A lot of people ask us why we picked Costa Rica as our next home after traveling to so many places around the world. What is so special about it? Our answers are usually practical. Such as, its close enough to home (and cheap enough) to visit family often, low-cost of living, amazing wildlife and beautiful landscapes, excellent climate, happy people, good food, business opportunities, the list goes on. Most people are satisfied with these answers because they make sense. But the real reason is that we just feel better here and we knew we needed to be here, we just didn’t know why yet. Well, we’ve been living in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for over four months now and I can finally put into words exactly why we moved here. Read below to see the 5 ways our lives have changed for the better since moving to Costa Rica.
Our physical health.
We used to live in a world where being healthy was a full-time job and now we live in a place where it is hard NOT to be healthy. For starters, EVERYTHING in Costa Rica is a workout. You literally can’t do anything without sweating and its rare to walk on a flat surface. We burn more calories walking to the corner store for milk than during an entire workout in Chicago. Hot showers? A thing of the past. Now we cool off in our pool while we watch monkeys play in the trees. Swimming just so happens to be a great workout as well, bonus! That’s the thing, working out here is actually fun. Don’t get me wrong, I loved catching up on the Kardashians while riding a stationary bike in the basement of a concrete gym but kayaking through a mangrove forest or hiking through the jungle to a double-decker waterfall just seems more fun these days.
Not only do we workout our bodies daily, but we are eating cleaner and healthier. There is no fast food in the jungle, folks! I know how much we miss good old Chicago food; we talk about it daily. However, we’ve become accustomed to the Costa Rican diet and we actually love it. We have rice and beans with every meal and we eat lots of protein, vegetables, and fruits! We start our days with a heaping glass of fresh-squeezed mango juice – which doesn’t break the bank like back at home!
Mental health is clear.
How much different is your attitude when you are surrounded by happy people v Debbie downers? A lot, right? Now imagine being surrounded by happy people all day, everyday. When people walk past me they smile and say, “Hola!” Every. Single. Time. They say smiles are contagious and in this case I would have to strongly agree, its refreshing to live somewhere people actually want to stop and talk let alone have time for it.
It's also hard to be in a shitty mood when you are surrounded by million dollar views, Jurassic Park fauna, and animals you normally only see on National Geographic. Oh and we basically live on the equator so sunshine isn’t hard to come across and it just so happens that Vitamin D increases serotonin production in the brain which means (surprise, surprise) sunshine makes you happier. Can't argue with science.
Our life doesn't control our actions or thoughts anymore, we do. There is something about living in the jungle that makes what used to be a catastrophic event no big deal. Sometimes the power goes out for an hour or two during a big storm, sometimes we don't have running water for a day, all we can do is laugh and make the best of it. Pool showers anyone? Candle party? Small price to pay for waking up in paradise everyday.
We used to live for the weekends. We used to wake up to an alarm at 5:30 AM and chip ice off our windshields and go to work while only speaking through texts a few times a day, spending our quality time with each other only on the weekends. It was the only way we knew life. We grew a lot as a couple in 6 months, probably more than we would have grown in years if we would have stayed put. We have evolved as a couple, individuals, and our marriage.
Besides having more time to spend with each other, our quality of time has increased tenfold. It used to be, "How was your day, honey?" and now, "What do you want to do today?" We are building a life together as opposed to building a marriage around our existing lives.
We are learning a new language.
Sounds easy enough, right? No way. Not only is it very difficult for an adult to learn a new language but it is always a work-in-progress. We dedicate at least an hour a day practicing at our own speed but then we take it out into the community to practice with our fellow Costa Ricans. Sometimes it is embarrassing when we know the word but we aren't sure how to put it in a complete thought or sentence, in which case, we have learned to brush our shoulders off and try again. Without practice there will be no perfect and it is just one more way we are working our brains in completely different ways they are used to.
It's also something that we can take with us, something that will benefit us for the rest of our lives. It instantly unlocks doors that were previously closed and allows us to connect with more people.
We are hungry again!
It's easy to get comfortable or complacent in life, especially when you've achieved your goals and reaping the benefits of all your hard work and dedication. However, complacency breeds laziness and to a certain degree halts growth. Hunger is the drive, the fire burning inside of you that makes seemingly impossible things possible. It's what pushes us to become better and prove to ourselves that we can do whatever we put our minds to.
