Costa Rica – Panama – Nicaragua: 5 Differences

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

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

JuliAnne Murphy; bestselling author JuliAnne Murphy; La Pure Vida Costa Rica blog; new book Dream Job NY Times 2018 bestseller list
When you celebrate differences between cultures, travel (and expat living) becomes much more interesting…and much more fun!

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

Difference #1: “You’re Welcome”

Costa Rica - Panama - Nicaragua: 5 Differences; La Pura Vida Costa Rica; JuliAnne Murphy; Dream Job Book 2018 launch
Say “Thank You” in Spanish in any of these countries the same, but the response will be quite different in each one…

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

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

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

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

Difference #2: The Nationals’ Nickname

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

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

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

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

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

Difference #3: Money

Pura Vida Costa Rica blog post about Nicaragua travel; JuliAnne Murphy; Costa Rica - Panama - Nicaragua: 5 Differences
Nicaraguan currency is referred to as Cordobas, pictured here.

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

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

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

Difference #4: Religious Leanings

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

Costa Rica - Panama - Nicaragua: 5 Differences; JuliAnne Murphy; bestselling author JuliAnne Murphy; JuliAnne Murphy new book Dream Job; La Pura Vida Costa Rica; expats in Costa Rica
The Catholic Basilica in Cartago, Costa Rica is the most photographed in the country.

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

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

Difference #5: Cleanliness

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

Costa rica - panama - nicaragua: 5 differences; la pura vida costa rica; julianne murphy; bestselling author julianne murphy; julianne murphy new book dream job; costa rica expats; expats in costa rica
Trash along the shores of the Panama Canal in Panama.

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

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

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

Three Neighboring Countries But the Similarities Stop There

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

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

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

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

Until next time, Pura Vida!

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!

La Pura Vida Costa Rica Expat Interview: Meet Ellie Fortier

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!

How to Protect Yourself from Costa Rica’s Creepy Crawly Wildlife

How to Protect Yourself from Costa Rica’s Creepy Crawly Wildlife

We’re gonna shake, rattle and roll! I can hear the famous song by Elvis when I say those words, but in the case of your new life in Costa Rica, we’re talking more about your protection from Costa Rica’s creepy crawly wildlife than about having a good time.

Though, the types of precautions I’ll outline for you here will ensure your time here continues on without a hitch, whether you live in Costa Rica or are simply on vacation. It’s July – the rainy season here – and as such, while this is low tourist season, it’s definitely high season for Costa Rica’s creepy crawly wildlife. Let’s face it – when the rain comes, the plants and the wildlife get happy and reproduce at a crazy rate.

Welcome to the jungle.

Costa Rica Spider by JuliAnne Murphy La Pura Vida Costa Rica Costa Rica Spider by JuliAnne Murphy Spider in Costa Rica by JuliAnne Murphy

So, let’s jump right in. How do you protect yourself from intersecting in a negative way with the wildlife in Costa Rica? Today, we’ll cover scorpions, spiders and snakes. These tips are some I’ve figured out on my own since I’ve lived here in the tropics – both in Panama (for eight years) and Costa Rica. Since the climate in these two countries is similar – hot and hotter – many of the bug species are the same.

Tip One: Shake, shake, shake!

This is a good one for spiders, scorpions and probably even snakes. But it’s something I do each and every night before I go to bed and I recommend you do it too: lift each layer of your sheets and blankets and shake them out before you get in them. Not the bottom one, no. Just the top sheet and whatever comforter or blanket(s) you have atop.

Did you know that the majority of scorpion stings happen when you are sleeping? That’s because scorpions adore cool, dry places – like your sheets. So, believe me when I say this, a quick shake, shake, shake and fluff of your sheets and pillows vale la pena (is worth it). Having tangled with a scorpion some years ago, I can tell you it’s definitely not something you want to experience.

