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HomeCosta RicaThe Little Differences of living in Costa Rica as an Expat

The Little Differences of living in Costa Rica as an Expat

Every place where we live around the world has its own culture and lifestyle that make it a unique place to live. When we decide to pack up our things and move great distances to foreign lands, we’re bound to run into differences between our new home and where we came from. Many of these differences are the very reasons that some folks decide to stay, and others decide to go.

In the case of moving to Costa Rica, very big differences like ‘Wow, it’s always 90°F outside in Guanacaste!’ or ‘It turns out that it’s difficult to learn Spanish” can be the deciding factors on whether your big move is permanent or less so. But there are also small differences that don’t swing the pendulum so strongly but are just a little different from what you were used to. So here’s a list of the little differences that I’ve noticed between living a Pennsylvania, USA, life and living a Costa Rica life.

The Doors Are Open

I grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, lands with considerably less biodiversity than Costa Rica, especially when it comes to insects. Yet every home that I inhabited in the states was tightly sealed up. The windows and doors were mostly closed and when they were open, they were protected by a screen or screen door 100% of the time. I can’t even really remember what we feared exactly, flies and mosquitos I suppose.

On the other hand, in what at times feels like the center of the bug universe in Costa Rica, our doors and windows hang open. We do have air conditioners, but we do not have that AC-on-all-day money, so having the windows and doors open is a ventilation necessity. To be fair, nearly all of the windows have screens.

The only ones that aren’t protected used to have screens but the dogs poked holes in them with their claws, and then the kids poked larger and larger toys through the holes until they rendered the screens useless. The doors have sort of a metal bar prison door that protects the house from people but not the surrounding wildlife.

Off of the top of my head, our open-door lifestyle has led to visits from snakes, lizards, crabs, frogs, toads, and an untold number of species of insects including a large insect that the family has recently taken to calling ‘the space cricket’ that lives in the upper corners of the walls and has been eating little scoops out of our bananas every couple of nights for the last several weeks.

The Beaches Are Empty

I can read the social media comments now, “The beaches used to be empty, but not anymore!” and honestly, I can tell a difference in beach occupancy between when we first arrived ten or so years ago and now. Now, the high seasons seem a little higher and the beaches are a little fuller in general. But let’s not get it twisted, unless you’re on one of the most popular beaches during some kind of holiday that happens to coincide with high season tourism, there are generally very few people on the beaches.

I grew up going to the Jersey shore. There were people everywhere. It was a sea of families with their little areas staked out, complete with umbrellas, blankets, towels and beach chairs. I’m pretty sure that we needed to pay for some kind of beach tag to even be allowed to join the fray. Now compare that to the majority of beaches in Costa Rica. We find ourselves complaining if we have to settle for the slightly less than perfect shade tree on the nearly deserted beautiful tropical beach.

The Power Goes Out

I experienced power outages in the US. It was almost exclusively during a huge thunderstorm or blizzard. The power would go out and we would be just shocked. Then we’d stumble around looking for that drawer that you keep the flashlight in somewhere in the kitchen, or worse yet, the shelf in the basement where the lantern that you take camping is hiding. I never remember one lasting any significant amount of time. I think I even enjoyed them at times, thinking ‘That was an adventure.’

This is not the case in Costa Rica. Our power goes out constantly, sometimes for a matter of seconds, sometimes for a matter of hours. The reasons vary from strong storms knocking trees over onto the powerlines to the power company shutting off power to do some sort of work that nobody knew about to no good reason at all. During the beginning of rainy season, the power consistently goes out during the first significant rains. We’ve been told it has something to do with the transformers getting wet for the first time in months. I have no idea if that’s true.

These days there’s no searching for the flashlight drawer. We have surge protectors with battery backup on all of the important appliances, special lightbulbs that stay on when the power goes out, a battery powered lantern ready to go at all times, and a drawer full of flashlights, candles and matches, because one thing is for sure, the power will definitely go out.

I’m sure the little lifestyle differences vary depending on where you came from and what part of Costa Rica you now call home, so feel free to share your little differences in the comments.

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at:

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