To continue my reflection on completing my first year living in Costa Rica, I realized that there were a few things I wish I knew before moving to Costa Rica.
Maybe they would have helped me adjust easier and maybe not but I’m positive that they sure would have made at least a little difference!
So in case you’re thinking about moving to Costa Rica or wonder what it’s like, here are 6 things I wish I knew before I made the big move.
6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Costa Rica
How to drive a manual
I honestly regret not learning when I was living in the States because the driving there is so much easier for learning. Many cars outside the States are manual and renting an automatic is more expensive most of the time. So before you move to Costa Rica, learn to drive a stick! It’s incredibly useful for the rest of the world too.
For the first few months when we moved to Coco, we lived in a hotel on top of a very steep hill so I was stuck there quite a few times when Yeison wasn’t able to give me a ride. I would walk to town to get to work which took me nearly an hour under a sweltering 95 degrees.
If you’re planning on renting a car for your first few days before you decide if you want to buy one, take advantage of our exclusive car rental discount!
A basic understanding of Spanish
I came to Costa Rica with basically zero knowledge of Spanish. I wanted to take a class at my university but it wouldn’t fit in my schedule and I ended up studying French instead.
I knew some basics such as “hola” “gracias” and “estoy perdido” but not knowing the language is a huge barrier and made my culture shock much more intense. I did my research online and found a great website, Duolingo.com that helped me learn fast.
I’m not 100% fluent or anywhere near it but I don’t feel lost anymore when we’re having dinner with our friends and I feel confident to talk to people.
Ahorita, yo puedo hablar con más gente! Que dicha!
It’s a great feeling to realize that you can actually understand and you’re not behind the tree anymore. It makes meeting people much easier and I’m not restricted to only talking to people who know English. So before you make your big move, take a Spanish class. Try Duolingo for free! One of the biggest mistakes expats make is not bothering to learn Spanish since they miss out on connecting with locals and truly experiencing the culture.
Learn some basic Spanish with our introductory guide!
How to clean, and cook fish
Here in Coco, it is fairly easy to grab a pole and catch dinner. Yeison and a couple of our friends have gotten into fishing and they take it seriously, like going out to fish at 5 in the morning and coming back at 2pm with three coolers full of fish. He’s also recently gotten into sportfishing and have been catching super big ones!
I love eating fish but I never knew how to cook it. Or clean it. There have been so many times when Yeison comes back with bags of fish and I would toss it in the freezer and forget about it. Then I’d end up throwing it out because too much time has passed and the fridge was getting a funky smell.
Yeison’s fisherman friend taught me how to properly scale and clean fish and I’ve looked up some great recipes so now when Yeison brings fish back home, I immediately clean it and prepare it to make a delicious dinner instead of wasting it all.
I found myself cooking from scratch much more when I moved so I wish I knew more recipes by heart. But thankfully there is the Internet!
How to fix household items
A couple months after I moved, I noticed that my laptop charger stopped working. I was ready to throw it away but there was nowhere in Coco or Liberia to buy a Lenovo charger. Buying electronics is incredibly expensive in Costa Rica too so I was at a loss for what to do! Thinking that I had to order one online and have it shipped to Costa Rica, it never occurred to me to see if I could fix my charger.
This is a very “American” thinking because we are used to throwing things away and buying a new one once something stops working. However, what do you do if you can’t? Yeison opened up my charger and we found the broken wire, cut it and reconnected it. Como nuevo!
Sometimes you can fix it, sometimes it’s a complete loss but there is no 1800 number here that we can just call and have them ship us a new one so you have to improvise a little.
Yeison has shown me how to hot-wire a car, change a flat tire, fix our fish tank’s filter, fix a hot water breaker, clean a laptop fan, fix a hole in my bike tire and more. Wow I really didn’t know how to do anything before.
The world of blogging
We started this blog about 7 months after I moved to Costa Rica and I do wish we had started before I left. I would have loved to have kept a record of my progress since moving here and of our relationship.
I’ve always kept a written journal but it’s much more fun and efficient to have a blog because it just takes a couple of clicks if I want to remember about one of our trips or show pictures to my friends.
A blog makes it easy to be able to share my life with my friends and family back home. Having a blog also got me interested in photography which I wish I would have started learning about earlier so that I could have better photos of my first year in Costa Rica.
Since I moved down in the peak of rainy season, all my photos from the first few months are kinda grey and gloomy and I could have learned how to photograph rainy days a lot better.
Opened more credit cards
I should have looked more into getting credit cards for cashbacks, miles and points. After all the traveling and the money we spent traveling, we probably could have qualified for a few free flights and other benefits. Having a credit card that has no international fees would have been handy too.
Before trips we always stock up on items and it would have been smart for me to have a credit card that gave me more benefits.
What are some things that you wish you knew before you went abroad? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Hi Sammi: thank you very much for your blog – it is, in fact, very useful!
Currently me and my husband live and work in US. We are thinking about retirement in Costa Rica, and, of course, there is a lot of questions, big and small. One of them is about possibility of moving our furniture and other belongings to Costa Rica: do you have any knowledge or experience with this? Since we own a house in US, it does not make sense for me to sell everything in US and then buy again in Costa Rica: however, I could be mistaken.
You can get a container and ship all your stuff to Costa Rica
Matthew Battaglini says
I am 60 years old and have a income of 2,300 a month and have 40,000 dollars in the bank want to move to Costa Rica
Clearwater Mike says
You sound like me now, in 2023.. did you take the steps to move there?
I just started dating someone to find out he wants to retire before I turn 40 and move to CR. I have family that winter there and looove it. Now to seriously consider moving and becoming semi retired. I hope to keep a small part of my business to keep me busy tho. Doing the things I can do online and while enjoying the beach with some travel for teaching workshops in north America.
Gary Hanson says
Ok newbie just retired. So we are planning on traveling to a clue places we want to explore setting down roots. So I could use some advice where to start looking for reliable info as we want to rent for a month and Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize. We’re hoping to find something in a safe area, of course beachside would be great from 500 to 1000 a month. So any help would be appreciated. Figure I should start now to rent next winter, Dec thru April.
Hi Gary, for 500-1000 a month on the beach in Costa Rica will be extremely tough. For short term rentals per month and in high season, it will be very difficult to find a nice place for that price. If you want to be on the beach and have something like a two bedroom apartment on the beach in Costa Rica for just a one month rental in high season (Dec – April), you are looking at around $800-1500 at least depending on the type of apartment and location. Dec – April is our high season months and short term rentals are not cheap. I would check Playas del Coco, though it’s not a cheap town. A lot of retirees like Playas del Coco, that beach town gets the most snowbirds and retirees in Costa Rica.
Anyes Vedel Pelaez says
No nice to say to killed fish:”you are going to be my dinner.”
Thank you for running such great blog…very useful info…
My question is what do you think/know about moving to CR with school age children? How are the schools and which city would you recommend for families like mine?
Hi Amir, a lot of families move to Costa Rica and you can find public and private schools though most foreigners put their kids in private schools. You can find private schools in touristic areas like at the beaches in Guanacaste, in the cities of course, almost in all the major areas of the country. I would take a trip to Costa Rica first and see where you would like to live because the most private schools are in the city but a lot of foreigners don’t want to move to the city so I’d definitely visit first and then see what options for school are in the area you like.
HI Sandy! I too, live in Ojochal… !!
Have you researched the builders in the area.?
Have you joined the Ojochal Community Facebook Group to learn more about the village and what is going on?
I moved to Ojochal …. finally full time in 2012, after 6 years of 6 months in CR and 6 months in Alberta, Canada.. so totally understand the winter issue!
There is a lot going on in Ojochal.. and a few builders to view.. if you want to connect with me.. I can give you their names; and my experiences and observations of each of them..after being in the area since 2005 and have seen a lot of things, had a lot of experiences!
