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Expat Experiences

Costa Rica > Expat Experiences

Costa Rica

Jackie Minchillo, Playa Langosta

Posted by: Carole on Tuesday June 30, 2015 (22:43:14)
Jackie and husband rafting the Tenorio River!
Jackie and husband rafting the Tenorio River!

Who are you?

My name is Jackie. I am a 26-year-old communications professional and freelance writer. I grew up in Michigan in the United States and most recently I lived in Chicago with my husband Junior and our dog Harvey. I've always had a passion for travel and a craving for international experiences. My husband and I began talking about moving abroad in April 2015 and we are so happy we made the move.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We moved to Playa Avellana, Guanacaste, Costa Rica April 1, 2014. "Why" is a loaded question as there were several different elements that lead to our final decision. My husband is originally from Brazil and we actually first started talking about moving abroad when we were in the process of trying to plan a trip to visit his family.

In the United States, I was limited to two weeks of vacation time per year. It just simply wasn't enough for us to live life the way we want to. A trip to Brazil for any less than two weeks just wouldn't make sense, and then we would be limited to one trip for the entire year - no visiting family for the holidays, no opportunity for a three-day weekend in the summer, etc. That frustration lead to the conversation of "there must be a better way." We both also have always had an interest in living abroad for the experience; to view the world from a different lens, learn about a new culture from the inside - and we figured now was as good a time as any. Since my husband and I started dating, we've had this philosophy of trying to make every day a "day well lived" which was also the inspiration for my blog when we decided that for us, the best way to try and do that would be to make this move.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The biggest challenge during our move was finding out information about where we were headed. Many businesses in this area of Costa Rica for example do not have a website with complete information; which is how we'd normally learn about where we were headed. We spent a lot of time on the phone with the gentlemen who owned the house we'd be renting, trying to pull as much information from him as we could about the local area.

We joined several expat Facebook groups to ask people questions about their experience. At times it felt like a scavenger hunt for the information we needed. We ended up agreeing to rent the house we had chosen having seen one photo that was available, and taking the owner's word that restaurants and groceries for example were going to be "within walking distance," because we did not plan to buy a car (and we have not). When we arrived, we found that the house was not at all what we expected, and was in an extremely rural location; one where it would be impossible to live without a vehicle of some sort.

How did you find somewhere to live?

Originally, we just searched on CraigsList which is how we found the Playa Avellana home. However, what we learned when we arrived is that what you find on the internet can be VERY different from what you will experience in person. We only lasted one week in our house in Playa Avellana, before we decided to rent a car, come stay in a hotel in Tamarindo (about a 25 minute drive) and search for a new rental. If I had to do it all over again, I would have done this from the start; just find a hotel or hostel or vacation rental for a week or so, and search for a permanent place to live once you arrive. Things are much easier and reliable when you are face-to-face.

We are now living in Tamarindo, and getting ready to move into a new rental in Playa Langosta where we will be able to stay for one year. What we found, particularly in this area is that because it is also a very popular area for tourists, the rental market can be quite a challenge. Owners can make such a profit on their property by utilizing it as a vacation rental that they are reluctant to rent long-term. After a week in a hotel, we found our Tamarindo rental, where the owner allowed us to stay for three months. And over the course of the past three months, we've spent a ton of time talking to people, spreading the word that we were looking for a long term rental, and looking at places.

What I've found is that the process is not as systematic as it is in the United States. Some places want you to pay cash and rent month to month, others want you to sign a lease, some want you to just sign a simple contract that doesn't have much to it. Individual owners handle the rental of their property however they see fit.

What we have learned, is that the rental laws in Costa Rica though are very much in favor of the renter. So if there's some kind of issue with your place, neglect by the owner, etc. you will be protected by the rental laws which is comforting. In this particular area of Costa Rica I'd say the easiest way to find a place to live is to come here, find something temporary and then hit the ground running trying to meet people - through word of mouth and the connections we made we were able to find a nice long-term rental.

Are there many other expats in your area?

There is a huge expat community in this area - people from all over the world. There are many North Americans, but also many Europeans, a large Argentinian population, quite a few expats from the Philippines and from Spain. This has been really helpful to us because there are many people who have walked in our shoes and have been able to guide us based on their previous experience. We've found that everyone has been extremely welcoming.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Many of our friends that we've met who are local have been employees of the local business, and we've also met local friends through my husband's soccer league that he joined. What I have found is that many of the people native to Costa Rica who are now living in this area are originally from elsewhere in the country; we've met many locals who grew up in San Jose and moved to Tamarindo to be closer to the beach. I've also found that many of the locals do not live directly in Tamarindo, but live in other smaller surrounding communities. That is one thing that I think we'll spend time exploring over the course of the next year. We'd like to do a lot of traveling in Costa Rica, and maybe we'll find that there is another town somewhere that we really like, where we could be a little more immersed in the local culture.

My husband speaks fluent Spanish, but I speak very little. In this area I find I am not forced to try to speak Spanish because most everyone speaks English, and I do wish that I was more immersed in that way - so we will see what the future holds!

What do you like about life where you are?

