Time Differences in Costa Rica

Coastal Costa Rica, La Pura Vida Costa Rica, JuliAnne Murphy, Costa Rica coffee
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.

Costa Rica Pura Vida, Costa Rica Tico Times, Costa Rica JuliAnne Murphy expat, Costa Ballena, Ballena Coast, pets in Costa Rica
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!

Costa Rica Expat Interview: Meet Enzo from Italy

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

julianne-murphy-interviews-ojochal-costa-rica-expat
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.

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!

Food Cost Comparison – Costa Rica versus Panama

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.

 

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.

3 Luxuries you’ll miss when Living in Costa Rica

3 Luxuries you’ll miss when Living in Costa Rica

What? You ask. What 3 luxuries could I possible miss when I live in Costa Rica? Isn’t living on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica as close to paradise as it gets?

To answer, I am going to quote my significant other, who is Tico: Yes, but it’s not perfect.

And understanding that is pretty darn crucial to your long-term success as an expat in Costa Rica. I’m serious.

Living on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica…que rico!

Yes, we have the Pacific Ocean. Beach walks as often and as long as you like. Ahh…

Yes, we have farm-fresh fruit and vegetables year-round from a variety of farmer’s markets in and around Uvita, Ojochal, Dominical and Tinamastes.

Yes, we see monkeys almost every day. Not every day, but almost every day. And if we don’t see them, then at least we hear the Howlers every morning and night. 🙂

So, what is it I forgot to ask about, before I moved to Costa Rica?

The 3 Luxuries I miss…

Drum roll, please.

Luxury #1 I miss about living in Costa Rica: I miss not having a dryer. A proper dryer to dry your clothes in. When you live full-time in Costa Rica along the Pacific coast, 80% of homes do NOT have a clothes dryer. How come? Because electricity costs 3 times as much as it does in the U.S.

Vacation homes in Costa Rica, however, generally (or often) do have clothes dryers.

But, I ain’t here on vacation…so, that means I’ve gotten used to pinning our clothes up on the clothes line twice a week and then making a mad rush for them when it starts to rains. (It is rainy season, yes.)

Funny, I never considered a clothes dryer a luxury when I lived in the U.S. I suppose that’s yet another example of the things you take for granted, until you no longer have them. Though in comparing Panama to Costa Rica (and many future expats email me with questions about that from my Panama blog), most expats in Panama DO have clothes dryers. And the electricity is costs just as much in Panama as it does in Costa Rica. Hmm.

Luxury #2 I miss about living in Costa Rica: 

I miss not having a dishwasher!

Now in Panama, not having a dishwasher in your apartment or in your home is pretty standard (unless you have a newer home built in the last five years), because the cost of service help there is still inexpensive enough that you can afford a full-time or part-time maid. (Here’s a story I did a few months ago about maids in Panama).

But here along the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica, having a part-time or a full-time maid is very, very rare.

Which means that you wash your dishes by hand and dry them after each and every meal.

I have to be honest, it gets old. Though these days, I do have Palmolive hands. (Anyone else remember those commercials?)

Luxury #3 I miss about living in Costa Rica:

Consistent internet service. Now that I think about it, maybe this should be #1! 🙁

Living on the Southern Pacific coast, we’re in an area which is up and coming and amazing and gorgeous. But, that all pales when you’re trying to get work done and the internet service goes down for 2-3 hours.

In fact, a recent article from QCostaRica states that Costa Rica is among the 40 countries in the world with the worst internet service. Yep. Average connection speed in the world is 5.6 MH and here in Costa Rica, that average is 3.4. Ugh. Here’s a link to that here.

Moving to Costa Rica’s Costa Ballena region, where I live?

If you’re retired, you’ll be in hawg heaven here, as long as you do some homework and make sure this laid back, Pura Vida lifestyle is for you. If you’re still working (virtually), it’s best to be really prepared, at least mentally. The coastal mindset is often a bit more lackadaisical, then what you’ll find in more populated areas of Costa Rica like capital city San Jose.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE my life in Costa Rica!

But, if you’ve read my books about Panama expat living or my writing, you’ll appreciate the fact that I also tell it like it is.

And, that’s the purpose of this Living la Pura Vida in Costa Rica blog. To celebrate, to have a place to commiserate (only occasionally, of course) and to be real about expat living in Costa Rica.

Stay tuned next time for the Top 3 Things I love about living here on Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast…until then, I’m off to do my Three Things today.

 

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!