Atenas, Costa Rica Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Atenas, Costa Rica

Atenas, Costa Rica 08/04/11

Background:

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

Caguas, Puerto Rico.

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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" used to be Manhattan and Queens, New York. It takes about 5 hours on a non-stop flight to Newark.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We moved specifically to Atenas almost ten years ago.

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

We moved to Costa Rica to escape living in New York City, which had become prohibitively expensive with two young children.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

A wide variety of housing is available, simple to luxurious. Atenas has a unique physical location and the country is so small anyway, that commuting is as fast or as slow as the truck you are driving behind.

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

Fur supermarkets, pretty well stocked. One gasoline station.

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

I would not ship valuables or perishables or things you need right away.

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

No fast food, lots of local restaurants with food prices reasonable.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Not too much, but things are changing.

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

Lots of insects and all other kinds of bugs, an entomologist's paradise!

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Daily Life:

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

Regular post office to a post office box, or by courier to a mail service, then we go pick it up.

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

Domestic help/gardeners cost about $400 per month; labor laws are complex, hiring illegal workers is risky and costly if the employer is caught.

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

Yes, lots of those, but not necessarily state of the art.

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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?

Both are available, service interruptions are frequent.

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

There are very few options. Catholic and Protestant Evangelical are available in spanish.

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

Tico Times, television by cable but in certain areas only. Cost is probably $100 per month for cable and the paper is weekly, around $1.50.

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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?

It is best to learn the language. Most people do not speak English.

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

It's not that easy to get around, although things are changing.

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Transportation:

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

Public transportation is limited. Taxis are safe and affordable by U.S. standards.

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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?

Roads are hard on cars, better to rent while here.

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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?

High speed internet available for about $40.

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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?

Most telephone service from abroad DOES NOT work here and if it does, the user is probably paying a lot of money for his calls.

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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)?

Lots of vets, not too many kennels.

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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?

Most expats cannot work in a company if they would be taking a job away from a national. However, they can own a company and receive profit from it.

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

In our town, the dress is pretty casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

With the influx of affluent persons settling down and building luxury condominiums and the economy worldwide being what it is, our security concerns are increasing. Gates, alarms, guards, dogs, etc.

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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?

Private dental, doctors available, clinic. Cost is low and the quality is not always consistently good.

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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?

Air quality in our little town of Atenas is excellent. It is 'rumored' to have the 'best climate in the world'.

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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?

All year long the temperature averages about 75 degrees F. It rains from April to November and is dry from November to end March.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are several, but I personally am not that impressed with more than a couple. We opted for homeschooling our children in response to the dissatisfaction we felt about available educational opportunities.

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

By law they have to, but the reality is that resources are not available to give the appropriate attention to every special-needs child.

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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?

There are some, but not enough to satisfy the needs of the county, in my opinion. The public schools are crowded and the private ones are sometimes beyond the means of the parents.

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

In addition to the sports programs required in the schools, there is a lot of focus on soccer and volleyball, but not much of other sports.

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Expat Life:

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

Difficult to know the real number, as expats are sometimes reticent about sharing themselves. In our little town of 25,000 perhaps 3% of the population is expat.

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2. Morale among expats:

The morale depends on how they are adjusting: if they are illegal and don't care to legalize their situation, they have a lot of anxiety about being caught. If their pension is small, they sometimes can't have the same standard of living as they had 'back home'. If they know Spanish, they are more likely to be happy. If they have friends or family who live with them or visit often, they are usually happy. If they can get away every few months, they do okay.

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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?

Not too much in regularly scheduled activities.

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

It depends on what you are seeking. For an older couple with pretty good health, no dependents, and a sense of adventure, yes, it is a good place. For singles, there is not that much to do to find other singles, unless you like to spend your time hanging out in bars. For families, again, it depends. If your children love baseball, think of going elsewhere, if you love gardening and your children do also, then this is the place for you. If you are a nature lover, this is the place for you. If you like simple things, this is the place for you. If you need big malls or movie theaters, skating rinks, etc., look elsewhere.

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

I am not sure about this. There are not too many openly gay people around my town, but the few I know have never complained of any bias.

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

I don't see too much religious or racial prejudice, but gender issues are typical of the 'latino' culture.

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

We have been able to build a handsome home with a lot less money than we could have in the U.S.

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

Lots of nature spots, good place to use as a base for exploring other counties.

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

Crafts made from wood or leather, and tours that will take you nature seeing. Don't look for hotels that are exactly like the ones you left 'back home.' You'll never see the country that way and your potentially rich experience will not happen.

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

The weather is wonderful, the landscape and beauty of the entire country are unbelievable and if you can adjust to a simpler way of living, there are some true savings.

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11. Can you save money?

Costa Rica is not really a cheap destination anymore, but if you stay with local cuisine, you should do okay.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I love this place with a passion. It is beautiful and blessed.

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

Flashy and arrogant personality. It will scare people off.

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3. But don't forget your:

Open and enthusiastic attitude towards adventure.

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

Chris Howard writes about Costa Rica pretty knowledgeably.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Nothing out there yet, but keep checking. Some short documentaries are being worked on.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

It breaks my heart when expats get mad at Costa Rica or Atenas because they expect everything to be just like they had 'back home'. They don't know what they want, they come as tourists and decide to stay without thinking it through. I have much more to say, but it would fill up a book. Thanks for the opportunity.

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