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9 Expat Hacks for Surviving Costa Rica

Posted by Katie on March 19, 2018
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Moving to Costa Rica was probably the most exciting change of your life. You left old stresses and frustrations behind and packed up to transition your life into this tropical paradise. You moved to the country that’s been rated the happiest place on Earth by the Happy Planet Index in multiple years, so you know the good life is coming.

It’s true, here we have the perfect weather, white-sand beaches, and unlimited tropical fruits. While happiness and relaxation are easy to come by, don’t be fooled into thinking your expat life will be worry-free. Life in Costa Rica is just like life anywhere else, it has its ups and downs. Living in a new culture and country can produce many different frustrations and confusions, but there are ways to combat this. We’ve compiled a list of 9 hacks which have been proven to work by multiple Costa Rican expats. Using these expat hacks will help you cut down on frustrations and more easily enjoy your tropical life.

1: Learn Spanish

You may have heard that Costa Rica has the highest level of both education and English-speaking residents in Central America. You may also have heard that many beach towns and tourist havens use English as a first language, never needing Spanish for day to day life. While these are all true, your life will be immeasurably easier if you just learn the language. It doesn’t matter if you’re moving as a young entrepreneur or as a retiree, you need to fit in a couple hours of Spanish classes a week. This is easier than you would think, as there are many professional teachers who will offer classes for an astonishingly low rate. Some of these teachers will even be willing to come to your house and teach private lessons.

Don’t dread your Spanish classes. They’ll be fun, interactive, and incredibly useful. Learning basic conversation will give you access to market buys, more friends, and local advice. Your life will be so much easier if you can navigate the country in the local language. Learning Spanish will be hard. It will be complicated and you will continuously mess up. Take the process in stride and remember that with each hour of learning comes an improved, easier lifestyle.

2. Immerse until Happy

When you get to Costa Rica, you’ll want to immerse into the local culture. Keep your mind open and try new things. If locals are eating a certain food, try adding it to your diet. Try keeping up with local news, joining local recreation groups, and keep attempting the language. If you are able to understand and live within the culture surrounding you, your life will be much more comfortable. You’ll keep trying more and more traditional aspects of the culture and whatever you enjoy can be added to your day to day life. Any parts of the culture you do not enjoy do not need to be adopted into your lifestyle.

Remember, this new chapter of your life is not a start-over, it’s just your next step. You don’t need to forget who you are or leave your home country’s culture behind you. Feel no stress to immerse completely, after all, your expat status automatically means you will be combining two cultures. Take your favorite parts of your home culture and your new Costa Rican culture and create the perfect life for yourself. Anything undesirable can be left behind.

3. Learn how to Navigate Cheap Flights

It’s time to learn how buying flights works. Become very familiar with sites such as Orbitz or Google Flights, and log on continuously to check out prices. A huge part of your happiness will now depend on getting that little fix of home in, whether that be once a year or less often. You’ll come to depend on these little home visits, and you’ll look forward to them immensely.

Because you will now be traveling more often, flight prices will be of concern. It’s a good idea to learn about where to buy the cheapest flights, how to rack up the air miles, and how to learn about promotions. If you find a really great deal, you may just decide to take a spur-of-the-moment trip, so make sure you’re ready to buy when the time comes.

4. Indulge in Home Comforts

Your new life in Costa Rica will be everything you wished for. You’ll have a bright, tropical country surrounding you and you’ll quickly find your favorite exotic foods, salsa bars, and adventurism groups. But after a year or so in your new home, you’ll start aching for some comforts you left behind. Don’t let this small ache turn into home sickness. Make sure you know what products you’ll be craving, and buy them in bulk the next time you’re back for a visit.

Many Costa Rican expats bring favorite snacks, clothing brands, or personal hygiene products from their home countries. Once you get used to a specific type of shampoo or morning vitamin, it may be difficult to transition. Remember you are working on building the perfect fusion of cultures, so it’s ok to indulge in some home comforts.

5. Get Netflix

Speaking of home comforts, you may find Costa Rican TV to be lacking. True you can purchase all the channel packages you do in your home country, but the local public TV can be somewhat dull. Time to invest in a subscription. You have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and countless other online TV and movie sites to choose from, so do your research and make a buy.

Being able to watch your favorite shows and keep up with your friends’ and family’s new obsessions will keep you feeling connected. These services are not expensive, and you’ll be glad you made the plunge. Your entertainment options are a large part of your life, so make sure you’re happy with the services you are receiving.

6. Make Local Friends

When you first arrive in Costa Rica, it may be tempting to make friends only with other expats and long-term visitors. They have a lot in common with you. They may speak your language and understand the process of acclimating to a new culture. They’ll also have more interest in exploring the nearby cities and trying all the small restaurants. After a while though, your lack of local friends will become noticeable.

Long-term visitors eventually leave, and even many expats return to their home countries. If you plan on an indefinite stay, making a solid group of friends is important. Your local friends will be stabling residing in the country and will help you feel more comfortable and at home. They’ll also have the best touring advice and can help you through any difficult processes, from getting a drivers license to finding a realtor. You’ll feel more at home in your new country and have long-lasting friends to rely on.

7. Keep your Sense of Humor

It’s hard to move to a new city, much less an entirely new country. You have to learn the language, and it will be difficult. You have to learn the roads too, which you’ll quickly learn aren’t labeled. You’ll also have to navigate new cultural rules and meet new people. Without a doubt, you’re going to mess up a couple times.

There’s a learning curve to mastering life in Costa Rica, and while you will get there, it won’t be without trial and error. Keep your sense of humor and learn how to laugh at yourself. Laugh off your errors and confusions instead of getting frustrated. Costa Ricans are known for being kind and accommodating, and they’ll be more than willing to laugh off a mistake or two. Don’t let the learning curve become stressful for you and instead take the opportunity to improve your sense of humor.

8. Travel and Explore

There’s a big distinction between a tourist and an expat. Tourists come for a limited time and put their full energy into fun and play. An expat needs to settle into everyday life and navigate the complexity of international living. You have a lot more responsibilities as an expat, but don’t let your fire for traveling and exploration die out.

Be a tourist as often as possible. Embrace the culture and travel every single weekend. If you choose to live beach-side, you still have cities, cloud forests, volcanoes, and rainforests to explore. It’s a small country, but the incredible biodiversity means that you can live there a lifetime without ever seeing it all. Embrace all that Costa Rica offers and don’t ever stop exploring.

9. Understand what your New Country Doesn’t Have

A major hack for expat living is to first and foremost understand what your new country lacks. Don’t be taken by surprise, you’re moving for a change of pace, and an entire change of environment comes with that. Make sure you look into availability of your prescription medicines, technological buys, and basic services. Once you understand what you won’t be able to find, you can start making a plan to adapt. You’ll find suitable replacements, learn how to ship from abroad, or simply live without. Taking a mental inventory of what you need will help lessen any bad surprises and avoid emergencies.