The Tico Times previously discussed the rising number of U.S. expats who have relocated to Costa Rica in recent years. In 2012, about 18,000 U.S. citizens had moved to the area.
While the majority of expats are retirees, many families with young children are also moving to Costa Rica. Relocating is certainly an adjustment for both adults and children alike, but there are ways to make the transition go more smoothly.
Here are 10 tips to help your family prepare for their new life in Central America.
There are many misconceptions about Costa Rica. For starters, many Americans confuse it with other Central American countries that are plagued by drug cartels, organized crime, and petty criminals. A lot of these reports amount to fear-mongering by the media. A recent report from FTI Consulting found that Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Latin America.
However, there are still dangerous parts of the country, just like anywhere else in the world. Before relocating your family, it's important to research your options and find a region where they will feel safe and comfortable.
A report from “IX Cantonal Analysis of Violence and Insecurity in Costa Rica” found that the cities of Limón and San Jose have the highest crime rates in the country. The capitals of other provinces also tend to have higher crime rates.
Consider moving to a smaller community, as rural areas tend to be safer. If it is necessary to relocate to a larger city, learn as much as possible about the different neighborhoods and speak to the locals or a real estate professional familiar with the area. Most communities in Limon and San Jose are considered safe, but some neighborhoods may be more so than others.
One of the most appealing things about Costa Rica is that the cost of living is so much lower than in the U.S. Unfortunately, it's also very difficult for foreigners to find work, which can leave you in a bind if you spend beyond your means. It’s a wise idea to save up a lot of money before moving and live a thrifty lifestyle to make ends meet.
Create a carefully balanced budget and stick to it as closely as possible. While housing and grocery bills are lower in Costa Rica than the U.S., eating out can cost as much or even more, especially if you have a family.
Meanwhile, the cost of renting an apartment can vary. Cars are also a lot more expensive in Costa Rica, which will require factoring higher car payments into your budget if you can’t depend on public transportation.
As with any foreign country, there are potential health concerns to consider before moving your family to Costa Rica.
Many people are under the impression that malaria is a big problem in Costa Rica, but in reality, malaria cases are almost nonexistent. In fact, there has been only one documented malaria-related death in the last decade. However, you should still take precautions when living near wetlands where a lot of mosquitoes reside.
Dengue fever is a bigger problem than malaria, but it hasn’t received as much attention. The good news is that the mortality rate is low – just 0.003%. The first vaccine was developed last year but is currently only available to residents in Mexico, the Philippines, and Brazil.
Proceed with caution while visiting or living in communities with outbreaks.
The best preventative measure is to carry plenty of mosquito repellent while traveling near wet regions with high mosquito populations.
Contaminated Food and Water
There’s no need to worry about exposure to contaminated food and water in most places in Costa Rica. However, there are some places where it can still be an issue. If you do consume contaminated food or water, you risk contracting typhoid fever or hepatitis.
Stay diligent about washing your hands regularly and be careful drinking any water that is far from civilization. Tap water is safe in most towns and cities.
Children are resilient, but may have difficulty adjusting to some aspects of Costa Rica. They won't be able to enjoy some of the same activities as they did in the States.
Fortunately, there are still a number of ways your children can have fun in their new home country. There are many undeveloped parts of the country where your family can explore nature, with activities such as hiking and swimming.
While your children may miss some of the aspects of living in urban America, they will eventually come to appreciate the scenic side of Costa Rica. You just may need to get them to step outside of their comfort zone a little.
Costa Rica has a very respectable education system. However, the system is quite different from the United States, which can pose a difficult change for your children.
Fortunately, there are a number of options to consider if they aren’t ready to enroll in one of the regular public schools. Costa Rica is home to some fantastic international schools, such as one in Uvita. You can also consider homeschooling your children or sending them to a boarding school.
Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. Only 10.7% of Costa Rican adults speak English, so learning Spanish will be a necessity.
Your children should start taking Spanish classes before you move. Fortunately, children learn foreign languages much more easily than adults, so it shouldn't be difficult for them to become fluent and communicate with their new friends.
Having access to good medical care in Costa Rica is extremely important. There are some quality public health care options, known as caja. The cost runs about 20-30% more than the care you would get in the United States, but it provides high-quality services.
However, enrolling in Costa Rica’s public health care system is only the first step. You also need to find the proper medical facilities near you and establish a relationship with the healthcare professionals.
Moving to a foreign country is probably the biggest life change your children have ever experienced. They need to say goodbye to their friends and their old lifestyle. It's important to make sure they are emotionally equipped to make the transition.
Talk with your kids in advance to see how they feel. Try to emphasize the exciting experiences they will face in their new home and assure them everything will be fine.
Some children will have more difficulty adjusting than others. Teenagers tend to have a harder time with such changes than young children, because they are already going through a very emotional chapter of their lives. If any of your children seem to have a particularly difficult time with the upcoming relocation, consider meeting with a counselor to help them navigate the process.
Due to the high VAT taxes in Costa Rica, cars tend to cost a lot more than in the United States. Even shipping your own car into the country can be an expensive endeavor. Consider other options if you are on a tight budget and can’t afford to have your own vehicle.
There are a number of ways to get around Costa Rica with your family. Public transportation works efficiently if you are living in the Central Valley. It is centered in San Jose, and you can reach most other communities within an hour.
Finding reliable transportation in more remote areas proves more difficult. However, there are still public transportation options that are worth looking into.
Language differences aren’t the only change that families need to prepare for when moving to Costa Rica. The rules of etiquette are also very different than what you’ve experienced in the United States and can create misunderstandings with locals.
For example, Costa Ricans are very polite and observe good manners. Although most people already teach their children to be polite, you’ll want to remind them to say please and thank you, to not raise their voices in anger (at least out in public), and to treat other people’s homes and belongings with respect.
Moving to Costa Rica will be a very big change for your family. However, it will also come with many exciting adventures ahead. The key is to prepare ahead of time.
What do you plan to do as soon as your family gets to Costa Rica? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below: