Costa Rica- extended stay and/or relocation experience?

We are considering moving our family to Costa Rica, and I was hoping that there would be Dopers with experience in the country, either with long-term renting or actually living there.

If you have been down to Costa Rica, I would love to hear about your experiences, good and bad! Where were you? Did you work? Did you need medical care while you were there? How about schools, churches, etc?


If have been there (7 years ago). I can’t say enough good things about it. It has good weather, good beaches, the people are friendly and the cost of living is very cheap although most people aren’t impoverished. There are gobs of American tourists there so you won’t actually be away from Americans much. The country is pretty small too so you can drive from the Pacific to the Caribbean and back in a day. The scenery and biodiversity is incredible. Because of all the tourism, there are lots of developed things to do. I hear that medical care there is both inexpensive and top notch with many of the doctors U.S. trained. There is a sizable ex-pat community of Americans as well which I hear make up about 1% of the population. Many people can speak English (again, because of the tourism) and the ones that can’t do it well still try their hardest. I would definitely live there given some extra lives.

I’ve been there for a couple of extended visits over the past two years, and have immediate family who’s been living there semipermanently for the past three years.

It’s a beautiful country once you got out of San José. Some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen.

Most people you come across are friendly, but in the city I’ve run across a lot more surly people than I expected. From what I’ve seen and understand, it’s a highly bureaucratic and formalistic country, with odd and idiosyncratic procedures. Things like traffic checkpoints to make sure you have some document that you’re not ordinarily required to carry, and bureaucrats sending you around town to get an official copy of a document you wouldn’t necessarily have, and a special housekeeper defense agency with the power to levy fines.

Streets are confusing in the city… most streets don’t even have names! People identify their homes and places of business in the form of “400 meters north of the Ssangyong dealer in Irazu, fifth store to the left” and the like. Such “addresses” are even stated as such on billboards, product labels, etc. Traffic is poorly designed, with the “wrong” throughways getting the right of way, poorly designed merges and intersections, and poorly marked off- and on-ramps. If Mexico City drivers have trouble dealing with San Jose traffic, you know it’s extraordinarily bad.

But that said, it’s a beautiful, peaceful place, rich in natural wealth and biodiversity, and (at least out of the city) a great place to live.

I also understand that the cost of living is pretty low. How about the price of a practical car, like a Defender? :smiley: Seriously, I wouldn’t want to drive my own car down unless I really had to…

Car: repeat after me: 4x4. 4x4. 4x4. 4x4…

either that, or as option 2: pickup truck. Pickup truck. Pickup truck…

Costa Rica is beautiful. It was bad for my health but I’m not sure how much of that was stress. It also boasts horrid roads. Repeat: 4x4, 4x4, 4x4… And watch those tires, they need to be replaced relatively fast.

The Valle Central, where most people live, is cool. Oh, wait, where are you from… OK, it’s COLD, by your standards. Also very rainy: you don’t get all that green forest without rain! In the Valle it can rain pretty much on any day of the year.
The Caribean coast is very hot and humid.
I lived for 6 months in Guanacaste (the NW coast, on the Pacific). The best time to be there is supposed to be Dec-Jan: the roads have been fixed (maaaybe, last year there had been so much damage that they simply couldn’t fix everything), the sun is out, but because the winds come from inland it’s not too hot and not very humid.

The wet season is May-October. The trees get greener, the roads get bumpier, the tourists grouch because they wanted sun. As soon as the sun gets out for a week, things start turning from bright-green to coffee-colored.

I hope you don’t like fish: in Costa Rica, fish is “something you get out of the water and sell to Spain”. There’s a local dish called ceviche which is a maceration of fish bits with cilantro and other herbs, but personally I don’t trust a fish dish made by people who don’t know the difference between a cod and a sardine.

Meat will be chicken or beef. Sheep is something they’ve seen in books; I’ve had people ask me how big they are. You’ll be able to get pretty much the same veggies you’re used to in the States (didn’t see okra, for example, but mostly the supermarket rack looked the same to me in both). A bit short on fruit; again, they grow blackberries and raspberries but it’s mostly for the foreign markets. The apples were canadian stare

Oh, sorry, I realized I hadn’t answered another question you had.

