Packing for Your Move to Costa Rica: Advice from Expats

Right before we moved to Costa Rica, we did a post about what we were bringing. We itemized the contents of each of our eight suitcases (yup, that’s all we brought!). Now that we’ve been in Costa Rica for nine months and have a much better idea of what we actually need to live here, we thought it was time for an update. To get more opinions, we also asked four other expats who recently made the move. This post will share our collective advice on what we brought that we didn’t need, what we brought that we use all the time, and what we wish we had brought.

Us (Jenn & Matt)

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What we brought that we didn’t need: blender (every place we’ve lived has had one); nice clothes (it’s so casual here we seldom dress up beyond a cotton dress/polo shirt); hairdryer (it’s so hot Jenn almost always air dries); bathrobe; dressy shoes/heels; anything leather (molds like crazy).

What we brought that we’re so glad we did: nice pots and pans (difficult to find quality ones); camera, cell phones, computers (electronics are very expensive); quality knives; nice beach towels; our favorite shampoos, bath, and skin care products; sunscreen (very expensive here); shaver refills; hiking boots; headlamps; basic tool kit; electronic copies of all important documents.

What we wish we brought: more Advil (sold by the pill in CR) & other over-the-counter meds and vitamins; Space Saver bags (great for storing extra clothes/prevents mildew); a good quality non-stick pan; silica packets for camera dry box or sticking in suitcases (prevents mold/moisture); back-up hard drives; lightweight hats for sun protection; tire repair kit for car; office supplies; snacks (especially nuts like almonds); peanut butter; beer cozies (gotta keep the Imperial cold! These are very overpriced in CR).

Here’s What Other Expats Had to Say

Samantha Wei

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Samantha is co-founder of a leading travel blog in Costa Rica, My Tan Feet, which she founded with her boyfriend, Yeison. She lives in Playas del Coco.

When I moved to Costa Rica, I brought two full suitcases with me. Luckily I didn’t need to bring home or kitchen items as my future home was already furnished by my boyfriend. However, we ended up moving from the mountains to the beach two weeks after I got there so my wardrobe was a bit ill fitting since I brought colder temperature clothes.

 

Some things I brought but didn’t end up needing are: boots, robe, my point and shoot camera (my boyfriend had a much better one), a Spanish textbook (I found online software to be more helpful), my nail polish (they all dried out), heels and flats.

 

Some things I wish I brought: more framed pictures, a wireless mouse, a laptop fan, more Chinese sauces, food and snacks, a more durable water bottle, a day bag, a phone protector, an epilator, running shorts, hiking sandals and a poncho.

 

Some things I was happy I brought: my Nintendo Wii, sunglasses, visor, my external hard drive, iPod, my beach tote, a good spatula and lots of hair ties.

 

I guess most of the things you can attribute to not being prepared for a beach life and finding out that electronics are much more expensive in Costa Rica. I found out my wardrobe became much more casual living at the beach and didn’t end up needing several of my clothes that were more formal.

 

One thing I wish I brought the most? My puppy! Unfortunately she is a pretty big dog and it wasn’t worth taking her away from my parent’s house to fly 3000 miles to a very hot environment. At least in Coco there are plenty of dogs that I can play with at the beach!

 

Haydee Stuart

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Haydee Stuart is co-founder of Pollo Pass, a fun and informative online-resource guide specializing in Costa Rica. She currently lives in Santa Teresa, Mal Pais. Be sure to check her website for exclusive online deals and the latest travel tips and information.

Almost three years ago I quit my job in Los Angeles and decided to pack (almost all) my stuff and move to Costa Rica. Since then I have gone back and forth a number of times and looking back on that first move I had it (almost) all wrong.

 

Of course being a female, the majority of my luggage was packed with clothes. Shorts, tanks, bikinis, dresses, jeans, leggings, sweaters, you name it, but needless to say I over-packed, or better over-dosed, on clothing. Instead I wished I had packed more quality sheets and/or towels, which are hard to come by here. In addition to a plethora of clothes was also my mound of makeup & variety of shoe options, both in the end turned out to be just excess baggage weight. Don’t get me wrong, I like being “made-up” but in this weather I am lucky if my deodorant stays on let alone my eye shadow!

 

As far as the shoes go, depending where you plan on living/visiting I would suggest investing in nothing more than a few pairs of flip-flops and “fancy” sandals and 1 pair of sneakers. In lieu of hefty shoe options that you won’t wear, bring a few of your favorite can’t-live-without beauty or hygiene products to avoid missing them and/or paying double. Mine included a leave-in conditioner/detangler, face wash, razor refills and of course sunscreen, lots of it!

 

Although the multi card reader I brought has been awesome to grab pictures from new friends along the way, I am kicking myself for not bringing an external hard-drive and extra cables/chargers. I have had to buy all of these things along the way and my wallet is not too happy about it.

 

Lastly I can recommend for anyone moving to Costa Rica to toss one luggage bag and instead opt to pack your stuff in a cooler. This is one of the best things I did (the 3rd time around). Not only does it protect your stuff, it also is great for beach bonfires, BBQ’s and triples as a table while on the go!

 

Jen Seymour & Greg Seymour

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Jen and Greg Seymour moved to Grecia in June of 2013, after quitting their jobs and breaking free of the rat race in North America where “bigger was better.” You can find Jen and Greg at their blogs: Costa Rica Chica (Jen) and Costa Rica Curious (Greg).

 

Things we brought, that we’re so glad we did

Jen Seymour

When we moved here 9 months ago, we only brought 9 pieces of luggage with us. This was all we owned at this point, after selling our houses, cars, toys and furniture. We spent a lot of time planning exactly what we needed to bring with us, and even though we knew we wouldn’t think of everything, I think we did a pretty darn good job.

 

The best things we brought with us when we moved here were our apple products. Greg and I have an apple family – we both have iPhones, iPods, and Mac laptops, and I also have the iPad Mini. The iPhones are great, as we unlocked them in the States and got SIM cards here with minutes to use as local phones, we just re-load them when we need to, about once a month (and at only $2 a pop!). We can iMessage or Facetime our friends and family for free. For me, one of the best gadgets on the iPhone is the camera – I use it ALL the time when I’m out and about. It’s so easy to whip out and get to the camera really fast, and it actually takes really good pictures. The iPad Mini is also great, and I mainly use it as a reader with the kindle app. We are both avid readers, and Greg has an actual Kindle which he uses. We don’t have a TV here, but we watch movies all the time on our laptops – which works out great. We don’t miss having a TV at all! It’s much nicer to take a walk outside or sit on our front patio and watch the world go by.

 

Other items we brought, that we use all the time:

 

Clothing: flip flops, hiking boots, crocs, tank tops, sun hats and shorts. I also wear skorts (a skirt with shorts built in underneath) ALL the time – I love them! So comfy and functional too.

 

Drug Store: Ibuprofen, Excedrin, Nyquil (and other cold/sinus medicines), Pepto-bismol, Band-Aids, Neosporin, good razors for shaving. And lots of sunscreen – sunscreen is very pricey here and is definitely something you need, Costa Rica is only 10 degrees from the equator.

 

Kitchen Products (note – I love to bake!): Kitchen Aid Mixer, coffee pot, crock pot, coffee grinder, food processor, dutch oven, a good knife set and Silpats (non-stick baking mats).

 

Other miscellaneous items: Toolbox with some general tools, batteries, yoga mats, back packs, umbrellas and reusable shopping bags (since we don’t have a car, these work great for toting groceries on the bus). Oh, and last but not least – The Executioner, an electric tennis racket. With the touch of a button, you can swing and zap those pesky Costa Rican bugs!

 

Something else that didn’t fit into any of our suitcases, but we brought anyway: our sense of adventure and our sense of humor. Both of these things have helped us tremendously to adjust to Costa Rica and live here happily. Trust me, when I say – these are two things you ABSOLUTELY need to survive here.

 

Unnecessary Evils
Greg Seymour

Imagine that you were stranded on a deserted island and you had to live the rest of your life with just 9 suitcases worth of stuff – what would you regret taking?

 

Ok, so we aren’t stranded and Costa Rica is not deserted and everyone knows it is not an island. Right? We did, however, move here with only 9 suitcases and while we did a great job of managing the number of suitcases and their weight we did manage to bring a couple of things that we just do not need here:

 

1) The Weighted Hula-Hoop – I know what you are thinking, “you are moving to Costa Rica, how can you not bring the weighted Hula-Hoop?” Well, we did bring it and I after I put it together (oh yeah, in addition to being weighted, it tears down for easy travel) it sat in the corner just waiting to be twirled. My wife protests that she has indeed used it and that it has some value here and it is fine, really, as long as she dusts it once a month or so.

 

2) The Bug Net – So this one may be useful, one day. Currently we are up in the mountains of the Central Valley and while there are bugs, it is not buggy like down by the beach and in the rainforest. Essentially, the bug net is a hoop that you hang from the ceiling and it drapes a net over your bed to create a barrier between you and the pests. It is bad enough that we brought the net and don’t use it, but worse than that is this is not our first net. Yes, we bought 2 nets that we don’t use. Luckily we only packed one. It was impossible to pack the first one because its hoop was too big to fit into any one of our suitcases. Oh yah, it was not returnable to boot – some lucky shopper at Goodwill in Dallas will love this once they figure out what it is.

 

3) Landline Phone Handset – We had actually thought this one through. Before we left the States we set up a Dallas phone number with Magic Jack and paid for the VOIP service for 5 years. In order to use Magic Jack we were required to, we thought, use a landline phone. So we brought 2 phones, a cheapie corded phone and a cordless phone with a base plus 1 additional handset. So we were prepared – the problem was that Magic Jack did not work so well with the old-school phones and we ended up finding and installing the Magic Jack iPhone app on our cell phones, and this worked Magically.

