John G. Dungan, Arenal

I am a retired RN, married for 44 years to a retired school teacher. We moved to Costa Rica in April of 2009, after researching and preparing for nearly ten years. We had purchased a small lot about seven months prior to our move, and we made the mistake of paying to ship a container with all of our household belongings, major appliances, and furnishings. We did not get a fair deal out of that experience, so be warned if you plan the same. The final cost came in at more than 50% higher than the promised estimate, and considering how much we spent on this shipping, we would have been much better off just buying new things here.

We had usually visited the same general area of Costa Rica during our previous visits, so the decision about where to live was easy. This was a mistake, also. While we live in a very beautiful setting, surrounded by beauty, we have found that there are just too many things that we cannot count on having available to us.We are very much aware that we pay too much for just about everything that we do find, from groceries to hardware, to car parts/repairs, to electricity.

It took a long time to find the right spot in this area, because the Ticos with whom we dealt had a hard time understanding that we did not want to buy a large finca, or a ranch, or even a big house. Once he found the spot, though, the purchase was very easy. We got a phone call in Texas from him one day in September of 2008, withdrew sufficient cash from our savings to cover most of the purchase, caught a plane with days, and arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica, on a Saturday. On Sunday, we saw the property for the first time, and met the seller, who is now our neighbor. Monday, we met at our attorney’s office, where she drew up the necessary documents, we paid over ¾ of the purchase price, and agreed to all details. By Wednesday our Tico friend (who was also our builder) had a back hoe on the property, to clear it, and level the building area. We spent a total of only one week here, and made arrangements for electric and water to be brought to the property before we left. By the time we arrived on the actual move some seven months later, the property had electricity and water, and was ready for construction to begin.

We were very pleasantly surprised early on to find ourselves with a much more active social life than we had experienced for many years. We are still very active, and meet frequently with a large group of friends in our area, most of whom are retired, like us. We have dinner at one or another’s home, or meet at local restaurants for get-togethers, several times a month.

We have a number of acquaintances among the local residents, and even some friendships. My wife is active in the Church, teaching catechism, pre-baptism, and so forth, so we do interact with many locals in a setting other than business.

We mostly enjoy the weather, but have grown tired of the lack of anything resembling an infrastructure. We have found that there is no rhyme or reason for what is stocked in any of the local stores. One time we may find a product that we like, but never again, despite numerous requests and inquiries. An example of this occurred recently when we went to our usual super market for beer (we usually buy a case at a time, and we always take our empties with us). The store had no stock of a regular brand, and when we asked how that could be, we were told that the distributor had not left them any. When we asked the driver of the beer truck (parked right in front of the store at that moment in time – that’s right; effectively preventing paying customers from getting to the store) why he had not left any of that brand that day, his response was that the store did not ask for any.

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To be honest, I have to report that we don’t care for most of the local food. Many folks rhapsodize about the fresh fruits and vegetables, but where we live, we find the selection very limited, and the quality very poor. Most recognizable veggies look like they have a rash or something, and the bananas (!) are within hours of complete spoilage by the time they hit the stores. Actually, the climate, being very humid, and quite warm, means that food spoilage is very rapid, so most things have to be refrigerated.

There is no way to compare shopping for anything here to shopping back in Texas. No one we know would buy any clothing here, since the prices are very high, and the quality very poor. As for groceries, we find that we have to go to every store in town, hoping to fill our lists, and we always find others doing the same thing. For some reason none of the stores seem to know how to stock adequately, and when we ask for reasons, we get conflicting responses from store personnel and distributors. For example, just the other day we were not able to find a beer brand that we have been buying for three years. We asked the store why they had none, and their response was that the truck did not leave any. The beer truck happened to be parked in front of their store at that moment, so we asked the truck driver if he had any of this brand, and his response was that the store did not ask for any.

My best advice for others thinking of doing what we did is simple: Think about it. Think very long and hard. Spend more time in country. If you can, visit for at least three months, in an area where you might want to live. Do NOT buy property! There are reportedly many more expats in the Central Valley, in and around San Jose, the capital. There are also reportedly many more and better stocked shopping opportunities in that part of the country. Buses are reportedly much more common, frequent, and handy, to the point that one may well get by without buying a car, so think very hard about this, because owning a car is a very expensive proposition in this country. Ultimately, before you decide on Costa Rica, look at other possible places to move to, very, very closely.

Ultimately, if you read my blog Grumbles From Arenal you’ll see that we are ready to move back to the States. Our property is for sale, as is just about everything that we own.


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