Reasons People Leave Costa Rica To Live Back Home

What are the reasons people leave Costa Rica to move back home? Why do - some - people have a dream of living in Costa Rica and then when their dream becomes a reality, they end up moving back to the USA or Canada or Europe or wherever they came from?

There have been no scientific studies that I know of but having had friends here and visiting here for 25 years and now living here, I have observed what I will say are the main reasons.

  1. The number one reason people move back home from Costa Rica in my opinion is that they don't learn Spanish and assimilate to the Tico culture.

    Learning Spanish is key to successfully immigrating here in my opinion. Without it one feels isolated and unable to live in a normal manner.

    Even if you just learn the basics you will be way ahead of the game and more likely to successfully live in Costa Rica. And if you do learn the basics you are more likely to - little by little - learn more and eventually be able to converse with the locals.

    Honestly I see people who are intent on NOT learning Spanish and I just shake my head. How can one live in a country and not learn the language at least to some degree? It's simply foolish.

  2. Culture Shock - This is a term for when a culture is so different from the one you know, it is hard to accept the differences, thus "culture shock".
    There are various things about Tico culture that may be hard for you to accept. (Note that not all Ticos exhibit these behaviors but enough do that I feel justified in generaliziing as follows.) So, some of these things are:

         - Workers do not always do the kind of quality work you are accustomed to. This depends on where you are from of course, but I know where I am from I find most workers who come to my house take more pride in their work and do a better job than most Tico laborers. Ticos don't always know what they are doing. There is a saying I've been told:
    "A Tico will never admit he doesn't know how to do something." So if you ask a Tico, does he know how to lay ceramic, he'll say yes even though he may have only done it once or maybe only saw it done. This is no doubt an exaggeration but it may explain why some of the people who've worked on our house seem to not have a clue how to do what we hired them to do.

         - Appointments may not be respected. You might have an appointment for the guy to come install your cable on Tuesday but he may not show up on Tuesday. Nor Wednesday. Nor Thursday... This is just how it is. Or a guy who did some work for you and needs to come out to fix something he did wrong may say he's coming out later in the week but may never come. We have come to accept Doctors not respecting appointments in the U.S. but most others do at least make an attempt to arrive or attend you at the appointed time. Don't count on it here.

         - Ticos drive different. They may stop right in the middle of the road in front of you to talk to someone and make no attempt to pull over even if there is space to pull over. Or a Tico may stop right on a highway and park the car and get out forcing you to wait to pass around his parked car. These driving behaviors would be grounds for a ticket in the USofA but I've yet to see a Tico get a ticket for this kind of driving or parking. This quite frankly is one of the things that drives me most nuts about Ticos and I can see how some people would never be able to accept it. Whether it's grounds for "moving back home" is debatable and depends on you. Me, I'm trying to just accept it.

         - Ticos walk different. Ticos will walk right in the middle of a country road not on the far side, forcing you to watch out for them to avoid hitting them. In the USA since I was 4 years old I was taught to walk on the side of the road and watch out for oncoming traffic. Not in Ticolandia. Here they walk wherever they want as if to dare you not to see them and hit them. They also walk in between moving cars and sometimes will dart in front of your car just as you are about to move forward so you have to really watch out for them. Are you beginning to see a theme or pattern here?

         - Ticos will stand or even sit on the side of a road, even a very narrow road where if 2 cars come one car is going to have to stop to avoid hitting them because no way 2 cars can pass without hitting them. Now, they could sit a little further down where the road is wider.... Or how about not sitting on the ROAD at all? But no, they will sit where they want and expect you to watch out for them and not hit them.

    Personally I am dumbfounded by the above behaviors and it is the most severe form of culture shock for me. I just don't get it and don't think I ever will. I was raised to watch out for myself and be careful and be considerate of other drivers and not do things to endanger others, so I just don't get it. Never will. But I'm trying to accept it.

         - Tico businesses like banks, the electric or internet company, and City offices may make you wait a long, long time if you need to talk to or transact business with them in person. Generally speaking you will take a number and sit down and wait. I've waited up to 3 hours in a bank. One time it took me an  hour to change some traveler's cheques and there was only one person in front of me. Transacting business at the local city office has taken me over an hour. Even buying some things at the hardware store can take an hour due to their system of "take a number and wait your turn to get your stuff" because they have to get it for you as opposed to you just walking in and getting it yourself.

    These things can be hard to accept and if you are typically impatient you may have a hard time adjusting to Tico ways.
    These are just some of the complaints I've heard gringos make about Ticos and I know a couple people who returned to the USofA for a couple of the above reasons.

  3. Missing family or friends back home. If you are the type who spends a lot of time with your family or friends in your home country then there is a good chance you won't make it living over a thousand miles away.

