San Jose, Costa Rica Report of what it's like to live there - 02/17/10

Personal Experiences from San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica 02/17/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Not our first experience. We lived in Belgium (and I am from Spain originally).

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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?

Home base is Alaska - From Anchorage AK the trip to San Jose took 12 hours (with 2 stops in Seattle and Houston).

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3. How long have you lived here?

6 months ago (since October 2009).

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We live in a beautiful house (single family home) in Trejos. Most embassy workers live in Escazu in big appartments or in gated communities. The houses are very nice, but have no pools.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Cheap for fruits and vegetables. If you want American/European products it is of course, more expensive.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

You can find everything here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's, Wendy's, Tony Roma's, Burger King...

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Lots of mosquitoes in the coasts, but none in San Jose.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We only use the embassy mail. There are no names in the streets or numbers in the houses. I am sure packages never arrive.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very inexpensive. We pay 300 dollars/month for a full-time nanny who also cleans and cooks.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Lots of gyms. The prices are a little bit high, but there are good gyms. Also you can find dance studios (merecumbe), pilates studios, yoga, gym for kids/babies...

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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?

You can use your ATM and credit card everywhere. It is safe too.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Tico Times. Lots of English channels with the cable TV (fox, cnn).

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Ticos have good English, but Spanish helps a lot.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Plenty. There are no sidewalks in the city. Even from the parking to the hospital, the sidewalk just stops. I think it is very hard to function if you are in a wheelchair.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are very cheap

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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. The roads are terrible in Costa Rica. The most popular cars are the Toyotas SUVs and also Nissan.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Fifty dollars/month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Good. Many vets in Escazu.

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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?

Yes, plenty, although the salaries are not high. Around US$800/month.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Formal.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Ticos are very concerned about security. There are guards everywhere in the neighborhoods, specially in Escazu. I haven't had any problems, but people will always tell you horror stories.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Doctors are good in Costa Rica. We go to Sima hospital and so far, the experiences with doctors have been positive. Many speak English.

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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?

Pretty good. San Jose is a small city and doesn't have pollution.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Rainy season and dry season. The rainy season starts around April and lasts 6 months.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

Most people have 1 or 2 nannies. Nannies are mostly from Nicaragua. They are super caring with babies and not expensive. Everyone I know has a nanny that also cooks and cleans. I haven't heard anything about preschool.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Big.

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2. Morale among expats:

I think it is really good. Costa Rica has the happiest people on earth, and expats who live here also enjoy their country. The embassy is always organizing events, and the employees are very active and friendly.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Many restaurants, bars, events.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It's a little bit sleepy, but it is a great city for everyone. You will have fun in San Jose.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes. Ticos are very tolerant and opened.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Costa Rica is a Roman Catholic country and they don't have problems with other religions.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

All the trips we have done so far and just the exploring of the city/country. We love the Caribbean side and the laidback atmosphere.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

So much. Just outside San Jose you can go hiking. They just opened the freeway to the pacific beach and you can make it there in 40 minutes. Before it took 3 hours.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Wood products, crafts, paintings.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with lots of places to see. There are national parks, coffee fields, beaches, nature in general. The Ticos (costa ricans) are very nice and helpful.

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11. Can you save money?

Not really.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

YES, YES, YES.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bikini, sunblock and your smile.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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