On the morning of Jan. 7, 2010, I arrived at Miami International Airport with nearly everything I owned, including a surfboard I had acquired, a Maine coon cat that had acquired me, and a suitcase filled with books. I had a one-way ticket to San José, a lease in a beach town I had only briefly visited once, a tight six-month budget, no job, no Spanish skills, and a level of confidence that can only be attributed to the unshakeable belief that the life I had imagined for myself was in Costa Rica. 

I boarded that plane and never looked back. The metaphorical road ahead of me resembled the reality of many actual roads in Costa Rica — laced with potholes, lacking guardrails, heavy with hairpin turns and demanding of patience, prudence, and poise. 

The details of my story are uniquely mine, but many of the themes and lessons are ones that are widely shared within Costa Rica’s population of foreign residents. Approximately 9% of the country’s 4.9 million people are from elsewhere and have relocated to Costa Rica, according to Index Mundi. 

Part of life here, regardless of where you decide to call home, is contingent on making mistakes, taking risks, and learning some lessons the hard way. However, many hardships, frustrations, and anxieties can be avoided or reduced when someone who has “been there, done that” shares with you the kind of invaluable wisdom that can only be gained through experience. 

While the list of do and don’t tips, life hacks, and advice is inexhaustibly long, these are some points worth noting if you are thinking about or in the process of moving to Costa Rica, or have just done so. 

As a pescatarian and produce-loving foodie, I found my food heaven here. One of the best ways to keep your food budget reasonable and take care of your health is to eat locally sourced food. Imported goods and products are expensive in Costa Rica. Take advantage of the bounty of fresh food that is grown and harvested here. 

As a cancer survivor who has suffered through two severe bouts of dengue fever, broken a rib, had stitches inside my ear, and sustained multiple other injuries and weird tropical ailments, I can attest that the private health care system in Costa Rica is superior. 

For families, retirees, and really anyone considering a life in Costa Rica, it’s comforting to know that all your health care needs can be met here, and for a fraction of the cost of what you would pay in North America. Many of the private clinics and hospitals have a multilingual staff of highly accomplished medical professionals. 

As a car owner to a future car owner, I advise people not to buy a cheap car. Cheap cars quickly become expensive cars. You are better off using the public bus system, taxis, and friends with vehicles until you can afford a car that isn’t already on its last legs. 

Almost everyone who owns a car in Costa Rica has at least one nightmarish mechanic story. Make sure you do your due diligence and find a mechanic who comes highly recommended. When you find that gem of a mechanic — and they are definitely out there — form a good relationship and never let it go!  

From the perspective of a former teacher in Costa Rica, the private school education opportunities are inspiring. Costa Rica has a 97.8% literacy rate and classrooms filled with diverse populations of students, teachers, cultures and languages. There are a lot of private school choices, especially in San José, Guanacaste, and the Central Pacific area. 

When I first started teaching, I asked a five-year-old student of mine, who was born in Israel, how many languages she spoke. She replied five. I then asked her how, on top of her native language, did she know how to also communicate in English, Spanish, Italian, and French? She replied, “If I didn’t, how would I be able to talk to my friends?” 

As someone who was seeking a slower-paced, more nature-infused and wave-saturated life, where I would actually have the time to live, Costa Rica became my spot in the world. 

When things get difficult, especially things that “should” be easy, it is important to remind yourself what it was that drew you here in the first place. There is no perfect place and Costa Rica is no exception. Living in Costa Rica is only “the dream” if it is truly your dream.