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I learned four lessons when we moved to Costa Rica

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four lessons when we moved to Costa Rica

There are four lessons I learned when we moved to Costa Rica. If I would have known these facts, we would have had a much easier start.

I’d like to share those four lessons with those with an interest to learn from other’s mistakes.

My good friend Ivo has asked me to relate my retirement to Costa Rica. I had commented that I found 18 pages typed single-spaced of my first 3 months. From this, he asked me to relate some of it because he is constantly trying to inform clients about moving to Costa Rica. He obviously wants to bring out the good and any negatives. I often say to people, not to ask me about Costa Rica unless they want to hear me talk all day and into the night because I love Costa Rica.

I must qualify this since I now live in Florida, but I’d love to return to Costa Rica. How I got there may be of importance since a lot of my first impressions may still be prevalent today. I went down in 1992 to see a high school friend that had just informed me he was retiring to Costa Rica. He married a Tica who was a teacher in Lawrence, Kansas.

My wife and I came down Spring break since she was a school principal and that was the earliest we could make it. We immediately fell in love with virtually everything. They had rented a home in Cariari which spoiled us from the start.

I can only ask you to be smart enough to learn from the mistakes we made when we moved to Costa Rica.

4 Lessons when Moving to Costa Rica

Lesson number one!

When we moved to Costa Rica, we immediately heard two stories about the locals. A gringo was watching men dig a septic tank drain field. The foreman was meticulously putting the level in the ditch to make sure it was being installed level. The gringo said, “Shouldn’t that slope down versus being level”? The Tico immediately said, maybe that is the way it’s done in the States, but we do not do it that way here.

When in a foreign country, do not try to change things to your way of life. The other story was the gringo found a particular item he loved and could always get at his local pulpería. One day he went to purchase it, and it was not there. He asked the owner where it was and the owner said that it was just so much work to keep it on the shelf so he just stopped stocking it. This is not to say he was lazy because they are very hard-working people. It is just their way of life and nobody tries to change it.

Spanish lessons

I have had a lot of classes in Spanish, but never used it, so I am not fluent. The first thing you learn is that you may know how to ask the question, but you will fail to understand the answer. Do not give up. As I continue, you have to remember it is all in Spanish, so I had to go the extra mile to understand and to be understood. You will need to learn the language. In the process of learning, please learn the phrase, “con mucho gusto”. That means with much pleasure. It is used when meeting someone or in return for a thank you.

You will be amazed at the speech inflection of a server when you say “Gracias” and he says “Con mucho gusto, Señor!” In Mexico, they say “De Nada” which means there is nothing to it, and I for one call that rude!!

It’s also a good idea to check out the hand gestures that are used in Costa Rica, you’ll get a lot more done if you know how to use them.

My coffee plantation

With our newfound love when we moved to Costa Rica, I started reading everything I could about Costa Rica. Not much is available since the internet was not that developed at that time. In one publication I subscribed to, I found a coffee plantation for sale. The description was fabulous, so I inquired about it. To make a long story short, I purchased it in 1993. It really was in bad shape and coffee was at an all-time low, but I persisted because I just loved the country.

4 Lessons when Moving to Costa Rica

Here is lesson number two

A peon came with the property, which is not a derogatory term. It is just a worker who had to be told daily what to do. That would never do with a long-distance owner. I was lucky enough to find a man that would work with the peon (José) and give me an evaluation of him. I realized he would never work out because he had not been trained to make decisions. My newfound man agreed to be my administrator and we decided that he could do it all himself except at certain times of the year.

Firing a man is a confrontation, and confrontations in Costa Rica are not done. So my man (Luis) took José off into the field in privacy to inform him he was now the administrator and would call on José when needed. This went very well since it was done in private. Luis had to do this for me since I was not fluent and wanted to be as gentle and fair as possible. Luis did not speak English either. You never confront someone in public regardless of the circumstances.

The farm

I went to Costa Rica in 1996 to tend to the farm and just enjoy it. My wife joined me and we rented a little cabin on the mountain in Escazu. Tight but comfortable. We were enjoying ourselves and she suddenly realized that she really felt great.

No Advil several times a day and not as many cokes. The stress and strain of work, plus many back surgeries, almost made her an addict, unknowingly. In Costa Rica, there was no stress and consequently no pain pills.

The house

I had already quit work and informed her we needed to move to Costa Rica. She was so work-oriented that it never dawned on her. I reminded her that in a year she would have 30 years of education and could retire. We started looking for a house and of course, found one on the mountain overlooking San Jose with the most marvelous views you have ever seen. I have always been a person of spontaneous decisions, so we purchased it.

4 Lessons when Moving to Costa Rica

Lesson number three

It is really best to live in a foreign country for at least 6 months before committing yourself to buy. We also made our purchase when we moved to Costa Rica.

There are so many stories that are of interest but no room for them here. I also am one to talk too much about Costa Rica. We were going to make the move, lock stock and barrel. Sold the house, too much of our life’s collections, and two identical Isuzu Troopers. Back in ‘97, there were not that many cars, and the roads were terrible. Every car we rented when we moved to Costa Rica looked great but the chassis was wiped out.


Back then, THEY SAID that the import taxes would be lower for each year up to ten years old. We realized that a four-wheel drive was only necessary because of the heavy-duty suspension. There are four-wheel-drive roads, but only by choice. I could buy these cars in the US cheap, but it ended up the import tax was more than what I paid for the cars. 10 years old!

4 Lessons when Moving to Costa Rica

Lesson number four

Do not take a car with you to Costa Rica. There are plenty of them in CR now and you save nothing taking a car.

Pick the right moving company

The next important thing I know is to pick a Costa Rican moving company IF you decide to ship your household to Costa Rica. We hired an International company that shipped to Central America. We had to hire a local “agent” to handle the receipt. Again, we were not told much except to number the boxes and list what was in them.

Again, long story short, shipments and arrivals were totally not in agreement. Our Agent seemed to get schedules after the fact and it was a nightmare. He also came to our house and wanted to review the box contents. He started out asking how many socks, underwear and etc. Obviously, I did not count each item, just what was in the box.

Pick the right customs agent

We learned fast the frustrations you can have in a foreign country. Aside from my Trooper arriving and broken into while waiting on me, we shipped the other one in the container.

Our agent and my wife went to the office to get the papers for the car to release it when we moved to Costa Rica. The person that had the password to the computer was homesick, so they had to go back the next week!!! That made even our agent mad.

We hired a marvelous company in San Jose to move us back to the US, and I have never had such an enjoyable experience. If I had hired them to move there, I am sure it would have gone like clockwork.

With other frustrations we went through the first couple of months, I was turning into a drinking man. Most frustrations relate to our particular situation. But more about that some other time.


Guest blogger FloridaTico has lived in Escazu, Costa Rica during the ’90s. From here, FloridaTico and his wife, FloridaTica have moved to Florida, where they live now. This blog is a testimony about living in Costa Rica and having a good time, sometimes, doing it.

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