Moving to Costa Rica: 7 Years Abroad

This past July marked our seven-year anniversary of moving to Costa Rica. It’s amazing to think how different life would be if we never took the chance. When we first arrived, we rightfully felt out of place. Simple things like going to the store or talking to locals were a big adventure. Now Costa Rica feels like home. We are settled in and our Spanish has vastly improved. But just like the early years, we are still figuring out what works best for us.

A lot has happened since our last big update in year five, so let’s jump right in.

Living in Costa Rica 7 Year Update

Big Changes

A Growing Family

The biggest change in the last few years was an addition to our family. Last year, as the sun came up over the mountains surrounding San Jose, we welcomed another baby boy into the world.

Our son Evan has been an amazing addition to our family. At about 16-months old now, he’s walking and babbling, and playing with his big brother Sam, who is four and a half. The boys keep us very busy. Especially with staying home a lot due to the coronavirus.

Like his big brother Sam, Evan is automatically a citizen of Costa Rica because he was born here. Since we (his parents) are US citizens, both boys have dual citizenship.

Having Our Second Baby Costa Rica
Welcoming our second little Tico into the world in 2019

For those just joining our journey now, we became permanent residents of Costa Rica after the birth of our first son. We did the application ourselves, and the process took about a year and a half. This has been great for us because it means that we don’t need to leave the country to renew our visas. Many other things like banking are easier too.

Moving to a New Area

Almost as big of a change as having a baby was moving to a new area of Costa Rica. When we last updated you during year five, we were located in the mountains near Dominical. We loved it there. Dominical has lush jungle and a lot of wildlife along with shady palm-tree-lined beaches. Since we enjoy hiking, the mountains were also perfect for us to keep active.

After traveling around the country house sitting when we first moved to Costa Rica, we thought we had finally settled in one spot. We stayed there for about four years and made some lifelong friends.

Reasons for Moving

While we love Dominical, there were some limitations to living there, at least for us. The biggest one was that we felt really far from San Jose. That was a good thing when we didn’t have children, but our situation was changing.

With Jenn being pregnant again, we knew we wanted to be closer to the big hospitals in the city. The birth of our first son was a little complicated and scary, and we felt we needed top quality medical facilities for our second birth. We decided that delivering at CIMA Hospital near San Jose was best for us.  

Also, since there is limited pediatric care in rural parts of Costa Rica, we knew we’d be driving to San Jose at least once a month after the birth for routine doctor visits and other errands.

The drive from where we lived in Dominical to San Jose was almost four hours each way (with a short stop and traffic), so living a bit closer was really appealing. The seven or eight hour roundtrip in the car wasn’t fun with the kids, and we often had to stay overnight at a hotel.

Finally, where we lived near Dominical was pretty wild. In the deep jungle, we’d often have rainstorms that knocked out electricity or internet for a long time and sometimes washed out the road. Normally, we could cope, but since our website and travel agency was growing, we needed to be constantly available to our clients and employees. We also didn’t have great internet. At the time, the area only had a slow 3G connection. Cell phone reception wasn’t good where we lived on the mountain either.

Sure, we could have moved to a different home in the Dominical area, but we’d still be far from San Jose. Plus, while we loved it there, after four years in the jungle, we were really looking for some amenities.  

Casita in Costa Rica Jungle
Our old house in the jungle near Dominical

Finding Our New Community

House 1

We started looking farther north on the central Pacific coast and decided on the beach area between Manuel Antonio and Jaco. This area was appealing because it is only about 1.5 to 2 hours from things in San Jose, plus the bigger towns of Manuel Antonio and Jaco are well within reach.

Our first house rental in this area was perfect, for a while. It was in a gated community with lots of friendly neighbors and a huge community pool. Things were really going well as we prepared for baby number 2. We had excellent high-speed internet and the electricity hardly went out. The water supply was an issue, though, and we started having to buy drinking water for the house.

In this new place, we also started noticing that the gardeners were spraying chemicals all around the properties and common areas. Sometimes several times per week. Evan was a newborn when we realized, and we were pretty horrified that he was breathing in the fumes.

In general, Costa Rica uses a lot of spray-type chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, weed killer). Some of them are very strong and even banned in other countries. In our experience, if you have a personal gardener, you can give them some guidance on what to use or not use around your property, but in a development, it can be harder.

In our case, the neighbors did try to help when we brought it up, but making any changes was going to be a longer process that would have to go through the association. We didn’t want to wait around for that given the unknowns about if anything would actually change.

House 2

So we decided to move to another neighborhood in the area. This one was a lot smaller and felt like a good compromise between being in nature and close to civilization. It has some jungle, but the houses are fairly close to one another. Internet and electricity have been very reliable here as well. Best of all, we can talk to the gardener about our concerns.

House Central Pacific Costa Rica
Our new backyard on the central Pacific coast

Water in the general area (Esterillos to north of Parrita) is a problem and you can’t drink it. We use several filters in order to use it for cooking and bathing, but we have to buy our drinking water still. We sure do miss that fresh mountain spring water in Dominical!

Even with the water problems, we are quite happy with the area. The beaches are similar to the ones around Dominical, with big beautiful palm trees and fun waves. There are even some great tidepools for little kids.

We were worried that we would miss out on the wildlife we had in Dominical but have been surprised at how much we’ve seen around our new place.

White-faced monkeys go through the trees behind our house almost every day. Dozens of Scarlet Macaw parrots fly through on their way to or from the beach. We even see little green-and-black poison dart frogs around the yard among other cool animals, birds, and insects.

Scarlet Macaw Central Pacific Costa Rica
One of the many Scarlet Macaws seen in our town

Community

Another thing we were worried about missing was the community in Dominical. The whole Costa Ballena area, which includes Dominical, has an active community that is a healthy mix of expats and locals.

Luckily, we found out quickly that our new area did too, including lots of families. Soon we were joining local Facebook groups and seeing that the overall vibe was positive and helpful. People were happy to answer questions about where to buy certain items, and community events like beach cleanups were happening often.

We started our oldest son at a private school in the area. That helped us meet a lot of people in the same place in life too.

The Corona Downturn 

Life was going well into 2020. Our family had grown, and we had found a new spot that we were really enjoying. Our website and travel agency business was also doing great. We were aiming for our best year ever.

Then the coronavirus hit. We started to see the downturn as early as February when things in Europe were heating up. But since the majority of our clients and readers are from North America, we didn’t really get hit hard until March.

Before Costa Rica even closed its borders in mid-March, we were processing refunds and rescheduling trips for later months or next year. All the hard work we had done in the first part of 2020 was suddenly erased.

If you’re curious to know more about how it has been living in Costa Rica during the coronavirus, check out our post all about it.

Costa Rica Beach During Covid
A nearly deserted beach during Covid

Back to Basics

In many ways, having the coronavirus alter our lives has put us back in a similar place we were in when we first moved to Costa Rica. Just like seven years ago, when we stepped off the plane, there is an uncertainty about what is next.

While we feel confident that travel to Costa Rica will return and our business will pick up again, we aren’t sure how fast that will happen. Will it be months, or maybe years, before things get back to the same level?

With this unknown, we’ve gone back to the basics. What we know best. And that is writing and sharing everything we love about Costa Rica. It’s how we got started and has paid off for us before.

Now, aside from the struggles we have with two kids at home, virtual learning, piles of house chores, etc., we have the time to do it. We’re pushing ourselves to write more articles and share more with you. We’ve also taken steps to build up our brand. We’re active on Instagram now (@twoweeksincostarica) and have a spiffy new logo!

And while the kids are a lot of work during this tough time, we know that we are extremely lucky to be spending time with them. Examining strange bugs in the backyard, going to the beach on weekdays, and just sitting with them to play every day. In some ways, they are like we were seven years ago, absorbing everything around them. And that is fun to watch!

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15 Comments

  1. Matt & Jenn have helped my family with two trips to Costa Rica the past few years. They have been a great resource. Looking forward to getting back to Costa Rica again soon.

  2. If you guys are in Jaco, stop by and say hello. Would be great to see you guys and the kiddos too.

  3. Guys! You are such an inspiration 🙂 We are 7 months in with our 4 year old and loving it here, despite the general pandemic-iness of the wolrd right now. Your website really helped us to change our lives and now it really doesn’t feel like it was that much of a big deal! Thank you for all your great advice.

    One day I’d like to read a post about all the places you decided not to live…like why did you decide to stay on the pacific coast for example. Pura vida! Stay safe up there. Sarah, Tom & Iris xx

    1. Hi Sarah, That’s awesome that our site helped with your family’s move. Wonderful to hear! Glad that you’re enjoying living in Costa Rica. It’s definitely not the same right now with Covid but still pretty great. That’s a fun idea for a post, thanks for the idea. Pura vida to you all!

  4. Thank you so much for posting such valuable information on your website. We are headed to Costa Rica next week and I am curious about the quality of drinking water? You mentioned in house #2 you need to use bottled water. We are staying in Tabacon at the thermal pool spa and at an AirBnb in Dominical. Is the water safe to drink from the tap in those locations? Thank you for your guidance.

