It can be difficult deciding in which region of Costa Rica to settle down, but choosing San Jose is a popular choice. Here in the booming capital city you’ll be closer to major businesses, hard to find products, the comforts of city living, and within stable internet and telephone zones. There are many significant benefits to moving to the big city, even if it does mean more driving time to your favorite beach. But as any of you city-dwellers already know, every large city has its drawbacks, and for happy nesting, you’ll want to know which factors of your new town are best avoided. Learning about the under-belly of your new town can be a difficult task when you’re still trying to settle in, so we compiled a list of the top ten things to avoid for a happy and peaceful life in San Jose.
1. High Crime Areas
Costa Rica is known as one of the safest countries in Latin America, but every large city still has its hotspots. You should avoid under-developed parts of the outer city with bad reputations and high crime rates. These areas are typically distinguished by poor city maintenance (lack of sidewalks, poor garbage control services, etc.), and a noticeable lack of street lights. The more dangerous parts of the city are typically residential, so you may never find yourself visiting these areas anyway. If you do find yourself in an underdeveloped area with a higher crime rate, keep calm, these areas are still not as dangerous as in other Latin American countries. Avoid visiting at night and drive your own vehicle whenever possible.
In Costa Rica, the astonishingly low rate of violent crime often gives people a false sense of security. Although violence may not be common, it’s still important to stay alert and use common sense. Avoid walking around with your expensive phone in your hand and your camera around your neck. Your biggest worry in San Jose is probably the simple pick-pocketers, so be aware of your bags on crowded buses and use good judgement when flaunting your high-end electronics.
This may be the biggest shock to you while adjusting to your new life in San Jose. The traffic in this busy city can be above and beyond anything you’ve imagined, and it’s a common topic of conversation among the locals. If you are living in the center of the city, you’ll quickly find that walking on your daily errands may save a considerable amount of time, and taking the bus or a taxi will be easier than trying to find parking for your personal car. If you do need to drive, pay strict attention to rush hours. If you’re leaving the city at 6 pm, you may find yourself in hours of stopped up traffic. Plan your trips around these times and take advantage of public transport when possible.
Potholes are another source of frustration in San Jose, not only will these cause even more traffic and possible damage to your car, but they can be hazardous to pedestrians as well. San Jose is a well-developed city with an excellent road and sidewalk system, but in certain parts of the city, the roads and sidewalks haven’t been maintained for a couple of years. This, combined with the effects of extreme heat on concrete, can make for some difficult road conditions. Look out for large holes and cracks on your sidewalks, as more than one ankle has been sprained on a simple walk.
4. Getting too cozy with the wildlife
We know you moved to Costa Rica partially to be part of the country’s breathtaking nature and live among its exotic animals, but be careful, not all of Costa Rica’s animal kingdom is as adorable as the sloth. Currently, there are believed to be 22 species of venomous snakes, and between 2005 and 2013, almost 7,000 people sought treatment for snakebites. Fortunately, Costa Rica has a developed and affordable health care system, so most problems can be resolved, but you want to be aware of these common dangers.
Snakes are not the whole extent of the danger associated with Costa Rican wildlife. Be aware of fire ants, mosquito borne illnesses, and poisonous spiders. We aren’t trying to scare you aware from living in Costa Rica, but some simple precautions can easily protect your family’s health. Shake out your old hiking boots before putting them on, wear your bug repellent, and PLEASE do not feed the monkeys when on trips. The monkeys may be cute, but feeding them can diminish their survival instincts and you’d be surprised how many will take a swipe at you when the food runs out.
5. Smoking in public
Costa Rica is proud of its higher-than-average state of health and lifespan expectancy. With this pride comes preventative health measures. Costa Rica is now smoke-free, and heavy fines can be administered for lighting up in any public building, bar, restaurant, or hotel. This includes all common areas of private businesses, so the hotel patio is off limits as well. If not in the comfort of your own home, take your cigarette to the street and be careful to collect and deposit any waste you produce.
6. Getting comfortable with the leniency of the law
A large part of the laid-back culture and peaceful aura of your new home is thanks to Costa Rica’s welcoming vibe and neo-liberal policies. While locals are relaxed about schedules and details, never make the mistake of believing that laws are not enforced here. All too commonly, incomers develop the impression that the local law is up to interpretation and rarely enforced, but this is due to a lack of understanding, not a lack of law enforcement. Traffic fines are rather common and can easily set you back hundreds of dollars. Pay attention to the laws of your new city and respect them as you would in your home country.
7. Traveling with international chain companies
You may have decided to settle down in San Jose for the conveniences of city living, but we know you’ll be taking constant trips to the beaches and mountains. Your new country is full of stunning beauty, so keep your trips frequent and eventful! While you’re at it, support the local economy and avoid chain companies. This goes for hotels, restaurants, resorts, and tour agencies. Not only will you be supporting your community, but you are more likely to experience more of the tradition and charm of your destination. Locally run businesses and lodgings are common and well-equip to make your vacation a success. These local spots will most likely have just as comfortable of services as the large chains, but with the added bonus of cultural character and authentic trip advice.
8. Parking lot scams
Typically, you can put a lot of trust in people you meet during every-day life in San Jose. The locals are welcoming to new incomers and often do their best to overcome any language barriers or difficulties. There is very little hustling for money, but as every rule has its exception, San Jose has chosen to take advantage of the city’s horrible traffic to create a parking lot scam. After hours in traffic, you’ll be in a rush to pull into the nearest parking lot. If a uniformed worker approaches your car and tells you the lot is full, please get out of the car to check yourself. There are countless reports of being directed to a new parking lot with two to three times the price tag. Make sure you’re not paying rates that are that far above what you imagined, and make sure your lot has its papers in order before leaving them with your vehicle.
9. Pirate Taxis
In Costa Rica, all official, licensed taxis are red with a yellow triangle painted on the side. At the airport, only orange taxis will be authorized to make rounds. Apart from this, there will be a countless number of unlicensed taxis who will offer your rides. Please avoid these pirate taxis at all costs. Using pirate taxis makes the job market even more difficult for those trying to follow the laws, and you can be punished with a fine for supporting illegal businesses. Moreover, pirate taxis are more likely to overcharge unsuspecting incomers or take them for a long ride with the meter running. When running daily errands in San Jose, it is best to walk and use public transport, such as buses. If you do need a taxi, however, find a governmentally licensed vehicle to help you with your journey.
10. Overstaying your visa
Costa Rica is well known for being hospitable to incomers, but remember the terms of your visa. While it may take a while after settling down for you to apply for residency, it is legal for you to live in the country on a travel visa. For this to be legal, you will need to make sure that your visa is updated and valid at all times. Entering the country, you will probably be given a 90-day tourism visa. After this, you can visit the immigration building in San Jose for a 90-day extension. After this first extension, you will be required to leave the country for at least 3 days. Many people take advantage of this policy to visit their home countries a couple times a year, or plan a vacation to one of the many other Latin American destinations. Make sure you know when you visa expires and always make plans to renew it before the date comes. If you overstay your visa, you may be facing a hefty fee, and continuous neglect of visa laws will make the residency process more difficult.