Jason Mueller is a Canadian expat who moved to Jacó to start a business and make the most of the 'pura vida' lifestyle in Costa Rica. He runs his own business in the idyllic coastal town and has integrated happily with both the local and expat communities. Have a look at his website for more information on how to make your move a hassle-free and enjoyable experience.
A: I am originally from British Columbia, Canada. I grew up mostly in a small town called Williams Lake or “Willies Puddle” in central BC, but I've also lived in more civilized places like White Rock and Vancouver. No offence, Willies Puddle.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I live near Jacó, Costa Rica. I've just bought property on an eco-village about 40 minutes south of Jacó.
Q: When did you move to Costa Rica?
A: I moved to Costa Rica officially in June 2014 after spending some time in the country on an extended research vacation.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved with a friend.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved here with a friend who convinced me that I should come to Costa Rica and start up a cable wakeboarding project. We ended up having a falling out (fortunately) and I decided to open an adventure tour company in Jacó. We have zip lining, a ropes course, rappelling, and ATVing on the property. The wake project is still a possibility for the property.
Living in Costa Rica
Q: What do you enjoy most about Jacó? How would you rate the quality of life compared to Canada?
A: That’s an easy one; the weather for sure! The weather in Jacó is basically an endless summer, even in the rainy season it is warm, and we receive sun in the morning. I do miss Canada sometimes, but I think the quality of life is far superior in Costa Rica. Locals have a saying 'pura vida', which means pure life. You hear people say it on a daily basis, and it’s a way of life down here.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about Canada?
A: You need to be super patient when living in Costa Rica. Nothing gets done fast like I was accustomed to in Canada; people are always late and have no respect for your time. I do miss people respecting that my time is valuable and when they make an appointment they stick to it or at least give me a heads-up, especially when it comes to doing business.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Costa Rica? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Funny, the hot weather was hard to get used to at first, especially because I was working really hard doing intense labour. Getting used to the slower pace of life is still a little bit of a culture shock, I still often scratch my head and think "what a mess".
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to Canada? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Costa Rica is not a cheap country by any means. Groceries are usually about 20 percent to 30 percent more expensive, at least in the grocery stores. However, now that I have lived here I am finding ways to save money. For example, my girlfriend introduced me to an organic farm where we buy all our produce for way cheaper than you would ever find it in Canada.
Taxis and mechanics are much cheaper, but don’t expect to find a good mechanic. Taking the Greyhound bus in Canada is super expensive but in Costa Rica, a bus ride across the country will only set you back around USD 10, USD 5 for shorter trips. Things like electronics and appliances are much more expensive in Costa Rica, but a little tip – Panama is not far away and worth the trip to buy electronics.
Q: How would you rate the public transport? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: I would highly recommend having your own car to access the best beaches and most scenic destinations. Getting around solely by bus is very doable, however, and many locals don’t own a car. I would give public transport 4.5 stars.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Jacó? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regard to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Luckily I haven’t had any experiences with doctors or hospitals. I have heard that the healthcare is good here, however, and much cheaper than other countries like the USA. Cima Hospital in San José is the best hospital in the country.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Jacó? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I would have to say be aware of rip tides in the ocean and never swim in a river that is close to the ocean. One expat took a dare and swam in a crocodile-infested river, needless to say, he never came out alive. I would also suggest that expats avoid living on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. There is much more crime there, but you will want to make a visit to the area, as it is truly spectacular.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Jacó? What different options are available for expats?
A: I would give it 4.5 stars, you can find all the amenities that you would in Canada or the USA. The construction is not to the same standards but the options for housing in Jacó are very good. It is very easy to find a house or condo at a decent price.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Jacó is very good because there are many other expats living in the area. Also, because tourism is one of the main attractions in the area, English is widely spoken. Tamarindo is also a popular expat location in Guanacaste. For the Canadians and others who enjoy a cooler climate, I would recommend somewhere around La Fortuna or San Gerardo de Dota.
Meeting people and making friends in Costa Rica
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: The locals are very friendly but be aware that they see a huge dollar sign floating above your head, and locals will always try to get more money from a foreigner. It helps if you speak some Spanish. Americans have gotten a bad reputation down in Costa Rica, but Canadians are loved.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Yes, it was fairly easy for me to meet new friends. I met a few friends in the gym I went to and some through my local business partner.
Q: Have you made friends with locals 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 have a mix of friends who are expats from all over the world and locals (ticos). Once you meet one good tico friend they will introduce you to other locals. As far as meeting other expats, head to the beach or the local ice cream shop and don’t be afraid to spark up a conversation, everyone is so happy here and willing to give good advice.
About working in Costa Rica
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I have yet to get my residency; I still leave the country every 90 days to get my passport stamped which is my visa. As far as a work permit, I didn’t need it because I own my business and don’t do the actual day-to-day work in the business, technically I am not supposed to be working for the business, doing a job that would take work away from a local without the proper work permit. I choose to focus my time on my online work and allow my business partner to handle the day-to-day operations in my local business.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Jacó? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: It’s not easy to find a job here and if you do the pay won't be great. You can check with hotels, hostels, restaurants, bars and tour agencies for work. I would recommend finding online work if you want to make decent money.
Q: How does the work culture differ from Canada? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Jacó or Costa Rica?
A: Patience is a virtue; you should expect that plans will never be on time. If someone tells you that a job will be done in a week that means it will most likely be a month. You always hear the “mañana” promise which means tomorrow, but it seems mañana is usually a week away.
Family and children in Costa Rica
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to Jacó? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: This question is not applicable to me, but I do know many families that have moved here with no issues
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: It’s always hard for kids to leave their friends back home. Also, there may be a language barrier when trying to meet new friends.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: I hear that it is easy to find international schools in Costa Rica. It may be tough for foreigners to adapt to local schools unless they are fluent in Spanish.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: I would recommend learning some Spanish, you will find better deals and get much more respect from the locals.
~ Interviewed in March 2018