The place where I worked had (para)medic services for employees. When we got sick we were expected to go there first. If you ever get a “stomach flu”: go see the doctor YESTERDAY. It could be dengue; the only way to distinguish both in the first stages is a blood test, which takes under one hour and can save your life. Make sure that you keep the areas around your house free of stagnant water, where the mosquitos reproduce. I went to a local doctor a couple times: the first time, the paramedic at work had said it was just probably just the flu but I didn’t trust that probably, I felt absolutely like shit, and since anyway I was too sick to go to work figured I’d go get a second opinion from a Real Doctor. My insurance company said I had to go to the public hospital; the local who’d offered to chauffeur me around said they were nuts but I decided to take a look at least, so I could give an accurate explanation. The waiting room was full and then some: since I wasn’t bleeding, I could have spent over 12h there before being seen by a nurse. I am not exaggerating, promise.
So we went to a clinic he knew. The same doctor owned two clinics, we went to the one where the lab was: he was in “the other one” and the receptionist had no idea when he’d be back.
Another clinic (if you’re ever in Liberia, it was 125meters S of the Pizza Hut, that means “next block over in the direction of the big tree that grows in the middle of the street” :slight_smile: ). This one had two doctors; the one who saw me was a graduate from the Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Mexico, way back before there was one in San José. Puebla has two universities, both very prestigious. He ordered the labwork, which I got done in the same building. The lab is a different business but I handled all the payment through the same receptionist. It was just a regular flu but he ordered some calcium supplements anyway, which would be the first step in the treatment for dengue and given my general state of health wasn’t going to be harmful.
The cost, including visit, labwork and medication, came up to less than 5€. I had to fill in the paperwork with my insurance anyway, but heck, I paid more for the box of ibuprofen I have in my handbag right now.
The insurance agent was pretty surprised by the adresses. I had to submit three pieces of paper from the clinic: the lab’s bill, the doctor’s bill and a certificate from the doctor saying I’d been to see him and appeared to have the flu and should take it slow for a few days. Each piece of paper had a different address: 125m S del Pizza Hut; 150m S del Pizza Hut; 125m S del Banco Cocoatlán. I had to explain about nameless streets (people are so unused to street names that even if a street has a name they don’t use it), about those distances being measured by eye, and that the Pizza Hut is across the street from the bank.
The NSWE is also kind of… liberally defined. In Guanacaste, South is “heading to San José” and N “heading to Nicaragua”, but a particular stretch of road may actually be going E-W.

The second time I just went to the same clinic and paid for it myself, since it was a saturday and I didn’t need a day off work.

Many houses are owner-built. Traditional houses were wood; now a lot of of the self-built is concrete blocks and tile floors.

My email is in my profile, if you ever come up with questions after the thread runs out. Or if you want to see pics :slight_smile: I used to have them up but yahoo ate my hosting service :frowning:

Only been to San Vito and Corrador, but I echo the sentiment of NEEDING a 4x4. You may actually be able to buy one cheaper HERE and drive it down there via the Pan-American. I’d recommend renting for a while so you can get your bearings and figure out where you’d like to live most (San Vito did NOT have a very stable power grid).

Also, a great way to fight of dengue is to actually clean out the storage tank on the roof. You can use bleach, and for the average tank, it’ll take under an hour to scrub. Also remember that you’ll have to lock up many of your nicer things. The problem wasn’t from the maid most times, it was from the ne’er do well boyfriend they’re always hooked up with that will come by when you’re either not home or asleep. Happened twice, and a third time with the maid robbing us.

This is the stuff we are looking for! Nava, I may hit you up for more info as well.

We are planning to take our children, who are currently almost 7 and 4.5 years old. We are looking at them beoing around 8/9 and 6/7 when we go. I understand there in an International School, as well as several private schools with boarding (yikes). Does anyone have experience with education there? I am very comfortable with the International Baccalaureate curriculum, but the schools can vary and I’d hate to find out something bad after it’s too late…

EJs Girl, you might be better off with a school that’s run by the American Embassy (or consulate in your area). I want to say it’s called the American School. It’s where most of the relatively wealthy or diplomats send their kids. There’s one in San Jose, and more than likely one near the next largest city.

What about the neighbors’ tanks? From what I saw, the houses are quite close together. Also, drainage didn’t seem to be a priority. I know that a lot of Americans just buy a big spread, but I don’t think I’m into that (I’m also thinking of living there, at least for a couple of years).

Is dengue the most serious health threat there?

Is the government a pain in the ass outside of San Jose (which I have no intention of living in)?

How badly have expats run up the prices?

Thought of one more thing to keep in mind. Ants. I hate ants. And Costa Rica has huge honkin’ formic-acid spitting bullet ants. Quite an impressive sight, but still…

Yeah, ants. A book we have talks about the army ants, which will continue marching on their imaginary straight line even if it goes right through your house! :eek: Disconcerting but not dangerous. He said that pretty soon, he was just putting his feet up and letting them play through! :smiley:

I am looking at the American School, I’m just not sure how close we’ll be to San Jose…

Panama is currently in 2nd place, I think, although it is very different (or so I understand). Very cosmopolitan, but a completely different vibe…

Shameless bump after the holiday weekend…

I still spend time in David, Panama. Love it. LOVE IT! Nobody thinks of Panama as a tourist destination, so it’s mostly ex-hippies if they’re American at all. Big city feel, small town vibe, everyone is friendly. Also, some of the better farmland is there.

Oh, and I concur on the ants. I used to try killing them all, then I just tried getting smarter.
(then I listened to the maid’s suggestions)