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