Tina Miles says
HI Rita, my husband and I are considering moving from Ontario, Canada to the CR when we retire next year. Would love to hear about your experiences and have a frank conversation about what we should know ahead of moving there. We used to live in Calgary so we know about winter weather! What is the best way to connect with you?
I would like to have the information you’ve generously offered to Sandy. I’m just starting to gather information and courage to possibly move to CR.
Ojochal sounds like a gem from everything I’ve read.
Please contact me if you don’t mind sharing with me as well.
David laboc says
First I have to commend both of you lovely people for doing this blog for those that want to dream and find that it is possible. Thank you. My question is if you had a choice to do it all over again from scratch, could you possibly name the top five. and if I don’t like any of them I may ask for another five. I have five in mind right now and I am kind of hoping that one or two of them will be in your top five. Gracias, to both of you. My Duolingo hasn’t gotten much further, but it is working keep hyping it
Hi David, do you mean do the blog all over again or moving?
Hi Stanley, I recommend reading this post and there are some suggestions in there 🙂 Seeing a dentist in Costa Rica
Stanley Gray says
I’m thinking about spending maybe a week in SJO in May having some dental work done do you have any recommendations? Unfortunately I don’t speak spanish.
Stanley Gray says
I’m thinking about spending maybe a week in SJO having some dental work done do you have any recommendations? Unfortunately I don’t speak spanish.
Sandra F Clark says
Hi Sammi, March 19, 2016
My husband and I just bought property in Ojochal, Costa Rica and plan to build a modest home on the hill side. Winters in Illinois are getting hard on us. I am retired and my husband plans to retire before September.
We know the seller as he sold property to my husband’s sister’s fiancé (boyfriend) 15 – 20 years ago. They have remained friends. Both of their retirement homes in Ojochal are near by (We all live in Illinois, USA). We have several referrals from them of people they trust to help us when the time comes to build. We are very excited about the future adventure. We have both visited the area during Nov/December of 2015 along with other family members and had a wonderful time.
Any suggestions for the new home builders ?? (My husband plans to be there during the time the house is built.).
The best thing for a foreigner to buy and build in CR is to get recommendations from other foreigners who have gone through the process before. It is incredibly common for this situation where a foreigner buys a lot, starts to build and then they find out the land never had the right permits or they never had the correct title, OR they find out it’s a lot more expensive than they thought and have to stop stop. There are abandoned, half finished buildings all throughout the country, left behind by foreigners because of these reasons. So do very thorough research and get recommendations. Unfortunately being a gringo it does mean you will pay more than the Tico price but that’s how it is.
Sandra F Clark says
Thanks Sammi for the quick reply. Information was very helpful. We have covered our bases regarding the purchased land. Can’t do anything about being gringos, but will be opened eyed when it comes to doing the actual building.
Good luck! 🙂
Eduardo M. da Silva says
Nice posts and a bunch of useful information. I have always driven manual cars, speak Spanish fluently, live in a country that has the same problems of Costa Rica, but greater magnitude orders, that is Brazil, know how to prepare nicely fish and shellfish, and do not like US American industrialised food at all, therefore I have a good advantage to plan to live in Costa Rica for a couple of yeas. I intend to retire from my job as an university teacher, with a US$3000.00 montlhy, by the end of the year, and because of my age, 63 and my wife, 51, we care very much about a health insurance with full cover, would you have some information on that?
I recommend researching if you will apply for a pensiando residency in CR, as that comes with health care options. You may also use private in CR.
Thank you for your blog which is truly interesting.
I am thinking of moving to Costa Rica for less than a year with my boyfriend. We are both 24 and wish to discover the beach lifestyle a bit before maybe moving back to the big cities.
Would it be a move you would recommend ? Can we find word there ?
Thank you so much for your answer,
Hi Manon, the beach is a really fun place to live in Costa Rica, especially if you just want to be there for short term. That’d be a great place for a gap year! But finding work is very difficult – it’s extremely hard to get a legal work visa so most foreigners work online or they work under the table bartending, waitressing and things like that. And you’ll be making the average Costa Rican salary which is around $800-$1000 a month.
Virginia Mills says
I’m moving to Costa Rica in the middle of the next year and this is going to be a great adventure for me. I’m going to work there and this makes everything much interesting. It’s good to read from a person who lived there and experienced so much. Thank you for sharing!
Hi Virginia, you’re welcome! It’ll be different for every person but it’s always interesting to hear about other’s stories. Good luck on your move!
I am also loving your blog! What a wonder that we can learn all this BEFORE we go live there because you are doing this! Thank you! I have a question about earthquakes – from what I read on line there are 50+ earthquakes in Costa Rica every year! Are these an issue at all? I also read that there are alligators in your area…?
Yes, they record earthquakes everyday in Costa Rica, majority are very small that you don’t feel them. CR lies in the hot zone for earthquakes (same reason California has many earthquakes). It’s not really an issue, it’s very normal here to feel a small one once in awhile. The last big one we had was in 2012. And no alligators, that’s Florida but there are crocodiles here.
Your blog is a breath of fresh air. We are looking to retire in Costa Rica in 5-7 years hopefully. There is so much information on the internet and it is difficult to determine what is legitimate and what isn’t… people trying to sell you something, etc. I have found a lot of very good resources by reading your blog but I do have one question and it’s about food expenses. Are food prices mainly dependent on where you live in Costa Rica? I have read that a lot of fruits and vegetables are extremely inexpensive and meat is comparable to what you might find in the states. We don’t eat a lot of processed food so I don’t think that will be much of an issue but I do love my wine and I have read that can be very expensive there. I think I can learn to live without it though. Thank you for doing this. It is exteremely helpful!
Hi Ron! So glad to hear you enjoy the blog! Regarding your question, yes it really depends on where you are. For example, we live in Playas del Coco and it is noticeably more expensive in this town than other areas. Groceries are pretty expensive, most fruit and vegetables are reasonable except for some like grapes, cherries and apples but meat is a bit expensive. If you go to less touristic areas like San Jose, groceries are less expensive. As for wine, you can try this brand named Clos. It’s a box wine that costs about $5 but a lot of our American friends love it. Could be a decent enough substitute!
Betty & Jim Stafford says
Sammi,we are going to spend next February in Playa del Coco & we are both taking in all your great information.Do appreciate all your hard work.We look forward to every word you send.Thank you both so much.
Betty & Jim.
Hi Betty and Jim! So great to hear you enjoy the blog and thank you so much. Take care and thanks for commenting 🙂
Hi Barbara! When I buy things online I always mail it to my house in the US or if any friends are coming I mail it to their place. I always use Amazon so you can get free shipping for a lot of the times. We got our furniture shipped in Costa Rica and it’s not too expensive to have it transported to you from the city or wherever you bought it if you know people/move it yourself and don’t go with a company.
As for your Yorkie, you can check this post out for how to bring him here: Taking your pet to Costa Rica
For firearms, you need to have a special international permit to have a gun in Costa Rica, it’s quite of a complicated process because Costa Rica is a peaceful country and I would suggest not bringing one since it’s complicated to get a permit.
As for leaving every 90 days, you can check this post: Costa Rica entry requirements A tourist visa only lasts 90 days.
Hi Sammi, I am thankful for your blog. I so want to move someplace tropical when I retire. Costa Rica is beautiful We plan to visit next April. You talk about ordering things on-line. Do you have it mailed to you or to friends that mail it on to you? Is mailing expensive? You also talked about having your furniture shipped. How did you go about doing that? Was it costly? We will also want to bring our Yorkie? How do I find out about that? Also about bringing firearms? So to overwhelm you but I am so excited to think I could move there. I know there will be so much to need to check into. Yeison mentioned you have to leave every 90 days. What is that all about? Any information you can give will be greatly appreciated.
So do you have dual citizenship or do you take a 3 day trip out of the country every 90 days?
For now she needs to go out of the country every 90 days but it works for us because we are travel a lot 🙂
Definitely! Live a simple life and you can. See how we did it 🙂
Living in Costa Rica for $2000 a month.
I am thinking seriously about moving as well. I have a couple of questions and hope to get some help and thanks in advance.
1. how is the crime rate?
2. i was thinking of getting a scooter when there to travel around – is that wise or are there crazy drivers?
3. do the apartments come furnished?
4. what would you recommend i do before i even think about moving to cost rica?
5.what do you miss from the US?
I know it’s probably too many questions….thanks!
Crime rate is fairly low in Costa Rica but there definitely is crime here. Most you will find is theft, robberies and break ins. Just use your common sense and be aware of your surroundings. You’ll find good and bad people in every country so just always make sure to have your belongings with you, don’t go around flashing wallets full of money, yknow normal stuff like that.
As for scooters…. honestly it is not highly recommended unless you plan on living in a small town. People drive quite crazy here and the drivers don’t respect motorcycles/scooters at all and I always hear of accidents with bikes. It’s really up to you and your level of experience but honestly, people drive really crazy here!
Depends. Like the US or Canada or any other country you will find furnished and unfurnished places.
Start learning Spanish before you come. Learn the basics at the very least. That’s the biggest regret I have is not starting before I moved. Also if you haven’t been here before or at least traveled around, I’d do that before moving because Costa Rica is so different and their system is very different than North America. You have the beach, the mountain, the city and everywhere is different. So find out where you want to live, do your “due diligence.” I suggest visiting the bank or the ICE office to see what their system is like because the service here is not the best. This is something a lot of expats (and locals) find incredibly frustrating about Costa Rica and it’s something every person has to deal with at some point when they’re here.
I miss a lot of food since food is expensive here. I have to cut out a lot of things I normally buy in the US like cheese, healthy cereal and I eat a lot less meat. I also miss the price of electronics in the US. Costa Rica is ridiculously expensive when it comes to that. And I miss good wi-fi. Internet here, well to put it frankly, sucks and again it’s expensive.
I am also 62 and recently quit my job with only a small nest egg. After visiting and checking things out, I am confident I can live well on $1500/month social security!
Steve Custer says
Really enjoyed your blog. At the present I’m just fascinated by the idea. Plan to come down for a week in fall. I’m sixty two don’t have a lot of money. Just sick of working. Thanks.
Hey Steve! Thanks for checking out our blog. You can live pretty well in Costa Rica without a ton of money, the cost of living here is much less than the States. Many people come here to check it out for their retirement and fall in love. I think you’d really love it! It’s a different pace of life and lifestyle, all good for the mind, body and soul 🙂 If you have any questions feel free to ask us!
Excellent Article – just found your blog and just started blogging myself recently. we moved to Grecia in June and I can relate to a few of these items. Thanks for the duolingo plug – will have to try Spanish is next up to start learning. I wish I would have listened to everyone who told me to start before we moved. Better late than never.
Thanks Greg! And congrats on moving! Duolingo is a great site/app, I highly recommend it. It really only takes an hour a day and you can see so much improvement in just a few days. I really wish I started actually learning before I left as well but as long as you make the effort, you’ll learn fast 🙂
Lindsey Monge says
Those are very good tips! I just started using Duolingo on my phone since they have a nice app for learning Spanish. Do you know of any good card companies that don’t penalize for overseas transactions?
Thanks Lindsey! I love Duolingo, it makes learning fast, fun and easy. My friend has a card with Chase that has no international fees, counts for miles and it also covers all car insurance. (pretty awesome). I just found out that it is Chase Sapphire and it’s definitely one I would have gotten if I’d known about it!