Relocation Hotspot: Escazu
For many expats, Escazu is a home away from home, offering American-style amenities and services. At only two square miles, it is one of Costa Rica's hottest residential locales, home to approximately 50,000 people. Adding to its suburban appeal, it's just five miles west of San Jose and has some of the country's most modern amenities, including a 3-D IMAX movie theater, upscale shopping malls, and quick access to Pacific coast beaches. Escazu's climate is tropical, averaging about 75-80 degrees F year-round.
Escazu's population is diverse, giving residents a choice between traditional neighborhoods and upscale, gated communities. Living near the main highway affords fast access to all the amenities, while choosing to live in established communities adds a real Costa Rican flavor to life. No matter where you live, you'll enjoy a high standard of living with advanced technologies like high-speed Internet, 3G cell phone coverage, and cable television.
In comparison to other San Jose suburbs, the cost of living is high. Rents in Escazu's most desirable neighborhoods start around $500 for an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment. Depending on size and amenities, family homes in established neighborhoods and gated communities range in price from about $1,500 to more than $3,000.
Of course, steep rents come with luxurious features like large yards, granite countertops, and hot water throughout the home. Choose from an old hacienda-style home in an established neighborhood or an ultramodern design in one of the area's hip developments.
Escazu residents enjoy chic restaurants, great nightlife, sidewalk cafes, and many other urban amenities. Two commercial centers -- Multiplaza Escazu and Avenida Escazu -- have all your favorite stores like Benetton, Nike, and Tommy Hilfiger. They're also your ticket to the latest Hollywood movies, fast food restaurants, and other commercial pursuits.
Bargain hunters shop at Pricemart, a warehouse store similar to Sam's Club or Costco that has bulk goods, home wares, and electronics. For the finer things in life (or at least in your pantry), residents head to Automercado, which carries organic foods, fines wines, artisan cheeses, and imported items.
Public transportation is convenient, accessible, and inexpensive. Buses head west into Santa Ana and Ciudad Colon, while eastbound stops include Rohrmoser, Sabana, and downtown San Jose. Commuters take advantage of the urban train that connects nearby Rohrmoser to San Jose's eastern suburbs.
A night out on the town usually begins with dinner at one of Escazu's fine restaurants. Satisfy your palate with Costa Rican, Thai, Mexican, Indian, or French cuisine. If you're feeling nostalgic, there are plenty of American-style restaurants to choose from. Later, hit one of the town's popular nightclubs, listen to live music, or head to San Jose for an evening of live theater or opera. Daytime entertainment options include San Jose museums, plays, and seasonal events.
Families with children appreciate the area's education system. The metropolitan region is filled with top-quality public, magnet, and private schools. Many offer bilingual or English-only classes and are located within a few miles of Escazu. Expats tend to favor the Marion Baker School, the Blue Valley School and the Country Day School. Just a few minutes east, the Colegio Humboldt in Rohrmoser offers classes in English, Spanish and German, while San Jose's Liceo Franco Costarricense curriculum is in Spanish and French.
Escazu has many pharmacies, medical clinics, and private practices to address yearly check-ups and everyday problems. When more serious care is needed, most residents go to CIMA Hospital, a private facility that has state-of-the-art technology and a highly trained bilingual staff.
Expat Spotlight: Mary Carolina, age 33
1) Why did you choose to live in Escazu?
My fiance and I chose Escazu because of its safety, central location, and atmosphere. We really love that downtown Escazu still has a pinch of old Costa Rica; you can always find very kind and friendly people. I think a lot of people move here for the city-feel or for job convenience. Many of the big companies (including the American Embassy) house their employees in Escazu.
2) What are the positive and negative aspects about living in Escazu?
Everything is close by; you can get to San Jose in about 10 minutes, there's very reliable bus service, and you can find anything you need. There's good proximity to hospitals, theaters, malls, restaurants, and shopping. Since there are so many expats, more English is spoken in Escazu than in any other part of the country. Also, the new Caldera Highway gets you to the beach fast, which is such a bonus for city dwellers. Of course, you have to pay a toll to take the road, which means I've been driving all the back roads for local trips!
Any negative aspects are the flip side of the positive: there are lots of people, congested roads, and upscale areas can be targets of crime. It's more expensive than the rest of San Jose. Also, I've had my water turned off for hours at a time, so it's essential to have your own tank.
3) What's the expat community like there?
I think it's probably the best in Costa Rica since there are so many foreigners. The schools, shops, and restaurants really reflect the multi-cultural presence. Escazu is home to many embassies and their employees, so there are residents from all over. The best way to meet people is by joining expat clubs like the Little Theatre Group (performances in English), Women's Club, Newcomer's Club, book clubs, and the gym.
4) What are Escazu's best neighborhoods for expats?
Gated communities are good, not only for safety but also because most have recreation centers or pools where you can meet a lot of people. Open neighborhoods are also great, and I think the best are San Rafael, San Antonio and Guachipelin. Escazu tends to be very spread out and it just depends on what you want and how much you can spend.
5) Any tips or advice about moving to Costa Rica?
Be open minded and patient; remember that life in Costa Rica moves slower. Also, and I can't stress this enough, learn Spanish! Forget everything you know about how stuff gets done and how things "should' work. Then you'll fit in just fine.