We are forcing ourself to build from the ground up here in Costa Rica. There is absolutely nothing given to you here, we have to earn everything ourselves. No friends or family to lean on for help or resume experience to fallback on, just us, our personalities, and our computers. Its hard, it really is. There isn't a playbook for success out here nor is there any of the resources we are used to having at our disposal. It's a challenge we are up for and we know if we can make it happen here, we can make it happen anywhere!
So yes, it's only been four months since we've been here but this is our report card thus far! Starting from scratch in another country has proven to be difficult yet rewarding and we can't wait to see what the future holds.
We've been to 24 countries and counting and so far we have yet to find a "perfect" place to live. It's a relative term after all, we can think of a few destinations that would be perfect if the cost of living was 1/3 of what it actually is - but contrary to public opinion, we didn't hit the lottery and cost of living was a large factor. Other factors we included in our search of our new home were business opportunities, access as a tourist, healthcare, food, people, nature, culture, weather, lifestyle, and proximity to family. We've been living on the pacific coast of Costa Rica for a little over three months now and we plan on being here for a long time to come, its our little slice of heaven but it's not for everyone.
We can think of a million reasons why you should move to Costa Rica but there are a few factors that you should keep in mind if planning on moving here.
Don’t move to Costa Rica if…
You don’t like to sweat
Unless you are situated far up in the mountains, and chances are you aren’t because more than 75% of all expats that move to Costa Rica live in or near a coastal town, you are going to break a sweat even during the smallest task. A quick run to the grocery store? You will sweat your butt off inside since they don’t have AC. And then again walking to your car to load the groceries. And then again taking them into the house. That's three separate sweats just to get groceries! You’ve never really sweat until you’ve hiked in Costa Rica. (I've been drier after just getting out of a shower.) Love hot showers? You won’t anymore! Plan on taking multiple cold showers per day to stay fresh and be careful not to break a sweat drying yourself off. It happens all.the.time.
Why we like it
Sweating is healthy and gets rid of toxins out of your body. It also is great for your skin and gives you a nice glow. When you've had a few too many drinks the night before, sweating helps quicken the recovery time of a dreaded hangover. Not to mention it beats the freezing cold any day of the week. You spend more time in the pool and appreciate rainy days more than ever before.
You can’t stand bugs
Costa Rica houses around 6% of the entire world's biodiversity, many of which are insects. Unless you spend 24/7 in a beekeeper suit, you will have multiple bug bites on you at all times. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time some part of me didn’t itch. I don’t care how awesome your insect repellent is, you cannot avoid bugs in Costa Rica. It's as simple as that. Forget about leaving food on the kitchen counter for longer then 10 seconds because 200,000 ants will suddenly appear to investigate. Do spiders freak you out? How about ones the size of your hand that have fangs and are poisonous? Don’t forget to shake your shoes out before putting them on! We aren't saying you have to love bugs to be happy in Costa Rica, we are just saying that it would be a full-time job avoiding them, plan accordingly.
Why we like it
Sure bugs are a nuisance but we have learned an unimaginable amount of wildlife facts and have seen some absolutely beautiful critters in our new home. Not only are you introduced to wildlife that you have only seen on the Discovery Channel, but we have learned to appreciate our surroundings. Mantis, walking sticks, butterflies, katydids and even ants, especially leaf cutter ants, are fascinating and often breathtaking creatures. You never really learn to love bug bites but it is simply worth the trade-off of a package deal for the beauty of the wildlife.
You aren’t willing to learn Spanish
Costa Rica houses some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met and all they ask is that you respect their culture and nature. Tourists can easily get by learning a few popular phrases, no harm no foul. But if you plan on living here for more than a few months, it is expected that you learn to speak the native language. Since many people here speak English as a second language, and love to practice with Americans, you will have to make a real effort to learn and practice your Spanish on a daily basis. Although challenging at first, you will be surprised at how quickly you begin to learn Spanish. It is possible to live here for years and never learn more than basic Spanish, many people do it, but you will miss out on some amazing cultural conversations and as a result will never be fully accepted into the culture.
