Close

Common misconceptions and clichés about life in Costa Rica

Hello everyone,

Old clichés die hard, as the saying goes... and living in Costa Rica can generate lots of misconceptions in the eyes of the people.

What are the most common misconceptions about the expat lifestyle in Costa Rica?

What are the most common clichés about life in Costa Rica in general?

Did you have a biased view of the country before moving there? What is you view now?

Thanks in advance,

Priscilla

Before we moved here, everything we read said we wouldn't be able to get reliable internet service. Since I work online, that was a big concern. Even after we arrived in Playa Junquillal, locals told us to expect a six month wait for installation and that service would be spotty, at best. Turns out, ICE handled everything within a two week period. And the service has been very reliable. I have had minimal down time, averaging less than 5 minutes per month, way less than my colleagues working in the US.

Location, location, location... :cool:

Crime?   Before I moved here, the blogs had me worried about my car, my wallet, and anything else not tied down.   My experience is just the opposite.   I have lost my iphone twice and been called by someone who found it to come pick it up.   I have parked my car in many places and neighborhoods, all without incident.  I have over paid bills and had the clerk or cashier point it out and give me back the correct amount. 

crime in Costa Rica is a lot like crime anywhere in the US.   Mostly it is crime of opportunity and chance.   It can happen to anyone anywhere, but it is a game of numbers.   If it is not your time, your number doesn't come up.   The one area where crime does seem to occur more often is at surfer beaches.

The main misconceptions are that this country should be cheap which is not true. Do business is quite difficult.

I found that we adjusted to life here by accepting the Tico lifestyle and not trying to change it in any way, and to admit all the disadvantages of living here to friends and relatives, and to not glorify anything "to help justify our decision to move here".  For example:  Drinking and driving here is legal (as long as you are not drunk).  Prostitution is legal, and many people pay the police officer when they are pulled over for speeding.  These are a few things many foreigners find outrageous about life down here, but it's best to "stuff a rag in it" and say nothing, it's there lifestyle and they do not appreciate us coming in and trying to change it.  It's all pura vida "if you allow it to be".

Good to hear about your ICE experience. How many MBS are you getting?

Sanbuenaventuraman :

I found that we adjusted to life here by accepting the Tico lifestyle and not trying to change it in any way, and to admit all the disadvantages of living here to friends and relatives, and to not glorify anything "to help justify our decision to move here".  For example:  Drinking and driving here is legal (as long as you are not drunk).  Prostitution is legal, and many people pay the police officer when they are pulled over for speeding.  These are a few things many foreigners find outrageous about life down here, but it's best to "stuff a rag in it" and say nothing, it's there lifestyle and they do not appreciate us coming in and trying to change it.  It's all pura vida "if you allow it to be".

I sooooo agree with this.  So many old, grumpy ex-pats here want to change things - "make them better."  I like things the way they are.  I prefer Ticos to Gringos for this reason.  Absorb and experience the culture and you can find happiness.  I am here for life!
- Expat Dave

Hello Expat Dave,
It is rare to have someone agree with my statements, thank you for being so truthful and honest.

I have known this country for 24 years and it never fails to amaze me.
If you don't notice the beauty, you are not paying attention. You can choose
your climate and temperature by the altitude that you choose in the mountains.
Every morning is beautiful and there is beauty everywhere that you look. The
most beautiful thing of all are the Ticos and their Pura Vida lifestyle. They love
to party and embrace adventure. 

Expats that want to change things for their comfort should take an air conditioned
plane back to the US.  Study the culture and the language and you will enjoy it
here even more here.

garystrong1 :

I have known this country for 24 years and it never fails to amaze me.
If you don't notice the beauty, you are not paying attention. You can choose
your climate and temperature by the altitude that you choose in the mountains.
Every morning is beautiful and there is beauty everywhere that you look. The
most beautiful thing of all are the Ticos and their Pura Vida lifestyle. They love
to party and embrace adventure. 

Expats that want to change things for their comfort should take an air conditioned
plane back to the US.  Study the culture and the language and you will enjoy it
here even more here.

