After more than 17 years in Costa Rica, I occasionally get asked how I have made it here for so long. So, here are some of my hints.
- Do not expect life to be like before. This is true whether you are moving to another country or even just another state. No two places are exactly the same and the further away you move, the more changes there will be, culturally and linguistically. If you go in thinking that everything will be exactly the same as in your previous location, you will be deeply disappointed.
- Be open to new experiences, foods, and adventures. Try things. Go enjoy the new things that your new location offers. Coming to Costa Rica and refusing to eat rice and beans or exotic fruits, will be a bad start.
- Combine new life customs with your old. After you have tried new things, take your favorites and combine them with your old customs. No one says you have to do away with the big meal at Thanksgiving, but enjoy traditional Mother’s Day (in Costa Rica, it’s August 15th) and Independence Day (September 15th) as well. Besides, it gives you a good reason to guilt your children into giving you two gifts as there are now two different Mother’s Days to remember.
- Learn the language. I know it’s hard and it’s easier just to surround yourself with your native language, but the better you can get around in your new country and be independent, the better you will feel. Take lessons and then practice it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The locals will be thrilled you are trying.
- Learn the exchange rate and then forget it and live in the currency. Learn the local currency and the approximate equivalents. Am I paying $1 or $10 for the lip balm (yep, I paid $10 for a lip balm when I thought they said 500 colones and they actually said 5,000 colones). But the important thing is to then STOP converting at every step along the way and think in the currency. Instead of worrying that you are paying $2 more for something than you would in the States, think, “This is the price, do I want it at that price or am I not willing to pay that?” There will be things that are more expensive and things that are cheaper.
- Involve yourself in the community. Don’t seclude yourself, get out and get involved, meet people, both expats and locals. Find out ways to help your “new” community. It will help you meet others and be accepted and appreciated by the locals.
- Keep yourself busy. The speed of your life is up to you and being “pura vida” and taking it slower is just fine, but if you find yourself getting depressed or lonely, you’ve got to move it (“move it, move it” as they say in “Madagascar”). Join a gym, play bridge, go swimming, whatever your passion, find a way to do it.
- Create your own “family”. Especially in Costa Rica, family is everything. Families are often formed by choice, not by blood. “Adopted” families are normal and having people who care and look after you is one of the best ways to feel at home. They will also share their culture and explain things that you don’t quite understand.
- Find your support circle. Find your computer guy, your mechanic, your realtor, your “go to” person. These are the people you go to when things go wrong. Frustration of being in a new place is a fact, but once you’ve established your support circle, life becomes WAY easier. How do you find these people? Ask around. It’s the world of Facebook and social media. Ask for what you need and when you immediately get several identical responses, you pursue that. Find a person in each area of your life that you can trust, that bill you appropriately, and are good at what they do and you will have saved yourself a ton of frustration .
- Attitude is everything. Is the glass half empty or half full? There will be things that are annoying, frustrating, and depressing. But congratulate yourself on how you overcome these hurdles and concentrate on the things you love. If you let yourself get overwhelmed by the negative, it will not be a good experience.
I came with the plan of giving it two years and then after eight, decided, well, I guess I’m here to stay. I don’t know that I will be here forever, but it is home for now.
Feel free to add any suggestions of your own. Tina is the owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate along with Cecilia Tristan and they are both available to answer your questions and make you feel more at home in Costa Rica.