The 1% Rule when Meeting Other Expats Abroad: What is it?

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. This rule is a law of averages that I’ve come up with to make sense of what my personal experience has been in terms of meeting other expats abroad while living in Costa Rica these past two-plus years. It applied to me in neighboring Panama where I lived for eight years, which leads me to believe it applies to expats as people…not as much expats living in  a particular place.

The 1% Rule is all numbers driven. Let’s use the United States as our backdrop for this post, since it’s my home country.

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.

Expat Statistics on US Americans Abroad — infographic


Estimates of how many U.S. expats live abroad range from two to seven million. 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”.

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 say 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 – Panama and San Jose, 70,000 expats is really not that many. Yes, you’ll run into more expats from the U.S. and Canada that some those from other countries, most likely, but even so, 70,000 is the size of the area I grew up in. Not that many people.

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, assuming that the 1% of all countries are those that you will meet abroad. Across 196 countries, again, that number is not that high.

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.

Meeting Other Expats Abroad: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Keeping that in mind….and that of EVERY other expat I’ve met in ten years that I’ve discussed this with – 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 – that 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.

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. 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. And 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.

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

And 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 live as an expat abroad!

Since I’m now an owner and the Managing Partner of a new boutique real estate firm in South Pacific Costa Rica, you will see that many of my future topics here will 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

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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 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

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.

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!

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?

retiring in costa rica, expat author julianne murphy, costa ballena costa rica real estate, south pacific coastal real estate costa rica, bestselling author julianne murphy
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!

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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.

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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!

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.

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

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!

Having lived abroad in Central America as an expat for close to nine years now, I get asked a lot of cost of day-to-day living questions. So, today, as Part Two of my Cultural Differences between Costa Rica and Panama series, I’m going to share some about the food cost comparison between Costa Rica and Panama that you’ll find in shopping at the grocery store or supermarket between the two countries.

By the way, if you’re interested in the first post of this series about the marked differences between Panama & Costa Rica’s people as a whole, you can find that here.

Cultural Differences Part II – Food Cost Comparison: Costa Rica versus Panama

Today, I’m going to cover the topic of food specific to shopping for groceries. I’ll provide a brief overview of both supermarkets and farmer’s markets for each country and at the end, tell you which country is more expensive or affordable.

The Cost of Food: Costa Rica versus Panama

Shopping for groceries in Costa Rica: Supermarkets & Farmer’s Markets JuliAnne Murphy best-selling author and expat pura vida costa rica and panama

Costa Rica has three large supermarket chains: BM, MaxiPali and AutoMercado. Typically, most people frequent BM, which has stores all over Costa Rica. MaxiPali is a discount type supermarket and products other than food (i.e. a lower-end Wal-Mart). AutoMercado is a large format specialty supermarket with all kinds of tempting delights from all over the world. AutoMercado also has an in-house bakery with chocolate croissants, mmm.

You can guess which one is my favorite. 🙂

Yes, for those of us living along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica – four hours from San Jose – those must-have cookies from Omaha or that almond butter I love so much can only be found at AutoMercado. We do have an AutoMercado two hours from us near the super-fancy Los Suenos resort, but the only time we’re heading that direction is to go to San Jose, so shopping there rarely makes sense.

If you want to get the best deal at the supermarket, go to MaxiPali or to PriceSmart (the equivalent to Sam’s in the U.S.). Going to PriceSmart for those of us living on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, however, means we have to go to San Jose, which is a four-hour drive, and if you do that, it means you have to go on the same day you’re returning home and you’d better bring a big cooler. One downside of living in the tropics, to be honest – all this planning.

Your average consumer does the bulk of their day-to-day grocery shopping at BM.

Every BM is different. Nicer neighborhood stores have a wider variety of brands. Stores in the communities which house a lot of expats like Escazu, Santa Ana, Belen or even Puerto Jimenez (on the Pacific coast) carry more U.S.-sourced packaged foods.

Then, there’s your local farmer’s market. Within a 40-mile radius of where I live on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, there are five farmer’s markets I could visit each and every week. They’re not huge – most of them vary between ten and twenty tables, and variety is limited depending on the season. Many of them offer organic products as well as fresh eggs, same-day butchered chicken and fish caught that morning.

Here in Costa Rica, farming and agriculture continue to be a main driver of the local economy. Fresh food exports like coffee, bananas and papaya, among other things, are big business in Costa Rica. So, of course, it makes sense for the small farmers to sell local when they can: it costs them less and they pass on that savings to you.

