Living in Costa Rica: 5 Years Strong

A half decade (yes, five years!) has passed since we first boarded that plane to Costa Rica with our eight mismatched suitcases and twinkles of adventure in our eyes. When we landed, we were like many people who move here. We had no clear plan of what we’d do, but we knew that we were searching for something different, something new, and something exciting. And like most people, that is just what we found.

Living in Costa Rica 5 Years Strong

Looking Back at Year 5

Looking back at those five years, it is clear that those different, new, and exciting things were easy to find in the first year or two. To this day, we still get that same tingly feeling of excitement when exploring a new beach or hiking trail. Costa Rica has so many different experiences to uncover, we’ll never find them all. The picture above was yet another magical morning sunrise that we experienced while traveling. This one was in Drake Bay.  

But as time goes on, the honeymoon phase of living somewhere new starts to wear off. You begin to miss the people and things that you once had available to you at the snap of a finger. You start to realize that when something is different, it’s not always an exciting challenge to figure out. Quite the opposite, you might get frustrated, mad, or feel defeated by some of the obstacles.

As a foreigner trying to get anything done in a different country, you have to learn what hoops to jump through and accept that things are different. In Costa Rica specifically, you’re not just going to make a few clicks and have what you need delivered to your door. You’re also not going to walk into a public office and get a certain document, certification, stamp of approval, etc. without some red tape. It may take several trips and full days of effort to get what you need. In our case, you may have to travel 3-4 hours to San Jose, pay for a night in a hotel, get in line early the next day, and still fail at getting something accomplished. Add to that the many times the internet or power goes out, roads get closed, unknown holidays impede your schedule, and so on. It can all get frustrating after a while. Sure you learn as you go, but it can feel like a never-ending learning curve.

5 years living in Costa Rica - Difficulties
A typical line at Migration in San Jose

In our five years, we have seen these obstacles and limitations force many people to give up on or change their dream. People with ambition and drive. People with an overwhelming sense of adventure. But in the end, Costa Rica wasn’t right for them for one reason or another, and they realized it. They might be better off now for having given it a try, but nonetheless, they’ve left (sad face for those friends that have). Some last one year, some two or three. It seems the ones that make it past that have the potential to stay, like us. It doesn’t make anyone better. In fact, it takes a lot of guts to call it quits and know what is better for you and your family.

Challenges in Year 5

This past year gave us some challenges that made us shake our heads and wonder if we were doing the right thing ourselves.

One of the biggest was health related. This is a common reason people do end up leaving. Late last year, Matt contracted an uncommon disease called Leishmaniasis. It is caused by an insect, which carries a certain parasite. The disease manifested as a large open sore that wouldn’t heal. His was on his thigh. We’re not sure where he got the bite (as we travel quite a bit and the insects can be found in a lot of places), but it was a tough road for a while. There was a scary misdiagnosis at first then a lot of painful tests to get to the real cause. For the wound to finally heal, he ended up needing 45 injections (1 per day) over the span of a month and a half. All in all it was a four-month process. The wound itself wasn’t painful but the toxic medicine really did him in (sort of like a mild chemotherapy). The good thing was that we figured out how to use a combination of the private health centers and the public hospital system during that time. Eventually we made daily visits to either the local clinic or public hospital for the shots.

This whole experience made us slightly paranoid. Something bad had finally happened to us in Costa Rica, and we wondered, would it happen again? Had our luck run out?

Overall, this and a few other health-related incidents, along with the obstacles of being a foreigner have been balanced out. On the other end of the scale is our true love for Costa Rica, our optimism that things will work out, and our accomplishments since moving here. Even weird bug diseases won’t scare us off!

Accomplishments in Year 5

Our biggest accomplishment, which we announced in our four-year post, was getting our permanent residency approved. We later followed that up with getting our cedulas (local ID cards), signing up for the public healthcare system (good thing, since we needed it), updating a million papers for our business and bank accounts to reflect the change, and most recently, getting our Costa Rica driver’s licenses. Each one was a small victory for us. These things have not only bolstered our confidence that we can make it work here, but have also gained us a bit of clout with the locals. Flashing your cedula instead of a passport really means you’re not a tourist anymore!

Living in Costa Rica and Getting Drivers License
Celebrating success outside the office after getting our driver’s licenses

This last year also has been great for our website and business. Our success has helped prove to ourselves that our hard work and determination have been worth the effort. Any doubts we had about leaving successful careers back in the States are gone as we enjoy the flexibility and freedom of being our own bosses. Our site has continued to grow steadily and reach more people. We’ve added new services like tour and shuttle bookings to our already popular customized itinerary service. And the number of readers we get on a monthly basis is at an all-time high. We are so grateful to all the new followers as well as those who have been with us since the beginning. To keep up with everything, we’ve hired more help to balance the workload and attempt to control the seemingly endless hours we were putting in last year (this is still a work in progress at times).

Along those lines, another thing that has really made a difference in our life is childcare. It’s funny because we mentioned last year how amazing it was to both be stay-at-home parents (while working, of course). We cherish the time we are able to spend with our son, as he grows up, but we also realized this year that he needs his own social interactions and playtime. Before this, it was mom and dad, all the time. We literally live in the middle of the jungle so playgrounds, community centers, meetups, etc. are distances away. Our immediate families also live thousands of miles from us, so date nights and unscheduled drop offs at grandma and grandpa’s house are just dreams to us.

