The Challenges of Living in Costa Rica
Rancho Delicioso’s Eco Village isn’t a “for profit” venture for me. It’s more like a giant work of art, that I want to share with amazing friends and family. I have an amazing life here, and the one thing missing is a real super-local community that’s close enough so that I can visit people to borrow a cup of raw honey. Montezuma is amazing and we have lots of friends within a ten-minute drive, but it’s not the same thing as having a neighborhood full of amazing friends to share this place with.
Normally a realtor in Costa Rica would either ignore, down-play, or spin the negative side of living here, since the goal is to help someone buy, and you don’t get paid your commission if they don’t buy. It’s not like that with Rancho Delicioso, because for me the worst situation is if someone buys and builds here, doesn’t like it, and then sells their house to someone who causes grief to the community. So it’s very important to me that potential future members of our eco village understand the complete spectrum of challenges, which I will try to write out here with as much completeness and honesty as possible:
Spanish Language Skills
The #1 issue to me is language. If you don’t make a serious attempt to learn Spanish enough to talk to the locals, your experience here will only be half as good as it could be. The Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans here are mostly wonderful people, and getting to know them and learning their tranquil “Pura Vida” way of life is very good for us gung-ho Gringos. You can live down here with only friends who are immigrants, but your experience will be much less rich.
The older you are, the more difficult it is to learn a new language, especially if you’ve only known one all your life. For those of you who already know two languages, a third is ten times easier to learn.
Couples have a harder time, because you always speak English to each other and never learn. Singles do better, especially if you end up coupling with a native Spanish speaker. I didn’t really learn Spanish very well until I started dating Yasmin, who though she spoke English, refused to speak anything but Spanish for the first year that we were together. She did that because she really wanted me to be able to have a conversation with her family members, which now I can do.
The best way to learn is to use software like Rosetta Stone, and then go for a month-long immersion, where you ONLY speak Spanish.
Another big challenge is money. it’s more expensive to live here than people think it’s going to be. Having a car costs at least $2000 per year just for repairs, and used cars are about twice as expensive as they would be in the U.S. Power is expensive. Food is expensive. Everything imported is expensive. Their are a couple dozen amazing restaurants and people slowly bankrupt themselves eating out all the time. It’s possible to live here very cheaply if you’re careful, but most people try to re-create their high-consumption ways down here and it’s very expensive to do that. Consider the “small house” concept: http://grist.org/living/living-large-in-small-houses/ for yourself or for vacation rentals.
The other big issue regarding finances is that it’s not easy to make money here. There are very few jobs and you can’t work legally unless you have Costa Rica residency, or have your own business here. If you have a business here, there are almost no tourists at all in May, Sept, and Oct. During June, July, Aug and Nov there are half as many tourists as usual, or maybe even just 1/3. People that are successful work really hard from Dec through April during the high season and save their money to get through the low season of May through November.
If you’re planning to build a business relying on tourism, then you can’t just have a “I’ll build it and they will come” attitude. You need to have a marketing plan. Luckily for you, I’m an expert and this and will help you succeed. I can help you with marketing through Google Ads, Facebook, websites and SEO, how to use social media, free publicity, etc. I want you to make it work here. You’ll have to do the work, but I can tell you exactly what to do so that your business gets attention and thus bookings. I’ll also be very honest if I think your idea isn’t going to work here.
Heat and Climate
The heat can be a problem for some people. They never seem to acclimate. I personally love it, but some find that they need to be in air conditioning all the time or they don’t feel good. It’s hard to come as a tourist for a week or two and get a sense of this. It’s so much hotter from Jan through April than other months. And it’s much more humid in rainy season. Each of these seasons can be difficult for some people and makes them miserable. If you’re only going to be happy sealed up in an air conditioned house, this probably isn’t the place for you. If you’re determined to make a go for it, I can help you with many suggestions for how to keep your house cooler and more comfortable without AC.
Culture Shock and the Slow Pace of Everything
Costa Rica’s vaguely organized chaos, also known as its government, makes some people really angry and they never get used to it. You hear these people complaining all the time about the bad roads, the lack of good police, the kids aren’t in school, the public hospitals are terrible, the municipality doesn’t do its job, etc. Some people from more developed countries whine and moan like Howler Monkeys at the way things are here and never develop the patience and acceptance they need to feel at home and just go with the flow.
Everything and everyone is always late and it’s called “Tico Time” here. You can’t bend the system to meet your needs here, but need to be flexible and plan for the fact that things take more time to get done. It’s also very important to talk to your friends who have been here longer and get good advice, and actually take that advice! I can’t tell you the number of times I have told people how not to do things and they do it anyway and regret it.
Crime is an issue here, especially petty theft. Everyone who lives here loses stuff from time to time, such as your flip flops left on the beach or a car break-in. I’d say that something happens to me every year or so, such as just two weeks ago, someone broke into my car at the beach and stole my shorts, which had $200, my credit cards, and my cell phone. It was stupid of me to leave this stuff in the car when I didn’t need it just to go surfing. It was also dumb of my friend who was driving to hide the keys under a coconut next to the car. Crime happens much more often when we make mistakes like this that are avoided by smart daily practices.
Montezuma has a private security company patrolling it, which I personally built and manage (and pay for half of through Anamaya.) The rest of the bill is paid for by about 20 other businesses in the area. So I think it’s the safest beach town in Costa Rica right now.
Santa Teresa on the other hand has too-frequent muggings of tourists (perhaps once every month or two) by local thugs and kids. They have been trying to get a security program together like Montezuma has, but so far no one has been able to get it organized.
At Rancho Delicioso, we have a camera system around my house and two of the entrances. I recommend anyone building a house have security cameras. They’re fun anyway to look at and sometimes you see animals at night through the infra-red cameras. That, plus the patrols from our security team, make it a very safe place.
Despite all this, we’ve had some thefts recently, but mainly weird stuff like they stole our electric cable down by the river last year, and someone stole our entire crop of corn a year or so ago. I sort of figure that if they’re really going to steal our corn, they probably need it more than me. This year, cows broke into the farm and ate all our corn which was growing in the same spot. Someday maybe we’ll get to eat our own corn harvest. It’s really delicious when we do!
Some people put bars on their windows, but I think that’s a waste of time. We don’t have bars and our house has never been robbed. Once a few years ago, someone did break into our storage shed and stole some tools. We found out who it was, but couldn’t do anything about it without more proof. Now that won’t happen because of the cameras and also we know who the thieves are and don’t let them onto the property. Currently, our house is usually unlocked with the doors open at night, so we’re not too worried about crime.
There’s safety in numbers so being in a community makes it much harder for people to steal our stuff.
I mention this here because I think I’ve never talked to anyone who was really homesick. Most people, by the time they decide to move here, have been sick of the rat race they’ve been living for many years and are just so happy to escape. No one complains about missing the billboards, consumer culture, schools with metal detectors and armed guards, billboards advertising pharmaceuticals everywhere, traffic, etc. People generally LOVE it here and want to stay, but the things above drive some people nuts, and the accumulation of stress from all the above can wear down peoples’ enthusiasm, especially if they have financial stress because they haven’t planned well.