Why we like it
Forcing us to learn a new language is something we've always wanted to do in our lifetimes. It is something we can always use and it teaches us patience while keeping our minds fresh and sharp. It also means that we are being accepted by the locals, which is something we take very seriously. We do not live in the United States anymore and we do not want to disrespect their culture. It's certainly not easy but to us it is extremely gratifying when we can communicate and show that we are learning. This also changes our overall communication with people we may not normally talk to which is a big deal to us. Did we need to mention that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States?
You don't have patience
Coming from the hustle and bustle of a large city like Chicago, we expected a much slower pace of life which is one of the reasons we moved here. However, we didn't expect them to move this slow. You really do need to have patience here and understand that there will be a lot of things out of your control. Money can't buy you out of this one either, these are things everyone has to deal with. We learned very early on that the harder you push and the quicker you want things to happen, the slower and more painful it will actually be. Even if you are planning pessimistically, double that amount of time to be prepared. "Mañana" doesn't mean tomorrow here, it just means not today.
Why we like it
Learning to accept the things you cannot control will prove valuable to us for the rest of our lives. There is no such thing as escaping stress, only learning to better deal with it and patience is a key factor in doing so. We don't sweat the small things anymore, instead we focus on putting positive energy into the universe and hoping it comes back. Life is a lot better when you stop to smell the roses and you are conscious of the things happening around you. Pura Vida!
You are entitled
Many Americans move to Costa Rica as an escape from the rat race in the United States, seeking a slower paced lifestyle with more balance. Some Americans feel as though the entire world revolves around them and that Costa Rica somehow owes them something. Don't be one of those Americans that think they helped make this country a better place by throwing your money around here. Tourism is a large part of the reason Costa Rica is thriving but as anyone moving to another country, you have to earn your stripes. Understand that you do not have rights here and nobody is going to come to your rescue. If you plan on living the same way you live in the United states, might as well just retire in Arizona.
Why we like it
For the first time in a long time, we feel like we are part of a community. We have shown respect to our neighbors in the form of learning the language, practicing local customs, helping when we can, being patient and respectful. As a result, we've been accepted into our community and get treated as a local. When a friend sees us walking on the street, they pull over to pick us up and vice versa. Its common courtesy here.
Land of the free, home of the brave.
I don’t think I need to explain to anybody reading this post about what freedom means to Americans, frankly it's difficult to talk about without cutting deep, but I hope to raise awareness about one freedom in particular that should be celebrated more often.
No, I’m not a gun lobbyist and no I don’t have a political agenda here, I'm talking about your passport. And since research suggests that only 35% of Americans over 18 currently have a valid passport, that means the vast majority of citizens DON'T have one! If you haven’t been sold yet on just how valuable this little blue book is please allow me the pleasure of breaking this down for you. An American passport is the 4th strongest passport in the world behind only Germany, Sweden, and a three-way tie between Finland, France, Italy, Spain and the UK. We are allowed to travel freely to 174 out of the 218 countries of the world, 160 of which can be visited without a visa. If life was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, this would be your golden ticket! OK maybe now is not the best time in your life for a vacation, but seriously you can go anywhere you want, whenever you want, and all you need to do is buy a plane ticket. That may not seem like a revelation to you but it is a luxury that many people around the world wish they had. Which reminds me of a man we met outside of a restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa.
Jeffrey was a self-proclaimed parking lot attendant. For anybody who hasn’t been to South Africa before, one of the more popular “hustles” out there is for a man to guard cars in the parking lot of a restaurant (or place where tourists frequent) to prevent theft or break-ins. They do not charge a fee for this service but a tip is strongly encouraged, wink-wink. Jeffrey was a very personable and charismatic dude, as we were tipping him we struck up a conversation. He began to tell us one of the craziest stories we’ve ever heard. His dream has always been to travel the world, no place in particular, basically anywhere he hasn’t been was on his list. Unfortunately as a citizen of Northern Africa, he wasn’t able to leave the continent. Determined to travel, Jeffrey decided to hide out in the engine room of a cargo ship headed to Portugal. For over 2 weeks he was trapped in a tiny, dark room and the food he brought with started to spoil only halfway in the journey. Eventually the ship came to a halt and a confused Jeffrey carefully emerged to try to make it off the ship. He was apprehended almost immediately and taken to a prison in Portugal where he spent the next two months before being deported back to Africa.
All he had to say about the portuguese prison was that the people were nice and the food was really good; I think he genuinely enjoyed it!
