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28 useful tips for anyone who wants to relocate to Costa Rica

November 9, 2019

Many people, including myself, have referred to Costa Rica as a tropical paradise. Costa Rica has many wonderful things to offer — much more good than bad. However, living in Costa Rica can be a challenge, and some precautions should be taken to avoid having negative experiences in this wonderful country.

Below are some suggestions based on my 39 years of living here as a relocation/retirement expert and consultant. By following this time-tested advice, expat retirees and others who relocate to Costa Rica will increase their chances of success.

  1. Have a lot of patience, cultural tolerance and a good sense of humor.
  2. The country will not adapt to you; you have to adapt to it.
  3. Stay busy and active. There are hundreds of activities from which to choose.
  4. Don’t think that you can outsmart the system because you think the locals are stupid and you are an American.
  5. Respect the local customs.
  6. Above all, respect the country’s laws.
  7. Remember you are a guest in this country.
  8. Make sure that you have the right attitude and, above all, do not be an “ugly American.”
  9. Make sure you live in a secure home or condo. Out-of-the-way places in the mountains, beach or woods sound exotic but can expose you to problems like resale and theft.
  10. Be careful of people who are overly friendly. Most likely, they want something from you.
  11. Don’t be too trusting.
  12. Be generous with your hired help — but don’t be overly friendly. They work for you and are not your buddies.
  13. Don’t blindly lend money! You may never see it again.
  14. Develop a cultural awareness by learning the language, attending local events, mixing with the people and reading about the country.
  15. Learning Spanish can mean the difference between success and failure here. The minimum you should learn is survival-level Spanish to handle most daily situations you will encounter.
  16. Costa Ricans are friendly, but don’t assume you’ll make close friendships like in your home country. Family is very important in Costa Rican culture, and many Ticos’ lives revolve around it.
  17. Don’t go into business unless you absolutely have to. The rules are different here and the market is very small. Labor laws are strict, and most foreigners who start a business fail. It’s often better to have a web-based business in the U.S. than to depend on the local market.
  18. Test before you invest.
  19. When investing, don’t do things you wouldn’t normally do in your home country.
  20. Give the country time and do not make hasty decisions.
  21. Find a good English-speaking doctor for your medical needs.
  22. Have a trustworthy and, above all, reliable attorney. Ask for recommendations.
  23. Be cautious when purchasing property. Brokers do not need a license here, and there have been many cases of foreigners being defrauded.
  24. If it seem to good to be true, it probably is.
  25. Give a romantic relationship time before making a serious commitment.
  26. Be very careful before agreeing to support your Costa Rican partner’s family.
  27. Remember that everything that works in the U.S. or Canada will work here. You will invariably have to make some sacrifices.
  28. Don’t leave your brain on the plane.

Christopher Howard has been conducting monthly relocation/retirement tours and writing retirement guidebooks for more than 30 years. See www.liveincostarica.com

He has a relocation/retirement blog at: http://www.liveincostarica.com/blog and  is also the author of the one-of-a-kind bestselling e-book, “Guide to Costa Rican Spanish,” that can be purchased through Amazon.

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