This shaking method is best accompanied by a thorough visual inspection, as well. While scorpions will usually take off, sometimes spiders like to crawl deeper into your covers. Eek! So be sure you’re lifting every edge of that sheet, pillow or blanket and giving it a good shake or two in addition to eyeballing it.

And, don’t forget to turn the lights on! Or at the minimum, use a strong flashlight.

Tip Two: Rattle

This is a two-part tip.

Rattle, part one: for anytime you’ve left anything on the floor – even if it’s in an airtight air-conditioned hotel room – rattle it with your foot – or slide it across the floor a bit, if need be. This will encourage any creepy crawlies to get a move on.

The bottom of duffel bags, boxes, bags, pet beds, cushions, pillows, etc. is an ideal hiding place for Costa Rica’s critters. Even when they’ve only been there overnight. ☺

Yes, there is a higher probability that if the item has been sitting for a longer period of time, that it’s more likely to have a new resident clinging to the bottom or sides of your belongings.

Scorpion on lampshade by JuliAnne Murphy
Scorpion on a lampshade in Costa Rica. Photo by JuliAnne Murphy

Did I mention that the scorpion’s favorite hiding place is the bottom of anything – again, cool and dry?

Rattle, part two: When you are out hiking, walking or enjoying Costa Rica’s spectacular scenery, or even in your garden, do a bit of stomping along the way. Snakes sense movement versus hearing you, and when they do, their first instinct is to get out of your way.

So, a little stomping your feet here and there is always a good safeguard against snakes.

An Arboreal snake
An Arboreal snake
Green vine Snake / Flatbread snake in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
Green Vine Snake in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If for some reason, you stop along your walk and encounter a fallen tree or a log in your path, it’s a great idea to hit it with your shoes a couple of times before you scramble over. Snakes often hide in the cool, damp shade of such obstacles. A visual inspection here – before you jump over – is always a good idea, as well.

Tip three: Roll

For this tip, I’m talking about your toilet paper roll. Many homes and hotel rooms in Costa Rica have free standing toilet paper rolls next to the toilet. I can’t tell you why. But they do. And, guess what? The inside of that toilet paper roll – the vacant hole where the roll usually hangs onto something? A great hideaway for spiders.

Spider in Costa Rica by JuliAnne Murphy

Yes, it has happened to me. And, there’s nothing more disconcerting than sitting down in the middle of the night, reaching for the toilet paper and having something crawl onto your hand. Much less, bite you.

And, of course, it happens at night because spiders love the quiet and the dark. Can you blame them?

Spider in Costa Rica by JuliAnne Murphy

So, in this case, the best precaution is to a) get a nightlight, and b) take a quick peek in the hole before you take a seat.

Yes, it sounds pedestrian to even write this, but trust me, someday you will thank me.

So, whether you live in Costa Rica, are considering a move to Costa Rica, or are planning a vacation in Costa Rica, these little tips can help you plan accordingly.

Next time: Natural Remedies for when you DO get bit and/or stung in the jungle.

Sign up here to get notified of my upcoming posts about expat living in Costa Rica. And, if you have other questions in between, shoot me a line here or catch me on Facebook. I’m also pretty active on Twitter when I’m not nose down in my computer working on the final chapters of my third book!

See you soon.

3 Things I love about my expat life in Costa Rica

3 Things I love about my expat life in Costa Rica

Yes, that’s what this post is about in counter balance to the 3 Luxuries You’ll Miss that I did a few days ago….I do have more than 3 things I love about my expat life in Costa Rica! But, well, I only have so much time to write blog posts and you only have so much time to read them.

Before I go further, let me set aside your preconceived notions that I will be talking about the same stuff in this post that everyone else does on their Costa Rica blogs: the sun, the sand, the beaches, the tropical weather, how nice the locals are, the slower pace, etc.

Um, no.

Yes, of COURSE, all of that is here and it’s a big part of the reason you want to move to Costa Rica, yes? But, everyone else talks about that, so you have plenty of other places to do your homework on those fine aspects of life in Costa Rica.

