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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. 🙂

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