 

So even after over a year of thought going into our move, we still brought a couple of things that should have stayed in Dallas. Overall though, we did a phenomenal job of downsizing from an upper-middle class lifestyle and all its trappings to a much more simplified life.

 

Anyone need a Hula-Hoop? It is weighted and it disassembles for travel and, more importantly, storage.

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Muchas gracias to Samantha, Haydee, Jen, and Greg for sharing their experiences. We hope that this post is helpful to those people trying to figure out what they need to bring to Costa Rica.

Questions/Comments

Have you made the move to CR? What tips would you give to people about to take the leap?

 

21 Comments

  1. Thanks guys for letting Jen and I play along.
    It was great reading what everyone else brought when they moved, I found myself saying, “oh, man what a great idea” a couple of times.

    Reply
    • It was great having you contribute, Greg. We felt the same way. Haydee’s cooler idea was brilliant.

      Reply
  2. Thanks! Great article! My wife and I are relocating in November. I did not see where anyone mentioned bringing down a printer. Are HP Ink Jet printers readily available in Costa Rica? Or should we bring one with us?

    Reply
    • If you decide to bring your printer from the US don’t forget to bring lots of Ink Cartridges‎. The ones sold in Costa Rica will be not work in your printer brought in North America.

      Reply
    • Steve…. we just moved here permanently in March 2014. After visiting 4 times and spending 6 months here last year to make sure, we took the plunge….sold everything, and came with 9 large suitcases, and our carry on luggage, computer case, etc.
      We brought much of the similar stuff these folks mentioned, and my husband brought our HP printer along with us. It’s lightweight and, as most folks mentioned, the electronic stuff can be a bit pricey here.
      Hope that helps. Jeanie Kunerth

      Reply
  3. Thanks for all the write-ups! I’m gaining much needed knowledge into moving to CR with all your input. Thanks for taking all the time and effort to post these.
    Dawn

    Reply
    • Our pleasure Dawn!

      Reply
  4. Really helpful post! I’m moving to Costa Rica in May, so have an idea of a few extra things that will be needed in my suitcase ~ including peanut butter!!

    Reply
    • Thanks Charlie! Just make sure to wrap things like peanut butter in plastic bags too. We had some friends arrive last week with a burst container and some delicious smelling clothes.

      Reply
  5. What a great post! Hard to fit your life in a mere eight suitcases. You definitely should not have given any Imperial beer cozies away.

    Reply
    • We’d like to think our old cozies are getting plenty of use back in Beantown. We left them in good hands :)

      Reply
  6. Does PriceSmart or Wal-Mart have OTC drugs like ibuprofen in larger quantities?

    Reply
    • Roberta, we haven’t lived near San Jose yet so haven’t explored PriceSmart. The Maxi Palis (Walmarts) near where we have lived don’t have larger boxes or bottles of ibuprofen on the shelves. They usually have a pharmacy counter and ask you how many you would like (per pill). You can buy the whole box but they just multiply the price by how many are in the box.

      Reply
      • We made our first trip to PriceMart this weekend! The do carry larger quantities of Tylenol, but nowhere near the size found in the US, and prices were considerably higher. That’s the only one I remember seeing…best to bring your own when you come. And coolers are SO expensive!!!

        Reply
      • There’s your answer everyone! Thanks for letting us know what PriceMart had, Jana. Great timing.

        Reply
  7. We built our new home in Valle Pura Vida near Manuel Antonio. We haven’t been able to make the move permanent, because my wife isn’t quite ready, and we have some court cases pending in the US. We spend about 1/2 the year in each place. I like the fact that we can bring that 3rd suitcase each trip, stuffed with Home Depot tools, window tint, and other “stuff”. Garden supplies and spare parts for our Hilux also fill the case.

    Reply
    • Hi Pat, that’s a good way to get your stuff here. We’re planning to bring some stuff back and then fill the suitcase with new stuff when we go back to the States later this year. Enjoy Manuel Antonio!

      Reply
  8. We’re moving to Costa Rica in a couple weeks and this post was really helpful! I get really bad migraines so I’ll have to stock up on pain medication before we leave.

    Reply
    • Katie, glad it was helpful. Good luck with your move!

      Reply
      • Hi! We just moved to Costa Rica in August 2013 and have loved our time here! We are currently living in Grecia! It’s always hard to know what to bring but we came with the bare minimum. After selling all our things, we came with 2 suitcases and 2 small backpacks! We agree about the printer, such a pain to go into town to get everything printed. We are considering bringing one from the States as well. Thanks for sharing!
        Landon

        Reply
      • Hi Landon, Wow, we are almost on the same schedule as you. We moved in late July last year. Fitting everything in four bags is definitely impressive. We’ve narrowed ours down a bit and hope to rid ourselves of another suitcase or two on the next trip back to visit the States. Less is more right? Thanks for reading and keep enjoying paradise!

        Reply

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