Why Expats Stay in Costa Rica
Friday, June 10th, 2011
THIS IS AN ARTICLE TAKEN FROM AN ONLINE NEWSPAPER, A.M. Costa Rica on Friday, June 10, 2011. I HAVE ADDED MY OWN COMMENTS IN ITALICS. As always, the photos are original and taken by me.
“Here are some of the good reasons why expats stay.”
By Sharon and Jay Brodell of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The front page is usually where crimes and other tragedies are reported. But good things frequently are overlooked because they are not news. So here are some reasons Costa Rica is a great place to live:
Taxis are cheap, starting at about $1.10 for the first kilometer. The new valley train and its Curridabat, San Pedro and Heredia extensions soon will reach Alajuela and maybe even Cartago. Buses go everywhere, and to spend more than $5 the trip has to be a really long one. Most city routes are 44 U.S. cents or less.
I enjoy taking the bus in Costa Rica, even though I have a car. It is one of the many ways to experience cultural immersion. I always end up sitting next to someone who does not speak English and most are happy to share some small talk about family and the weather. Practicing Spanish makes the ride more interesting. And I’ve had the chance to try some odd food from vendors that got on board; I’ve listened to a holy roller, gospel preacher who takes the ride just for a captive audience; and bemusedly tolerated a terrible, toothless singer who takes a collection when he stops. (I think they pay him not because he sang but because he stopped!)
Weekend ferias contain the bounty of the earth. Vegetables and fruits are almost given away. And the flowers!
I LOVE the ferias (farmer’s markets) throughout Costa Rica! The bigger cities have the most and best to offer. I could spend the whole day at the feria in San Jose, Alajuela or San Isidro del General. It is another great Costa Rica cultural immersion. You can find the finest quality produce and much of it is organic, along with freshly butchered meat, chicken and fish. There are all kinds of good things to eat. Sometimes there’s live music. And it is so sweet to see all the families working together in the stands, from grandmas to little ones it is a weekly family project.
There are plenty of working class restaurants and take-out chicken outlets for the cost conscious. For the well-heeled, there are plenty of upscale eating places, and some are world class.
In Puerto Viejo we have all of the above., including the catch of the day brought in by our local fishermen.
Even at the supermarket the Costa Rican-style diet is very reasonable. Rice and other products are priced controlled. The Costa Rican tamal is available all year long. Upscale markets are now carrying U.S. beers and an assortment of U.S. foods for those who want to live as a Gringo.
Who can walk past a bakery without dashing in and buying great bread, sweets, empanadas, almojábanas and all kinds of crunchy treats?
The Mercado Central is a step back into the 19th century. Yet sanitation is acceptable.
The Central Market in Limon has the best shoe repair in the world! They have done a great job fixing not only a number of my worn out or broken shoes, but backpacks, purses and suitcases, too. And they’re cheap!
This is coffee country, and the local brands sure beat the $8 export varieties.
You’d be hard pressed to find a bad cup of coffee in Costa Rica. The Ticos are so proud of their coffee, too. Take a drive way up high on the Pan American Highway to La Zona de los Santos (the Land of the Saints) and tour a coffee plantation like I did. The charming, scenic countryside; the gracious, friendly people; and a day on the plantation make for an unforgettable experience.
The Walmarts, the Pricesmarts and similar have not yet taken over the Costa Rican market, although its nice to know they are there. The hidden corners of every town hold surprises for the shopper. The San José pedestrian malls have changed the face of the downtown.
When the folks up north tire of their clothes, the garments end up in dirt cheap Ropa Americana stores here. The clothes come in as bales. Where else can you get an elegant designer dress for $2?
That’s where I shop – Ropa Americana. You have to have patience and pick through the huge selection but there are treasures to be found. I bought a lovely leather purse by Fossil for $3.00!
How about all those Chinese stores where certain products like dishes and other ceramics are total bargains? Not to mention the 50-cent beers under the counter. Those who require First-World shopping always have the malls. They are the same all over the world.
Don’t I know it! As I am writing this I am in the USA visiting my mom, who lives in King of Prussia, PA, home to one of the biggest malls in the country. This artificially beautiful place, devoid of any true culture, inundates one with the mind-numbing, pseudo culture of “branding.” Inside one of these malls, you could be anywhere in the world – it is an homage to conformity.
Not being confronted with ice, snow and those winter ailments is a real plus. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social clinics may be uneven, but the major hospitals provide excellent care. The Hospital Nacional de Niños is envied all over Latin America. Private hospitals are more expensive but with prices far below those in the north even for U.S.-trained physicians and technicians.
I think highly of Puerto Viejo’s local area clinic in Hone Creek. They give quality care, even to tourists.
Some medicines here are available over the counter instead of with prescriptions as in the north and the prices seem more reasonable. And some are available for free from the Caja.
Rents range from $100 to thousands a month, depending on the quality of the location. A frugal expat can find a safe, secure apartment for $300, but double that will put the place in a better area. Housing prices represent a great savings over two years ago. There is city living. There is country living and all options in between. Those with a green thumb will like a rural home with garden space. Maybe room for a few chickens. Got some cash? How about a lap pool or one that approaches Olympic size?
Expats can kiss the oil and gas heating bill good-bye. Unless one seeks out chilly mountain living, nearly every place in Costa Rica does not require heating, just a second blanket a couple of times a year.
Beach living might require air conditioning, but one can survive with proper, screened ventilation even during the warmest periods.
Utilities are a steal. Where else can you get a land line from the phone company for 2,450 colons ($4.90) a month or a cell phone for 3,685 ($7.37)? Toll calls are extra. The government subsidizes and controls these and other utility rates.
Television still is free, but cable is better, particularly for those who must see North American programs or U.S. sports. Internet continues to improve, and new firms are entering the market. You get what you pay for but still less expensive than elsewhere.
Expat bars are plentiful, but the beer is cheaper at a hole in the wall that caters to locals.
First-run movies are priced for the local market, and iTunes and some online services are available. Netflix says it soon will add Costa Rica to its list of countries.
No place is far from a beach. Sponsored and free entertainment can be found in all but the smallest burg. This is a tourism destination, and expats can enjoy these benefits.
Where I live, two blocks from the beach in Puerto Viejo, there are gorgeous mountains to enjoy just minutes away! And I can go out almost any night of the week, have a great Caribbean meal and hear really good, live music.
Costa Rica teaches patience to a new arrival. The pace is reduced. There is time to enjoy the sunny mornings and prepare for the afternoon rain. The evenings are time for sitting outside with a favorite beverage.
In fact, the country is bilingual, although Spanish is required to understand the culture. Even most grade school children know some English. The government is pushing that.
What can you say about the legions of friendly, pleasant Costa Ricans who usually go out of their way to help a foreigner? Not everyone but most.
This is my favorite part of A.M. Costa Rica’s article because this is the heart of why I love Costa Rica. Things don’t seem to happen as fast or as efficiently as one may be used to but if you stay, you learn patience. (Either that or you go nuts!) And once you learn to slow down and take the time to appreciate what you have; surrounded by nature’s bountiful beauty and happy, friendly people, you begin to understand the great gift you’ve received, in learning patience. You’re less stressed. You find yourself singing or whistling as you walk down the street. People smile at you and say hola. And you relax into the knowledge that everything will work out in its own good time – so you can have a good time while you are waiting! This is the life: taking each day as it comes and appreciating every surprise along the way. This is “pure life” – Pura Vida.