And again, I would so agree.  With many I believe it's a "...forest for the trees" thing.
- Expat Dave

Thanks Dave.

The two biggest misconceptions I had before moving to Costa Rica are: 

1) it's cheap to live here.  It's not.  It can be if you don't mind living in a Tico pizza oven, take the bus everywhere, don't eat out, and live on rice and beans.   How many expats can adapt to that livestyle?  Not me.  I spend as much or more than I did in Canada, especially on groceries and gas. 

2) it's eco-friendly, green, whatever.   It's not.  Green here is nothing more than a marketing term.  It's nothing more than the image in their brochures.  They use more pesticide here than anywhere else in the world.  The cars here are the biggest polluters I've ever seen.  This country's number one asset is nature.  I hope they can preserve it for future generations.

here's a silly poem I wrote a while back that sort of provides an answer to the question...

Ode to A Costa Rica Expat

We love Costa Rica because it is warm.
The people are gentle and do us no harm.
The mountains are green and the jungles are too.
Teaming with animals, like a natural zoo.

There are beaches galore with every color of sand.
And waves of all sizes, hey ain’t it grand!
We came here to escape the rat race in the States.
With hope of new life and maybe a date.

But then the truth came crashing down upon me.
That Costa Rica offers no real escape, you see.
Problems follow us wherever we go.
From the depths of the sea to mountains covered with snow.

So we pack up our bags and head for the hills.
After Costa Rica has delivered its last lingering thrill.
Back to whence we came and not for the better.
As Costa Rica stands fast awaiting the next feller.

We say that our failure was a “cultural thing.”
But the truth really hurts as down crashes our dream.
To be an expat in a tropical paradise paved with gold.
And filled with adventure even as we grow old.

But life has its way of sinking your boat.
As you struggle with might to keep it afloat.

I love Costa Rica and just cannot leave.
But as for problems, I’m afraid it offers me no reprieve.

Nevertheless I’ll be here to my last day on earth.
Hoping karmic influence will give me new birth.
To a less stressful existence, perhaps as a bird.
That soars to the heavens without uttering a word.

This cycle of life it’s a wonderful thing.

And I hope being a Costa Rica expat lives up to your dream.

check out my new book...The Definitive Guide to Costa Rica Expat Living.

i agree with most of the comments above.
I would like to reiterate that I think THE SINGLE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION is that it is cheap to live here!
Notice I did not say "cheaper" to live here;  because all things considered I do believe it is cheaper to live here than in the states, depending of course on if you are willing to give up imported foods, and you move to a place where a.c. is not necessary and/or you have a very well insulated home.

But in general, food is just as expensive as in the states imho. Gas is more expensive here in Costa Rica. Electronics and appliances are more expensive in Costa Rica. Cars are WAY MORE expensive to buy!

So how is it still cheaper to live here then?
Labor is cheaper; rent is cheaper (for the most part), property is cheaper, building costs are cheaper, medical care is cheaper, dentistry is cheaper, mechanics are cheaper, electricity and gas are cheaper (at least ours are).

But nevertheless, the cheap living in Costa Rica went away a number of years ago.

Also the idea that this is "Paradise" is a misconception.
There is NO SUCH THING as Paradise on this Earth!

When you move here you are just trading to a different set of problems, not necessarily less problems. Though, depending on your lifestyle, where you live, how you live, etc - you MAY have less problems here. Note I did not say "NO" problems though.

I agree with the post above that Costa Rica is not really all that "green". it is green in some ways - for example there are many many protected forests, so in that sense it is green, literally and "green" environmentally.
However, yes, the pesticide use is HEAVY and UNREGULATED. Also Roundup (glyphosate by Monsatano) is sprayed everywhere, probably more so than in the USA or at least equally. I have no stats on this but I know what I see and hear from locals.

I was told "Never eat tomatoes grown here" because the majority are heavily sprayed with pesticides and other stuff, right up to the point they are picked and brought to the market. Of course you can look for organic ones or grow your own or find a neighbor who doesn't use too much chemicals.

