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10 Expats Talk About What It's Like Living in Costa Rica

Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats living in Costa Rica talk about Pura Vida, deciding where to live in Costa Rica, meeting people and more.

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

If you're not really sure what Pura Vida means, ask an expat who has spent time living in Costa Rica. It's often the reason they love living in this beautiful country. Continue reading to learn what 10 expats have to say about what it's like living in Costa Rica.

What Expats Appreciate about Their New Culture

We asked expats in Costa Rica what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:

"What I really enjoyed, was the personal relationships that we established. I had many Tico friends that felt comfortable stopping by our home to visit. One friend threw a surprise birthday party for me. I also found it amazing that when we arrived, we found ourselves without money due to a bank screw up and our attorney right away offered us a couple thousand dollars till our money showed up. Many more times, if we didn't have money on hand for something, business owners told us to pay them when we returned next. You don't see that happening in the states," said one expat living in Samara, Costa Rica.

"A certain sense of freedom born out of being surrounded by disorder and a complete lack of caring about most things," mentioned another expat in Costa Rica.

"For Costa Rica, the "laidbackness" and friendly people, the great climate and green nature," commented one expat who made the move to Costa Rica.

"Kindness, warmth, concern for fellow man, fact that they wage no wars, their appreciation of fresh foods, their curiosity about my country, their eagerness to learn English and their Pura Vida Attitude," remarked another expat living in Quebradas, Costa Rica.

"There was little I found to appreciate about the culture in Boquete. I sensed a certain resentment among the Panamanians against x-pats. The ones I encountered did not make an attempt to engage. Grecia was distinctively different. The Ticos were gracious, friendly and willing to provide assistance as best they could," added another expat in Costa Rica.

The Most Challenging Aspects of Living in Costa Rica

Then, we asked expats in Costa Rica what was most challenging about their new culture. They replied:

"Their cavalier attitude toward animals/pets. Their tendency to lie rather than hurt feeling," said one expat living in Quebradas, Costa Rica.

"Communication, lack of mobility, the total inconvenience of it all. Also, trying to make ends meet financially. The phrase Retire for Less and only needing $1000.00 per month is bogus. In both locations supply and demand caused prices on consumer goods to spike, rent is on the rise. Only utilities were in line with the advertisements," mentioned another expat in Costa Rica.

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Deciding Where to Live in Costa Rica

For an overview of some of the most popular areas for expats, read our article, 7 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica. Here's what expats had to say when we asked them how they decided where to live in Costa Rica:

"I was basically told in what area to live. Most expats live in Escazu, Santa Ana or Rohrmoser. Then I went with several agents to look at possible apartments. After that you start haggling!!! (Hagglig is essential. I have seen houses come down from 4500 USD a month to 2500.)," said one expat living in San Jose, Costa Rica.

"1. I have lived in the following areas near San Jose; Zapote, Desamparados, Moravia, and Alajuela. I have also lived in the town of Grecia which is 45 km outside of the capital of San Jose. 2. I now live on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica in the city of Guapiles, County of Pococi, Province of Limon, Costa Rica 3. Major dirrerence, and asset is the people in this area. Although there are only limited foreigners living here, is that the people of this area are truly helpful and friendly. Not because they have to be but because they genuinely like to help others. 4. Even more noticable is that in spite of there being limited employment in the area, they are always willing to greet guests with courtesy and good manners, and a warm greeting and common courtesy. 5. Since there is an abundance of reasonable residential rentals and properties for sale, and a minimal population of foreigners, prices for both as well as the cost of living here are very reasonable. 6. Property taxation is almost non-existant or to say the least extremely reasonable. I have met a friend who has twenty acres or a little over 9 hectares of land with a bar, and cabins that pays about 1,700 colinies or about $5.00 USD per month in property taxes, that is reasonable," mentioned another expat in Costa Rica.

"I just wanted to clear up some of the bad reviews of the other guy who posted before me about San Jose, Costa Rica. First of all, if you are planning on moving to Costa Rica for whatever ex-pat experience, if possible, avoid San Jose. It is a very crowded, dense little city that is not all that interesting. Also, foreigners are more susceptible to theft here. That being said, get out of San Jose and live in any of the other great towns all throughout this beautiful country. True, transportation can be mediocre (if insisting on travelling budget), but it definately suffices. It's a small country and travelling from the Pacific to the Carribean can be done in one long day even on the slowest, cheapest bussed routes available," commented one expat who made the move to Costa Rica.

"It's cheaper to live a little ways outside the city so location was influenced by that. There is also less crime outside the city. I found my apartment by asking around and doing some walking. There won't always be a sign up so, if it looks available, ask," remarked another expat living in San Marcos, Tarrazú, Costa Rica.