    You might say, "But I don't see them every day." No, but if you are accustomed to seeing your friends or family - one or the other or both - more than a couple times a week, my guess is you will miss them and want to move back.
    Sure you can make new friends here - and hopefully you will! - but it's not the same as family and old friends back home.

    Especially if you have young grandchildren that you are close to, or soon will have, I would probably advise you not to move to Costa Rica.

  4. The weather. It may rain a lot more or be a lot windier or foggier or more humid or hotter than you thought. This is why I always tell people "Live in the area you are moving to for a few months, at least, before you decide to move there!"

    However this is sometimes a hard rule to follow as Costa Rica is made up of many micro-climates. So let's say you want to live on a particular road in the Central Valley. Well, on that same road there may be various micro-climates within one stretch of road. One area might be a lot windier than another just 1 mile away. Or, believe it or not, it might rain more in one area than it does just 2 miles further down the road. Or be foggier. There are stretches of road that say "heavy fog area" for example, and if you live within that stretch of road  you will experience much more heavy fog than if you live 1 mile further up or down that same road!

    So I've seen people move back to their homeland simply because of "too much wind" or "too much rain" or "too much fog" and yes, even "too cold"! (Believe it or not there are many parts of Costa Rica at higher altitudes that get pretty cold at night and many people who move here wanted a warm climate yet didn't realize they were moving to a location where it is often 60 degrees or less at night, and with rain and fog that can feel pretty cold.

  5. Bugs. Some people are bug-phobic.

    Now, no one likes bugs. I certainly don't. But I am not completely "freaked out" by them. No offense to the fairer sex intended, but women are most likely to find the bugs in Costa Rica a reason to not live here.
    Now, not every place in Costa Rica has a lot of insects. Especially you live in the city, the worst you may run into are cucarachas (cockroaches) and ratones (mice).

    But if you live on the edge of a forest or way out in the country, you may well run into all kinds of weird bugs. Almost none of them will really hurt you, none are deadly, but some may frighten you or freak you out, especially if they surprise you.

    Some of the weird bugs we have seen and been at least a little freaked out by are:

         * spiders the size of tarantulas - not poisonous but certainly ugly and not welcome in or around your house. Some actually are good and kill other insects and don't bite - but      yeah, they do look effing ugly! I kill all spiders, sorry; but I have a rule inside my house: Insects are NOT WELCOME and if you are an insect and you come in, anyway, uninvited, guess what? The shoe or the fly swatter is going to smash you a.s.a.p.!

         *centipedes and other worm-like things - not harmful as far as I know, but the ick factor is kind of, well, icky. Usually I don't like to smash these as they are too messy to smash. I pick them up with the fly swatter or dust pan and throw the as far as I can away from the house

         *scorpions - these are the WORST, to me. Yes, they sting like hell, can cause pain for hours, a benadryl or stronger medicine may be required if you are allergic to them, and they are damned FRIGHTENING looking, especially the big black ones!

    The main thing is that you can minimize them with poisons or herbs placed in strategic spots in and around the house, and by sealing the cracks and holes in your house with various substances like a foam you spray that comes out soft and turns into a hard foam in a few minutes, and silicone, plaster or repello, etc.

    We live on the edge of a huge forest and yet we only see maybe one such insect a day and we kill it or remove it before it invades our bedroom... at least so far we have been able to do that. (It's a good idea to check your shoes for scorpions before putting them on and check your bed for whatever before getting into it.)

    If reading the above paragraph has freaked you out, my suggestion to you is:

    DON'T MOVE TO COSTA RICA! And don't bother to read the next section.

  6. Animals - if you are freaked out or scared by animals, don't move to the "campo" or country side in Costa Rica!

    While you might find squirrels and deer cute, you may not find things like agouti (large gopher-like animals), lizards, mice and rats, opossums, and snakes so cute.

    There ARE poisonous snakes in Costa Rica. The one I am familiar with is the terciopelo which is a kind of viper and you may find them out in the countryside in some parts of Costa Rica. They are not generally aggressive - at least not where I live - and we have seen very few. But they do exist and if you get bitten by one you must do 2 things:
         a) RELAX - do not get hyper or super scared about dying. Getting hyper or scared may cause the blood flow to increase which is what you do not want. Take a deep breath, try to relax as much as you can, then:
         b) GET YOURSELF TO THE NEAREST HOSPITAL OR CLINIC. You have an hour or so to get there, but the sooner the better. Find out ahead of time where to go in case of snake bite and keep the # handy to double check before leaving to make sure they have it on hand. If not go to the next nearest one, and have them check to see if they have it in stock.

    Another snake you may encounter is the boa. Boas as you may know, are huge snakes. However they are not harmful to adult humans and generally not harmful to children either. They generally are only a threat to small animals, and they actually are good to have around  because the truly dangerous terciopelos (above) do not like them.

