Our First Year in Costa Rica

Today marks our one-year anniversary of living in Costa Rica. It’s hard to believe that a year ago today we were arriving in San Jose with nothing but eight suitcases and a sense of adventure. Looking back, it’s been one wild year full of change, and we’ve loved (just about) every minute of it. Below we share some of the biggest contrasts between our old lives and new.

Work

Then: In Boston, both Matt and I had hectic jobs. For Matt, everyone thought that because he was in the landscape industry, he got to be outside, basking in the tulips and sunshine. This was not the case. Because he was a manager, he actually spent most of his time in a truck, driving from job site to job site. He also had to deal with personnel issues, even firing people, which of course was stressful. On top of that, he typically got 40-50 calls a day and, by the time we moved, hated his smart phone so much that he didn’t even want one in Costa Rica.

 

Matt’s spiffy new cell gets about two calls a week now, mostly wrong numbers. Does your phone have an antennae?
Matt’s spiffy new cell gets about two calls a week now, mostly wrong numbers. Does your phone have an antenna??

 

For me, my job as an attorney wasn’t quite as grueling because I worked for the State but it had its moments. I worked a ton of overtime, often not getting home until 8:00 or 9:00 at night. I also had to take the subway into work every day, and even though we lived on one of the better, more reliable lines, it still had a ton of delays. One of my favorite subway memories is being trapped on the commute in, with people packed like sardines, and having some drunk guy offer me a can of beer—at 8 a.m.!

Now: In Costa Rica, we work from home, writing, blogging, and helping people plan their vacations. Sounds great, right? It is pretty awesome overall. We enjoy what we’re doing and can make our own schedules. The one flaw is that the pace hasn’t slowed as much as we thought it would. Since we’re working on building our business into something that can sustain us long term, we usually put in very long hours. Luckily, we both enjoy hard work (balanced with plenty of play) and what we’re doing is fun. After all, taking pictures of a beautiful waterfall or trying a yummy restaurant counts as “work” for us now.

 

Working in Paradise
On the job

Environment/Culture

Then: Boston gets a lot of snow in winter, and although we loved the hot summers, they were always too short. It seemed like every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day was booked, and then in September, the chill of fall started to set in. As for the feel of the city, it was very fast paced and there was always a ton to do. We could also buy just about anything we’d ever want, ever. If it wasn’t at the local big box store, we could have it at our door in a few clicks.

Now: Since Costa Rica is only ten degrees from the equator, winter is rainy, but the temperature stays pleasant. Summer on the other hand is hot, but we love it. The people are very friendly and the pace is slow and relaxed. There’s a lot to do when you want to be active, especially outdoor activities like hiking, which we love. Of course, Costa Rica doesn’t have the endless possibilities that a city has, but we’ll take the lush jungle, mountains, waterfalls, and amazing beaches instead.

 

Rio Celeste Waterfall
Enjoying the beautiful Rio Celeste Waterfall

 

Something that we’ve had to get used to is the inconvenience of shopping. Unless you live near San Jose, it can be tough to find certain items like electronics, some household goods, car parts, and imported foods. We often find ourselves longing for things like gourmet cheese, a nice bottle of wine or hoppy craft beer, or really good pizza. We’ve gotten used to living more simply though, and when we really need something, one of our awesome visitors from the States will bring it for us.

Daily Life

Then: Back in Boston, we lived the grinding nine-to-five but had a lot of fun too, going out with friends after work and on the weekends to shake off the stress. We saw our families quite a bit since they were nearby in New Hampshire and Maine, and always for holidays and birthdays. We also lived in one place for longer periods of time, keeping the same apartment for three years and our condo for four.

Now: We still work a lot but it doesn’t feel like the grind because it’s for us and not someone else. A big change is that we go out a lot less. This is mostly because we haven’t stayed in one place long enough to make good friends. We’ve moved eight times in just twelve months, and while we’ve loved exploring Costa Rica, moving around has made it hard to meet people. Although our wallets are thanking us, we sometimes get stir-crazy and miss the close group of family and friends we had in the States. After a long year on the road, we are starting to think about settling down in one spot soon.

As for missing our friends and family, we’ve been lucky to have so many of them come to visit. We still miss the regular meet-ups, of course, but Skype and Facetime have been a great way to stay in touch. We always feel like we’re actually there talking to them, instead of having a more distant email conversation.

 

Costa Rica Jenn and Matt
One of Matt’s awesome sisters visiting us

 

Overall our first year in Costa Rica was amazing and we’re really happy we made the move. Although everything isn’t perfect, we love being here and can’t imagine leaving, not right now anyway. The country’s beauty and simplicity that we fell in love with on our first visit hasn’t lost its luster. Splashing in the warm ocean or seeing a monkey cruising in a tree never seem to get old. We still have a lot to figure out and a long way to go before we’ll feel a part of the culture, but we’re only a year in and have come a long way.

That’s the recap of our first year in Costa Rica. Be sure to check out our fun one-year video too!

So What Happened Next . . . ?

In July 2013, we boarded a plane for a new life in Costa Rica. Want to follow our story as it happened? Check out the posts below to see how our dream became a reality and what it has been like so far.

Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde

 

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4 Years in Costa Rica: Settling Into the Every Day
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Living in Costa Rica: Three Year Update
Applying for Residency in Costa Rica Without a Lawyer
Applying for Residency in Costa Rica Without a Lawyer

14 Comments

  1. Loved reading about your anniversary, so close to ours – so many similarities! You’ll have to come visit us so I can make you my homemade pizza, and we can share a box of wine! 🙂

  2. Awesome recap of your first year! I love hearing the details of expat life. Sounds like its working out pretty well for you. I can totally relate on working long hours! Our blog takes so much time but when I tell people I worked on it all day, they think its not really work! Little do they know! Glad you guys are enjoying yourselves though 🙂

    1. Thanks Christine! We are loving it so far. So true about blogging though. How we can tell that it’s really work is that sometimes we don’t feel like doing it, but we have to do it anyway. It’s still WAY more fun than what we used to do though! Love following your adventures too… you guys seem to always be on the move. Let us know if you ever get down to Costa Rica!

  3. My husband and I just moved to Costa Rica in early May of this year. Liked reading your one year recap. We are loving it here thus far as well, living in the Jaco area (Herradura).

    1. Hi Lori, so cool that you’re here too! We’ll have to check out your blog more. We’re actually moving back to the Central Pacific, south of Manuel Antonio, in a couple months and already have some day trips planned for Jaco so would love any recs. Pura vida!

  4. Felicitantes on your amazing 1 year anniversary! If you like gallo pinto, say pura vida all the time, and know that Flor de Cana is the best ron ever, I’d say you’re just about there with the culture! Good for you for following through with your dream!

    1. Gracias Julie! We do eat rice and beans just about every day, say pura vida probably too much, and drink our fair share of local spirits so I think we’re getting there. Thanks for reading!

    1. Thanks! Yeah it took us a while to figure everything out but we’re definitely getting there. Mindset is everything. If you’re willing to be flexible and open-minded, you’ll be happy!

  5. Great video but judging by the pace you two need at least another year in CR to SLOW DOWN!!! {:) LOL!! I couldn’t tell if you visited San Isidro de el General in the south but it has a lot to recommend it and is only an hr from Dominical by bus. Google “Santiago Springs CR” for the development where I bought a 2 1/2 acre property for $20,000 in 2009. I now have a cabin there and a swimming pool. Nathanael Yoder, the American owner is great to deal with. Let me hear your impressions. It’s not so hot and the rainy season isn’t so wet.

    1. Hi Stan, we know the San Isidro area well from our time in Dominical and Uvita. We used to go to the feria and our mechanic is there. We think we’ll probably end up somewhere between there and Dominical eventually, maybe a little closer to the Dominical side for the beach. Thanks for the info on that development, we’ll check it out.

  6. Jenn & Matt,
    I recently visited CR for two weeks and like you… fell in love! I am wanting to move also and was hoping within a year or two. I am currently working on researching (thank god I found your page!) and finances etc. I am also trying to think of a business I could
    Run there. Which leads to my questions:
    1) I know on a tourist visa you are supposed to leave every 90 days (3 mo) but you are saying you spent a year in CR… were you coming and going every 3 mo? If so how was the process? And if not, how did you managed without getting caught for an expired visa? I’d hate to be deported and not allowed to return.
    2) Can you share any info on how you went about creating an online business and making it profitable?
    3) you mention house sitting for free/bear free living in Costa Rica… I currently in the US am a pet/house sitter with app 100+ local clients outside of my regular 9-5. I love house sitting and am so glad to hear that this has been a viable and reliable
    Option for you guys abroad! Any pertinent suggestions you can make?
    4) having a child in CR – do you have to have been there a certain amount of time for this to be effective/legitimate?

    1. Hi Natalie, We have several blog posts that should help with your questions. First, take a look at our FAQs Questions About Moving to Costa Rica post, which covers the 90 day visa issue. You do have to leave but it can just be to Panama or Nicaragua. For house sitting, we have a section on our website about it with different articles with tips. Here’s the link to the page. It sounds like you would be a great candidate with all that experience! For having a baby, the only requirement is that the baby be born on Costa Rican soil and he/she is a citizen. It doesn’t matter how long the mother has been in the country. Our residency was just granted through the birth of our son. And for how to have a profitable business, one of the most important factors we think is finding your niche based on what you’re passionate about and what there is demand for and then working really hard to make it successful 🙂 I hope that helps. It’s good that you’re doing your homework – good luck with your plans!

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