not just the U.S. and Canada, but from all over the world. In every conversation I have, I learn something new – about where people are from and what brought them to Costa Rica (or Panama) and often, I glimpse my world and this country through their eyes.

It’s a lot of fun.

Expat interviews are something I’ve done now for many years on my Panama blog. With today’s post, I’m starting to do expat interviews here on La Pura Vida Costa Rica, too! Why? Because the stories you hear from other expats in Costa Rica will inform you, educate you, and help you. And sometimes, even entertain you. 🙂

So, without further ado: Meet Enzo from Italy

Meet Enzo: An Italian Expat in Costa Rica

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Enzo and his wife Gineth live in Ojochal, Costa Rica. Enzo hails from Italy originally, though he spent some time in England before he relocated to Costa Rica. I met Enzo and Gineth here in our community at a social engagement and at the gym, in addition to visiting their authentic Italian restaurant, Mamma e Papa, here in Ojochal a few weeks ago.

Enzo Loreto started out like so many new expats do – he came to Costa Rica on vacation 13 years ago. A friend of his had come back to Italy after enjoying his own vacation, and on his friend’s recommendation, Enzo returned by himself and in a short time – just two months – he caught the Costa Rica bug.

He came – again, like many visiting this tropical paradise and many of those same people that become Costa Rica expats – speaking no Spanish. Nor did he know anyone in the country. But, he loved the Tico lifestyle so much that he stayed.

Finding Work in Costa Rica as an Expat

During Enzo’s first year in Costa Rica, he worked virtually via his computer for a company back in Italy. Enzo had previously worked in Italy as a speleologist. (What the heck is a ‘speleologist’? Good question. I had to look it up too. A speleologist is like a geologist or someone who makes maps of the earth, but does it underground, for caves.) So, essentially, Enzo was developing a map for a cave in Italy, though he was living in Costa Rica.

Don’t you love technology? It makes the world so small! I also telecommute – both with my writing and with any consulting I do – and can work from anywhere in the world. I choose to live here in Costa Rica, but let me not get side tracked.

Post that first year, Enzo worked in food and restaurant supplies and also started a t-shirt stand in the beach town of Jaco with a partner. These experiences helped him get a feel for Costa Rica and the business climate, as well as to become familiar with the various communities along the Pacific coast. Soon after, he started his own Italian pizzeria in Santa Ana, which is a suburb to the capitol city of San Jose.

Why did he return to San Jose after living on the beach? “I didn’t like San Jose, but I had to start out there to figure that out,” Enzo said. “I had to see how Costa Rica worked without investing a lot. That’s why I started my pizzeria. Through it, I met a lot of people and I also learned that San Jose was similar to many other cities around the world.”

One of the people he met during his four-year stint of owning the pizzeria is his wife Gineth, who is a Costa Rican native. “She was one of my clients,” Enzo told me with a slight smile. (This falls right in line with statistics I’ve read that a good percentage of us in the developed world meet our significant others and spouses at work. And, yes, it happens abroad too.)

Discovering the Ballena Coast in Costa Rica

“How did you find this area?” I asked. Again, Enzo smiled. “A client of mine at the pizzeria told me about this area. He had some property down here for sale and kept talking about it. So, one day, I drove a motorcycle down from Santa Ana, checked it out, and drove back.”

It was no small feat eight or nine years ago when Enzo made this epic one-day round-trip. First of all, the most direct route between the Ballena Coast and San Jose was yet to be completely paved – at that time, it was lacking a pretty significant strip between the beach towns of Dominical and Quepos/Manuel Antonio. That means that Enzo had to take the famed “Hill of Death” road between San Jose and San Isidro, which is windy and in some places seems to hang off the side of a mountain. It probably made for one heck of a trip to do that here and there all in one day.

So what happened?

“I told my friend I’d take it,” Enzo said.

“The property we’re sitting on?” I asked. Buying a property on your first visit is not normally something I’d recommend, but Enzo had lived in Costa Rica by that time for almost five years.

“Yes!” he replied. “This very property.”

expat-julianne-murphy-interviews-costa-rica-entrepreneurThe photos that accompany this interview are of that Mamma e Papa property, which measures 1.5 hectares (more than 15,000 square meters). That property is also the site where Enzo and Gineth built a cozy cluster of bungalows facing a tranquil river in Ojochal, and the location of their TripAdvisor award-winning authentic Italian restaurant overlooking the jungled hillsides.

