Posts tagged: Living Abroad in Costa Rica

Q & A with author of Living Abroad in Costa Rica

As the third edition of Living Abroad in Costa Rica started hitting the bookstores, Eva Zimmerman at travelmatters.com asked me a few questions about Costa Rica.

Eva Zimmerman: What are a couple of main reasons people make the move to Costa Rica? What draws people there?

Erin Van Rheenen: Costa Rica’s physical beauty is often the initial draw. It’s hard to resist the beaches on both coasts, the rainforests, and the mountain towns that look like something out of a tropical Switzerland. Later, visitors start getting to know the Ticos and learning about the country—how it doesn’t have an army and is a model for green development the world over. When people find out it’s one of the most economically and politically stable countries in Latin America, they’re hooked. Here are  some other reasons people come to Costa Rica.

Eva: It sounds like there is a real sense of small-town community amongst ex-pats.

Erin: Expats stand out so they also tend to stick together. In the Central Valley there’s a large enough expat community to support English-language community theater, social clubs, and the like. In other towns the expat communities are smaller, but they are often quite active—perhaps starting schools for their kids or libraries for the community.

Eva: Can you give a few suggestions for finding employment in Costa Rica?

Erin: It’s easier to start your own business in Costa Rica than to find a good job. Expats successfully run B & Bs, bookstores, restaurants, car rental agencies, adventure tour companies and many other enterprises. If you don’t want to go that route you could teach English or do some sort of U.S.-based work—like editing or web design—that doesn’t rely on you being in the office.

Eva: Where did you find yourself spending the most time when you first arrived? Now that you know the country better?

Erin: I’m a city girl at heart so at first I spent a lot of time in the Central Valley near the capitol city of San José. It’s a city people love to hate but I found a lot to like there. I’m also not a fan of really hot weather, so the temperate climate suited me fine. As I got to know the country better, I traveled all the back roads and started having a real appreciation for the inland valleys south of San José, like around San Isidro de General and San Vito.

Eva: What do you love most about Costa Rica?

Erin: The quality of the air (it just feels green!) and the different cultural priorities. Most people here still value human connection over economic success. A while back someone asked me if I felt more at home in Costa Rica or the U.S. I said I feel more at home in the U.S., but I feel better in Costa Rica.

Eva: Where do you go for a weekend getaway?

Erin: The temperate zone around Lake Arenal draws me again and again. Rancho Margot is one of my current favorites spots in that area. And though I don’t want to live at the beach I like to visit—especially places on the Nicoya Peninsula like Nosara, Samara, and Mal País, which I like even though Mel Gibson goes there.

Eva: What do you consider essential items to pack before moving to Costa Rica? Are there any things you just can’t find?

Erin: If there is gear you need to do your job or practice your vocation—like stained-glass equipment, for instance, or special computer equipment—I’d bring that down with you. I also found it difficult to find good camping and hiking gear. Most other things you’ll be able to find.

Eva: How much money would you suggest someone set aside before moving? What are the initial costs?

Erin: That’s a difficult question to answer, because everyone has such a different idea of what is essential and how they want to live down here. On the economical end of the spectrum (which is where I find myself), I would suggest having at least $5000 to tide you over while you look for work or start a business, and figure out where you want to live. If you have more, it’ll be easier, of course, and you won’t be under such pressure to make a living. Here’s more on the cost of living in Costa Rica and a post about living in Costa Rica on under $20,000/year.

Eva: What is the one thing you wished you would have known about living abroad before you made the move?

Erin: I’d lived abroad before I came to Costa Rica, so I sort of knew the drill. I moved here by myself after my marriage had imploded, so I was lonely at first. But I expected that, and the new environment was so stimulating that I found myself recovering emotionally sooner than I’d expected.

Eva: What would people be surprised to know about Costa Rica?

Erin: Costa Rica has a female president and high female participation in its national assembly. I think people sometimes assume women in “third world” nations in Latin America don’t participate fully in politics. The truth is that Costa Rica does a lot better on that score than the U.S.

The new president, Laura Chinchilla, raised an interesting question shortly after she took office: Who gets to decide whether or not a country is “third world”? Her point was that in many ways, Costa Rica is more advanced than more industrialized nations. Another example of turning these sorts of designations on their heads is that Costa Rica ranks consistently high in the “Happy Planet Index,” which judges countries on their environmental policy and the well-being of their people rather than on the standard measures of success such as gross national product.