Jan 24 2013

MythBusters: What’s it REALLY Like to Live in Costa Rica??

by Tom Duffy

The Duffys currently live in Chantilly, Virginia, in the U.S. and are planning their move to Costa Rica in the near future.

When Dina and I starting researching moving to Costa Rica we found many conflicting opinions and comments about living in Costa Rica.  In the past year we have taken two due diligence tours to Costa Rica. These trips enabled us to either verify or dispel what the “experts” were saying on the internet.  In most cases we were surprised that most of what the naysayers claimed was not true.  Here are some of our findings.

Myth: The roads are terrible.

Some back roads in remote areas are very rough and require 4×4 vehicles to maneuver through these areas.  Certainly in the rainy season roads are not as good as they are in the dry season, but most are passable when using caution and common sense. However most roads are decent and some are very good, such as the new Caldera Highway. I suggest using GPS when travelling around Costa Rica.

Myth: There is a lot of crime.

We felt safe everywhere we went in Costa Rica. That included travelling in San Jose, the Central Valley and the beaches of Guanacaste. Just like travelling anywhere, whether in a foreign country or the U.S., don’t be careless and do stupid things. For instance, don’t leave valuables in your car in plain sight. This is true in Costa Rica as much as many cities in the U.S.  However we have found most of the Ticos we met were friendly and helpful to us.


Myth: You have to give up lots of food choices when you move there.

That depends on where you live. If you live in the Central Valley you will have many more choices than if you live at the beaches. We already found places to get U.S. products, such as Pricesmart or Auto Mercado. We also found people and/or places that offer quality meats, cheeses and good prices on alcohol products. Be aware these products will cost more than in the U.S., but at least you can get them if you really need them. It is important to network with the Expat community to find out what is available and where they are located.

Myth: The food in Costa Rica is not very good.

We dined at some very good restaurants in Costa Rica and had some terrific meals. We had some of the best Chinese meals ever in San Jose, and a really great fish dish in Atenas. We also had some wonderful local Tico food (gallo pinto) at sodas (small family-run restaurants). It was very good and very cheap.


Myth: It is very expensive to live in Costa Rica.

It is true that Costa Rica is not the cheapest country in Central America. However it is far cheaper that living in the U.S. Prices are going up all over the world and Costa Rica is no exception. Many people comment on forums about the cheaper prices on products in the U.S., but most of these comments are based on years-old data. If you currently live in the U.S. or recently left, you will know how much prices have risen recently. It also depends where you live in Costa Rica and how you live. You can find a wide range of prices in rentals as well as property prices. That’s why it’s difficult to make an overall statement on expenses. The answer is “it all depends.”

Myth: Appliances are prohibitively expensive.

The U.S. brands are more expensive, but prices are coming down because of more demand and CAFTA. You can also visit the duty-free zone of  Golfito and purchase these products at very good prices. You can also buy used items on Craigslist from Expats who are moving back home.

Myth: Banks always have long lines and you have long waits.

Again, it depends.  National banks will be busier than private banks and private banks are generally more efficient.  Banks will be busier at certain times of the day, such as around noon, and at times of the month, for instance when Social Security checks come in. From our own experience, we had no problems. There are also ATM’s readily available.

A local EBAIS (Caja clinic)

Myth: The Government is slow and inefficient.

This is true! You just have to get used to it and not stress out or compare it to the U.S.

If you are going to a government facility, bring a book, a kindle, a tablet or a crossword book to pass the time. Be prepared to wait. On our last trip to Costa Rica we obtained our Driver’s licenses. It took us 5 hours to go through the process. We expected to take about 2-3 hours, but we made the best of it by talking with others and inwardly laughing at the absurdness of the process…Pura Vida!

Local Feria (farmers' market)

In closing, I would like to add that if you are considering moving to Costa Rica, then you must travel there, not as a tourist, but as a future resident and investigate for yourself.

There are numerous companies that offer “due diligence” tours which are very helpful and give you a good baseline of information. It is imperative that you do this. You cannot make a drastic life changing move by simply sitting at your computer and gathering information (much of which is inaccurate).  You must go there yourselves and explore and find out the answers for yourself. It will be worth it, and you will have a great time in the process!


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