It’s safe to say that Enzo’s impetuous purchase of this land has paid off in spades for the Costa Ballena community – especially for those tourists who choose to stay in this lovely setting when they visit Costa Rica – and for those of locals who can go around the corner to enjoy Enzo’s homemade pasta and pizza.

For Enzo and Gineth, that gamble has paid off in success, though it has come with a somewhat hectic lifestyle. While they make it look easy, running a small hotel as entrepreneurs always comes with its set of challenges, especially when you consider that staff and vendors are often on their own brand of “Tico Time”. (I say this after having worked as an executive in an office setting for almost six years in Panama.)

Enjoying the Costa Rica Pura Vida Lifestyle

When I posed the question, “What do you enjoy about Costa Rica?”, Enzo described what sounds to most like a tropical dream.

julianne-murphy-interview-enzo-lorenzo-ojochal-costa-rica“I get up when the sun rises, when the birds start singing every morning,” He waved his hand at the lush landscape of trees all around where we sat. “Here, we live among real nature – not a world of concrete – and we listen to the sounds of the river.” When he paused and I tuned into the bubbling of the water below us, my whole body relaxed. “The sensation of living here in this paradise – the silence I find – the quiet – the tranquility – is like nothing else, nowhere else in the world,” Enzo finished. “Costa Rica is another world.”

Indeed, living here in the jungle in the tropics of Costa Rica is something most people only dream of; Enzo (and his family) are fortunate enough to actually call it home.

The Challenges of Living in Costa Rica

“It’s kind of like asking who do you think the most beautiful woman in the world is?” Enzo replied, when I asked him the question I ask almost everyone: What do you find most challenging about living in Costa Rica?

Enzo did not miss a beat as he replied. “Everyone has a different opinion. The most complicated thing I have found about living in Costa Rica is that growing up Italian – in Italy – has impacted my viewpoint.”

When asked him to explain further, Enzo continued, “Here in Costa Rica, you have the opportunity to do anything you want – however you want. There are all kinds of potential and possibilities. Here, you can find tons of space wherever you want, and do with it whatever you have the money to do. In Italy, there’s less space, more people and less opportunity because there’s more competition.”

His unusual answer caused me to look up from my laptop where I was taking notes. He went on. “The easy thing is that if you want to come here, you can, but it’s different. Here in Costa Rica, you have the opportunity to change – learn a new language, learn a new trade, eat different food. It’s different and it’s an adventure but the change – that many people think may be difficult – is not. The difficult part is only in your mind. But that change,” Here he shook his head. “It never daunted me. For many foreigners, it does.”

“How did you know you’d be successful?” I asked, waving a hand around at the spotless restaurant facilities in which we sat. Enzo shook his head again. “I didn’t come with a marketing plan for “if this business would work”.” He said. “It does. I built it with a dream to have my home here, with this gorgeous lifestyle and with four rooms and we did it. And it’s amazing and it’s been successful and it’s kept us very busy.”

Enzo’s Advice for New Costa Rica Expats

What three things does Enzo recommend to a new expat considering moving to Costa Rica?

  1. Come to Costa Rica for an extended vacation. Do six months if you can. “Not everyone can do it, but my two-month vacation cost me less than living in Italy for those two months,” Enzo added.

(I’m pretty sure I raised an eyebrow when Enzo said this as Costa Rica is not cheap.)

He clarified, “If you have the opportunity, you can do this. You may have to bring a backpack and stay in simple places and take the bus, but an extended stay will give you a real picture of the lifestyle in Costa Rica.”

  1. Don’t buy anything immediately. Rent something. If it works and you like it, then you can buy it later. Many people make this mistake. (I agree.)
  1. Before you make any long-term decisions about relocating to Costa Rica, come here and check it out. Make sure you like the climate, the people, the animals, the environment. Make sure you “get” the real Costa Rica. (My addition: It’s different from the tourist version, believe me.)

Enzo had one final piece of advice, which I really liked. And that was, “If you can’t live spontaneously, this is not your country. If you come with a critical mind, you will have an unhappy life.”

Well said.

As we wrapped up our conversation, Enzo made an interesting observation, which struck me as important to share.

“Many people that live in Italy get to the edge of the ocean – because we have beautiful beaches too – and when the reach the edge, they exclaim “Wow!” he said. “In Costa Rica, the reverse happens. People get to one of the gorgeous beaches – (there are many of them here) – and they wade out into the water, walk 100 meters out, turn around and look back at the land and exclaim, “Wow!” Because here, they are not just seeing the beautiful beaches – those exist in many places around the world. Here in Costa Rica, you see the beauty of the land, the animals, the endless green, the waterfalls, the rivers; these things you do not have in many other places around the world, not like you find here.”

All I could do was nod.

Discover Mamma e Papa Hotel and Italian Restaurant in Ojochal, Costa Rica

For award-winning, delicious, handmade pasta, make sure you make a point to visit Mamma e Papa when you are next in Costa Rica’s culinary capitol, Ojochal de Osa. (They also have pizza, though I have not tried it.) Enzo and Gineth’s cozy bungalows are also perfect for those visiting the Ballena Coast. They sleep two to five people, depending on availability and features a beautiful pool, a shared social area with TV and pool table and the sound of the Ojochal River to lull you to sleep. Rooms start at $115 for two including breakfast.

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Interested in buying a property in Ojochal, Costa Rica?

Mamma e Papa is currently listed for sale. The asking price of $855,000 is for the bungalows and the restaurant (including a private home above the restaurant) in this beautiful riverside setting of 1.5 hectares. Contact me for more information and a referral to a local broker to assist you if you are interested and would like to know more.

To see more of Mamma e Papa, visit their web page at  www.mammaepapa.com.

Special thanks to Enzo for his time and for sharing his Costa Rica expat story with me and La Pura Vida Costa Rica dot com. I so enjoyed our conversation. How about you?

Other Expat Interviews

If you’re interested in reading expat interviews from neighboring country Panama, you can get my second book, The Gringo Guide to Panama II: More to Know Before You Go , which includes four interviews from people coming from four very different life situations. For more on expat life in Panama, visit my Panama blog here.

Three Hard Lessons Learned for Costa Rica Vacationers

While traveling to Panama earlier this month, I witnessed a 60-something Gringo couple stumble out of a taxi in front of the international airport in San Jose pinned on a map of Costa RicaCosta Rica, yelling “Help!”

The couple had arrived an hour earlier and taken a cab off the street (we call them ‘red’ or public taxis) from the airport to their hotel nearby. When they reached the hotel, they realized they did not have lower-denomination bills to pay the cab driver. They both walked inside to the hotel counter but when they returned to the cab, the cab driver and all their belongings were gone.

They had returned to the airport in hopes that the airport cameras would have captured something about the taxi they had hailed.

How unfortunate and sad!

But three hard lessons learned for you, Costa Rica vacationers:

1. When you leave the international airport, take an orange cab (who have an alliance with the airport and are lined up to your left when you walk out of Customs).

San Jose Costa Rica - May 20 : Pick up area outside of the International Airport with Taxis and families waiting for passengers. May 20 2016 San Jose Costa Rica.
San Jose, Costa Rica : Orange Taxis at the Pick-Up area outside of the International Airport

Their official name is Taxis Unidos. Otherwise, take Uber.

2. Never, EVER leave your belongings with someone you do not know, out of your sight. It amazes me that anyone still does this.

3. It’s smart to break down the larger bills that come out of the ATM into smaller bills or coins to have before you leave the airport. Maybe buy a pack of gum or a bottle of water or something. This is something that is smart whether you are here in Costa Rica or any country. Often, taxi drivers who intend to scam you will pull this kind of a trick and tell you they don’t have change.

A sobering lesson for all those who #travel but remember it’s your responsibility to take your own safety precautions.

This is paradise, but it isn’t perfect!

JuliAnne Murphy Pura Vida Costa Rica paradise beach

Mistakes people make when they move to Costa Rica

We’ve all done it. You come to Costa Rica and you’re in your perfect world – ne’er a worry vacation mode – and you fall in love. I did.

Most Costa Rica expats will attest to the things I’m going to share with you here. Most new expats moving to Costa Rica make a number of mistakes and/or assumptions about this country and/or their future life here that can be quite detrimental to their future happiness and success.

What mistakes do people make when they move to Costa Rica?

Mistake #1: People assume Costa Rica is cheap.

Twenty years ago, Costa Rica was cheap. Maybe even ten years ago. But Costa Rica today – in 2016 – is no longer cheap, people! Is it more affordable than where you came from? Well, that really all depends. If you’re used to living in Manhattan or Chicago, then yes, it may be cheaper for you. But if you’re from Idaho or Arkansas, it probably will not be cheaper from your perspective.

