Part 2 from the article, “10 Tips for How to Live in Costa Rica, Happily (Ever After):
6. Follow the Rules
You would not believe the number of foreigners who live in Costa Rica with the belief that the rules somehow do not apply to them. Wrong. It is a huge mistake to think that tico laid-back attitudes mean that you can flagrantly disregard the laws and get away with it. To the contrary, and especially if you are building or developing land, you must follow the rules, including get your Environmental Impact Studies done (called D1’s) and properly submitted and approved. Sure, you can get away with violating the rules in the short term, but if or when you get caught, the sanctions can be draconian, including accusations of criminal wrongdoing and possible jail time (they take the un-permitted cutting down of trees very seriously here!).
7. Learn to Get By With Far Fewer Valuables (to Live in Costa Rica Happily Ever After)
You have to get over having a garage full of toys and stuff that you rarely if ever use any more. Besides, you have no choice, most possessions here will all molder or rust anyway. You can keep a dry room to postpone the inevitable, but sooner or later you are going to have to downsize. Over the years I have lost most of my books, all my leather coats, all my nice clothes, and all of the toys I came down with (musical instruments, electronics, etc.). But guess what? I found out that I didn’t need all that stuff anyway. Surprise, surprise.
8. Learn How to Protect Whatever Valuables You May Have Left
Certain basic rules have to be followed, if you want to live in Costa Rica unmolested. What do the locals do? Take your cue from them. Keep a low profile, meaning, don’t go out wearing gold or expensive jewelry. Notice that the ticos have dogs and fences at home, and they rarely if ever leave their houses unoccupied. Those who do, tend to have alarms. You should do the same. But don’t worry. The dogs are your buddies, the fences can be draped in vines and flowers, and the alarm can be a cheap motion detector. But these things add up to a formidable defensive system, without affecting your pura vida lifestyle.
By the same token, you learn not to leave your car parked in public (whenever you can help it), and not to leave valuables in your car even in a paid parking lot. And the same goes for leaving valuables unattended on beaches: no no no.
If you are a short-term renter, do NOT leave your valuables in the rental house when you step out for dinner. Grab that laptop and cell phone and your cash and wallet and keep them on you (remember not to leave anything in a parked car). At night, when you go to bed, lock up. Unfortunately, occupied vacation rental homes have become a target because thieves know they tend to have lots of goodies and often lack guards, alarms, and dogs. Be careful in hotels, too, and make use of the room safe when possible.
Talk to the locals and the expats who live here, follow the above and other precautions, and you can live here in peace — and sleep easy.
9. Respect the Environment
This doesn’t mean love nature. I assume you already do that or why in the world would you want to live in Costa Rica? What I mean is, go with the flow. During the rainy season, don’t schedule flights in or out of San Jose in the mornings, unless you don’t mind winding up at the Panama airport for a day. Consider leaving the country for the entire month of October.
As for the day to day, adjust your lifestyle to deal with local conditions: the damp, the mold, the sun, the rain, the floods, the animals, and the bugs. Use a dehumidifier or A/C if you need it. Don’t install wall to wall carpeting. Screen all your windows. If it’s the rainy season, plant your plants through till about October. Do not build during the worst of the rainy season (Aug-Nov.), at least not anything outdoors. In short, observe the local conditions and adjust to them.
I am reminded of a young couple who came to our office to sell their house. They were fed up with life in Costa Rica and had decided to give up on the dream and go back home. ‘Why?,’ I asked, ‘What happened?’ It turned out they had completely failed to plan ahead. They hated the idea of A/C so they went with fans in their new home, but because they were from New York, they found themselves uncomfortably hot a lot of the time. They liked to read at night, but didn’t install good screening, so they got bombarded by bugs at night around the reading lights. They were social and liked to go out at night, yet built at the end of a long road which made it unappealing to leave the house much in the evenings. In short, they did everything wrong. And yet, these were very small irritants, all of which could have been dealt with using some planning from the start.
10. Practice Tolerance in a Land Where Time is Not Money
Instead of getting mad when people are not as efficient or competent as you might have expected, try to understand why they are perhaps less motivated than you think they should be. For example, take that night security guard. His job is not a stepping stone to a better position. No, he expects no further advancement in life. He is happy where he is. Which may also mean he is not in a big hurry to impress. So, rather than getting angry when I catch him napping at night, I try an approach that could actually work. I offer him free coffee at any time of the evening on our back porch. We also installed an alarm, that if set off, will surely wake the dead — and the guard along with them. Problem solved, tico-style.
In conclusion, you will notice that most of the preceding snippets of advice are designed around one guiding principle: that to live in Costa Rica happily over the long-term, you must have an open attitude. If you plan only to hang out with expats, and avoid Spanish, then you risk failing to make it here. Because let’s face it: the roads aren’t as good here as in North America or Europe, nor are the services, nor are a lot of things. But if you are open-minded and ready to embrace a different way of living, making do with less materially in exchange for “up close and personal” access to the fabulous nature and people, then you have a great chance of thriving here.
Put another way, is it not undeniable that true travel changes you? That the mark of the real traveler is returning from the trip somehow different than when you started? Well, if that makes sense in the context of the traveler, it applies even more to those who pick up stakes and relocate abroad. If moving into the thick of a whole new culture doesn’t change you in some fundamental way, then I’m sure you would agree with me that the solution is as simple as the problem: you need to get out more!
copyright 2015 by Tim Woodruff