Two Years in Costa Rica: How Life Has Changed

When we first announced our decision to move to Costa Rica in July 2013, we joked that we were saying goodbye to our typical two week vacations, and hello to months, or even years in Costa Rica. How the time has flown. We almost can’t believe it ourselves, but tomorrow marks our two year anniversary of living here in the land of pura vida! With this milestone, we thought we would reflect back on how our lives have changed so far and give you a sneak peek into what the future holds for us.

 

Life in Costa Rica Update - 2 Years

Biggest Changes

Pace of Life

Our biggest change over the last two years has been the pace of life. We are constantly reminded by people contacting us through our website about what life used to be like for us. These stories always have the same theme: there is too much work, stress, and chaos in the day to day and something needs to change. Being reminded that we once felt the exact same way has been very enlightening, because after two years here, we realize much of that feeling has been wiped away. Life is a lot simpler now and we have more control over our work schedule (more on this later). That is not to say that moving to Costa Rica will solve all of life’s problems, far from it. We have been tested with power and water issues, the internet being out for days, major car repairs, and much more, sometimes all at once. In fact, as we write this, the mechanic has had our car for over five weeks, it’s an hour walk down a steep mountain to the bus stop, and the internet is out for the third day this week.

Attitude

Our attitudes have also adjusted over the last two years. The shift actually started before we moved. We try to take obstacles and frustrations in stride (like the car and internet) and enjoy things that are often passed by. Nature surrounds us every day and we make sure to take time to enjoy it. We’ve become avid birders and also really like to hike, walk, and go to the beach. When the power or internet goes down and we can’t work online, we try to make the best of it. We either sit outside watching the birds or go for a short hike until it comes back on. Maybe a sunny day during the week turns into a beach day and we work on a cloudy Saturday instead. Of course, when things are piling up and we still can’t get online, we do get stressed. There is no escaping work unless you don’t have to work at all.

 

Life in Costa Rica Update - 2 Years
It’s hard not to enjoy nature when it practically engulfs our house

 

Careers and Money

That leads us to another big change, our careers. We both had successful, steady jobs with good pay back in Boston. Do we miss them? No, not really. But switching to a life of writing and running a website, something much less stable, was a huge leap of faith for us. Adding to that stress is the fact that the cost of living in Costa Rica is fairly high, and things like groceries, rent, and gas are very similar to the States. Many people who move to Costa Rica have retirement money coming in, but since we are in our mid-thirties, we have to continue working. Since you cannot work in Costa Rica unless you are a permanent resident (something that takes years to obtain), we have had to rely solely on our writing and website for income. What’s great, though, is that we really enjoy what we do. We love hearing from people who have enjoyed our books and articles, or from clients returning from a great trip that we planned for them. There is something very rewarding about running your own business and seeing it grow over time.

Our daily lives are also a lot less stressful. As much as possible, we try to keep a normal schedule, working five days a week and stopping around five o’clock so that we have some time to relax. We also try to observe weekends as much as possible. Of course, we don’t earn anywhere near what we used to as a lawyer and construction manager, but we have figured out how to make enough money so as not to dip into our savings. This took us a while (almost the full two years), so if you are thinking of taking a similar path, make sure you have something to fall back on financially. Something that has really helped us has been eliminating the need to pay rent through house sitting and caretaking.

Language

As you can imagine, living in a foreign country, language has been a big change. When we first stepped off the plane two years ago, eight suitcases in hand, we couldn’t even speak enough Spanish to negotiate a fair price with a taxi driver at the airport. Needless to say, we paid way too much. But things have improved. After a lot of studying and hard work, now we can understand generally what someone is saying to us and are able to string together simple sentences.

But talking to someone and really talking to someone are two different things. We often find ourselves struggling the further into conversations we get. Day-to-day situations like at the bank, post office, electric company, etc. are fine, but when we’re talking with people we know well, it can be difficult to speak our minds. As an example, recently we couldn’t go to one of our friend’s kid’s birthday party because our car was broken. The next time we saw them, all we wanted to do was be able to tell them that we really wished we could have been there and that if our car hadn’t been in the shop, we wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Our limited Spanish can be very frustrating and makes it difficult to have deep, meaningful relationships where our true character shines through. But we continue to learn and practice and we know that with a little time, it’ll get better.

Feelings of Isolation

The language barrier definitely can be frustrating, but couple that with the fact that our closest friends and family are thousands of miles away, and feelings of isolation start to pile up. Of course, we have kept in touch with a lot of people, but as time passes the length between check-ins tends to get longer. We did make a trip back to the US last year, but the 18 days felt like it went by way too quickly. After that trip, we were left feeling that we did too much and didn’t get to spend enough quality time with each person we visited.

Making friends in Costa Rica also has been a challenge. We mentioned the language barrier but even making connections with other expats hasn’t been easy. This is mostly because we were traveling around the country for the first year and a half and didn’t stay long enough in one place to make lasting relationships. But it’s also because many people who have moved here are at a different stage in their life. Many are retiring, others are on some type of spiritual quest. There’s even people who are running from a major problem back home. We’re not the type to befriend everyone we meet and maybe that’s a good thing. Making more friends has been slow, but the ones we have are great. It will also be easier now that we are settled into one area for a longer period of time.

Our Future in Costa Rica

The biggest change is on the way!

All these changes over the last two years have definitely been a test for us. But we knew it wouldn’t be easy and we can honestly say that even with all the challenges, we still love living here. So what does the future hold?

Well, over the next year, we plan to continue to grow our website and business—and biggest of all—our family. Yes, that’s right. Jenn is five-and-a-half months pregnant and we’re expecting a baby boy this November! This will be our biggest adventure yet and we are beyond excited. We’re not sure exactly how long we will stay in Costa Rica, but one of the reasons we moved here was to start a family and have the ability to be present during those first years so we aren’t planning to go anywhere anytime soon. We can’t imagine a more fun place to grow up than in Costa Rica and are excited to watch our baby take in this beautiful country.

 

Life in Costa Rica Update - 2 Years
Jenn with the baby bump

 

So there’s an honest roundup of our first two years living in Costa Rica. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’re having a baby. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue our adventure and a big thank you to all our readers for following along!

 

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

 

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Applying for Residency in Costa Rica Without a Lawyer
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35 Comments

  1. Congratulations, Matt and Jenn! So happy for you both. I predict your baby will love Costa Rica as much as you.

    My daughter is due with her second in December and I have a new book out in November, just in time for your little one.

    Love getting your fabulous newsletter. It’s always so informative and fun. Hope to return to Costa Rica sometime next year.

    1. Thanks Marsha, we are definitely looking forward to play time in the jungle and on the beach. So much fun stuff to explore. Exciting news about your daughter and your new children’s book too, we’ll definitely plan on getting a copy to read to our little one 🙂

  2. OH my gosh congratulations you two! That’s so exciting! Big hugs to you both. Hope to see you two soon, we are moving to Jaco in August so we’ll be a lot closer!

  3. Congratulations guys!! Excited for you and your little Tico-to-be 🙂 can’t wait to include your story on the Family Freedom Project (right?!)

  4. What a great and honest post. Bravo to you for your courage in doing what you did, and for sharing how it’s going. I have a special connection to CR and I enjoy reading your posts.
    Congratulations on the baby. I am sure that the baby will present challenges – but many more opportunities as people will come out of the woodwork, so to speak, to help you out and be beguiled by your baby!

  5. I so appreciate your writing style that is far more informational than many others and most of all, that is honest. This latest blog about your last few years and what you have learned has provided me with valuable information, since we want to move there in the future and want to do it with eyes wide open. Congratulations on your baby! What a lucky child to get to learn about life and nature in Costa Rica with parents who are actually around!

    1. Hi Jill, that’s really nice to hear. We try to paint an accurate but optimistic picture of things here. We’ve also come to the conclusion that we don’t know how to write a short article without all the details, hahaha. Glad that you are finding them useful though and thank you for following along. Good luck with your own plans to move and hope you make it down to CR soon! 🙂

  6. Such exciting news! Thank you so much for your posts each week. Been following you guys for a while now, found your blog after my husband and I decided to do basically the same thing you’ve done. The blog has given me a weekly, much needed, dose of Pura Vida while we finalize the sale of our home here in NC and deal with family and friends disapproval. Jen and Matt, you and your blog are a huge encouragement and inspiration!! Thank you and Congratulations!!

    1. Congrats to you too Kelli, sounds like your moving plans are well underway. Family and friends will definitely have a hard time understanding but once they come to visit they will start to understand. Thanks for being a loyal reader, we love hearing that our emails brighten up your inbox!

      1. Please, if your comfortable with it, post about your experiences with navigating the healthcare side of your pregnancy and delivery… There isn’t much to find about the topic of American citizens and this whole, seemingly, arduous process. I think it could be amazingly helpful!

  7. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    My husband and I are coming to CR in October and I have just stumbled upon your website. I have been reading every word!! You guys are great!! And congrats on your little one that’s coming soon!! We have added many items to pack from your writings!! We both are recently retired from teaching and want to try out different places. My husband’s dream is to live overseas. Needless to say our friends and family don’t get it. And if truth be told I’m a complete wreck!! Thanks so much for all this information!!