    We've also found a couple very small snakes on our kitchen or living room floor. Photos we took and showed to our local resident expert on such things has revealed that they were not dangerous. Nevertheless we removed them with the dustpan and threw them far down over the nearby hill!

    I mentioned the iguanas, and other lizards, agoutis, squirrels, deer, and so on already. Others you may find are:

    -pumas or mountain lions (somewhat rare to encounter)
    -sloths (very cute!)
    -monkeys (white faced and congos - both harmless and exciting to see!)
    -bats (not so cute, but in reality mostly good for you as they eat insects)

    There are probably many other reasons and I no doubt have forgotten even some obvious ones so feel free to leave a comment with the reasons YOU have observed cause people to leave Costa Rica to return back home.


  1. Graham on March 1, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Safer than Australia where every animal, insect or snake wants to kill you! We’ll keep quiet about the locals here.

  2. miguelbgood on March 2, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Yeah. It’s actually quite safe here.
    Cars and cancer and heart attacks and other health related problems are probably the biggest killers and that’s EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD!

  3. Kathi on July 13, 2017 at 10:49 am

    I’m loving your straight-forward commentary – I appreciate honesty above all else. My husband and I are looking to move to Costa Rica for the 4-6 month winter season each year. He’s a PGA pro, and we will probably continue to spend summers in the mountains of northern New Hampshire, especially since that’s where his elderly parents live and he wants to be near them to help at least part of the year. This is our only family commitment, which is how we already handle it, living in Florida 6 months each winter.
    We are looking at the Central Valley area, maybe Atenas (he would probably love to be near Valle del Sol in Santa Ana, but I think he may change his mind when he sees how close it is to city life! We’re definitely rural, mountain people!). We plan on coming down this winter/spring for a due diligence trip.
    I have a few questions…
    *I have a snake phobia, irrational as it may be, though I’m trying to work on that (not afraid of other reptiles, worms, bugs, rodents, etc). Outside of the city suburbs, are there condo complexes, where we can try to get a top floor rental (less likely to have snakes greeting me at my front door or, like you, on my window sill)?
    *Is it possible to get by without a car (without becoming an utter recluse)? I am hoping, besides utilizing the bus system, to eventually establish a relationship with a local resident to hire as a driver when needed (like my husband going to play golf 2-3 times per week) or on a schedule. After much research, we have MANY reasons for not wanting to own a car OR drive, and we’re willing to cut our budget in other ways (I would much rather pay for a driver for 2-3 half days per week as opposed to a housekeeper/gardener 2-3 days per week, or cocktailing/eating out, or other luxuries). I see there is Uber service in the San Jose area (though there are conflicts with taxi drivers), but not so sure about that kind of service out as far as Atenas or Grecia or ?
    *I doubt we will buy property (we’re actually trying to liquidate and live more simply now), and may not become residents. But it is important to us to be able to obtain health care. Do you know if nonresidents are able to buy health insurance and have access to quality health care? I believe I read somewhere that, as one option, there are some better hospitals that offer a type of “insurance,” to be used for service at their facilities.
    Thank you so much for your well-written posts, and I do hope that I’ll hear from you. Best of the best, Kathi

    • miguelbgood on July 13, 2017 at 6:06 pm

      Hi Kathy, let me answer as best I can following your questions ****
      I’m loving your straight-forward commentary – I appreciate honesty above all else
      ****Thanks. I do try to be honest even at the expense of turning some people off Costa Rica. You have to go into this with eyes wide open imho…

      As to 2nd floor condos, I can’t really answer that, especially re Grecia or Atenas area because I have never spent time there. I would expect that you could find something on a 2nd floor.
      I doubt you’d even find snakes a problem in that area. Not sure but ask other gringos on forums about that area and see what they say about it.

      Not only is it possible to get by without a car but unless you live way out in the sticks like we do, I recommend you NOT have a car, or if you have one just use it sparingly. In many many areas there are buses and you can find a taxi or driver about anywhere. Even way out here where we live I did a calculation that it might be about the same cost to pay a driver $22 round trip into town than it is to own a car and pay the insurance, repairs, etc! So yes, not having a car is a practical option!

      Sorry again that I am not familiar with non-CAJA (national health insurance for residents and citizens). But I am pretty sure you can get affordable health care without it AND I am sure you can get insurance via one of the private hospitals like CIMA. Again your best bet here is to ask on various forums re Costa Rica about that. My knowledge is often limited by my own experience here and since I am a legal resident using CAJA I can speak to that but not re private insurance.

      My main advice is :
      a) come here and live a few months before making any commitments and try living in various areas while renting and see what you like and what you don’t; and
      b) once you are pretty sure where you want to live ask on forums re specifics for that area.

      Good luck!

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