Another year update. It seems surreal. When we first moved to Costa Rica in 2013, we counted those first weeks, months, and even years with amazement. “Wow, I can’t believe that we live here,” we would say. Things like beautiful waterfalls and exotic fruits would linger in our minds for days. That honeymoon phase has worn off now as we pass the four-year mark. Life just feels more normal and routine. But we still have those special Costa Rica moments. Maybe we aren’t running for our camera every time we see a toucan or sloth anymore, but we still stop and take it all in with appreciation. And we do so often, especially with our son exploring at our heels. Here is our update on year four of living in Costa Rica.
A Busy Year
Much like year three, year four had a lot going on. Sam entered the toddler stage, which meant that he was suddenly much more mobile (read: running around like crazy). As we did more traveling around Costa Rica, he had some fun experiences with us. From pointing out the Arenal Volcano from different spots all around La Fortuna, to dipping his toes in the waters of the Caribbean Sea, or even just visiting a playground in Quepos, he is absorbing everything pura vida. With those trips, we also learned about some limitations that come with toddler travel. A few things broken at hotels and some tantrums at dinner after waiting too long for food teaches you quickly.
Back at home on the Pacific Coast, finding a work-life balance was one of the biggest struggles in year four. With our website still growing and demand for our travel-planning services also growing, we often found ourselves working seven days a week. This was mostly because we are both part-time while also taking care of Sam (a good thing, by the way, and something we are very happy to be able to do). But as we end year four and go onto year five, we have started to figure out that balance. We have enlisted the help of a Costa Rican woman who comes a couple of times a week to help with childcare. Sam loves it and is already picking up Spanish words. It is improving our Spanish too. We also hired our first employee at Two Weeks in Costa Rica! She works online for us and has helped take off some of the workload, which we really needed.
Much like having a baby here did in year three, our growing business allowed us to see a different side of Costa Rica in year four. Learning the intricacies of how business is done, dealing with dozens of new companies and numerous banks, and a little government red tape left us wanting to pull our hair out at times. But it also has been rewarding. We have built some strong business relationships, figured out a lot of things logistically, and continue to expand and offer new services to our clients. All of the struggles that have come with this process, though, make us sympathize with those (many) people who move here to start a business only to give up and move back a short time later. The frustrations really can get to you. But hopefully at the end of the day, the good outweighs the bad. A beautiful sunset here, some amazing wildlife there, and a dose of Costa Rican kindness from a local helps a lot.
One big reward for us literally just happened: our applications for permanent residency were finally approved! We submitted our applications on our own without a lawyer in May 2016 and they were approved in July 2017 (14 months later). There has been some additional paperwork that we needed to do in the month since (signing up for the health care/pension system), but we picked up our final papers and will have our ID cards (cedulas) soon!
So what does this mean for us? We aren’t required to leave the country every 90 days anymore (the length of a tourist visa and a requirement to keep your foreign driver’s license valid) and are now members of Costa Rica’s socialized medical system and pension/retirement system. That means that we pay into the system, and in return, can use the hospitals and clinics for care. It also means that banking is a little easier (we now have a DIMEX number, which allows transfers from bank to bank), we can get a cell phone plan, national park entrance fees are a fraction of the price, we don’t have to wait in the long line for foreigners at the international airport, and some other benefits like that.
Looking back at the residency process, we do have some advice. The process is long, not that inexpensive, and navigating all the paperwork and bureaucracy can be daunting. I think we have had to get our apostilled marriage certificate from the US about six times at this point (for various reasons). DHL loves us and our credit card. We have also had to make several trips to Migration in San Jose to check on our applications, which is a fun excuse to explore the city, but it really adds up.
Our advice for those moving here recently would be to wait until you are certain you want to stay long-term. It seems like a lot of newbies last about two years before deciding it was fun but not for them. Those who make it past the two-year mark usually stay for quite a bit longer or maybe forever. So do the tourist-visa route for a while, make your border runs to renew your visa, and then, when you are sure you want to stay, apply for residency.
For us, as we move past the four-year mark of living in Costa Rica, life is good. While we have had frustrations, we also have had a lot of good things happen. We still love it here and don’t regret breaking away from the rat race back in the States. Even though we are working hard, we are doing something that we enjoy and are working for ourselves. And most of all, we get to spend every day with our son, watching him grow up and learn. That has been amazingly rewarding and we wouldn’t exchange it for anything.
So that’s it for the year four wrap up. We hope that you long-time readers keep following along and we welcome all of the newcomers. Two Weeks in Costa Rica has turned into something much more than we expected and we are glad to have such a great audience. ¡Pura vida!
Want to follow our story from the beginning? Check out these posts:
- We’re Moving to Costa Rica!
- First Impressions on Living in Costa Rica
- Living in Costa Rica: One Month Update
- Buying a Car in Costa Rica
- Fun Facts from Our First Six Months in Costa Rica
- Our First Year in Costa Rica
- House Sitting: How to Live in Costa Rica for $2,000 a Year
- Two Years in Costa Rica: How Life Has Changed
- Having a Baby in Costa Rica
- Applying for Residency in Costa Rica Without a Lawyer
- Living in Costa Rica: Three-Year Update