JuliAnne Murphy best-selling author and expat pura vida costa rica and panama
Mountain of Peach Palm also know in Costa Rica as pejiballe

Supermarkets in Panama

Panama also boasts three supermarket chains. The high-end one is Riba Smith. The two others are pretty equal in their offerings: El Rey and Super 99. In my opinion, you can find a lot more Americanized products at the lower-end stores, El Rey and Super 99, than you can find at AutoMercado in Costa Rica.

Generally, the range of packaged products we’re familiar with in U.S. supermarkets are more available in the city of Panama. At least, that is, when the stores have those items in stock. In Panama, one of the idiosyncrasies of the culture is the norm that “when they have it, they have it and when they don’t, they don’t” which means the people working in that store can’t tell you when the product will be coming in next. Or they may tell you something just to get you out of their hair, but don’t count on that information being accurate.

PriceSmart is also an option in Panama. And at the moment, there are more PriceSmarts in Panama than there are in Costa Rica.

When I lived in Panama, I shopped at Riba Smith every week, and I found pretty much everything I needed. Like AutoMercado in Costa Rica, it’s more expensive then El Rey or Super 99, but I liked the higher-grades of meats and vegetables that I found there. The last two years of my time in Panama, however, I did find an Argentinian butcher whose meat was to die for, which decreased my meat purchases at Riba Smith.

JuliAnne Murphy best-selling author and expat pura vida costa rica and panama
Transporting fresh produce in Panama

For fish lovers, Panama City has a very large fish market. The local fishermen bring their boats in there day and night. So, fish – all kinds of fish – are available every single day of the year. And the prices are good. Not cheap, necessarily, but fair. (And better than going down the street to a supermarket who will charge you for packaging, transport and cold storage.)

Many people in Panama frequent the fish market once or twice a week, or have one of their household employees do so on their behalf.

Local Produce (i.e. Farmer’s Markets) in Panama

Because there are not a lot of farms immediately adjacent to Panama City (as they sold their valuable real estate to developers years ago), there’s not an established farmer’s market set-up in the city. Well, I take that back – there was one – a very dirty one that I went to when I first moved to Panama, until the sewage in the area backed up and flooded the streets of it for several months at a time. And since then, no one I know has gone back. Does it still exist? Probably. And if so, and the government has cleaned it up, please let me know so I can post that information here for my readers.
This would be a great project for Panama’s government to get behind as Panama City needs a place in the city for the local farmers to showcase their goods and sell direct to the public!

Otherwise, the one-off farmer will bring his beat-up pick-up truck in and park it on the street corner and sell his wares there, here and yon in the city of Panama. In Coronado, one of Panama’s well-known expat communities an hour from the city, local farmers do the same – line the main thoroughfare with their trucks early in the morning, every single morning. And, there’s a lovely farmer’s market in El Valle on the Pacific coast, but that’s also a good two hours out from the city. Other forlorn little shacks that house daily produce can be found on the PanAmerican highway as you head to the Pacific coast beaches but there’s little consistency for most of them too as to hours and/or what they have.

Which country is more affordable for your food shopping: Costa Rica or Panama?

Hands down, the answer is simple: Panama. By about 25-50%. I based this on my own weekly purchases. Our diet for two people is mostly organic chicken (2-3 whole chickens per week), fresh fish twice a week, a few bottles of iced tea, some canned cat food, dried beans, rice, and the rest is fresh fruits and vegetables. Pretty simple. We don’t do a lot of canned or bottled items, other than vinegar, oil, olives and jalapeños.

What I spent in Panama for two of us totaled about $125-150 per week. What we spend in Costa Rica for two of us totals about $200 per week. (Neither of those totals include alcohol, which is something I’ll report on in a later post because there are marked differences between those kinds of purchases between the two countries, as well.)

So, bottom line, Panama is cheaper when it comes to your food purchases. But, that said, $150 a week is not cheap. (Many people say that Panama is still cheap; I disagree, especially when it comes to food costs.) The caveat to that is if you consume a lot of prepackaged goods that are not local to either country. If you do that, then your costs for food in either country will skyrocket.

Please note that I did not include restaurants or the cost of dining out in the above cost comparison. That is yet another subject!

Until next time, I’m off to make a fresh green salad with lots of gorgeous veggies. Here’s to your health and your dining pleasure – at home – as you consider the kind of future expat life you will live in Panama or in Costa Rica. The good news is that in either place, you have lots of food choices.

Pura Vida!

For more on my previous expat life in Panama, please visit the Panama Gringo Guide.