This blog is about REAL expat life in Costa Rica, so I’ll be going down a rabbit trail here and there. Past the fancy hotel rooms and the days laying in the sand without a care in the world. That part is called vacation.

So, since I’ve already done my Three Things today – which included a TRX class at my local gym (yes! even on the South Pacific coast, we have a gym!), a trip to the local farmer’s market, and a stop at the hardware story – I still have time to write. Plus, it’s raining and I don’t need internet to write. (See more on consistent internet service in the 3 Luxuries You’ll Miss here.)

Entonces… (which is my favorite Spanish word, which means: Then…)


3 Things I Love about My Expat Life in Costa Rica:

Car refueling on a petrol station closeup
Full-service gas stations still in Costa Rica

     1. We still enjoy full-service at the gas station!

If you have not had full service at the gas station in a while, let me tell you!
For me, it was like a blast to the past. Before I moved to Panama
in early 2008, it had been a good 12 years since I had seen full service
at the pumps, and that was way back when I lived in Arkansas! And,
these days, it’s pretty rare to find it there. So, essentially, this is a
throw-back to at least 20 years ago from my past life in the U.S.

And, I LOVE it.


2. I no longer wake up to an alarm clock, because I no longer need one!

Now, let me clear. It’s not that I don’t have an alarm clock – these days, who doesn’t just use their phone for that anyway? – it’s that I don’t need one. Why? Because I wake up with daybreak now, which is usually just before or after 5 a.m. (Sunrise is a little later, like 5:15-5:20 a.m.)

Morning Mist Over Osa Peninsula Rainforest Drake Bay Costa Rica - Pura Vida expat life Costa Rica
Morning mist in Costa Rica

No one told me this would happen to me when I moved here. But I heard tales of it from other expats in Costa Rica soon after. Here’s the thing: I’ve always been an early bird, but living on the South Pacific coast where I do, my body has adapted to the natural rhythms of the earth. Meaning, usually by 8-ish in the evening, I’m starting to feel ready to wrap up the day. And, because there’s very little to do (other than eat out, occasionally) here along the coast, you’ll find you make your way to slumber much earlier than you’d ever expect to, in your prior life.

“Go to bed at 8 p.m.?” I scoffed, when I had been here just a few days. “Really?”

Yes, really. Except for me, it’s more like 9 or 10, on most nights. Still early for many of us North Americans who are used to watching the Late Show, huh?

And, as for the morning, well, the reason you start going to bed so early is because you wake up so early! Even if you don’t want to, the birds, the monkeys and the sun will do it for you. So, eventually, you just stop fighting it and you go with the flow.

Mornings here are beautiful, by the way. There’s nothing like watching a Costa Rica coastal sunrise.

Psychology Tidbit: Research shows that people with mood disorders fare best in a tropical environment, like Costa Rica, where sunrise and sunset are relatively consistent year-round.

Don’t ask me where I heard that, but I find it very interesting. And, it’s very true that the natural rhythm of nature has a soothing impact on your daily life around here in Costa Rica – your schedule and your lifestyle. At least, it has for me.

     3. I love how much space I have in my life here.

By space, I mean breathability. Life here in Costa Rica – at least here on the coast – is so very relaxed. Even if you have an online career. Even if you get up and go to work every day. People here are relaxed. Part of expat life here is getting used
woman skypingto that – at first, it can really drive you crazy. But, with time, the space around your schedule, and those little extra moments where you can do things like take a nap
in the middle of the day, or Skype with your sister,
 
those things are precious.

I saw a video on YouTube earlier today that someone put together by Robin Williams, posthumously. It essentially says, life is precious. Enjoy it. Breathe it in.

And, here in Costa Rica, I am doing just that. And, it is making me a much nicer person, overall. I have to say, I like who I am now – much more than even a year ago. And a lot of that has to do with this new-found space in my life, which I’ve discovered to large extent in Costa Rica.

