10 Tips for Successful Relocation
When you first move to Costa Rica, you'll likely be filled with wonder and affection for your new home. These practical tips will foster a smooth transition and should save you some frustration, allowing you more time to enjoy and adapt to a new culture.
Being able to communicate, even on a basic level, will improve your daily life. Just imagine the difference between being able to ask "Where's the bathroom?" versus frantically running around a store in search of the facilities. You can learn Spanish online with a computer program, or by practicing with your neighbors. I highly recommend beginning with an intensive Spanish immersion course. Almost every town has a Spanish school nearby, and for $300-$700 per month you'll enjoy 20 hours per week of classes that are tailored to your particular needs. There are even teen, family and senior programs available.
If there's one thing I repeat most to new expats – and to myself on many occasions – it's "patience, patience, patience." Everything seems to move slower than expected in Costa Rica, and if you need to do anything – file for residency, open a bank account, or even request a home telephone line – you'll probably come out covered in bureaucratic red tape. There's nothing you can do to hasten the process, so my best advice is to summon your patience and take a good book everywhere you go. Lines can be long.
Enjoy the View
When you were planning your move, you probably envisioned drinking a cup of coffee on your terrace while the sun came up, or a weekday afternoon spent with your toes buried in the sand. Now that you're here, you may be caught up in decorating your home, or navigating the bureaucracy, or learning Spanish. Stop. Look out the window. Walk to the beach. Pour that cup of coffee. Forget your responsibilities for a few hours, and just enjoy your new life and home.
Buy Some Coffee
It may not seem important, but trust me: explore Costa Rica's coffee choices. This country has some of the world's best coffee, and you need to find your favorite. It will be your salvation on some days, and a delightful indulgence all others, so head to your local grocery and get searching. Look for "100% cafe puro," and export quality. Bonus points for shade grown or organic, and be sure to try varieties from around the country. The slopes of Poas Volcano and the Tarrazu region usually produce tasty roasts.
Shop the Farmers' Market
Your local farmers' market, or feria, is your gateway to Costa Rica's juiciest fruits, freshest veggies, and local meats and cheeses. Almost everything here is inexpensive, so you can easily walk out, laden with 20 pounds of produce, for less than $25. Make friends with your favorite vendors, and if you don't see what you're looking for, ask. I've made special requests for dragon fruit and mangosteen, and one vendor always saves me his radish, carrot and beet greens – that he gives me for free – to make green smoothies.
Try Before You Buy
This doesn't just apply to real estate: whenever you make an expensive or long-term purchase, do your best to try it out first. That could mean renting a home for at least six months before purchasing in the area, but it also applies to making a car purchase. Or giving your contractor a test run on a small project before committing to a large renovation. Does he or she do quality work? Are things delivered on time? How do the prices compare to other contractors? Practice due diligence now, and you'll be less likely to suffer buyer's remorse later.
I cannot say enough about the importance of having a good support system. Chances are, if you have any immediate family in Costa Rica, they moved here with you. Your college friends are no longer a short drive away, and your old work buddies are still back home. The built-in support systems you've had all your life are gone, so it's important to start building a new network of friends. Introduce yourself to the neighbors; chances are, you'll have some things in common with some of them. If you're religious, go to church or synagogue – several offer English-language services. If you're a member of the Lions or Rotary clubs, they have Costa Rican branches. You can even check out online communities, like Yahoo! Groups or the ARCR forums, to find niches like local gardeners, restaurant-goers, or fellow parents.
Get the Paper
Keeping up on local current events is important, but even more so, reading the news will prevent unnecessary surprises. For example, when the traffic law changes or immigration requirements are updated, you need to know. Reading a newspaper is usually easier than watching evening news anchors speak in rapid-fire Spanish, and there are plenty of options out there. If you're learning Spanish, the Al Dia, which is an easier read than La Nacion (think your favorite regional versus the New York Times), is an excellent choice.
Thanks to high import taxes, some goods costs more in Costa Rica. You have two choices: pony up or don't buy as much. Most expats strike a balance between what they want and what they're willing to pay for – a package of Oreos for $9 might not be in the cards, but that $9,000, 10-year-old 4x4 could be. When sticker shock hits you hard, just remember that not everything in Costa Rica is expensive: the world's best pineapple costs 60¢, your rent could be less than $500 a month, and a housekeeper works for just $2 an hour.
When in Costa Rica…
It's so easy to catch yourself thinking that if you were in your home country, something wouldn't be happening, or a process would work differently, or that life would somehow move more smoothly. Sometimes, things are just different, even if that takes some getting used to. Life abroad will challenge you in many ways, and I like to believe it's for the better. Learning how others do things, and adapting to those methods, has helped me become a more flexible and accepting citizen of the world.