Then his eyes lit up when he began to tell us that he would be able to travel soon because he was having a baby with a woman from South Africa which would mean he could acquire a South African passport and travel to other countries (legally) with that. Literally one of the best days in this guys' life will be when he gets a South African passport.
Not every case is as extreme as Jeffreys, we have plenty of Costa Rican friends that can enter 130 different countries without a visa but the USA isn’t one of them. If our friends wish to visit us in the future they will need to apply for a visa which means a lot of paperwork and a payment of about $150 that is non-refundable if denied, which it usually is. Factors that can be used to determine whether a visa is granted or not can include proof of owning a property or business, job title, income, at least this is what most people tell me I don’t think anybody really knows, I'm not even sure the government knows it seems to change so much.
The morale of the story is you are born with the freedom to get on a plane and see pretty much the entire world, a luxury most of the world is not afforded, so why not take advantage of that? We occupy such a small place in this world and you'll never realize just how small until you get out there and experience it for yourself. We've been on the road for almost 12 months now and we've lived more in these 12 months of travel then we had in the 5 years previous, we've made memories that we can never forget and we've met some of the best people the world has to offer. Get out there and LIVE people! Why? Because you can. One thing is for sure, you will appreciate all of the freedoms that we sometimes take for granted that much more.
Living in Paradise definitely has its perks. We can’t deny our two-a-day pool breaks, scenes from National Geographic outside our front door and the fact that we are supplied with the actual daily amount of vitamin D that the human body needs.
Feel like hiking up a waterfall and taking a swim after? Par for the course here, we call that Tuesday. However, moving to another country definitely presents challenges.
One of the reasons we moved to Costa Rica was to enjoy a simpler lifestyle, to find a balance between work and play.
We spent almost a month here during our travels and did ample research before actually planting some roots. Factors that we considered included cost of living, proximity to family, safety, business opportunities, and of course weather and nature. We knew life moved slower here– but we didn’t realize every single task you try to accomplish is an ordeal.
For example, you can’t just go to one store and buy everything you need. We do have a Walmart, its just three hours away!
This is probably the one thing we took most for granted in the States, convenience.
Grocery shopping in Costa Rica is an all-day affair, and that’s if you’re fortunate enough to have a vehicle. If you don’t want to go broke on groceries, you need to be a savvy shopper and eat local food. You buy your bread from the bakery, your fruits and vegetables from the weekend farmers market, your bulk items and cleaning supplies from the big “super” store outside of town, and the butcher for your meat. If you plan on buying ice cream, you must wait until you are in the checkout line to take it from the freezer and then race home before it turns to soup.
When we moved in to our home, we knew we would have to get cable and internet set up. We also knew it wasn’t going to be a quick phone call. However, we did not know it would take us a full weekend to get an appointment that wouldn’t even happen until the following week. On a Friday, we set out to find the local branch store, but when we entered, we found out they closed for an hour around 10:00 AM with no rhyme or reason. This was very foreign to us, as we know what 10:00 AM means for most companies. We then had to come back a few hours later to see if they had returned to work, only to find out we were unable to get Internet without cable. Luckily, third time was a charm for us and our newest representative offered us exactly what we needed. We all know how much a pain Comcast and Direct TV is, but after spending a few days getting to know CableTica, I’d be more than happy to give Comcast a whirl again.
The moral of the story is that Costa Rica moves at its own pace and fighting it only makes it worse.
It almost seems as though the harder you push, the harder CR pushes back.
Wanting to get something done quickly is a sure fire way to delay the process, but you learn to embrace it. Let me give you an example. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to go to the bank on a Friday, expect at least a 45 min wait. You get a number when you walk in (deli-style) so you have a ballpark idea of about how long it will be. So, instead of sitting there anxiously waiting, we take our number, run some errands, and come back 30 min later with a 5-10 min wait. If our number was called and we missed the boat, no biggie we will grab another number and repeat the process.
We came to Costa Rica seeking a stress free life. We certainly didn’t think everything was going to be easy, but we also didn’t expect simple tasks to be so difficult. Ironically, sometimes the lack of convenience is even more stressful then home but like I said earlier, you learn to deal with it. We believe this experience is going to teach us how to be more patient and not sweat things that are outside of our control, to stop and smell the roses more often if you will. Sometimes all you can do is laugh it off and say “really Costa Rica?!”