Costa Rica real estate living

Life in Costa Rica

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Living in Costa Rica
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Real Questions to what life is like in Costa Rica:
(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 this city from Europe or the US (check flight schedules with Expedia) : 2.5 hours from Miami (American Airlines). Flights are also available through Houston (Continental) or Atlanta (Delta).

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 garbage!

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 Americans.

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 service.

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 everything.

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 credit cards.

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 hours, etc.

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.

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