Reality Check: 8 Common Mistakes When Moving to Costa Rica

Before we moved to Costa Rica, each of us created our dream life here: usually simple, laid back, near the beach or a volcano or the expat suburbs around San Jose.  Each of us has made mistakes when we moved because our dreams didn’t match up with reality.  So below are eight of the most common mistakes you need to keep in mind before you move. This list is not to scare you, but to give you a jump start in planning for the reality of Costa Rican life.

  1. Underestimating the cost of living: While Costa Rica may be more affordable than some Western countries, the cost of living is still relatively high compared to other Latin American countries, especially the high cost of importing goods, which can lead to sticker shock when shopping.  Remember this isn’t a “hub” destination, we are a tiny country at the end of most supply chains, so prices are higher due to a smaller pool for imports and the cost to get things here.  
  2. Not learning Spanish: We’ve listed this in many articles because it bears repeating: although Costa Rica has a high level of English proficiency, not everyone speaks the language. Learning Spanish can help newcomers navigate the country more easily and build stronger relationships with locals.  
  3. Failing to research the country: Costa Rica may seem like an idyllic paradise, but it is not immune to problems such as crime, traffic, and pollution — such as smoke from burning sugar cane fields in dry season. Doing your research before moving can help you prepare for these issues and avoid disappointment.
  4. Not Having a Plan for Work or Income: Many people move to Costa Rica with dreams of retiring or living off savings, but it’s essential to have a plan for work or income to sustain yourself financially. Make sure you are speaking with your legal and financial team in your home country, but also find legal and financial experts in Costa Rica to help you look at all possible options.
  5. Rushing into a property purchase: Many people move to Costa Rica with the intention of buying property, but it’s important to take your time and not rush into a purchase. Costa Rica has its own unique property laws, and working with a reputable real estate agent is essential to avoid scams or legal issues.  Once you have an agent, make sure you are looking at enough that you truly understand not only available inventory, but also the nuances of each community.
  6. Overlooking Healthcare: Healthcare in Costa Rica can be excellent, but it’s essential to research and understand the healthcare system and make sure you have adequate health insurance coverage.  Know the difference between the La Cajanational healthcare system (tied to having a visa) versus the options available to tourists.
  7. Not adjusting to the culture: Like learning the language, this point is one we cannot emphasize enough.  Costa Rica has a relaxed “pura vida” lifestyle and newcomers may struggle to adapt if they are used to a faster pace of life. Embracing the local culture and pace of life can help ease the transition and lead to a more enjoyable experience.
  8. Not thinking about the challenges of day-to-day living: This point is EXACTLY why we developed Your Pura Vida.  We too found that the complexity and cultural differences were often far more than we assumed.  We had our dream that everything was going to be simple and laid back, but the reality was lines at banks and bureaucracy, and a lack of standards we were used to back home.  So we created a membership service to help every international gain confidence, work better in the culture, and connect with the right experts, all while getting all your day-to-day needs met.

Again, we aren’t trying to freak anyone out with this list.  We want to give you a reality check but also a reassurance that once you are ready to join us in paradise we will help you achieve the life you dream about!

And as always: Pura Vida!