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An Interview with Jenna - An American expat living in Costa Rica

Updated 21 Apr 2016
Jenna is an American expat currently living in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. She left Florida two years ago in search of a better life, and she loves her new home and being surrounded by the sea and mountains. Although Jenna is aware that crime is an issue for people living in Costa Rica, she loves the friendly locals who've played a huge role in helping her feel at home.

Get more information on life in Costa Rica by reading our Expat's Arrivals Costa Rica Guide or reading more expat experiences.

About Jenna

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in Ponte Vedra, Florida in the USA
Q: Where are you living now? 
A:  Santa Teresa, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Q: When did you move to Santa Teresa? 
A:  A few weeks ago, but I have been living in Costa Rica for two years!
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family? 
A:  Alone!
Q: Why did you move to Costa Rica; what do you do? 
A: I moved for the better life. I love living in near the ocean, near the mountains and amidst the tropics! The air is so good. And the surfing is wonderful!
As for the second question. I used to manage a surf shop, where I would rent surf boards, sell beach gear, and give surf lessons. I am transitioning to becoming a full-time writer.

Living in Costa Rica

Q: What do you enjoy most about Costa Rica How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country? 
A: I enjoy surfing in the ocean every morning. Nothing feels better than waking up on the waves! I would rate the quality of life as much higher! No traffic, no pollution, smaller community and less commercial development. AHHH :)
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Oh every once in a while I miss air conditioning, usually in the middle of the day when it is 90°F (32°C) and hot out. Of course, there is AC here, but it not very common.
I miss seeing my family of course, too. My siblings, father, and grandmother live in Florida. However, I visit for the holidays.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: I did not experience a huge culture shock, but there were some things that took some getting used to. For example, men and cat calls! Men tend to whistle or make calls at women walking down the street. If that is unwanted it is best to go out dressed modestly!
Q: What’s the cost of living in Costa Rica compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Less expensive, but not by much. As Costa Rica is becoming an ever more popular tourist destination, price gouging is becoming more and more common. What locals pay and what “gringos” or other foreigners pay is definitely not the same!
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Costa Rica? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Oh, it is very nice to own a car here, but I do not own one! However, you can get anywhere in the country by the public buses. Get ready for a long bumpy ride, windows down for the breeze because there won't be any A/C. Despite my complaints, the public transportation here is fairly organised and usually on time. Having a car is unnecessary. Also, most towns are walkable or easy to get around by bicycle.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Costa Rica? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Healthcare is not very modern. One must go into the capital, San Jose to get quality health care. However, for minor health concerns the local health care is acceptable. I have not had sufficient experience to comment further.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Costa Rica? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Theft! Armed robberies are not very common, but recently arson has been on the rise in a popular beach town nearby, Tamarindo. Other than that you just must be careful when going to the beach or walking around town, if it can be stolen, it will be.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Costa Rica? What different options are available for expats?
A: Houses, cabins, and rooms are available to rent. Housing is plentiful. Everyone can find something to fit their budget. Don’t expect anything super modern, but there is something for everyone!
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: I would say Playa Jaco is very popular among other expats as it is more American. One can find all the restaurants, bars, and activities they want here. It is also not too far from the capital city, San Jose, and near many other national parks, beaches, and nice hiking trails!

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: The locals are very kind and accepting of locals. Many are English-speaking. Of course, you will hear the term “gringa” but no harm is meant by it.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people? 
A: I think people are very friendly here, whether it be the bar scene or surfing, you will likely be approached by friendly travelers or curious locals interested in getting to know you.
Q: Have you made friends with local Costa Ricans or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A:  I would say most of my friends here are expats, but not necessarily from the USA. I have friends from Venezuela, Jamaica, Colombia, and Australia. I also have local friends too. This is an easy place to make friends. If you are lonely all you have to do is leave your house!

About working in Costa Rica

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Costa Rica? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I technically do not have one. It is pretty difficult to legally obtain a work permit here because the government prioritises its own citizens for jobs.
Q: What’s the economic climate like here? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job in Costa Rica? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Salaries are quite low here. Some Costa Rican families get by on a very low yearly income. Others with a college degree make a fairly good living. I would say do not expect to save money while living here. If you have a stroke of luck, you may find a job to support yourself here and make ends meet.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Costa Rica?
A: From my experience of working at the surf shop, the work atmosphere is so much more relaxed and casual. There is less professionalism here, and I mean that in a good way. I think people see others primarily as friends than as business partners. It's a very warm culture.

Family and children in Costa Rica

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A:  My partner lives abroad, too, but in another country. The specific challenge is that his business is in Iran and I cannot live there.
Q: What are the schools like in Costa Rica, any particular suggestions?
A:  Many people opt for private education. There are public schools in all populated areas, but I am not sure about the quality of the education at those institutions. I have little experience here.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Costa Rica?
A:  Watch out for mosquitos here. Mosquitos have been known to be infected with not only the Dengue virus, but Zika, too.

~ Interviewed in April 2016

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