  5. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    We’ve been following you from almost the beginning and very much appreciate your insights. Our first trip to CR was in 2015. It was a month long circumnavigation of CR. We fell in love with the people and the country. We have gone back every year except 2021. Next year we plan to explore areas that we would want to stay longer (November/December to March/April?) in the future. We don’t yet know where our exploration will start next January/February. Perhaps the Central Valley as it is readily available to both the beaches and mountains (love playing in the waterfalls). Or, maybe further south nearer to where you currently reside. Your comment about the water quality was an awakening that we had never experienced and thus never gave thought to as a factor in finding a place. Is there information available, or do you know, where in CR there are water quality problems(tap water not potable)? Although you didn’t say what the problem is I’m assuming it native minerals?.
    Second question, we understand that CR is expanding fiber optic cable. That’s so wonderful for so many reasons. I have not as of yet found a map/resource that shows where the best current internet access is and the plan/schedule for fast reliable internet. Do you have info to share on this?
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience, providing valuable advice and keeping us wannabes up to date. We hope your business comes back booming.

    1. Hi Steve, Thanks for following along all this time! That’s exciting that you’re about to start an adventure of your own with a long-term visit.

      Most people say the drinking water in Costa Rica is fine everywhere but it’s more complicated than that. You really have to talk to locals to find out. When we lived in Esterillos on the central Pacific coast, the water was not potable due to high amounts of manganese (not magnesium). When this was discovered, the AyA (town water) put up blue water tanks for people to get drinking water. They are supposed to be building a new water plant to solve this problem but that will likely take years. In the meantime, most people buy bottled since the tanks are a little gross. This affects the town of Bejuco too. In most of Northern Guanacaste (Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Brasilito, etc.), many people don’t drink the water, especially in dry season. Same is true in Nosara and Samara. We have also been told not to drink the water in Montezuma, Santa Teresa, and on the Caribbean coast. A lot of it is naturally occurring minerals. Fine to drink short term while you’re on vacation but not great for everyday consumption.

      Yes, fiber optic has been really taking off in CR during the last couple of years. It’s much easier to find. Unfortunately, we’ve never seen any resource for checking internet availability. It’s very regional.

      We hope that helps with your questions. Best of luck with your plans!

  6. Hey Matt and Jenn, we’ve never posted on your blog before, but wanted you to know just how much we apreciate all of your work. Truly. We read your blog before our first visit to Costa Rica in April 2021, moved here full time this March, and we’re opening our Optometry Clinic, Ojos Del Mar in Tamarindo next month. I don’t say this lightly… but I don’t know if all of this would have been possible without the treasure trove of incredibly helpful content you’ve put together for the world.

    We just put up a post about our experience moving here and have multiple shout outs to you guys and link backs, so I thought I’d share it with you.

    If you ever need world class eyecare, consider both of your appointments 100% on the house!

    https://www.costaricaeyedoctor.com/post/part-2-dream-of-living-abroad-here-s-how-to-turn-dreams-into-reality

  7. Hi Matt and Jenn, we are planning to visit Costa Rica for just the second time this coming November. Our first trip in December/January of this year was for pure fun and adventure, and we found your Video Chat Service and Booking Service to be extremely helpful . This time we want to visit some different areas to get a sense of where we might want to rent long term in the future.

    Our criteria for an ideal place to live include moderate temperatures, good gardening climate, within a couple hours of beaches for regular getaways, and within easy driving distance of medical facilities in retirement. The reading I’ve done on your website leads me to think that the Central Valley would be best suited for us. We are also interested in checking out the area around Lake Arenal.

    So here’s my question: How would you recommend that we best explore those areas? We will have a rental car. Should we plan to spend a couple days in each area, or would a daytrip sufficient. And a follow up question – do you have recommendations for activities around Lake Arenal?

    We also plan to have some beach time on this trip, using your Potrero article as a guide. And if we have time we’d like to check out the Monteverde area as well. On our last trip we only had time for Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna. We’ll be in touch with booking requests as soon as we have our itinerary set and accommodations booked.

    Thank you so much for your wonderful website!

    1. Hi Carrie, Nice to hear from you again! We’re so glad you enjoyed your last trip.

      Yes, the Central Valley is probably the best area for what you are describing. It has moderate temps, fertile soil for gardening, and is close to quality medical care. Certain towns to the west of San Jose are a fairly easy drive to the beach. We’d take a look at Atenas and maybe Grecia.

      The Lake Arenal area has a lot of foreigners living there too (and lots of locals as well), but it is farther from medical care. We’d have a look at Nuevo Arenal and the Tilaran area (Puerto San Luis and Tronadora). The Tilaran side of the lake is beautiful but can be quite rainy. I think it’s OK in November, though.

      We would recommend spending a couple of days in each area to really get a feel for the place. If you stay in smaller B&B type places, you will have interactions with locals who live there who may be helpful.

      There aren’t many activities around the lake per se. Some people go kayaking or do SUP on the lake. There’s also kitesurfing during certain times of year if you are interested in that.

      Keep in touch as your plans develop. Take care!

      1. Thanks so much for your helpful reply! On first glance at B&Bs in the Atenes area, several nice-looking listings came up for Orotina. Have you visited there, and would you recommend it for a home base while we explore the area? Or should we stick to Atenes and Grecia?

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