Mistakes people make when they move to Costa Rica

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

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

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

Mistake #1: People assume Costa Rica is cheap.

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

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

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

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

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

Neither Costa Rica or Panama is cheap!

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

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

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

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

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

Best-selling author JuliAnne Murphy Expat Costa Rica unemployed man

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll make this simple. 🙂

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

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

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

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

Pura Vida!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *