Living in Costa Rica: Why We’re Leaving

For the past four years I’ve been spending my winters in Costa Rica. Each year, I’ve spent a minimum of four months and up to six months in what most people consider to be a tropical paradise.

That’s in addition to the several months I have spent traveling to this country before, and also visiting other beautiful tropical countries such as Panama, Thailand, Bali, Brazil and French Polynesia.

I’ve loved Costa Rica so much that I’ve thought several times of moving there permanently, making it my home base. Even this year, I looked seriously into completing the process of getting my residency there.

Yet, I’ve decided not to do this, and even more, when I leave in May I’m probably not going to come back to Costa Rica for many years.

Why this change of attitude?

Was I mugged in Costa Rica and in fear of my life?

Do I feel the country has become too expensive?

Do I think there’s some place in the world that’s more beautiful and more pristine?

Actually, it’s none of the above.

I feel that Costa Rica is pretty safe even though I’ve heard a lot about the rising crime situation in the Central Valley. I’ve personally never experienced any problem though.

As for the cost of living, I’ve always said that if your goal is to recreate the same exact lifestyle you had back home but for cheaper in a sunny third-world country — you better stay home because that’s just not going to happen.

And in all of my travels, I’ve actually never been to a place that’s as beautiful as Costa Rica in terms of pure, wild nature.

French Polynesia was the most stunning place I ever visited, but it lacks the amazing lushness and biodiversity that Costa Ricans enjoy.

So why am I crossing Costa Rica off my list of places where to live long-term?

To put it simply: I’ve realized that I love North America too much.

Not only do I miss North America when I’m in Costa Rica, but I also feel that North America is overall a much better place to live.

Don’t get me wrong: there are lots of things I love about Costa Rica, Panama and all these other beautiful developing countries. But I’m just not ready to make them my home base just yet.

In my course, How to Move to a Tropical Paradise, I emphasized what I called the “snowbird” solution, which is to keep your home base where you currently are, but use Costa Rica or another tropical country with a lower cost of living as a way to spend one or month or a few months every winter, while not increasing your overall living expenses.

I also warned people against making a decision too quick to move to a tropical paradise, because the reality of living there is far from their own dream and pre-conceived ideas.

Before I go into my reasons for not making any of these sunny, developing countries my home-base, let me first review what I like about Costa Rica:

* The climate can’t be beat, as long as you live in higher elevation. The weather by the beach is way too hot and sticky, with bugs and ants watching your every move. But in the Central Valley or the mountains, the climate is a dream, with year-round spring-like temperature.

* People are very friendly and welcoming to foreigners.

* The country is wonderful to visit and there are so many great things to do: visit volcanoes, parasailing, canopy tours, scuba diving, hiking, etc. If you’re on a vacation, you cannot be bored and the country offers so much more than just laying on the beach and doing nothing. Each part of the country is different with over 16 distinct micro-climates.

* It’s still very affordable compared to North America or Europe or even many tourist destinations, if you know where to look. Many things are cheaper including produce, rent, taxis, etc.

* Tropical fruits are incredible and you can go to many farmer’s market, talk to the growers and everyone is very friendly, offering your deals, giving you free produce with purchase.

* Animal sightings are almost guaranteed on a daily basis. We had beautiful Titi monkeys visit us regularly (The rare and smart squirrel monkeys), saw giant iguanas, tucans, sloths, etc.

* The country is very beautiful. Amazingly beautiful in fact.

I think Costa Rica, Panama and other countries such as Ecuador (where I’ve never been) have a lot to offer, and I could easily imagine myself spending one or two months a year in places like that during the winter.

Even up to three months, you can easily relax into the fact that your stay is temporary, and enjoy what the place has to offer that is different from your home country.

But as you move into longer stays (three months+), you start to realize how different the culture is and what the challenges are for living there long term.

I am not your typical tourist.
I speak relatively fluent Spanish, I know the ins and outs of Costa Rican culture, I know my way around most of the country, I know the cultural faux-pas, I read many books about Costa Rican history and culture… and I’m very open-minded.

And in spite of this, I’ve abandoned any project of establishing a long-term residence in Costa Rica, or even in its more modern neighbor Panama.

Here’s what’s on my mind:

1- Cost of Living — First of all, I think that cost of living can be a very relative thing. A busy Internet Marketer like me does not need a lot of the same things as a retired English teacher (expat).

I wasn’t going to move somewhere just to save money, but what I found is that even though there are lots of things that are cheaper in Costa Rica (such as fruits and vegetables!), imported products are more expensive, in a way that probably offset any possible savings as far as I’m concerned.

For a few years, I did indeed save a lot of money anytime I was in Costa Rica. But that’s because I was single and living in a tiny apartment that I rented for almost nothing, and I didn’t drive a car and returned to Canada after four months so I didn’t need to buy many things for the long term.

Last year,  I ended up importing a lot of products that we needed (such as a computer we needed to replace) and paid a lot of money in import fees.

People who live in the USA and complain about the prices have NO idea how much cheaper almost everything is there compared to any country in the world. Canada is more expensive than the US but it’s still nothing compared to Europe.

The only things that are truly more expensive in the USA compared to Costa Rica are things like fresh produce, maybe rent and housing, and any labor-oriented services such as house cleaning, taxis, etc.

But everything else, from electronics to gasoline is significantly cheaper in the US.

If you lived a simple life in Costa Rica, there’s no doubt you would save some money. But if you’re young and busy and you want some comfort, I don’t think those savings will show. Overall it will average out to about the same cost of living.