"Our first home in Costa Rica (CR) was strictly by word of mouth. We had lived in the area for a few months and told just as many people we trusted that we were looking. In just a few months time, we looked at many properties. We got to know the area very well by renting so we knew the neighborhoods we liked and knew what a good price was to pay. We were in no hurry as we were renting at the time so we didn't appea anxious or desperate to the seller. The purchasing process was a breeze. After 8 years in that same location and home, we decided we wanted a quieter area and we finally were able to realize our original dream of having a water view property. 17 years total in CR ... it's working for us," added another expat in Costa Rica.

Meeting People in Costa Rica

Expats living in Costa Rica talked about meeting people in Costa Rica and local clubs and organizations:

"There are many Yahoo! list serves available that help expats get to know where others meet and socialize. Also, Costa Rica AM (www.costaricaam.com) is an English-language e-newspaper that provides a lot of good information," said one expat living in San Jose, Costa Rica.

"There is a bunch of expat organizations in Costa Rica to welcome newcomers. The largest is ACRC. In our town there is a group called the Coasta Bellena Women's Club that has about 400 members. We have a great international expat community. Ojochal, Uvita and Dominical are considered to be the southern Pacific Region of Costa Rica. The cost of living is lower here than in many other parts of Costa Rica and the pace of life is slower and more relaxing. We have a pot luck brunch in town, pizza night at a local restaurant (Gringo Mikes) and a local farmer's market on Saturdays," mentioned another expat in Costa Rica.

"Ladies of the Lake, a large, diverse group of women who meet monthly to share their experiences, challenges, great food, and involvement in local charitable and fun activities. You can learn more about this group by contacting me, one of the original founders of this group: ," commented one expat who made the move to Costa Rica.

"If you know how to play an instrument, I recommend volunteering your time with the SINEM children's orchestra, a lot of expats teach in this program all through out Costa Rica," remarked another expat living in Montezuma, Costa Rica.

Expat Life in Costa Rica

What is it like living in Costa Rica? Here is what people had to say:

"It is a beach town. Most people are retired from North America. The beach is beautiful. All people go to the beach for walking, socializing, etc," said one expat living in Playa Hermosa de Jaco, Costa Rica.

"Family is everything as with all Latin American cultures. Ticos make very good friends and once you are introduced into their families you become part of it. They will go out of their way to help you in every way possible," mentioned another expat in Costa Rica.

"This area is more like a village. We have a very international crowd; Dutch, French, Canadian, American, Estonian, Indonesian, etc. We have a great mix of restaurants and the area is reputed to be a culinary high point of the country. Lives revolve around social events more than work, we have a local soccer team that competes with the Ticos in town and there is a bull ring for our annual bull riding contest. Many are involved in philanthropic endeavors, helping the local schools, an orphanage from San Isidro En General, etc," commented one expat who made the move to Costa Rica.

"Life at Lake Arenal is very social and active. We have many social gatherings, fundraisers, water sports, and tourist activities for visiting friends and family," remarked another expat living in Lake Arenal, Costa Rica.

"MONTEZUMA, LIFE DOWNTOWN - After living in Montezuma officially for the last year I look upon it with a deeper understanding, similar to the way one stares at art with new eyes once enlightened by one or two art history classes. When i first moved here it was for six months during the high season so I was able to camp, then as i started to put my roots down i realized the camping lifestyle could only work for the dry season and i would have to move to level two; the house and all the trappings that come with that. Then the job; starting a business downtown and teaching/ studying music, slowly becoming part of the community. Thus bringing me back to seeing more now than i ever did my first month here as a tourist, innocence is lost but the luster still abounds; Montezuma changed my view and approach towards life and how I was leading it, somehow coming face to face with nature so wide, pure, and vivid revitalized me and for that I am forever indebted to this proud little coastal village. What can one say about living here? One of the first things you'll noticed is that this is a "town" in the truest sense, classically so, like the set for a play or Sesame Street or like it was back in the states 100 years ago. This is a positive tight-knit community, where it's easy to know everyone's name in one week, and yet very open and welcoming to new characters on the scene (enter me and my boyfriend, who believes he'll be mayor by the end of the year!) planning on sticking around and becoming part of something great. And then there's the dogs. A great bumper sticker idea: "Costa Rica where every house comes with two dogs" would be a as popular as beanie babies here...because it's true . They usually belong to the cabina owners but dogs here are free so they basically decide where they want to live and with who...[ for more articles on Montezuma please check out our website: paraisopublicidad.com or find us on twitter and facebook for daily updates!]," added another expat in Costa Rica.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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First Published: Mar 09, 2018

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