Boy in a hammock.

If you are wishing to escape your current surroundings in the hunt for happiness, Costa Rica is an excellent spot to consider.  However, several difficulties can be unearthed when blending with such a lackadaisical, “content-to-take-the-long-way” culture.  I hear complaints on a number of subjects: theft, rampant street dogs, electricity outages, water shortages, overly-affectionate monkeys, and the list continues.  Expatriates are used to the convenience, technology, speed, and growth of their homeland.  You might take these perks for granted before living in Costa Rica as well, and dependence on them can create a real stumbling block in relocating to “paradise.”  Strangely enough, I have maintained a positive attitude that often bewilders my friends.  To be honest, it takes a real mindset to uproot and rebuild here happily.  If you are planning the giant leap into an unfamiliar land, Costa Rica in particular, hopefully my personal tips will help you adjust to your new atmosphere.

What it really comes down to–To be, or not to be:

Be low maintenance.

It appears to me that the individuals who stick it out all have this trait in common.  They either arrived here perfectly tranquilo, or learned along the way to shed their high-standard ways.  Even if you rent the most luxurious home in a privately gated community (which is absolutely possible), you will still be living in Costa Rica.  You will still be subject to dealing with the same systems that have been confusing and frustrating expats for years (it’s currently 1983 here).  You might not have hot water, you might not have any water for a few days, you may have to stand in heat or rain or snow–jk, no snow, it’s in the upper 70′s today, amigos!
You won’t have access to the latest and greatest Apple product, without the import taxes anyways.  Ladies, you can bring your straighteners and other morning make-over electrical supplies, but there is a chance those locks will have to flow all-natural at times (luckily, “beach hair” is acceptable in these parts).  By moving here from a more developed country, you will find yourself belonging to an “elevated” class, but you will also have to realize that it really isn’t all about you…even if you are awesome.


Be grateful.

When you turn on the the shower and the water is cold, you will learn to sigh in relief, “Hurray, we have water today!”  Aqua is something to cherish.  There are times in the dry season when it is cut off temporarily, to regulate usage.  Appreciate the heavy rains also, as they ensure a healthy and prosperous harvest for everyone– farmers and consumers alike.  If you’re looking for the bright side of the rainy season, you’ll find it easily: the mornings are usually clear and sunny, the plants are watered daily, the cities and streets are bathed, and the serene lullaby of rain sings you to sleep each night.

Instead of becoming flustered over things you can’t change, try to see the good in every situation.  If the mechanic restores your car within a month, be grateful you have a vehicle to drive.  As the jam-packed bus picks you up ten minutes late, recognize that you have a very affordable means of transportation.  When you are bored, remember that you could be racing around and getting nothing done.  Isn’t a long morning with a cup or two of coffee, a good book, and a surreal view a bit nicer anyways?
And it’s okay to get your feathers ruffled every once in a while.  We are human, after all.  When you meet a road block that is hard to see past, take a deep breath and put the issue on ice for the day.  In a short time, the clouds should part and you’ll find another way to meet your goal.  There is so much to love about living here, and it would be a shame to let yourself grow bitter in the long run.  Look around you and list your reasons for staying.  Most importantly, be thankful for the kind people of Costa Rica and the safe and affordable country that they warmly welcome you into.


Be resourceful.

There isn’t an Ikea on every corner of Central America.  You cannot simply walk into a store, set up your living room with a click of the mouse, and have the screen actualized in your home that very afternoon.  If you need shelving, a bed frame, or a table at a low cost, you’ll probably have to search for a local handyman or find some wood and get to work.  The good thing about this process is it makes you pretty darn proud of your hard-earned décor.  I never considered building something before moving to Costa Rica, but here is my latest creation, that I present with unabashed pride:


Basic home made chicken run.


One major complaint which echoes the expat hops is the higher cost of groceries.  While the locally grown fruits and vegetables are cheaper than in the States–think $ .60 for a bunch of bananas–anything shipped into the country is pricier.  This includes items like prepackaged freezer meals, candy and random snacks.  More often then not, these more expensive groceries are the most unhealthy options anyways.  If you’re hankering for cookies, a pizza, or decent bread at a reasonable price, you’ll have to learn to make it yourself.  The ingredients are available, you can leave out the unnecessary additives, and your own home made version will taste even better.  Plus, you can boast to all your friends back home that you are now an incredible cook.


Be willing to grow.

You can only learn to cook if you are willing to make the effort to adapt to your new surroundings.  Likewise, you’ll only see beyond the bombardment of challenges if you are open to notice the opportunities.  For example, the language barrier is not a hassle, but a chance to learn Spanish; the slower pace of the culture is not something to be vexed about, but a real chance to finally clutch that sense of peace you’ve been yearning for; the meandering streets are not a poorly planned mess of mayhem, but a road to discovering unsought-for places, meeting new people, and realizing that perhaps this take-the-long-way world knows something we don’t.


View near Cartago, Costa Rica.


Really, you must be willing to be different than you are at this moment.  The great news is, a better version of yourself is waiting beneath the expectations, values and routines of your current atmosphere.  The path of moving to less-developed Costa Rica is surprisingly a personally developmental one.  If you open your mind and heart to the differences you’ll most definitely find when living in Costa Rica, you might become one of those tranquilos who stay for the long term.  You too can bewilder your friends with a goofy smile and a happy story.



12 Photos of 12 Months in Costa Rica: A Year of Beauty
3 Reasons to Travel with Children, for Their Sake