Panama is cheaper, there’s no doubt about it. But it still suffers from the same shortcomings as Costa Rica in other areas.

2- Latin Mentality — There’s no getting around the fact that people in Latin America are just not as efficient as in North America. You can call it “Island Time”, or “A Different Pace of Living,” but the fact of the matter is that a lot of things don’t really get done very well.

From getting a decent internet connection to regular errands such as banking, the bureaucracy and inefficiency can be frustrating.

A lot of Ticos (Costa Ricans) will be the first to point it out. I remember a taxi driver who kept ranting about Costa Rica being a “culture of mediocrity”.

You can criticize a lot of things about Western culture but I do think we know how to get things done in reasonable time frames, and with the least amount of headaches.

Personally, the inefficiency of the latin culture didn’t bother me that much. I actually got used to taking my time. But in some key areas it was annoying:
a) Internet Service. It’s hard to get fast Internet service in the first place, and when you manage to get it, it might mysteriously stop functioning at the most random times, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Just reset it and cross your fingers it will start working again shortly.

Power Outages. Again, the power could go out once a week or so at a random time, with no explanation. Usually for less than an hour, but still annoying when the timing is wrong. No power means no lights, no fan, no internet and in a hot climate this can be frustrating and you don’t really have anywhere else to go.

3- Food Selection and Shopping.

Again, a lot of people who have never left the US or Canada complain that the food selection sucks in their respective countries.

The reality is that North America (and other Western countries such as United Kingdom) have the best food selection in the world, period.

In Costa Rica, I must admit the local fruits are delicious. But you are usually limited to the basic varieties of pineapple, banana, papaya, watermelon and mangoes. Everything else is seasonal (including mangoes, but they are available half the year).

When it comes to vegetables, the selection is not that great outside of larger supermarket chains such as Auto-Mercado, which are more like a small high-end market in the US.

You can still get most of what you need, but the selection in North American stores is way better.
Also, you might think that organic food is widely popular in Costa Rica, but it’s not the case. Most of the beautiful fruits you see are grown with generous amounts of pesticides, and organic food is hard to come by, unless you have know some people or you grow it yourself. The heat and insects pose a number of problems for farmers and they’re not as informed about safe farming practices.

As for health food stores, they are non-existent in Costa Rica. The closest thing they have to a health food store are these mini-stores called “Macrobiotic” stores (which have nothing to do with the macrobiotic diet) selling all kinds of medicinal herbs and more natural body-care products with no food whatsoever.

Some supermarkets carry imported organic products such as almond butter (not raw of course), but the selection is pretty random and the products generally cost 20 to 30% more than in the US.

As for shopping in general, you can certainly find what you need but you’ll need to look hard for certain items.

For example, we couldn’t find a salad spinner anywhere, so we had to import one from Amazon. The Costa Ricans had ZERO idea what we were talking about when we asked everywhere.

Clothes you’ll find in stores are either one of two categories:

Name brand American clothes (mostly surf and skater designer brands) that will be way more expensive than if you bought them in North America.
Ultra-cheap clothes and fabric (think sub-Walmart quality)

As for electronics, a brand-new 13-inch Mac-Book Pro of the top of the line configuration can be purchased for about $1450 or in the US, but will sell for almost $2100 in Costa Rica!

Cars are also more expensive, by about 50% or more.

4- Driving in Costa Rica

Costa Rican drivers have a reputation for being some of the worst and most aggressive drivers in the world, and it’s not far from the truth.

The truth is that driving in Costa Rica is an adventure. Streets have no names and you have to rely on stone-age types of directions such as “100 meters south west of the Santa Elena church in the city of Curridabat” — it’s up to you to figure out where that is!

I must say I’m impressed to see how Costa Rican taxis know their town so well, for getting around everywhere without ever relying on a street sign anywhere!

Driving and getting around in North America is at least 1000% easier. Equipped with a GPS and an address, you can get around anywhere stress-free. But there’s no way you could use a GPS in Costa Rica the same way you can anywhere else! You can’t even use google maps for directions to ANYWHERE in Costa Rica.

Also, Costa Rica is just not safe for pedestrians. Driver’s don’t respect anyone’s safety and the streets are just not designed for walking. There are almost no sidewalks or shoulders on roads and no pedestrian crossings or lights. Therefore, taking a leisure walk is just not fun in most places, unless you go to a park.

Driving at night is also not safe because of the poorly lit roads and drunk drivers, and almost every road is a two-way lane.

5- Other Factors

I could go down the list of other minor factors, such as the fact that the sun sets at almost exactly 6 p.m. every night (which is not as fun as a later sunset! ), but the main factor for me are the ones that I have discussed and also isolation.

I love big cities and I also love nature and the country.

The best situation is when you can take advantage of both.

The dream of relocating full-time to a tropical paradise is most often a pipe dream for most people.

Hopefully, that’s never what I’ve promoted. My course and my approach has always been about generating passive income from your online business so you can live anywhere you want, and travel to the place you want, when you want it.

Some people might say, why not Panama? Why not Thailand?

I love all these places… but only to visit for 1 to 3 months at a time.

After my trip around the world next year, I will probably relocate to British Columbia where there’s the most fruit and organic food in all of Canada, and where the climate is pretty mild compared to my home town of Montreal.

From there, I’ll continue to travel many months during the winter to tropical countries… but for now I’ve abandoned any idea of relocating to any of these places permanently.

How do we manage this lifestyle? If you want to find out about my method for building an online business that gives you complete freedom to travel and do what you love, go to and sign of for a trial membership of my Success Group program. You’ll get over $1700 in products immediately that you can put to use to make your dreams a reality!