New: Costa Rica Blog
|Real Questions to what life is like in Costa
(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S.
Embassy and has lived in San Jose for two
years. This is a follow-up to the article
submitted 18 months ago.)
Travel time and best routes to
from Europe or the US (check
with Expedia) : 2.5 hours from
Airlines). Flights are also available
Houston (Continental) or Atlanta
Pollution index? Moderate. As I stated in my previous report,
it depends on the winds. During the dry season
they burn everything: empty housing lots,
farmers’ fields, construction sites, and
Security concerns? Mostly against tourists or the unwary in
downtown San Jose.
Housing: A combination of gated condos and individual
houses. Both are walled compounds. Condo
complexes are gated with security. Houses
are walled but usually share at least one
common wall with a neighbor.
International schools: American International School, Blue Valley,
and Lincoln. Embassy personnel have children
in all three and all seem to be satisfied.
Preschool/daycare available: Yes, and quality varies considerably.
Is it a good city for gay/lesbian expats? Good is a relative question. There is a
gay community, but I do not know about the
quality of the experience.
Are there problems with racial, religious
or gender prejudices? This is definitely a typical Latin culture
where men rule. My impression is that most
Costa Ricans do not particularly like North
What difficulties would someone with physical
disabilities have living in this city? Many. Although there are some efforts to
put ramps at street crossings, there is little
effort to provide better access to buildings.
Sidewalks are usually just another place
to park cars; so for even the able bodied,
walking the streets can be a challenge.
Interesting/fun things to do: Beach resorts, eco-tourism, whitewater rafting,
clubbing. As for the interesting and fun
things to do: little is easy here. We have
bad roads, no signs, no addresses, and minimal
maps. To me the biggest deterrent to doing
many of these activities is simply the fact
there is no government or safety oversight;
you are at the mercy of the quality of the
resort and the fact that there is only one
hospital of any quality in the country, and
they do not have a helicopter. If you get
injured, you will be thrown into the back
of a converted minivan (called an ambulance)
and carted for hours over miles of bad road
to reach the only decent hospital.
What fast food and decent restaurants are
available? All the American standards are here: McDonald's,
KFC, TGIF, Toni Roma’s, etc. There are a
few good restaurants, but they are usually
not owned by Costa Ricans nor do they serve
local fare. And they are usually outrageously
priced for the quality of the food and the
What is the availability (and the relative
cost) of groceries and household supplies? Everything is available, just not all the
time or at the store where you found it last
time. Prices are equal to or more than what
you would pay in the states for just about
What comments can you make about using credit
cards and ATMs? I would not recommend giving a card to someone
who goes to another room or out of your site
to process it. Otherwise, you should have
no problems with either ATM/Debit cards or
What type of automobile is suitable to bring
(or not to bring) because of rugged terrain,
lack of parts and service, local restrictions,
carjackings, etc? If you want to go anywhere other than to
work: a 4X4.
Do you drive on the right hand side of the
road or the left? Right.
What is the best way to make phone calls
back home? Voice over IP, a service like Vonage or
other computer-based system. Bring the service
with you, especially Vonage, no matter where
you buy it in the states; they will not ship
it to an APO. I personally use Vonage with
very good results, and it is becoming more
popular with embassy personnel as they find
out about it.
Do you have any recommendations regarding
cell phones? They are widely available. The embassy issues
a cell phone to all direct hire personnel
and pays the basic, local service, but not
long distance. The local telephone company
is a monopoly and the system is very overloaded;
although service seems to be fairly good
throughout the country. Expect to receive
a lot of wrong number calls.
Items you would ship if you could do it again? None, really.
Availability and cost of domestic help: Available and relatively cheap depending
on how often and what you want them to do:
house cleaning only, child care, extended
How much of the local language do you need
to know for daily living? None.
Internet access cost and quality: Quality has improved over the last two years,
probably as a result of the CR president
sending the CAFTA trade agreement to the
legislature for ratification.
Size of expat community: 4,000 or more; just don't expect to see
or meet any of them.
Are there decent job opportunities for expats
on the local economy? No. The SNAP program here has placed only
one person in the two years I have been here.
Local wages are low by any standard. However,
you may find work by call centers who value
good english very highly. You will not earn
the money you did back home.
Any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Dengue fever has become a problem this year,
but it is not as bad as the local press tries
to make it seem.
Check out the guide to buying