Top Ten Tips for New Expats
Your first few days living in Costa Rica are a special time, one in which everything is new and exciting. Make these moments memorable with our top 10 tips for the new expat.
1) Eat spotted rooster for breakfast.
Gallo pinto, a traditional Costa Rican dish, means “spotted rooster,” but this meal is entirely poultry-free. The savory fare is made of black beans, white rice, cilantro, peppers, and onions. The combination is delicious and filling, and a great way to celebrate the taste of your new home.
2) Take a walking tour of your new town.
You’re probably overwhelmed with unpacking, furniture shopping, and the other tasks of moving, so take a break to explore. Whether you live in a city, town, or in the countryside, you never know what you’ll find: a local dairy, a public swimming hole, or a coffee farm are just some of the gems I discovered in my neighborhood.
3) Have a barbecue.
If the evening is pleasant, get your charcoal barbecue, take it out front, and fire it up for a street-side barbecue. This tradition is akin to North America’s block party, and never fails to draw out the neighbors. For newcomers, it’s a great way to meet the residents and make your first friends.
4) Quench your thirst.
If you enjoy a cold beer, head to the corner bar, If you’re a coffee junkie, beeline for the local cafe. If you have a sweet tooth, grab a snow cone in your town’s central park. Food and drink (especially the alcoholic kind) act as a social lubricant and are a great way to meet the townspeople. Plus, you can practice your Spanish as your place your order.
5) Shop at the farmers’ market.
Fresh farmers’ market bounty is so inexpensive that you’ll experience reverse sticker shock - most fruits and vegetables cost between 25¢ and $1.75 per pound. You’ll also find all the ingredients you need to prepare a locally grown feast including fresh fish, homemade cheese, and other traditional Costa Rican foods.
6) Buy earplugs.
Depending on where you live, life in the city can be boisterous; neighbors call out to each other (even late at night and early in the morning), children play in the streets, and you’ll probably share the neighborhood with a few roosters. Don’t let unfamiliar sounds get the better of you: just head to the pharmacy for some “tapones para el oido” (tah-pone-ays pah-rah el oh-ee-doh). You’ll sleep better.
7) Purchase plaquitas.
Mosquitoes are more active during certain times of year, and their buzzing can disturb a good night’s sleep. Plaquitas (plah-kee-tahs) are small, plug-in contraptions with replaceable and inexpensive repellent sheets. They have only a faint (but not unpleasant) scent, and are lower maintenance and as effective as citronella candles, spirals, or spray insect repellent.
8) Pick up a few CDs (or turn on the radio).
Music is a part of Costa Rican life – you’ll hear it in on booming store speakers, blasting from cars, and wafting out your neighbors’ windows. Salsa, cumbia and merengue are the country’s most popular, so pick up a few CDs. Ask a friend to teach you the steps, or head out to an evening dance class. Once you’ve started to bounce to tropical rhythms, you’ll know you’ve started to adapt!
9) Plant flowers.
Whether you have a large backyard or just enough space for a container garden, plant several varieties of colorful flowers. Costa Rica’s hummingbirds and butterflies will soon arrive in droves – is your camera ready?
10) Open your eyes.
The best advice I can give is to open your eyes to the wonder and beauty around you. I don’t mean passive observation: stop what you’re doing and consciously examine your new surroundings. Enjoy scenic panoramas, drink in cultural differences, and enjoy the friendliness of your new compatriots. You can mediate culture shock by being an observant expat.