San Jose, Costa Rica Report of what it's like to live there - 07/24/18
Personal Experiences from San Jose, Costa Rica
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, Asia and Europe.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
US, not too bad, Costa Rica has a lot of direct flights to the US.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We all live in condos. The presentation is fine, but the commutes are terrible whenever the country is not on vacation.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive, or at least not as cheap as one would have hoped. Amazon compensates some, as do the fresh fruit and vegetable markets
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing too urgent for my family. Some incidentals here and there we occasionally miss. Clothing is really expensive here, even less high quality stuff. Dishwasher tablets are hard to find here. Sometimes you can find everything but its just so much more expensive than the US.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Costa Rica has everything. They love Americana, so the country is full of typical US chains, Food delivery now includes Uber Eats and every other thing you can imagine
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Bugs galore, and everywhere. Constant spraying.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I only mail through the embassy system.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Availability is not an issue but cost is an issue. For embassy community folks the people hired have to be on contract and there are extensive rules about social security and related benefits they get when they leave. There are also bonuses at Christmas time. It adds up quickly so you can't base cost on the flat price, but have to factor in another 30% or more for all the hidden benefits.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Everything is available here. The embassy has a gym and many of the complexes have them too (ours does), so we don't buy a separate membership.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, absolutely. I am not too comfortable taking money out just anywhere and try to do it at the office.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lots, as far as we know. This is a huge expat community so services are available in Spanish but sometimes in English, too
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It certainly helps a lot. In SJ in touristy areas you might do better but in general, no Spanish is going to be an issue. Lots of ways to learn here.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis, uber, are in use and are doable.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
4x4, used, not beautiful because there are so many accidents here. Not a gorgeous new car, just don't do it. Break-ins seem frequent if you leave anything in the car, though it hasn't happened to us. Accidents are a bigger issue.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is avaiable and didn't take that long to get, but its far more expensive than some other countries we've been in and for a much lower bandwidth. And there are days, like Saturday nights, when you have the idea the entire neighborhood are all on Netflix together when you don't think you are really getting what you paid for...but still, its adequate enough.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Use the one provided by the office, you can also get for kids or yourself a sim card and prepay on the card. Just go to a grocery store.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Great veterinarians here, not sure about incoming requirements.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Lots of different things, embassy work, and private community. Tons of expat schools here, NGOs , etc.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Tons, there are plenty of organizations that can use help for poor kids, the environment, you name it
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People dress up more than in the States.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, there is a lot of crime and its not that well understood in the US. You do have to be careful. It is very recent and things like homocide rates are way up, though random crime still seems less an issue than specific groups.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is great. Other than volcanic ash issues, not much.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is good unless volcanic ash starts to blow. Not perfect, but I saw worse.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The people here are not real clued into allergies, but the food is also simple , fresh, and if you stick to their diet, easy to parse out of the menu. If you have nut allergies, you'll note they eat cashews in bags but not really eat nuts much in their national cuisine. They don't even have epinephrine pens in Costa Rica. If you have air quality issues, you'll probably have to determine if the allergens in the area are identifiable or not.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mild in SJ, hot and sticky sometimes on the coasts. Always warm
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Lots of choice, lots of schools. Good quality, decent teachers, overall, not the worst we have seen with international schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
CDS has some accomodation, not sure about the rest.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
They exist but we have no experience.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Everything tends to be through the schools if they are expat schools.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge, tons of retired Americans, lots of other countries as well. Expats are happy living here. The embassy community though, seems to have less than positive morale. While it would be nice to think I imagined it, it seems to have been brought to my attention many times.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Church groups, school connections, the embassy, everything is here.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Probably for single men yes, for single women the anecdotal evidence is that this is not as fabulous a post. Couples, families, everyone can get into this post if they want to...
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes and no. They can't marry but lots of LGBT exist here and live in harmony in the city at least. Not sure about the countryside.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Relatively tolerant society. Gender equality lags but not across the board, just in some instances.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, Tortuguero, Arenal, Poas, Gulf of Nicoya, Cahuita, etc.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The national parks are cheap to visit with diplo status and beautiful. Costa Rica's got so many hidden gems that aren't that hidden. Some say the Caribbean side is the real gem...
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Marginally, there are a few things, but not super ethnic.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Very little, its full of traffic and its sort of near the embassy.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Traffic, cost of living, how hard it is to get a car imported into the country, how relatively insular people here are, though super kind, towards outsiders. And how not very pretty down town San Jose it, most of it is blearingly concrete looking.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Maybe, I like it here, but it can get old quickly sitting in traffic; I wish the embassy was at the coast, instead. Its not though, and that is REAL important to know before you bid. You won't be there every day....
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Coats and your rose-colored glasses about the retirement paradise that awaits you on the coast.
4. But don't forget your:
beach stuff, anything related to electro-domestics (to expensive to buy here).
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Not really, but don't read too many online retirement ads. They give a false impression that life here is one big beach...its not folks, its a country with all the good and bad together that entails.