Recommendation: Check out all the other blogs by Costa Rica expats that provide REAL cost of living calculators and comparisons. Do your homework. Consider each one of their perspectives – where did they move from? What kind of lifestyle do they have? At the moment, you can pretty much find an array of soup to nuts on the cost of living topic related to this country.

Bottom line for my monthly expenses for living in Costa Rica versus my former life as a Panama expat? It’s about equal. But here’s the kicker – in Panama, I lived in a brand new condo in a brand new neighborhood. Here in Costa Rica, I choose to live four hours outside the capitol city on the Pacific coast – in the smack middle of nowhere.

Traditional Costa Rican home with ox and cart
Traditional Costa Rican home with ox and cart

Which brings me to another point – Panama is not cheap either. That ship sailed right out of the Panama Canal about 5-6 years ago, when I lived there. Yes, there are things between the two countries that vary, but hear me when I say this, people:

Neither Costa Rica or Panama is cheap!

(For more specifics on a supermarket comparison between Panama and Costa Rica I did a few weeks ago, click here.)

Mistake #2: People assume finding work in Costa Rica will be easy.

I see this trend here in Costa Rica significantly more often than I did in Panama, and I suppose it’s because Costa Rica has a long-standing reputation of being a tropical paradise. Many people come, fall in love, think “I want that! I’m going to leave it all behind and move here” and then, they leave their brains at the border. But as my partner says (almost daily), “This is paradise, but it ain’t perfect.”

First of all, future Costa Rica expats, this country is NOT a country with a lot of industry, unless you count government workers, high technology (in the city, not here on the coast), agriculture and tourism. And, I can tell you right now, you’re not going to get hired in government as a foreigner unless you are specifically relocated here by your own Embassy. You may find something in high tech but those jobs, when available, pay Costa Rica wages – not what you’re accustomed to back home.

As for agri and tourism, same thing. Most of the time, even when a high-rolling foreign investor comes to Costa Rica and buys a hotel, they’re more interested in keeping the Tico employees because they cost less.

Best-selling author JuliAnne Murphy Expat Costa Rica unemployed man

Every single week I hear of another expat who has returned ‘back home’ after they realized they had no way to support themselves. The moral to the story is – yes, there’s room for you in Costa Rica, but don’t plan on finding a job here. They are few and far between. And if you do find a job, it will pay 50-250% less than your job back home. My recommendation, unless you choose to wait tables: bring your own ideas and money to start your own business, or work online. But, somehow HAVE A PLAN that is sustainable to support yourself beyond 3-6 months.

Mistake #3: People assume their savings will go further than it does.

Bottom line: refer to #1 above. So many people move here – and travel here, as well – assuming that Costa Rica is like Mexico 30 years ago.

Those are the people who read too many International Living articles. I, for one, get sick of hearing expats bitch about how expensive it is to live here. YOU are the one who chose to move here, and if YOU did not have a plan or do your homework, whose fault is that? Oh, right! Yours.

A Recap: Three Real-World Facts about Living in Costa Rica

I’ll make this simple. 🙂

  1. Costa Rica is not cheap. And in some cases, it’s the most expensive country in Central America in which to live. So before you plan to move here, do some homework and figure out what YOUR cost of living will really be. Then, add 20% (on an annual basis). Just to be safe. 🙂
  2. Your long-term success for living in Costa Rica is directly tied to your ability to support yourself. And, the options to generate income based on the current landscape of available jobs in Costa Rica (especially along the coast) are very limited. So, have a plan that’s sustainable before you quit your job and buy your plane ticket.
  3. In my opinion, if you choose to move to Costa Rica (or retire in Costa Rica), you should have a minimum of six months living expenses in the bank before you come. And, if you plan to build a house in Costa Rica, take whatever quote you get for the house, and add at least 20%. Trust me. True for Expats, too!

Coming straight from the jungle, that’s it for today’s Costa Rica recap!

Moving to Costa Rica? Need real advice from a full-time Costa Rica expat who’s been there, done that?

I’m in the process of making myself available for one-on-one Skype conversations with future expats by appointment only. If you’d like to be notified of that opportunity in the next few weeks, click here and fill out the Contact form.

Pura Vida!