Thankfully we now have a system that has a nice balance of time at home, daycare, and a part-time nanny, who comes to the house. We get to work while hearing him giggle outside on some days, and on other days, we get to hear his stories from “school” about what the other kids are up to.

Final Thoughts

Overall, life is very good in Costa Rica and we are still happy we made that giant leap five years ago. Sure we’ve had challenges but those can happen no matter where you live. We’re happy to be steering through them here. As the years pass, we’ve become comfortable here. When we visit family and friends back in New England, we even feel a little out of place. It’s amazing to see everyone and home will always be where we grew up. But we’ve been in Costa Rica long enough now to call it home too. Our son doesn’t even hesitate when we ask him where he’s from. Costa Rica! he’ll say.

5 years living in Costa Rica

Want to follow our story from the beginning? Check out these posts:

13 Comments

  1. Hi Jenn & Matt,
    I’ve been following you for several months now. I visited Costa Rica several years ago for a week long vacation. Loved it! My husband and I have a trip planned for Jan/Feb 2019 for 3 weeks. Your information has been very helpful for planning purposes. So sorry that I didn’t contact you for help scheduling, but for me that is half the fun. I love the planning nearly as much as the trip itself. Crazy, huh? I appreciate the hidden gems that we wouldn’t come across easily without the insight of a local. Yeah, after 5 years you’re a local. Thanks again for what you do.
    Paula

  2. Matt and Jenn so happy for you guys. What a magical experience. Challenging too. America – especially cities like your Boston and states like my New Jersey – are beyond convenient, offering some of the best service (and speed) on earth, across the board. CR and other developing nations are a big change up. Especially for residents. Here’s to more fun adventures in a dazzling land.

  3. Very encouraging. Having been in CR full time since February 2018 we resonate completely with your lessons. The universe reminds us that feeling good all the time is not why we are here. We are gifted these new experiences good and bad because it helps us along the way, if we let it.
    But we sure as heck feel better in this place of perfection, beauty, struggles, kindness, ignorance, innocence, genuineness, hopefulness. I simply do not recall so much of a spectrum back in the states great as it may be in its ways.

    Best wishes.

  4. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    I have been following you for some time. I find your articles and other information to be invaluable as my husband and I plan our move to Costa Rica. We’ve traveled to Costa Rica a dozen times over the past 9 years. We finally settled on an area where we would like to live (Montezuma area, Cabuya to be more exact). We haven’t made the leap yet as we want our ducks to be all in a row. Our ducks should be ready by end of next year! Hopefully they’ll stay in line.

    I especially appreciate your candor and honesty when it comes to the challenges Costa Rica presents. Though we’ve been there a dozen times, we’ve been there as tourists. Even then, we incurred challenges as we had property down there (we sold it last year) so we at least have seen a little bit of the red tape you speak of. We know that there will be numerous challenges and we don’t have expectations that we will be living in a paradise but we do feel that we will be living closer to our desired way of living. Thanks again for all the information, insight, and honesty.

    June & Andrew

  5. Hi Jenn and Matt!

    My wife and I are considering moving to Costa Rica next year and will be visiting in December to check out some spots. We’re from Nashville and like the mix of urban with lots of green space.

    Would you have any recommendations on where to live? I’m a remote software developer so solid internet is a must. We’re thinking either Alajuela or Heredia, but kind of at a loss. Which cities have you enjoyed?

    Keep up the awesome blog!
    Trent

    1. Hi Trent, Exciting plans! The Central Valley sounds right for you since internet there is consistently good and it’s urban. We like Alajuela a lot but Heredia has a little more green space. People also really like Santa Ana. Lots of traffic in these areas, though, so keep that in mind. Good luck on your reconnaissance trip!

      1. Hey – Love the site! Sorry for digging up an older post. I am finalizing my research to move to Costa Rica later this year. Just like Trent, I too need strong, and reliable, internet. I’m considering the Arenal area as I prefer lush mountains, etc. Is it reasonable to expect the ability to get fast and reliable internet if I’m willing to pay what it takes? Or should I expect to spend even more for satellite internet? I know it’s ambiguous based on each specific location, but I’ll base where I live based on my ability to make money and stay solvent haha

        Thanks,
        Matt

        1. Hi Matt, When we lived in Puerto San Luis and Tronodora on Lake Arenal, we had very good cable internet. In La Fortuna, cable internet is available as well. You will always have some limited outages due to storms during rainy season, but in general, the internet is good enough for most online work. You should definitely check in advance at the specific place you’re looking at, though. We usually ask for the Wifi password and do a speed test on our phones because what people think is fast can really vary. Hope that helps. Best of luck with your move!

  6. Hello Jenn & Matt
    I am also busy planning a short family sabbatical : April-September for next year and have found all your articles and tips extremely helpful. I would like your expert advise on a good place to base ourselves from which we can explore and discover CR: we surf, love the outdoors and our kids (ages 8,10and14) would like to attend one term at a school in CR. I’ve researched a bit on Tamarindo, Nosara and Santa Teresa, and they all seem like good options- any advice please?

    1. Hi Neil, Santa Teresa is really remote so we wouldn’t recommend it for families. Tamarindo or Nosara sound like they would both be good options for you. Nosara is more remote, while Tamarindo is closer to Liberia Airport and has more infrastructure and amenities. Hope that helps!

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