Who are you?
Matt & Niki Meeks, children Max 4 ½, Sara 2 ½ and Sofi 5 weeks and Coffee Dog
We consider ourselves a young family, only because of the age of our children.
After working 20 years for the same company, growing weary of the negativity around us, and having to set appointments for our children to play with friends, we started soul searching for an avenue to a better, less complicated way of life. We are from the great state of Texas and still proud to be Texans, but we are adventurous and love to travel so we started talking about an international move.We searched for family oriented places that were safe and offered a good quality of life, focusing our attention on Latin America. With a little inspiration from International Living Magazine and plenty of our own due diligence, Costa Rica showed much promise, boasting a reputation for being the HAPPIEST COUNTRY ON EARTH.
What challenges did you face during the move?
The unknown. We researched and prepared, but the biggest challenge was saying goodbye the last few weeks to my mom, since she always had tears in her eyes and moving to a Spanish speaking country with no job in hopes of starting a new business, ugh. The buyers on our house fell through at the last minute, we had to change plane tickets, and finally decided to just go.
Our movers did not show up to load our container, we had to find another company fast since we were being charged by the hour for an empty 40’ freight container sitting outside our house. When we got to the airport, we had to show proof of a return ticket out of CR, so we bought our bus tickets for our first 90 day exit on our Iphones before they would let us board. When we got to Costa Rica, we had a hard time finding our dog in the freight terminal 2 miles away from the main airport terminal.
When we got to our rental house, it was hot and filled with mosquitoes, since it was on a low lying beach area. But, by the time we got to Atenas 2 weeks later, we knew it was all worth it. My point is, it is all hard, but we stayed positive as a family and while each day is a challenge, it is exciting and we learn from every experience.
How did you find somewhere to live?
We initially used a referral realtor who paired up with another realtor who specialized in rentals. Atenas is a small town and everyone seems to know each other. The realtor was a native Tico, but lived in the states most of his life, so his English was perfect. He translated the rental document and we signed a lease and paid deposit & first month’s rent, just like in the States.
The most important decision we made was to live in the mountains of Atenas in the Central Valley instead of the beach. When we told our friends back home we were moving to Costa Rica, they all expected us to be drinking margaritas on a beach, but not at all. The beach is hotter and comes with mosquitoes and little infrastructure, like hospitals & schools. In Atenas, we are only about 45 minutes to the beach and 20 minutes to the airport and San Jose. We also enjoy wonderful microclimate weather.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes, Atenas and the Central Valley in general have many expats, noticeably, German and Canadians, but we have met Italians, French, Mexican and numerous other nationalities.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Great, we have children and Ticos love children, so we have been accepted and now that our new baby is born, we have our own Tica in the family.
What do you like about life where you are?
Life is simple and you get ice cream every morning with a walk in the park. Ok, really, the best part of our life now is that Matt is home with us instead of commuting in the grind back in the states.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The cost of internet shopping.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Speaking Spanish. We thought we spoke pretty good Spanish in Texas, conversing with the many Mexicans back home, but Tico Spanish is very different from Mexican Spanish. Our son, Max had a rough first few months in school as well because of the communication barrier. Also, to live comfortably, knowing the language using medical terms and business terms are essential. It is easy to go to a restaurant or grocery shopping, or even simple small talk and salutations come easy, but starting a business and giving birth create a new challenge to find the right words. Speaking Spanish.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Less variety is fine with us, it is easier to make a decision. The best difference we noticed is how expensive fast food is, while fresh fruits & veges are totally inexpensive. Also, notably, the Walmarts are very nice here with lots of helpful employees, clean, covered parking garages, but not inexpensive; unlike back home where Walmart is cheaper, not as clean and you find it yourself.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
We miss Mexican food, but love the Casado. The national dish in Costa Rica is called the Casado and consists of a grilled or stewed meat usually with tomatoes & onions, with a large cabbage salad, beets, lime, rice and beans and plantains or potatoes. Starch is King here, though they do not serve tortillas with everything, like in Texas. They also have these awesome vendors in parks that serve Granizados which are a shaved ice drink with condensed milk, malt & strawberry syrup. No need to ever pack food for the kids on trips, there are fresh fruits and fresh roasted nuts on every street and highway in Costa Rica. Our only dislike is that sugar drinks & candy are a way of life here. Shop owners are always giving our kids candy, causing chemical imbalance.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Make a plan and do it. We noticed, during our research, there were plenty of articles and websites writing about the quintessential retiree, but not enough information about expats with children, where to go, what to do; since we can’t spend all day drinking margaritas on the beach. If anyone wants to read more about our journey, we created a website for information for younger families like us: discoveringatenas.com.
What are your plans for the future?
We plan to build our new Beef Jerky business: www.carnerico.com, learning Spanish, while traveling at our own pace with our 3 children all over this wonderful, small, diverse country we call home. We are also looking forward to helping Max & Sara volunteer at local English learning schools, as well as our local orphanage, Hogar de Vida, which we just helped raise $34,000 in the local Atenas Chili Cook-off held annually. Pura Vida!