Yay!

So, that’s it, folks!

Yep. I could write about 20 more posts about Things I Love About my Expat Life in Costa Rica. But, I will probably need to title them other things.

Pura Vida, y’all. From one very happy chick originally from Arkansas, who has transplanted herself here and loves it.

Three Things about Expat Life in Costa Rica

Three Things about Expat Life in Costa Rica

And when I say…there are three things about expat life in Costa Rica…you need to know, what I’m talking about here is the reality of getting things done on a day to day to basis.

Expat Life in Costa Rica

Ahhhh. Doesn’t that sound nice? The waves on the sand as heard from the balcony of your hotel room. You’re sitting there, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica, a tall cold one in hand, sighing, and thinking. “I wonder what it’d be like to live here…. Could I make it work? Could I leave my crazy 9 to 5 life behind and move here to paradise? What’s expat life in Costa Rica really like?

(For those new to the term ‘expat‘, you can take a look at that definition here.)

Well, to answer the question at the end of your tourist reverie, the truth is that expat life in Costa Rica is pretty amazing, really. I’ve been an expat now in Costa Rica for a year – as of this week – and an expat living abroad in Central America for going-on nine years. (You can see more on my writing about living as an expat in Panama here.)

Yeah, okay but what’s it really like, this expat life in Costa Rica?

Glad you asked. Because the truth is, yes, it’s amazing. In fact, this tropical little country of 6 million plus people is, in fact, paradise. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Nope. Far from it.

And, life as an expat in Costa Rica on certain days can be very fun. Those would be the days when you find yourself getting your exercise alone on a deserted beach with your dog, as the sun is coming up (or down). When you walk outside to a tree in your yard and pick your own limes for a batch of homemade margaritas – and you squeeze in a little fresh mango juice (from a mango!). Or the days when you walk drive down to a soda (a local restaurant) and order up the fresh Mahi Mahi for lunch or dinner and pay less than $12 for your meal.

On other days, however, life in Costa Rica can make you want to pull your hair out. Especially when you live on the coast.

I personally am lucky enough to live right on the Southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in the Osa region. So, yes, I enjoy all those things I just described on a regular basis. And I, like others new to the country and this area, have also come to grips with a number of other regularities in this region – a high tolerance for inefficiency, higher prices (especially when you don’t speak Spanish), a good amount of boredom (there’s not something going on every single night of the week), and internet that goes out con frequencia.

From a global perspective, yes, my life here is pretty much a dream come true. I’m an entrepreneur. I can live anywhere in the world I want. I have no boss. And I choose to live in paradise here in Costa Rica. How, you might ask, does life get any better than that?

Costa Rica sunset view to the Pacific Ocean from my balcony
Costa Rica sunset view to the Pacific Ocean from my balcony

Well, in my book, it doesn’t. And I feel darn lucky, as such. But today, I feel it’s important to share some important perspectives about Costa Rica and life here as an expat which not many people truly know until they physically get here and start living real life.

It’s called the Three Things.

Three Things About Real Day-to-Day Life in Costa Rica as an Expat

My significant other is Tico, which is another word for a Costa Rican native. And even he – who was born and raised in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica but who has lived and worked in hospitality for more than 20 years on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica – agrees with what I’m about to tell you.

And that is this: when you live in Costa Rica, the reality is that you can only get about three things done per day.

Screech.

Yep, that would be the tires of your mind coming to a rapid halt.

Uh-huh. That’s right. I did say three things.

Now, let’s be frank. For those of us hailing from places up North (Canada and the U.S.), we’re used to getting about six to eight things done per day. Even on a Saturday when there’s a ton of traffic because everyone is off work and running around and doing their errands. Even on those days. And for those of us that are hyper efficient, probably more than eight things.

