After many years of planning, my husband and I scaled down, decluttered, and moved to Costa Rica with our dog and cat four months ago.
This has been a transformational move for both of us. Since we’ve been here, we’re eating better, sleeping more restfully, losing weight, and generally enjoying life. We’ve landed in Paradise. Yes, serpents exist, both literal and metaphorical, but overall, life is good, or as they say down here, “pura vida.”
I’m still trying to process all the changes. I’ve become used to daily torrential downpours and I am happily anticipating the transition into the dry season. I’m learning to tolerate the constant battle against the ants, the spiders, and the flying beasties that look like they’ve been on a steady diet of steroids, and I actually enjoy watching the geckos that hang out around the dinner table most nights. We’ve had bats flying through our outdoor dining space, and watched the almost nightly lightning over the Pacific Ocean with wonder. No, we can’t actually see the ocean, but we know it’s there.
I’m even managing to work down here. Thanks to modern technology, I’ve been able to speak with clients all over the world with nary a glitch. Okay, so the energy of the weather sometimes plays havoc with my Internet service, but overall, clients are being advised, tax returns are being prepared, and research is being done—little has changed from when I sat in my office in Vermont.
So, four months later, what have I learned?
- Bureaucracy is bureaucracy, no matter where you are. What little bits and pieces we shipped took almost 4 months to arrive, not the 4-6 weeks promised by our U.S. movers. It wasn’t the movers’ fault that our worldly possessions took root in the Department of Agriculture for weeks before someone noticed the error and sent them to Customs, or that the Customs rules and regulations change on a weekly basis here. And so, a new level of patience was required on our end, plus additional and unforeseen expenses. And don’t get me started on the immigration process, or the bureaucratic labyrinth needed to open a bank account. Still, we’ve found workarounds for almost everything, and where we haven’t, well, it clearly wasn’t that important anyway;
- This is a brick and mortar economy. Amazon doesn’t exist in any meaningful way in Costa Rica despite having a huge call center in San Jose. When we need something, we also need to find out where to buy it; and then physically go purchase it. When we can’t find something, we do without;
- Many items are more expensive here than in the States, but others are far cheaper. Durable goods are all imported, so televisions, computers, cars, etc.…. are often two, or even three times the price of what I can find in the States. On the other hand, I can fill two large shopping totes with the freshest fruits and vegetables at the weekly farmer’s market for a fraction of the price, and my rent here costs approximately one-third of what my mortgage and taxes were in Vermont, for a house of roughly the same living area. I’ve spent approximately $52 for 4 months plus of local cellphone service, roughly one-quarter of what I was spending before our move. Healthcare costs, even when I pay for them out-of-pocket, are costing a fraction of what my old insurance payment. In fact, I think the two of us, in four months, have spent maybe $2,000 for healthcare (approximately ¼ of our spending over the same period before our move), and that includes a bout of pneumonia for me and keeping all our prescriptions up to date; and
- People don’t growl at you here. They seem genuinely pleased that we’re here and have been incredibly helpful. We’re not allowed to carry our groceries out to the car, they’re eager to help us improve our Spanish, and they’re more than courteous when we appear clueless. This is a happy place, and the difference in the vibe is apparent whether you’re in a cab, a store, or trying to haul heavy suitcases through the airport.
It’s not perfect here. Noting ever is. My Spanish is still at a two-year-old’s level, and it’s frustrating when I can’t seem to move an idea in my head out to my mouth with any measure of coherence, but I’m improving. It will take time, I know. And I still can’t automatically convert from Costa Rican Colones to U.S. Dollars, so I look like, at best, an idiot and, at worst, a tourist when I pull out my exchange rate calculator. I’m often sweaty; the humidity down here is unlike anything I’ve ever known, and I honestly can’t see why they’re selling winter parkas at the Costa Rican version of Costco, PriceSmart!!
When I left Vermont in June, I knew I was bound for the adventure of a lifetime and I was ready to embrace the change. This is a beautiful place, both physically and spiritually, and I’m learning to savor life once again. Yes, I miss my friends and my family back home and seeing the fall foliage pictures made me the tiniest bit homesick. But the tradeoffs are slight in comparison with the benefits.
I am so glad to finally call Costa Rica home.