On our last night in Buffalo I found myself at 2am still packing suitcases, the sale of our house not closed yet, and nowhere to sit because all our furniture was in storage or had been sold. I was THRILLED. You know the old saying, “you can’t see the label of the jar you’re in,” right? Well we had busted open the jar and in 3 short hours we (me, my husband, and our kids aged 8 and 7) were getting on a flight to Costa Rica to live there.
People would say to us when they found out we were moving to Costa Rica, “wow, you must really like it there if you’re going to move there!” The truth? We had never been to Costa Rica. I had met Michael Simons from Tres Amigos REMAX and some other Costa Rica folks via email years before through mutual colleagues in my work coaching business owners internationally, and my father had been to Costa Rica many times, but us? Nope. We were fulfilling a 5 year plan that had suddenly become a 3 year plan just a few short months earlier.
We had owned our home in Buffalo-a good house in a great neighborhood-for 11 years when we decided it was time to sell. The market was decent, and we were tired of the upkeep and expense. Moving to Costa Rica had been a long term goal of ours, but we didn’t think that’s where we were going to move when we put our house on the market-we just thought we were moving to a different suburb that was closer to farmland! But just a few short weeks into getting the house ready for listing the last puzzle piece fell into place. My husband’s company changed a policy that allowed him to go from working at home to working anywhere in the world. Our reaction was instant. We were going to Costa Rica!
We wanted a lifestyle that would allow us to spend more time as a family, be closer to nature, and give our kids the opportunity to experience different cultures while they were still young. The way the world is changing, by the time our kids become adults it’s going to be essential to be able to work with people globally. I made one call to Michael, and within 20 minutes I was connected with amazing people to help me with everything from schools for the kids, to housing, to renting a car, to totally handling the legal process for applying to be residents. It was easier to set up our new life in Costa Rica than it was to get things handled in Buffalo!
When we picked what country we were going to go to though I did have some concerns about feeding the kids as well as myself. I'm not a picky eater, I just want my food to be tasty and preferably healthy. And, I'm not really that interested in being overly exotic. New kinds of fresh fish or veggies to try? Sure! Innards and insects? Not so much.
Our first dining experience in Costa Rica was...yep, pizza! Lonely Planet is right in Playa Coco and has a really fun and funky coffeehouse meets bar meets island pizza joint feel. The service was amazing, and the pizza was pretty awesome too. Costa Rican pizza (which is way more common than you'd think) is very thin crust and a much lighter meal than you'd find in the US. Everything is in moderation and you don't feel like a stuffed whale after you eat it. A lot of the pizza is wood fired, which, depending on the restaurant, adds a nice smokiness to the whole dish. If pizza seems too western to you though, there are always other great choices on the menu at the restaurants here that are familiar but with a local flair.
I highly recommend trying some new toppings-these next pictures are from an INCREDIBLE pizza and sushi (yes, you read that right) restaurant called Donde Johann. It's owned by a French expat and not only is the food great, but his whole restaurant concept is very cool. Local ingredients used in a way that is familiar to our Western tastebuds but that still makes the most of Costa Rican flavors.
This pizza had artichokes, locally smoked ham, and mushrooms. Easily one of the most delicious pizzas I've ever encountered. It was crispy and chewy and had a fantastic balance of toppings. You can see the cheese pizza in the background that we got for the kiddos as well.
Costa Rica has TONS of beaches large and small, and we've been able to visit a half dozen of the most popular so far. They all seem to me to be a little bit like people, with their own personalities and quirks. Depending on how YOU are, you'll probably like one type of beach more than another. Here's a little beach guide for some of our favorite locations.
Playas del Coco AKA "Easy Breezy Lemon Squeezy"
Personality: like a friend you've known for yearsBest Features: easy to live there because you've got everything within one mile, tons of conveniences and services, 30 minutes from Liberia airport, 15 minutes from hospital, lots of nightlife, no riptide and calmer watersDrawbacks: the beach itself isn't as nice as some others because of some litter and a sub-par sanitation department
Playa Hermosa (the northern one) AKA "Cottage Life"
Jet Blue flies direct from JFK into Liberia, Costa Rica. VERY handy! And, thanks to Costa Rica's welcoming attitude you don't need a separate visa to visit, just your passport. You will fill out customs and immigration forms (very simple) on the airplane so you're all ready when you arrive. Liberia is a fairly small, but recently updated airport so we moved through immigration quickly. The kids were thrilled to get their passports stamped for the first time, and I have to say I was pretty excited myself.