In my former life nine years ago before I moved to Panama, my husband and I could leave our house in Denver at 8-8:30, hit Starbucks for breakfast, take the dog to the dog park, stop by Target, do our weekly grocery shopping at the supermarket, visit the Farmer’s Market downtown, stop in at the bank to make a deposit, drop off the dry cleaning and take the dog to get groomed. And we’d be back home no later than 1 p.m.

If you count the things on that list, that’s eight things. And that’s pretty average for what happens in North America.

Tropical flora abounds in the jungles of Costa Rica
Tropical flora abounds in the jungles of Costa Rica

But when you move to Costa Rica, all that ‘get ‘er done’ efficiency comes to a grinding halt. 🙂 Because that’s just  how it is…the Pura Vida…this life where you get to enjoy every single moment of what’s happening around you.

Instead, what happens is that you’re lucky to get three things done – maybe at times, four – in a single day. This applies to living in the city (San Jose, for example) and it applies to living on the coast of Costa Rica, like where I do. I’ve lived both places, and it was no different from one to the other.

An example of the Three Things in a Day in Costa Rica

Today, for example. We were up around 8. Breakfast, email and showers from 8-10:15. Left the house to 4 x 4 it down the mountain to the highway and get to our downtown in Uvita, Costa Rica by 10:30-ish. I say “ish” because we ran into our neighbors who we needed to talk to at the base of the mountain so we stopped to talk.

Plus, everything time-wise here in Costa Rica is pretty much “ish”. And that’s a good habit to adopt if you want to keep your sanity once you move to Costa Rica. Always add in a healthy dose of knowing that when someone tells you 8 AM, that probably means an arrival time of somewhere between 10-10:30, if you’re lucky. We call it ‘Tico time’.

But, back to the three things….

At the coffee shop for our first meeting at 10:30. Arrived, had our meeting, departed around 11:45 AM.

Drove across the street to find shade and pick up a few things at the market. (Hey, when you live up on the mountain, there’s no running down for just a few things. Nor is there such a thing as a convenience store down the street. Nope. Everything takes planning.)

At the market for 20 minutes.

Back in car, heading to our second meeting at 12:15-ish.

Got there, had the meeting, departed around 1:00 p.m.

Now it’s full-on heat of the day, and my hair and my make-up and any attempts to appear professional have completely melted in the 88 degrees Fahrenheit and the 90% humidity. My temper is not far behind…

From the second meeting, drove to a local restaurant – 15 minutes away – and had lunch. They are busier than usual, so we ended up waiting a bit for both our drinks and our food. An hour 15 minutes and we were then back on the road. It’s now 2:30 p.m. but it’s so frickin’ hot that neither of us can form words that make a lot of sense.

So, back to the house for a quick shower and to change clothes from the ones we had on this morning that are now completely smelly and sweaty. Even with deodorant. Yep, here it’s pretty common to take on average three showers a day. Even when you have a pool!

Now, on this particular day, our third and fourth things on the list have to be done online. But when we get home and get fresh again, we discover that the internet is down in our area. 🙁

And it doesn’t come up again for two and a half hours.

Which by that time, we’ve given up on checking it every 10 minutes, taken a nap and I’ve written this column, which took just over an hour.

Now it’s 5 p.m.

Do you see what I mean about three things?

The Moral to the Story

Short story, there isn’t one. Except to give you a glimpse into real life on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

And, if this were San Jose instead of the coast, if the internet had not gone down, then you would have been stuck in traffic for at least two of those hours going back and forth to the two meetings. Which is exhausting and not nearly as orderly as up North.

Overall, expat life in Costa Rica? It’s great. It’s amazing. It’s gorgeous. It’s freedom. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But sometimes it’s also just darn slow….

Want to read more about my former expat life in Panama? Check out my blog at Panama Gringo Guide dot com. I’ve also written two bestsellers on Amazon about expat life in Panama, titled the Gringo Guides to Panama. You can find those here and here.

Pura Vida!