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16 Stupid Things Gringos living in Costa Rica do all the time

16 Stupid Things Gringos living in Costa Rica do all the timeThe first thing that I should do, in case someone misunderstands the term “gringo”, is to explain who are seen as gringos in Costa Rica.

A gringo in Costa Rica is anyone who has a lighter skin, hair that is lighter than black and speaks Spanish with some kind of accent, or no Spanish at all. That means, that even I, who has been living in Costa Rica for 35 years, am still called a gringo even though I speak fluent Tico Spanish but with an accent.
Now you, a gringo, are living in Costa Rica and learning to adjust to your new lifestyle and your new home country. To be able to live in a new country, for sure you’ll make mistakes by saying the wrong words, by doing something that is not customary in Costa Rica and will be frowned upon by the locals or by making a serious mistake when buying property (I am a real estate broker, in case you didn’t know). I want to warn you about those mistakes, the stupid mistakes, so you won’t make them. Don’t be surprised you think I’m talking about you.


Do not walk into a local bar with a wad of dollar bills in your hand.

Do not walk into a local bar with a wad of dollar bills in your hand.


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1.    Do not walk into a local bar with a wad of dollar bills in your hand. Do not show how much you have (or don’t have) by showing off. Lay low and don’t try to play the gringo millionaire.

2.    Do not think that Ticos do everything wrong because it’s not your way. In their eyes, YOU do everything wrong. There is a reason that people in a different culture do things differently, and if there is no reason, it’s still the right way, as long as you would like to be living in Costa Rica.


Picking up a girl in Hotel Del Rey and ask her to marry you

Picking up a girl in Hotel Del Rey and ask her to marry you (Photo: from digital vagabonding dot com)


3.    Picking up a girl in Hotel Del Rey and ask her to marry you. Then you buy a house, give her the power of attorney that controls the corporation that owns the new house and then give her a credit card to go shopping. Two months later she will tell you she is pregnant and that it’s your kid. 4 Months later I see you walk a stroller through the neighborhood and when you see me you call me over: “hey Ivo, meet my son”.

4.    Do not purchase property in Costa Rica and then abandon it. Keep it clean and fenced. The dream you had to triple your investment in Costa Rica might turn into a nightmare when you can’t get the squatters off your land.


The locals will even speak bad English to make it easy on you

The locals will even speak bad English to make it easy on you


5.     Show a little respect for the local language and learn Spanish, at least the basics and don’t just put an “a” or an “o” behind the English word and think you speaka Spanish. Years ago, I had a client do that all the time and would say things like hamburgero and meato, and when he would order hamburger meat at the butcher shop, he’d order uno pound of meato hamburgero please. Be proud of trying to speak real Spanish and show the locals that you’re trying. If you do, they’ll do all they can to help you and even speak bad English to make it easy on you.

6.   Hire a contractor to remodel your house and pay him the whole job upfront. When the contractor never returns to even start the job, you decide to hire another contractor and you pay him 50% up front. Guess what happened.

7.    You fire the maid for stealing. You can’t find another maid and you feel bad for the one you just fired. She needs to make a living too, so you call her and hire her again.


Take off all your bling when you go downtown

Take off all your bling when you go downtown


8.    Take off all your bling and stick your wallet in a difficult to get to place when you go downtown in any large city in Costa Rica. Do not run the risk of getting mugged. I’ve seen gringos lose their wallet, watch and passport on the first day of arrival because they didn’t listen to me.

9.    When giving someone a power of attorney, make it a special power and not a general power, no matter if you trust that person completely.  You can make a special power very specific for a very specific means that can be described exactly the way you want it. I have seen an person with a power of attorney sell somebody’s property for $1 and get away with it.

10.    Don’t try to say that you’re embarrassed in Spanish if you don’t know the right word. “Estar embarazada (embarazado if its a male…)” means that you are pregnant. The right way to say it is “tengo mucho pena” or “me da pena” or even “estoy avergonzado (a)”.

11.    Do not be loud when you are in a Tico environment. Ticos hate loud people, especially when they are drunk. I have seen a loud gringo crowd empty a TGIF restaurant during a local football game because of bad behavior of the gringo group. Be proud of where you’re from and show respect to the locals.

12.    If your housekeeper, your gardener, your neighbor or a friend asks you for a loan or an advance in their pay, say no. Don’t try to talk your way out of it trying to be nice, just say no, you don’t give loans or advances. If you do, you won’t get it back or they’ll be back for more and you’ll feel bad about it, so they’ll keep pushing for it. Say no!

13.    Do not complain about the food to get a free meal out of it, its bad taste. Of course you can complain and even send the food back to the kitchen, but do it in an educated way, without everyone else in the restaurant needing to know what is going on.


If you happen to see a snake, don’t try to take a selfie (Photo: Patrick Demarchelier For Vanity Fair)


14.    If you happen to see a snake, don’t try to take a selfie or try to kick it to make it leave. Not all snakes are poisonous, but you do not want to take the chance. 

15.    In English and some other languages, the adjectives come before the noun and in Spanish the other way around: “el bolso negro” means the bag black, “la sonrisa preciosa” is the smile beautiful and “el sol caliente” is the sun hot. You get it, right? If you don’t, read this blog that tells you not to be afraid to speak bad Spanish

16.    The most stupid mistake that you can make when living in Costa Rica is being afraid of making any mistakes. Make them but learn from those mistakes. Do not turn a deaf ear on those who try to help by correcting you.

If you don’t want to make any mistakes when buying real estate in Costa Rica, contact a GoDutch Realty agent.

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I DO want to remind our readers that we appreciate any referrals you can send us. I know you all meet people on the plane, in the supermarket, at yoga, at the gym, at the Blooms ladies club, at the potluck organized by your community. Please remember the GoDutch Realty agents when you talk about your home in Costa Rica, when you meet someone who wants to purchase one, we appreciate it.

We Love your Referrals at GoDutch Realty

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Ivo Henfling

If you are looking to buy a home in Costa Rica or invest in a condo anywhere in the central Valley, or looking for any property for sale in Escazu, you need to call me. I have been selling real estate in Escazu for over 20 years and can show you hundreds of happy buyers of real estate in Escazu and other areas. To me, a deal is not a good deal unless both buyer and seller are happy.

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