Endless Opportunities for Entrepreneurs in Costa Rica

Wingtips, suit and tie sitting in Southern California rush hour traffic…or flip-flops and shorts by the beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It wasn’t a tough choice for Jeff Ruzicka.

Today, the 43-year-old runs Marlin del Rey Sailing Tours in Tamarindo and Playas Del Coco on Costa Rica’s Gold Coast. He’s also a co-owner of the business, with his uncle, a long-time expat.

Jeff now has a staff of 25, including several full-time workers in the office and 16 crew members on two boats, and he puts in a solid workday. But he still has far more free time to play with than he did back home.

It means he gets to spend time with his wife, Rosa, and two young children. He gets to pick them up at school each day. The family hit the beach as much as they can. Jeff takes them to the golf course, too and they often travel around the country. It’s a different life to the one Jeff had back home.

After several years as a lawyer back in the States, Jeff headed to Costa Rica 12 years ago to manage a hotel for that same uncle in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. “I was running from the law,” jokes Jeff.

It was supposed to be a year-long leave of absence and the partners at his old law firm left the door open to him. But Jeff fell in love with the country…and one year turned to two.

Jeff took a job in Tamarindo, a popular expat spot and tourist destination, helping run the local Best Western. He also bought some ATM machines, dabbled in real estate, and started up a small property management company. He was happy to turn his hand to anything that would let him stay in Costa Rica. He had grown accustomed to the laidback lifestyle, the friendly people, and, of course, the beach.

Then, about seven years ago, Jeff got a call from his uncle. He had just bought a catamaran up the coast. It was perfect for charters. After a quick discussion, they brought the boat south to Tamarindo and within days it was ready for passengers. A new business was born.

Jeff worked 18-hour days to get the business up-and-running and was out on the water every day. But things have gone well over the years. A year and half ago they bought a second boat to run tours in Playas del Coco, another expat and tourism hotspot.

Jeff had never been an entrepreneur-type back in California. But he says Costa Rica offers limitless opportunities. There are challenges to opening a business here, as anywhere, says Jeff, but compared to the U.S. the barrier to entry is much lower. And with the thriving tourism industry business is good.

“I make a decent living,” says Jeff. “I’m on the beach and I have a smile on my face. And I really like tourism—it’s rewarding. I enjoy it more than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, that’s for sure.”

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