 

Expat Interview: Meet Ellie Fortier

Welcome to the initial La Pura Vida Costa Rica expat interview!

This site is the second expat-focused blog I have. On the first – about Panama – I found my audience’s interest peaked when hearing stories from others who already relocated to Panama. As such, I did a number of expat interviews and shared them over the past four years. When I launched my second book in early 2014, I chose to include four key interviews from those past conversations.

A couple of weeks ago here in Costa Rica, Ellie Fortier began the beta testing of her new website – a connection portal for love, friendship, activities and play dates (for parents with kids) for expats who live in Costa Ballena along the South Pacific coast.

Ellie’s announcement on one of our community groups on Facebook caught my eye for a couple of reasons –
1) This site represents the first of its kind in our expat community, and
2) Most complaints I hear of from expat women in Panama and in Costa Rica particularly center on the difficulty of finding community and connection in their new location.

As Ellie’s new site will address this second point, I contacted her to learn more. What follows is the conversation she and I had at a local coffee shop in Uvita after she accepted my invitation to meet earlier this month.

Meet Costa Rica Expat Ellie Fortier of Uvita

JuliAnne: What first brought you to Costa Rica?

Ellie: In 2014, my husband’s job related visa expired in the U.S. when he moved from one company to another. We had three months to figure out where to go next (I am American; he is Canadian). We were living in Austin, Texas, though with my husband’s new job, we could choose to live anywhere. So, we chose Costa Rica!

Moving to Costa Rica was like coming home for me, because I lived here from ages four to six with my parents (who served as missionaries in San Jose). I’d been waiting all these years for the opportunity to come back, and then it finally all aligned with my husband and this remote job.

JuliAnne: I noticed you speak fluent Spanish; was your time here in Costa Rica the origin of that?

Ellie: Yes. My growing up years were spent in California, Cape Cod, two years in Colombia (another missionary posting) and the two years here in Costa Rica.

JuliAnne: So within three months, you packed up, shipped out and came to Uvita? Why Uvita? Had you done some research?

Ellie: No, we’d never come, and nor did we do any research. My daughter – now 21 – was 18 at that time and had come to Costa Rica to volunteer for six weeks after she graduated high school. She traveled around the country quite a bit, so I asked her, “What area do you think I will like?” and she told me that I needed to come to Uvita.

JuliAnne: Wow! And you didn’t you come and visit beforehand?

Ellie(laughing) No, we took my daughter’s advice and rented a place sight unseen.

JuliAnne: Holy cow! That’s really brave! Was it just you and your husband?

Ellie: No, we have a young son, now 2 1/2. When we arrived he had just turned a year old.

JuliAnne: What kind of work do each of you do that allows you to live in Costa Rica?

Ellie: My husband builds software online for a start-up. His interactions with his colleagues are on the web via Skype and email. I came as the trailing spouse when we first moved to Costa Rica. Once we arrived here, I started Crouching Frog Yoga and Wellness Center in Bahia Linda. And, now I’m working on this new site.

What’s the Biggest Challenge for Expats in Costa Ballena?

JuliAnne: You’ve lived here just under two years. What is the thing you’ve found most challenging about moving to Costa Rica and living here on the South Pacific coast?

Ellie: I think the biggest challenge for me was the connection piece. Anyone can learn to manage the bugs and the workers who take forever to show up at your place. You start to realize pretty quickly that your friends back home can’t come to visit you. All those good intentions they (and you) have are great, but they fade away. And this areathe Costa Ballena coast – is full of great people. It’s interesting now that I’m am promoting this new site, I’m meeting all kinds of new people, some of who have been here for years. We just never had an avenue or a reason to meet until now.

I also came to realize that everyone else here is as eager to meet new friends as I am. I have to be honest: expat life can be quite lonely. I’ve had a lot of women here tell me they really miss having female friends. So, I’m hoping that this new site will be a resource toward meeting that need here in the local community.

JuliAnne: Tell me about your new business endeavor then. And by the way, you are the very first La Pura Vida Costa Rica expat interview! So, this is excitingme! What’s your new business website called?

Ellie: It’s called Wavelengths. When someone visits the site, they will have the option of clicking into different areas: looking for love, a playdate for their kids, someone to go surf (or do another activity with), or another couple to have dinner with.

JuliAnne:  Wow, that sounds really great. Are you thinking that most local singles are going to be using the site for dating purposes?

