When people think about moving to Costa Rica, they are often overwhelmed with all that has to be done and all of the decisions that must be made. We are often asked, “Where do you start?” and “How do you go about it?” We wrote about our experience in “Our Big Move” which you can read at these links:
Recently, our friends Paul and Gayle Sommers made their big move to Costa Rica, to the Los Angeles Sur area of San Ramon. They wrote about their experience in an email to friends and family and were gracious enough to allow us to publish it. They moved with 27 pieces of checked luggage, a dog and a cat, after selling their much-loved home and going through all of their possessions. Their experience is valuable to any of our readers who are contemplating a similar move.
We spent the months of June and nearly all of July getting ready to head to Costa Rica. Paul and I came to the conclusion that we were ready to sell the house on Vashon that we’d loved so much, with large firs, madronas, alders, and even a white-flowering dogwood (enormous tree) surrounding us. It took us a little more than a week to get the house ready for market, and things being what they are these days, the house had to look great: no moss on the roof, pristine siding, spic-and-span gutters, and the inside had to look great, too. We hired an all-around worker, who did a terrific job cleaning the outside of the house, so the roof looked good and the siding new. Paul spackled and painted nail holes, etc., and both of us cleaned the house within an inch of its life. (It’s okay to live in the house, but it has to look new or nearly so!)
Our excellent real estate agent had told us about staging the house, hiring a stager to do it and then renting furniture at a cost of about $200/mo. Since we sold nearly all of our furniture, it sounded great to us, but the thing is that stagers don’t want you to actually live there and use their furniture, so that was nixed. (Okay, we have some wonderful friends on Vashon, but “couch-surfing” for two months with two frisky animals? Don’t think that would fly.) So our agent scrounged around and found a dining room table and two chairs, and we borrowed a few items from friends, and bought a loveseat and chair on craigslist. Then as part of the deal, we bought coordinating napkins, placemats, and tablecloth, as well as very nice towels (all of the sort we’d never buy on our own, but, hey, it’s part of the “look” for a staged house) and we were all set. Elegant? Well, not exactly, but it was fine. We bought hanging plants and some flowers for some planters that had not seen flowers in the previous eight years, but, as Denise said, it looked welcoming. And the vase on the dining room table was never without fresh flowers…..
The house sold to great first-time buyers. I started going through our boxes in storage. We did not keep count of the number of boxes, but I made several piles: give away, return to the storage unit, or take to Costa Rica. Paul took away things to be donated almost immediately, so in the event that I had second thoughts, so sorry, but the item was gone! Frontier Airlines, which for a little extra money offers fully-refundable tickets, has no limit on baggage. I went through the Costa Rica piles several times, each time weeding more stuff out, but in the end we still wound up with 27 checked items, 23 of which we paid $50/box. In those 27 boxes were cast iron pans (which I use a lot, and which are not readily available in Costa Rica, about 20 of my favorite cookbooks, ESL materials (resources for volunteer work), books for learning Spanish, a great sewing machine, tools Paul thought would be useful, and household goods, clothing and the like.
Paul and I packed things very carefully, mindful of the fact that the boxes would be tossed around and could land with any orientation, including upside down, so the boxes were securely taped. A wonderful friend and neighbor let us borrow his full-size van, which nicely held all luggage (27 checked bags plus the one or two each that we carried on). And other great friends drove las mascotas (pets) and me to the airport, so we were all set. Our flight left around 7 pm, and we were there nearly three hours in advance.
Getting everything to Frontier turned out to be a little more challenging than we’d anticipated: no curbside check-in, so we had to drag every single item to the counter. The desk clerk was a real trouper, and very nice. Our son had suggested that we call Frontier the previous day to alert them to our 27 pieces of checked baggage, which turned out to be an award-worthy idea. The great customer service staffer I talked to looked at both of our flight segments, said that only the first leg might be problematic, and called over to Seattle to talk to cargo to make sure that all of our luggage could be accommodated. If you ever need to travel with a lot of luggage, I strongly recommend this step. The staffer in customer service when we checked in already knew about us, which helped the entire process go much more smoothly. It took less than 45 minutes and we were ready to head through security.
At the Costa Rica end, we expected things to be very difficult, as my Spanish is inadequate, and we’d have to go through both immigration and aduana (customs). But people at that end were so kind and helpful, it turned out to be very easy. One skycap who spoke a little English (about as much English as I spoke Spanish) took charge of everything after I told him, “Tenemos treinta cajas.” (We have 30 boxes, which I knew was a slight exaggeration, but close enough.) While we were waiting for the boxes, he went to get a large cart, then found a second skycap to grab another large cart. By the time all the boxes had come off, both carts were precariously piled up with cardboard boxes, duffel bags, and a suitcase or two. We then went through aduana, where everything was scanned again and then piled back onto the carts (those poor, hard-working skycaps!)
We got through it all with only one snafu: our dog, Oksana, who has always been able to wait to go to the bathroom, wound up peeing on the very shiny floor as we headed to immigration. Luckily, Paul had lots of absorbent material for the mishap, and the floor again looked immaculate when he was done. Paul had arranged for a one-day rental of a large van, and we were at our new house less than three hours after we landed.
Mike, the former owner, was just removing the last of his belongings, packing up as we rolled in, so we were able to talk to him about the house and utilities. Paul and I were both absolutely exhausted at that point, so didn’t think to write anything down. Our pets were glad to be liberated, especially Mischa the cat from his carrier. Oksana was much more tentative. Paul started hauling the boxes into the house, and I started opening them. We discovered that the TSA had inspected at least six or seven boxes. They did a good job repacking things and re-taping the boxes. Maybe this is how drug runners or terrorists get contraband through, but it seemed odd to us: why not inspect everything? Maybe something in those particular boxes set off alarm bells, though one of the boxes they inspected was a box containing framed pictures. Later we discovered four casualties among all the things that went into the boxes: one vase got chipped; the tamper part of a heavy-duty stainless steel coffee scoop got detached (imagine the force that must have taken, yet everything else in that box was fine); the glass on a picture was broken, but the picture otherwise intact; and, finally of the probably 30+ small tiles I’d shipped, one was broken (clean break, which Paul was able to repair). That seems quite remarkable, and I was very pleased that so much came through unscathed.
Paul got all the boxes into the house and I started stowing things. Between us, we had nearly all the boxes emptied and broken down within the next three days. We also had to go on several major shopping trips to stock the house — though Mike kindly left us with eggs, garlic, and a few other items, so if we were famished when we arrived, we’d have something to eat — and having a vehicle made it all possible.
Throughout all of the preparation for this move, Paul and I were both confident that we were taking the next step in our lives and that the move to Costa Rica was absolutely the right thing for us to do at this point. On the plane, however, I’d had fleeting doubts about what we were doing, and the enormity of the undertaking suddenly hit me. With all of the work we’d had to do, both in getting our Vashon house ready to go and keep it looking staged even after it sold, and in sorting through all of our belongings, I hadn’t really had a chance to think about what we were doing. It all hit me as we were driving to our new house: the dirt road seemed rougher and longer than I remembered; the house smaller; furniture much more crowded. And we were going to a country where all advice said (1) we should be able to speak passable Spanish before moving there, and (2) one should never buy a place, but only rent! So what were we doing?
The emotions passed, probably brought on by my exhaustion (Paul never had any doubts), and the road seems fine and not too long (a little more than .5 km in all, and easily walked), nor particularly rough if you just take it easy. We moved one piece of furniture from the living room to the bedroom, and both rooms benefited from the change. And we hung our artwork on the walls, made the beds, and generally made ourselves at home. Our home.