Golden Rules for finding happiness and success in Costa Rica
A few weeks back I had the privilege of interviewing Costa Rica expat and retiree guru, Christopher Howard on the program. In our first month of preparing this This Week in Costa Rica, we printed this list in the studio and posted above the mixing desk: Golden Rules for finding happiness and success in Costa Rica.
During the last 28 years that I have lived in Costa Rica I have had the opportunity to observe 1000s of foreigners who have moved here. Some have been very successful while others have not. Those who found happiness and saw their dreams come true followed most of the time-tested rules below. Hopefully if you choose to live or retire here you will keep these simple principles in mind so you can take full advantage of what Costa Rica has to offer and enjoy a new exciting lifestyle or the pura vida (pure life/good life) which abounds everywhere.
- Don’t have false expectations.
- Don’t assume that what worked at home works here. You have to adapt to the reality of the country.
- Don’t go into business unless you want to complicate your life. Most people come here to simplify their lives. The happiest people are those with pensions or other fixed sources of income who don’t have to work. If you do work, don’t expect to get rich.
- Stay busy and or find an interesting hobby. Almost everyone has a hobby. If you don’t have one, find a new one here. Costa Rica offers 100s of stimulating activities from which to choose.
- Don’t hang out in bars. I have seen scores of people come down here and because they were bored they went off the deep end by drinking themselves to death.
- Stay active and have a good exercise program.
- Have a good doctor or teams of doctors to meet your specific health needs. Costa Rica has an excellent and affordable health care system which draws retirees from all over the world.
- Single men shouldn’t get involved with low-life women or prostitutes (the easiest women to meet). Single women should watch out for younger men who are gold diggers. Take time to develop healthy relationships.
- Don’t leave your brain on the plane by forgetting to use your common sense.
- Don’t try to cut corners by thinking you can outsmart the locals by paying bribes, etc. It will all catch up to you sooner or later.
- Don’t make bad investments. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
- Try not to live in isolated areas with no home security. Burglary can be a problem in some parts of Costa Rica. There is safety in numbers.
- Don’t walk around alone at night. If you have to, be sure to know the neighborhood where you are and take a friend.
- Do your homework! Read all of the books and newspapers about Costa Rica, talk to other who have lived here for a long time, go to the ARCR’s monthly seminar and in general stay informed by reading the local Spanish newspapers.
- Learn as much as you can about the Costa Rican culture.
- Try to always check your sources of information especially what you see on the on-line Costa Rica news groups. Something happens to people who move here. They think they are overnight experts just because they have made the move. It takes years of living here to really be considered an expert. Funny things happen to JCL’s (Johnny Come Lately) minds when they come to the tropics.
- It is VERY important to have a good BILINGUAL lawyer. Most Americans brag they have the “best lawyer”. Make sure this is true by doing your homework and getting good references from other expatriates. Having a competent/honest lawyer can make the difference between success and failure.
- LEARN Spanish! You need at least a survival level Spanish to get by here. Find a school that fits your learning style. Also read my best selling Spanish book, “Christopher Howard’s Guide to Costa Rican Spanish (amazon.com).” It is designed to give you what you need to survive linguistically in Costa Rica.
- Mix with the locals. Part of living in a foreign country is enjoying the people and culture. Don’t isolate yourself in a Gringo enclave like Escazú. That’s exactly why you need to learn some Spanish.
- Form a network of friends so you can lean on them in hard times. Making friends is easy here since foreigners tend to gravitate toward each other when living abroad.
- Don’t “Jugar de vivo” as we say in Spanish. Thus means to not act like a WAG (a wise ass know-it-all Gringo).
- Don’t be the Ugly America, Ugly Canadian, Ugly Englishman of ugly foreigner. This is the Costa Rica people’s country, you have to live in it and you can’t change it. So, DON’T wear out your welcome.
- Obey the law here and above all traffic laws.
- Travel around the country. Costa Rica is small yet very big at the same time and there are lot of incredibly beautiful places to see.
- Get Skype (www.skype.com) or Vonage (www.vonage.com) to stay in contact with friends back home so as to avoid homesickness.
- Get cable or satellite TV to get a slice of home and stay up with events there when you need it.
- Try to leave your hang ups and serious problems at home. If you had serious issues there, you will probably have them here too.
- Give back to the community. Try to help but don’t impose the Gringo way of doing things.
- Just because a person speaks English doesn’t mean he or she is trustworthy.
- The single most important thing you need to survive is good sense of humor. Go with the flow and don’t take things too seriously.
FOLLOW THIS TIME-TESTED ADVICE AND YOU WILL NEVER GO WRONG.