Ellie: All my beta testers are interested in the dating piece, yes. For that area, each person will be able to set up their own profile – I will provide a questionnaire to keep it standardized – and view profiles of other like-minded singles.

But I want to be clear that Wavelengths is not solely about dating; it’s about connection.

This site will focus on self-improvement, connecting socially, activities and support. I’m interested in building a community where the membership supports each other beyond a Facebook experience.

LLPV Expat Interview Wavelenghths banner

JuliAnne: Will the site be specific to expats or open to everyone?

Ellie: I’m starting with expats, but I imagine this will gain traction quickly in our area, so I anticipate opening it up to locals, as well.

JuliAnne: How will a member find a match – whether for love, sports or a kid’s play date?

Ellie: People can come in, build a personal profile and then navigate a password protected area to view other people’s profiles in their area of interest. If anyone needs help compiling their profile beyond the questionnaire I provide, I’ll be available to assist them as a service. Then, the person can chat with other participants anonymously before they choose to exchange personal information. So, each member can decide from their online conversation with a person if they are worth of sharing their identity or not.

JuliAnne: Will Wavelengths be similar to other online dating websites?

Ellie: We are designing elements of Wavelengths to work in a similar fashion to sites like www.PlentyofFish.com, www.Tinder.com and www.OKCupid.com.

But the overall idea is that the site will be easy and less intimidating than the bigger dating sites.

JuliAnne: How are you going to deal with people who might want to stalk someone else, which is sometimes a concern in online interactions?

Ellie: First of all, I will have everyone’s real name and their contact information, as that’s a requirement for people to sign up and become members. Though in the initial interactions, a member will appear anonymous, they will probably only be able to do that for so long with any other individual member if they truly want to connect. I’m also going to heavily monitor the site for appropriateness to ensure that everyone is treated with respect.

JuliAnne: Is this a free service you’re offering, or will members need to pay a fee?

Ellie: At the moment, I’m taking beta testers, who won’t be charged for initial membership.

JuliAnne: How can people get in touch with you if they are interested in participating in the beta testing over the next few months?

Ellie: My email address is ellie@wavelengths.vip

JuliAnne: And past the beta?

Ellie: I’ll offer memberships – either monthly or semi-annually or maybe annually. That has yet to be fully defined.

JuliAnne: How else will the new site benefit new members in the Costa Ballena community?

Ellie: There will be an area that provide links to area businesses along the Ballena Coast which support self-improvement and helaing. These will be categorized by the member’s interest. And also, there will be links to reading and resources that promote other avenues for the same type of thing.

JuliAnne: Right now – in early August 2016 – the site is still in beta testing. When will the site launch?

Ellie: Around the end of the year, I believe. Our goal is for it to go live in either December 2016 or January 2017.

Residents of Costa Ballena Offer a Warm Welcome

JuliAnne: Ellie, tell me some things you absolutely love about your life here in Costa Rica, things that are unique to Uvita and the Ballena Coast here along the South Pacific.

Ellie: Honestly, it’s the people. Altogether, they’re awesome here. Nobody’s boring. It’s very eclectic. They’re a lot of solid, very open-hearted expats. Relative to a North American lifestyle, I love the freedom here with choosing schools, being away from certain societal pressures that exist in the States. I also feel there’s less judgment of how I choose to live, how I choose to raise my son, etc. People here in Costa Rica overall are also warmer. Just your everyday interactions here, even with strangers, are friendlier. And I’m talking genuine friendliness, not when people are just being nice.

I also like that this is a very untapped market, so there’s lots of original ideas here. And, living in Costa Rica and doing business, there are few restraints to getting a business set up.

Ellie with her son Django
Ellie with her son Django

Ellie’s Top Recommendation for Someone Moving to Costa Ballena with Young Children

JuliAnne: What one recommendation would you give to someone reading this post who is considering moving to Costa Rica – someone who is English speaking, from North America or Europe and moving here with a small child, like you did?

Ellie: I would say get involved with my new site – and others like it online – even in advance of moving here. Because the connections you make are what make the difference in how you adjust to expat life. I think the connections you make are what will determine how you get along – whether you thrive or just survive.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Special thanks to Ellie Fortier of Uvita, Costa Rica and her willingness to share her story with me! This new site – Wavelengths – sounds like it’s going to be a fabulous resource for the expat community here along the Ballena Coast.

Here’s how to get in touch with Ellie on Facebook. And please take a moment if you enjoy the content you are finding here about Costa Rica expat life to connect with me and Like my Official Author Facebook page.

Stay tuned for my next expat interview, in the weeks to come!