It was hard to tell over the phone. But I think my mother was in tears when I broke the news that we were moving to Costa Rica. Most of our friends were shocked. Others just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live outside the United States.
In short, everybody thought we were crazy for trying to make a new life overseas. From talking with other expats and IL readers I think it’s a common-enough reaction from friends and family. “Why would you want to live in Costa Rica?” one friend asked. “It’s a Third World country. They love to rob gringos. And you can’t drink the water.”
Well, first off, I’d been there and I knew that wasn’t true. We’d crisscrossed the country, zip lined, hit the beach, trekked the jungle…all the usual tourist stuff.
From those trips we knew the scenery was beautiful and the people warm and friendly. (And the water is completely safe to drink straight from the tap, by the way.) We loved it there. Some of our best memories as a family came from those trips. But why did we want to move? It wasn’t because we had a bunch of money saved up for a jaunt overseas or were independently wealthy. It was for almost purely practical reasons, actually.
See, we were in a bit of a bind. After being laid off right after Christmas 2011 from my job as a writer and editor, I had landed several freelance clients and projects. I was interviewing for jobs too, but a new full-time position didn’t seem to be in the cards anytime soon.
I was doing well for a new freelancer—my years of industry contacts were paying off. But South Florida has a pretty high cost of living. My wife was pregnant, due in June, and we had no medical insurance.
We already had a five-year-old. Things just weren’t adding up. We had always talked about moving overseas one day, perhaps in retirement, maybe sooner. But it had always been talk, the stuff of dreams. We had too much keeping us in the States…like a stable job…
But with that obstacle out of the way— and my ability to work as a freelancer from anywhere with an Internet connection—the idea of moving overseas started getting real. It could make sense somewhere our money would go further, somewhere we could have an adventure in a new culture.
We said to ourselves, “Why wait until someday? Let’s go.”
I’m sure we could have made it work somehow back in Florida. But I don’t think we really wanted to. The United States is a great country. I’ve really come to appreciate the convenience of it—everything you’d ever want is at your fingertips.
But the over-the-top consumer culture, fast-paced lifestyle, and stress…I’ve been happy to leave it behind. Here in Costa Rica, I have more time with my family. We’re able to travel often. We’ve met great new friends, locals and expats. Life is simpler, and it’s good.
Why Costa Rica? Like I said, we already knew we loved it there, and we knew medical care was cheap and high-quality—so we could have the baby there. Real estate prices were low, utility bills a fraction of what we were paying in Florida, and trips to buy groceries wouldn’t break the bank.
Plus, although still a developing country, it’s sufficiently modern. It’s politically stable and safe—important for us with the kids. And it was easy to get to from the U.S., especially important for our families back in Florida. It’s just a two-and-a-half hour flight.
We researched the nitty-gritty details of finding a place to live, bringing our two dogs, transporting our worldly possessions, putting our five-year-old in school, and everything else. I wouldn’t say it was easy figuring all that stuff out. We were moving to a completely new country, after all. But we sorted through it. It looked doable. It looked like the best solution. And so we decided to make the leap.
As we prepared for our big move, and our families saw the preparation we were putting in and read more about Costa Rica, they started coming around. They even encouraged us. When the planning seemed overwhelming at one point, my mom even encouraged me to stick with it. A month before—when she was still reeling from our announcement—she might have told me it was okay to give up.
Once we were on the ground, we knew we had made the right decision. We settled in the Central Valley, which is not set up for tourists. It’s full of real Costa Rican towns, no tourist mark ups. And we weren’t tourists anymore. It’s one thing to visit a country and tour around, and another to actually live there. We’re part of a community—we’re not transient.
You have those day-to-day responsibilities of going to the grocery store, taking out the trash, paying bills. But it feels great to have money left over in the bank every month, and that we wake up every morning in a place most people only get to visit for two weeks at a time.
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