I moved to Costa Rica about 2 years ago. Though my husband (who had been living in Costa Rica for more than 4 years by then) had given me a heads up on some of the struggles faced by Indians here, it still came as a surprise to me.
Living in a foreign country is not easy for anyone, no matter which part of the world you are from. You miss your family, the comforts and luxury you had in your home country, and of course have countless memories associated with it.
But, it’s also true that every country has its own set of challenges for expats. And some challenges arise because of the country you are coming from. Let me give you an example. I am from India and live in Costa Rica. So naturally, I face some challenges due to the fact that I am from India, considering the advancement in technology and the kind of diversity we have there. And some challenges are presented by Costa Rica as a country. For example, Costa Rica imports almost everything, hence goods are expensive here.
Having said that, it does not mean that I do not like Costa Rica. In fact, I fell in love with this beautiful country the moment I landed here. And there are many reasons why I love Costa Rica, even as an expat. But, since almost everything good comes with a price, I have my fair share of struggles. Let me share them with you!
8 Struggles Of An Expat From India
1. Less online shopping apps
Coming from India, where there is an app for almost everything, I found it really surprising that stores do not have an app for online shopping. And, even if they have one, they charge you extra for delivery.
Be it food, clothes, grooming services, medicines, online payments, cabs, or sending packages, you name it and there will be an app in India. Even Amazon does not have its operations in Costa Rica. This was something really shocking for me!
2. No fixed price for items
India has MRP mentioned on every product that you pick from the shop. From as small as candy to as big as an electronic, you will see a price tag on it. But here comes the best part! The price is the same throughout the country. No matter where you go, you will find a Lays packet for the same price.
Whereas, in Costa Rica, each store owner is free to decide the price of the product. So you really have to be smart and know what to buy from where. When I go grocery shopping near my house, I stop at a store for bananas and coconuts, go to the next for the rest of the fruits and vegetables, before finally stopping at a Chinese supermarket for items like rice and flour.
It is no joke that Indians do take a fair amount of time to get used to this!
3. Indian spices & ingredients are not readily available
Most of my cousins and relatives are settled in the US, Europe, and Canada. I had never heard from them about Indian spices and ingredients not being available. When I came here, I learned that even some of the most basic and commonly used ingredients in an Indian kitchen were not available in Costa Rica. Boom… blow on the face!
So we, Indians, have a hard time sourcing our kitchen essentials in Costa Rica. I sometimes make an exclusive trip to San Jose Central Market to buy Indian spices, visit Chinese supermarkets, or try to bring some with me while coming back from India (you have to be really careful with the customs though).
4. Only a few people speak English
Did you know that India was once colonized by the British (as was once Costa Rica by the Spanish)? So English is widely spoken in India. It is taught in our schools and even used in day-to-day lives. You will even find all hoardings, signboards, and traffic signals in English.
Here in Costa Rica, English is less spoken in rural areas or small towns. But if you go to tourist places, there are higher chances of coming across English-speaking people. So you definitely need to learn basic Spanish or even master it in order to get your daily jobs done.
5. A queue for everything
I want to ask this question – why is there a queue for everything? Getting on the bus, getting your vaccination dose, going to a government office or bank, and even in restaurants sometimes!
It is no secret that the population of Costa Rica is not even that of a metro city in India. Even still, we have long queues here and not in India. Food for thought!
6. Indians want spice and heat in everything they eat or drink
How about a spicy yogurt? Or a masala (spicy) tea? Well, you can at least put some spice in your Coke!
So, that’s the level of spice we want in our food and drinks. And imagine how it would be to eat the food in Costa Rica! Well, we are always asking for Lizano salsa, Chilero, or Tabasco! I sometimes even ask them to add spice at the time of preparing my food. I get that look from them, but why let anything come in the way of my food, right?
7. Indians find everything expensive
Can you imagine what I can eat for 5$ in India? Well, I can have breakfast, and even manage to get lunch (cooked meals). But here, I can’t even manage one meal for 5$. The minimum would be around 8$. So food is expensive here.
Moreover, Costa Rica specializes in producing bananas, coffee, pineapple, and medical equipment. Most of the other things like apparel, footwear, eyewear, and jewelry are mostly imported so we have to pay a heavy price for them.
On the other hand, India is a leading producer and exporter of many many products including apparel, footwear, tea, pulses, etc. So naturally, the cost of products is less there.
8. Why is there so much plastic in everything?
India recognized single-use plastic as a devil a long time ago. So glasses for cold beverages, straws, cutlery, etc are mostly made of paper. Moreover, plastic bags are nearly banned in India.
When I first came here, I couldn’t believe that single-use plastic was still used in the world. From vegetables and fruits in stores to cutlery, glasses, and straws, almost everything is single-use plastic here. I found this ironic as Costa Rica is a pioneer in ecotourism, reversing deforestation, and conserving natural resources and wildlife. Then why stay behind in curbing the use of plastic?
No day passes by when I don’t count my blessings of getting the opportunity of staying in Costa Rica. I simply love how the air is clean, how there aren’t many people, and how you can experience a multitude of natural wonders in such a small country. Not to forget the warmth of the Costa Ricans and their Pura Vida attitude. My love for India and my love for Costa Rica is beyond comparison. They simply can’t be compared to each other!
I am really looking forward to living for more years in Costa Rica, blending in the culture, getting to know the Ticos, and truly inculcating the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle. Cheers!