Ten things to know BEFORE moving to Costa Rica

I have received many emails over the years from readers of my blogs who are interested in moving to Costa Rica from the US or other ‘developed’ countries’.

Here are some tips that I picked up from years of actual cross-cultural communications as well as first-hand experience.

1. Be informed (Know) before you go. Read! Read! Read! Surf the Internet and purchase up-to-date print Guidebooks, country specific to where you wish to relocate. Talk to as many people as you can who have lived in Costa Rica.

Always spend at least 2-3 weeks in Costa Rica before deciding to make the move. Seeing is believing. Never rely on internet sites, user groups, forums or blogs as your primary source of information. Never arrange to purchase Real Estate abroad from any website nor contract expensive Real Estate & Relocation tours online. One Woman, whom I know, spent over $200 USD a day in Costa Rica on ‘Real Estate Tours’, returned home broke and bitter after a week. If you do not have a friend or relative in your target country who you are able to stay with, contact Guardian Angels and they can start you on the right track. They’ll show you around and you’ll get to do things most tourists don’t do — and offer insider information on their area.

Start taking some Spanish lessons online and also in frontal classes or with a native speaking tutor at home well before departure. Build a language ‘basic’ foundation. Stepping up to intermediate and advanced is easy once in a Spanish speaking country. In all Latin American countries, excepting Belize and Guyana, former British Colonies and parts of the Caribbean coasts, only a small percentage of your local neighbors will speak English.

2. Find a cultural mentor. Long term resident or trusted bilingual local. I befriended a couple of younger, less experienced expats during my first years living in Costa Rica. These people were very gracious in helping me with many day-to-day tasks in the beginning, teaching me to be independent — step by step and not to rely on locals to ‘hold my hand’. A good mentor can and often will point out errors in judgment. Social contacts and personal relationships are very important throughout Latin America.

3. Choose your home and neighborhood carefully. Look for one that will accept you, and where you will feel comfortable. Cheap rent in a poor neighborhood may sound great, but in the long run, you may be robbed or worse. Keep a low profile and never divulge your personal or work information or give out your address to overly friendly strangers.

4. Go slow at first. Don’t expect to work at the same pace as you did in the US/Canada/UK, etc.. Things are just simply harder to get done in Latin America. And slower. Always. Often people show up late, very late, for appointments. Never reprimand locals for this unless they are in your employ and have business commitment with you. ‘Life in The Tropics’ — Don’t take yourself too seriously and keep a sense of humor.

5. Try not to make general assumptions about Latin Americans. Just as you would not want those in the country where you are relocating to assume that every US or Canadian citizen is rich, white, and arrogant, you should not assume that all Latin Americans are alike. Listen to locals and ask questions.

6. Expect a testing period. Friends, contacts and co-workers need time before you are accepted into their trust. Once you are deemed trustworthy, the doors will fly open.

7. Expect life to be a bit annoying in the beginning. Cold showers are the norm in many areas. Air conditioning is most often a luxury. Water and electricity sometimes fail on a daily basis. In some areas Internet Connections are slower than at home.

8. Try not to complain. Accept that Central or South America is different than the US/Canada/UK.

9. Look for the good things in your adopted new country, such as the beautiful mountains, rustic rural national parks or beaches.

10. Be humble. One of my favorite phrases in Spanish, “I don’t understand.” “Yo no lo comprendo” A humble attitude goes a long way in getting along with co-workers and friends. Even if you feel you ‘know’, always get a second opinion from a native or long term expat resident friend.

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