Costa Rica is also not "green" in that many rivers and creeks are very polluted with runoff from the farms and so all the above chemicals and others end up in the water.
A good water filter is imperative.

All that said, I love it here and am willing to trade these problems for the problems I left in the USA. The USA is a formerly great nation on its way down, spiraling downward daily. I was sick of the regulations, rules, politics, and people there.

Sure we have a different set of rules and regulations and politics and people, here in Costa Rica, but again, I prefer it here. Most of the people here are very nice and helpful and most seem to enjoy talking to gringos and welcome us here as long as we respect them and their country and behave well.

For me the conception of Costa Rica that it is beautiful and there are many natural forests and lots of wildlife is completely true, though, and that is what I most love about it. Abundant nature everywhere you go in the country!

Well said, Samramon !
So right about not being cheap.  We also thought what we coud live for much cheaper here than in Canada.  We do, but not drastically by less.
But you just poped up my balloon about the pesticide.  But then again, they can't be using that much or it is crappy one cause I always find creatures in my veggy !!

Beside not being a cheap place to live, I also feel it is not as green as it it said to be.  As a tourist, you just touch the surface, but once you have lived here for a bit, than you really see what is going on.  Trash are being burned on the side of the street, it is being thrown over the window of cars.  Cars are not in great shape, politing quite a bit and some are left on the side of the road as wild pot plant.  We also haven't seen much recycling collection bins.

Also, Costa Rica is being said to be advance in the field of communication ....hum.... I think they meant talking to each other........not the phone thing.....it is really not that reliable.

But as Sanramon was mentioning above, for now, this life fit us better than the one in Canada.......but then there is the bugs thing......still not sure about that, especially when I cross a large furry spider on the balcony, or I am being pesterized by a bunch of wasps trying to drink off my sweat......

I also agree with this. We are not yet living there (plan is 2019) but we have been visiting twice a year.  We accept and embrace the Tico lifestyle.  it's one of the reasons we made the decision to move our family there, coming from the hectic rat race of Toronto.  The only thing I have trouble getting used to is when I see kids being transported without carseats, on mopeds etc.  As a mom of 3 I find that quite horrifying, but also know that it will not change overnight.

ExpatDave :
Sanbuenaventuraman :

I found that we adjusted to life here by accepting the Tico lifestyle and not trying to change it in any way, and to admit all the disadvantages of living here to friends and relatives, and to not glorify anything "to help justify our decision to move here".  For example:  Drinking and driving here is legal (as long as you are not drunk).  Prostitution is legal, and many people pay the police officer when they are pulled over for speeding.  These are a few things many foreigners find outrageous about life down here, but it's best to "stuff a rag in it" and say nothing, it's there lifestyle and they do not appreciate us coming in and trying to change it.  It's all pura vida "if you allow it to be".

I sooooo agree with this.  So many old, grumpy ex-pats here want to change things - "make them better."  I like things the way they are.  I prefer Ticos to Gringos for this reason.  Absorb and experience the culture and you can find happiness.  I am here for life!
- Expat Dave

Biggest misconception is that it is cheap to live here, especially with a growing family. Much easier to 'ct expenses' when you are in the retired category...

Vacationing  here is so different from actually living here.

Raising and providing a good education means spending  $$$$'s every month when enrolling your children in a private school, paying for private health insurance and if the principal applicant for residency is under 55, a hefty cost for the mandatory CAJA, the socialized healthcare system.

Taking into consideration is the fluctuating Canadian dollar...hopefully this will improve soon...... plus the 'withholding tax', held by the Canadian government when/if you have declared that you are a 'non resident of Canada for tax purposes'.

Costa Rica Residency – General Information and Summary 2016

Something to ponder...

New topic

Expatriate health insurance in Costa Rica

Free advice and quotation service to choose an expat health insurance in Costa Rica

Moving to Costa Rica

Find tips from professionals about moving to Costa Rica

Travel insurance in Costa Rica

Enjoy a stress-free travel across Costa Rica

Flights to Costa Rica

Find the best prices for your flight tickets to Costa Rica