Baggage claim and customs were also totally painless. I had a letter from my chiropractor noting the supplements, vitamins, etc. that I had with me (you can find a list of what you can and can't bring into the country on the Costa Rica Embassy site), but they didn't even open my suitcases. The only item of interest in my luggage was my microphone stand.
And so, looking like total tourists (like the camera around the neck?) we looked for our car rental rep. I always feel like a celebrity when there's someone waiting for me at the airport with my name on a sign, but besides that ego boost I do recommend reserving a car before your get to Costa Rica and doing some homework.
The very idea of seeing a live volcano thrilled and worried our kids.
"Is it going to erupt while we're there?
"Will we see lava?"
"Do the hot springs burn your skin?"
When we became "location independent" and decided that we weren't going to stay local, we had the whole world to choose from for our first adventure. So for all the folks who have asked us, "why Costa Rica?" here are some of the factors that figured into the equation.
Cost of Living & Amenities
Buffalo, NY (where we're from) may not have a great reputation, but it's a very inexpensive place to live. Real estate is insanely cheap, there are excellent public schools to be had, traffic is minimal, food is great, there's quite a lot of theatre, arts, music, and technology if you know where to look. We were looking to lower our cost of living even from Buffalo standards, but also feel safe and have decent amenities like good schools (we're not quite ready to homeschool/unschool our 2 wee beasties), decent roads, and reliable Internet connection--which we both need for our work. Costa Rica has all that.
Where we're going to be 'landing' is Playa Coco, about 30 minutes from the newly updated Liberia airport. Jet Blue flies direct from JFK to Liberia, so the whole flight will take about the same as if we were to fly to California.
We get two questions when we tell folks that we've sold our house and we're moving to Costa Rica...
"Why are you doing that?"
"Are you going to be on House Hunters International?"
I can't imagine selling a house or buying one without a Realtor. That being said...I think it's a profession that needs to evolve, and quickly. A Realtor who really knows what they need to know, or how to get accurate information to do their job right is worth their weight in gold and is probably making at least that in income. But lordy have realtors cost us time and money both with purchasing and selling homes. It pays to educate yourself, so please take some of our learning curve and apply it to your own situation. Here's what I would find out the next time I choose a realtor.
1. How much do you know about home construction?
2. Do you have a contact in the town I'm buying/selling who is up to date on current building codes and regulation?
3. What is your usual response time? Do you prefer phone, email, or text?
Our kids are 7 and "almost 9." Our move is in just two days, and at this point it's just a matter of riding the roller coaster and enjoying the ride as much as possible. Making the experience of an international move good for them has, of course, been a big topic of conversation. From my experience as a therapist working in the schools and developing teen centers, etc, I know that kids are amazingly resilient. That being said, we still wanted to minimize their potential future therapy-related expenses.
Let me get the topic of schooling out of the way first, because that's the question adults ask about. We got in touch with several private, international schools where we'll be living at first and ended up having a wonderful opportunity withLakeside Schoolin Guanacaste. We could send our kids to the good public schools in Costa Rica, but you really do need to know Spanish to thrive in those schools, so this option provides some great social support and structure while catering to kids and families who are coming from all over the world. We've had a couple of surprises, like finding out that there's really no street names and addresses in Costa Rica, and that school transportation is an extra, private expense, but we've worked through those bits by basically pretending to be kids ourselves and giving ourselves the freedom to ask approximately a gazillion questions.
Might we end up homeschooling or unschooling eventually? It's definitely a possibility but let's make one transition at a time for all our sanity's sake.
Dave and I sat down one day and had a very cool discussion on "Things We Wished Adults Had Thought of When We Were Kids." While we didn't move internationally with a family when we were little, we both had experiences of being the new kid and finding ourselves in new situations with little preparation. We came up with 5 things we would focus on to support the kids in the transition.