San Jose, Costa Rica Report of what it's like to live there - 09/01/20
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. I have lived in Middle East and Europe, but this is my first Central American experience.
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?
San Jose has daily flights to Houston and Miami; flights are 2.5 hours and from there you can connect to any U.S. city.
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?
The U.S. Embassy leases large townhouses or homes in the richer, western suburbs of the city for families and has some smaller apartments closer in for singles. All housing is in gated compounds; most houses are not stand-alone but most compounds do have pools and other amenities. Commute times in normal traffic are around 30-45 minutes, but the traffic is unpredictable and commutes can be longer.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Good. The country has Walmart and PriceSmart, as well as local chains that carry US products. Farmers markets are the best for fresh produce. Cost of food is more expensive than in the US, but not too bad.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Rugs. The homes are all tile and floor coverings are expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurant selection is pretty good, with one or two good choices for each type of cuisine. UberEats is alive and well here.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Insects are a common problem, especially ants, but post will help with extermination.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and Pouch. There are no real addresses in Costa Rica and the mail system is unreliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
A lot of availability, but more expensive than in neighboring countries. Most homes we are assigned to have live-in maid quarters, but most people only have a cleaner and/or live-out nanny.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Costa Rica has year-round gorgeous weather, so exercising outside is common and easy. There are a few gyms, such as World Gym, and the Embassy has a small gym for employees.
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, widely accepted and mostly safe.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You definitely need some Spanish, or you will be challenged. There are a number of Spanish classes for expats.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Sidewalks are nonexistent in many parts of San Jose, and accessibility is an issue at most major tourist sites.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are not allowed to ride local buses, but local taxis are safe and moderately priced, and Uber is safe and cheaper.
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?
SUV if you want to drive outside of the city.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, now Post is helping with installation before arrival.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Movistar, Claro, and Kolbi are all good and cheap options.
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?
Many vets, who will come to your house. No quarantine.
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?
A lot of telecommuting and working in the Embassy; local salaries are quite low.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Haven't looked, but have heard of a few.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpocketing in downtown or tourist areas. There is increasing crime connected to drugs.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No particular health concerns, but some risk of mosquito-borne diseases. Great medical care, with US educated doctors.
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?
Very good. Some issues when a volcano nearby erupts and the air has some ash.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Nothing in particular.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No, it's rare for a day not to be bright and sunny, even during rainy season it's sunny in the morning.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Always between 65-80 degrees in San Jose and hotter at the coasts. We have a six month rainy season, but it usually only rains for an hour or two in the afternoon.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Great schools here, with many to choose from. Majority of Embassy children attend Country Day School, but there are at least four others with Embassy kids. We chose a smaller Costa Rican private school so our son can learn Spanish. He can also walk to school supervised, which is rare here.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Country Day is reportedly very good at this.
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?
A lot of great pre-school options as well, some Montessori. Cost is reasonable.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, many activities are after school and organized by the school, but there are also private swim and tennis classes.
1. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes to all.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, super easy.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Some racism, but better than in many places.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Centrality to so many tourist opportunities.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure!