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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!

Comments

  1. Well Julianne, I live in medieval little town in the Viterbo province of the Lazio region of Italy. As soon as I got to know the town I realized that my past life was gone. The things I do are now in my computer, because outside is very much like what you mentioned in Costa Rica. However, I have cast aside most of my previous likes and dislikes (I am not counseling anyone to do it) and frankly, I have found other things that I prefer. “The past is a foreign country they do things differently there” wrote “L.P. Hartley”. It is sobering to think that something you remember vividly happened twenty or thirty years ago. Somehow, anywhere you go, you are an expatriate and sometimes you become a “professional foreigner or outsider” like me.

    • hi Carlos, thanks for stopping by La Pura Vida Costa Rica expat lifestyle blog!

      I appreciate your comment. How long have you been in Italy, Carlos? Are you Tico or from another country?

      Expats are expats, you are correct. And, of course, yes, the past is always the past.

      Thank you again for stopping by, and I wish you the best in finding your own version of Pura Vida abroad!

  2. JuliAnne, I am an expat living in Punta Uva. ..Caribbean Coast near Panama. Lived on a remote organic farm in Bocas del Toro Panama for 16 months before relocating to Puerto Viejo in Nov. MY experience with the Gringo Community was the same. …Lots of complaining about the Panamanian, including the Indigenous Indians whose land they were living on and brought for a song. I too had to leave and found my life more peaceful in Costa Rica. Love the Tico people and their experience of the good life. Their warmth from the heart is so authentic. My dog Sasha died yesterday and I was heart broken. The Indian chef (I hate calling him this way but I dont know how else to describe his significance ), who cooks for the restaurant on the beach where I live extended his hand to me, reached over the counter and kissed my tears and said sorry Patricia. I left with my tears and his kindness to get thru the night.
    What I am missing is a social life of interest. Not everyday but occasionally. Is InterNations a good place to start? I also have a new business I’ve started Tropical Healing Retreats, a Private Treat for business and Professional Women. Any ideas about where to market or advertise in Costa Rica ? Nice blog by the way. Nicely written.

    • hi Patricia,

      Thank you so much for stopping by! Your comments mean so much. There’s not many of us who have found our way from Panama to Costa Rica. And, by the way, my condolences on Sasha’s passing. My own dear Lily who made this journey with me this past year died in November. I buried her in the jungle, with part of my heart. So, I feel you. Big squeeze.

      I have not yet visited the area where you are living on the Caribe, but I echo your comments about a social life. I would try Internations, though my understanding is that they are more city-focused. Otherwise, maybe some online chat groups on Facebook? My little town has a Facebook group and I keep a closer eye on it than I thought I might. People post local gatherings as well as things for sale, etc.

      As to your business – it sounds lovely – who is your audience? Is it Ticas or Gringas or ?? That will really determine where you market. Most everything these days seems to be online.

      Thanks so much for your compliment! The blog is fun and occasional, at the moment, as I am wrapping up Book #3. Hooray!

      Take care of you. Pura vida, Patricia.

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