I love that life is more relaxed. It has been a huge adjustment, but a welcomed one. I find that people are generally pretty carefree and laid back. In this are of Costa Rica particularly, you'll find that "Pura vida" is a greeting, an expression and a way of life. If you're a little late for a scheduled appointment: "Pura vida." If the internet or electricity goes out for a while, or a day: "Pura vida - go ahead and enjoy the beach or go grab a smoothie or take the dog on a walk." If a business owner wants to take a day off: "Pura vida, we are closed for today, be back tomorrow." I find that we are less attached to technology. My husband's phone drowned in the ocean about a month ago and we haven't replaced it, and really haven't missed it. I find that unless I want to take photos, I generally don't carry my phone on me either. In our previous life, we couldn't leave the house for 10 minutes without our phone! I find myself more relaxed about things that would ordinarily drive me crazy. Like the fact that our house has a constant thin layer of sand on the floor. I feel like I would typically be frantically trying to clean it up all the time, but I've noticed a shift in my mentality. Now, a thin layer of the sand on the floor means that I walked on the beach today or enjoyed a gorgeous sunset; pura vida.

What do you dislike about your expat life? I wouldn't necessarily say it's a dislike, but it can definitely be frustrating to get ordinary things done sometimes. People refer to the United States as the "land of convenience" and now I truly know why. Things are not always easy - you can't just run to the store and grab anything you need. Schedules are very fluid, so for example getting cable hooked up; they may be there on Monday, they may come on Wednesday - they may call, they may not. Costa Rica is still a developing country, so I feel like we've truly experienced things that before we took for granted. It is possible for the internet or electricity, or even the water to go out for a day. There's nothing you can do about it and no one you can call, you just need to wait and be patient until it's restored. And things change regularly, sometimes seemingly with no rhyme or reason. For example the ATM where we normally withdraw cash - since we've been here, the bank has randomly changed both the daily limit of cash you can withdraw and the fees to withdraw, It's not announced, there's no explanation, it just changes. You will find out when you go to the ATM. And you will just have to deal with it. Since living here, learning to be patient has been taken to a whole new level for both my husband and I.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

I think the biggest cultural difference is that in Costa Rica, people feel less of a need to create rules and enforce them. In general things are just very relaxed. You can take your dog into pretty much any establishment for example, including restaurants. You can walk into the grocery store barefoot and in your bathing suit, and no one will say a word.

If you're not finished with your beer you take it with you from a bar or restaurant, and that's okay. People are extremely accommodating in general.

For example we rented a car. About 20 minutes before we were supposed to bring it back we wanted to extend the rental. We didn't have to bring it back, sign new paperwork, etc. We just called and said we wanted it for another day and they said okay. Very simple.

You don't need an appointment to get your haircut or take your dog to the vet, you can just go there, and they will make it work for you.

To sign up for cable, they are not going to check your credit or make you fill out any sort of paperwork. They just take a copy of your passport, ask you where you live and when you want the cable to start, fill it in on a paper contract and hand you a carbon copy, and that's it. Your bill will come after the first month.

Things just feel a little old fashioned and simplified and while sometimes you need to do a little asking around to figure out how to get something done, when you take a step back and observe, everything is just pretty simple.

How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?

Shopping is very different. There's not a lot of availability here aside from tourist shops. If you need to go clothes shopping or need to buy something for your kitchen or a new set of sheets for example, you'll likely need to make a day out of it and travel to larger city, like Liberia or even go all the way to San Jose. The grocery store will sell some household items, but for pretty much anything you'd want to buy outside of your groceries and simple things like cleaning supplies or basic tools for example - you'll need to go elsewhere. If you do find what you're looking for here, chances are the selection will be very limited and the goods have traveled a long way to get here, so they will be very expensive.

What do you think of the food in your new country?What are your particular likes or dislikes?

We've had nothing but great food since we've been here. Almost every town in Costa Rica, including Tamarindo has a Feria - a Farmer's Market. We go once per week and that's where we buy all of our produce, at very reasonable prices. I love all the fresh fruits and veggies. A typical dish in Costa Rica is the casado, which is a plate with rice, beans, a little salad and usually your choice of carne, pollo or pescado (beef, chicken or fish). This is pretty good in my opinion and the cheapest type of meal you can eat.

Obviously with our proximity to the ocean, the seafood is great and fresh so we love that too. I have had the best ceviche I've ever had in my life in Costa Rica and the best sushi too.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

My number one piece of advice would be to abandon your fear and go for it. It can be really overwhelming to move in general, moving to another country you can surely times that by ten. There is a lot to figure out, but I can tell you it'll be well worth it if it's something you truly want to do. I would also say network with other expats in the country where you're headed. While we found it difficult sometimes to find information on our own, once we found expat communities via Facebook, our research process became a whole lot easier. That actually inspired us to found a business of our own once we got down here. About a month ago, we launched the website http://expatsknow.com.

This is specifically geared toward Costa Rica expats, however we see it evolving as a tool for people all over the world in the future. It's a question and answer forum where you can search and also ask anything you want to know, and other expats who have had a similar experience already can share their knowledge. We've been thrilled with the response so far and we know how helpful it can be to be able to just ask someone who has walked in your shoes.

What are your plans for the future?

We will be in Costa Rica for at least another year. Over the course of the next year, I plan to learn to speak Spanish and learn to surf, those are my two personal goals. We plan to travel, both inside the country and outside of it - we'll be spending the entire month of October this year in Brazil. Toward the end of the year, I think we'll asses how we feel and figure out what's next.

We may decide that we want to explore and live in a new place. We may decide that we officially identify with Costa Rica as "home" and want to stay longer. Now that we've figured out how to earn our income from home and have time to explore new revenue opportunities, I feel like our possibilities are endless which is a great feeling!


For more information about life in Costa Rica you are welcome to contact Jackie through her website www.daywelllived.com.

 
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