    Pam

    1. Hi Pam, Thanks for reading! That’s exciting that you’re thinking of an oversees retirement. Costa Rica has a ton of retirees…Panama too. The best thing you can do is come, explore, and see if it’s a good fit so your October trip will be great and will hopefully make you more comfortable with the idea of moving. I think a lot of people’s friends and families don’t get it- many of ours certainly didn’t and still don’t- but some will come around. We had a ton of visitors our first year and now that we’re having a baby, more people are thinking about coming and have been really supportive. Let us know if you have any questions along the way as you plan and if you need any ideas for what areas to check out.

  8. omygosh…Sheri just told me that you guys are expecting in November. I am so excited for you both. Remember you are ALWAYS welcomed up here by Lake Arenal. Felicidades y abrazos….. Michele and Tim

  9. Hi!

    I’m planning to move to CR with my wife and baby boy and I find your posts very informative and helpful. Keep up the good work and hope the baby is doing great by now.

    One question, how secured have you feel living in CR? Any challenges?

    And since you are parents now, what is the best area for families and schools Healthcare, those things that become so important once you start the adventure of parenthood.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Alex, Thanks for the well wishes. Our son is 8 months now and he is doing great. That’s exciting that you’re planning a move too. To answer your question about security, we feel very safe here. Costa Rica is a peaceful country and doesn’t have the same level of violent crime that you hear so much about elsewhere. Like anywhere in the world, though, there is some crime. Petty theft and break ins at unoccupied homes are the most common types. We are really careful and so far haven’t had any problems ourselves, but we know of others who have been broken into so you do have to exercise caution. You can read our safety tips in this post. It is more geared towards tourists but there is a lot of overlap.

      As for areas with the best schools and healthcare, if you’re interested in private, which is what many expats do, the Central Valley/San Jose has the most options. CIMA, Biblica Catholica, and a lot of good private doctors are there (that’s where we go for our son’s pediatrician). There are good private schools scattered along the beach, but most are around San Jose too. Here’s a link with a list (it’s not all inclusive but does have a lot of the options). We don’t know much about the public system yet for health care but hopefully if our residency is approved and we can join the Caja, we’ll be able to share info on that as well. Best of luck!

  10. Hey Jenn and Matt, thank you for sharing your experiences, I like that you describe frustrations and strugles as well as good things you experience. All the best!

  11. Hi Guys
    It has been a while since I sent you an email. You most likely don’t remember me. I came here in Feb after 18 yrs in New Zealand. Originally from Philly.lol
    I am in Alajuela now after 4 months in Palmares near San Ramon.
    The last time we talked, you were headed State side for a visit. Where are you living now?
    I just re read your car buying experences. I about to do the same. Good insights for me. ?
    I like the Tracker as well.
    Anything you can advise will be appreciated.
    Regards
    Rick Golden

    1. Hi Rick, Great to hear from you again and glad that Costa Rica is treating you well. We are living near Dominical on the southern Pacific coast and have been here for a while. Yes, the Tracker is a good choice, mostly because it is economical on gas and the parts are readily available. Hyundai cars, we’ve learned, are also like that and maybe the parts are even a little cheaper. Just make sure that whatever you get, it checks out well with a mechanic that you trust. Good luck with car buying and keep in touch!

  12. Hi Jenn and Matt —
    I want to thank you for the care and honesty you’ve put into chronicling your experience in Costa Rica. I’ve been picking every blog entry clean 🙂 Your book of Itineraries was soooo helpful (and gave great relief) as we began planning a family trip to CR for a month. We are here now! One week in, 3 to go.

    We are also seriously considering moving here for a year. My husband works remotely and we homeschool our kids (9 and 12), so we think it would be a crime not to do something as educational and broadening as this. I am wondering how to go about finding a place to rent! It would be wonderful if it dropped into our laps while we are here, so we can see it first. We are leaning toward the southern zone. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks!!
    Julie (currently in La Fortuna — then Monteverde — then Quepos)

    1. Hi Julie, That’s great that your family is thinking of spending a year in CR. We have found that a lot of people are doing something similar. The Southern Zone, specifically, has a lot of young families because of the two private schools in Uvita. So that would be a great area.

      We have been house sitting almost the whole time we have been here so don’t have a ton of firsthand knowledge about finding a rental. We have friends, though, who have had good luck going through real estate agents so that is one option. Some of the best deals seem to be found through word of mouth or postings on the local Facebook groups. You might consider joining the Costa Ballena Bulletin Board group and Costa Ballena Yard Sale group. There are a ton of different neighborhoods in this area, each with a different feel so even if you don’t find a rental while you’re here, it would be nice to have a preferred location narrowed down. Good luck and hope you all enjoy the rest of your time here!

  13. Congratulations on the addition to your family. We also have left the states to live in the jungles of CR. We are on the Caribbean side and starting our 2nd year. We are trying to be as self sustaining as possible growing our own food since that is one of our biggest expenses. If you ever get over this way look us up, we have a extra room and would love to swap stories. Goodluck on your future endeavors, Pura Vida.
    Ricky

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