The Unplanned Wonders of Pura Vida: What to Really Expect Moving Your Family to Costa Rica
Most people would agree that moving is a major life stressor, but moving to another country with children adds on more layers of stress. When moving to Costa Rica with our children, I found that I was not the only one with the same questions, concerns and hopes. Each family story is unique, but we all strive for a similar outcome. Here are a few things to expect when moving to Costa Rica with children.
1. Your family will become really close
Most people who move to Costa Rica downsize in some way, which means smaller homes and usually one or no family vehicle. This results in lots of time together in smaller spaces and moving around to activities as a family more often. If you move to an area where you don’t know anyone, many parents are pleased to find that siblings play together more and family meals become routine. A common conversation topic among couples is whether all the additional togetherness with your partner is making or breaking your relationship.
You will go crazy in Costa Rica unless you tame that type-A personality.
2. Safety is overrated
One reality in Costa Rica is that despite the many laws and regulations, you will still see babies riding on motorcycles, kids on teeter-totters, children serving beers in restaurants, and a bunch of people standing in the back of trucks. It is very common to plan playdates and totally forget to exchange car seats, get phone numbers or even know exactly where someone lives. And definitely do not look at the kitchen of any soda if you have food safety concerns.
3. Finding support wherever you go
From the moment you entertain the idea of moving to Costa Rica, you can join one of hundreds of Facebook groups dedicated to living here. Ask one question and a plethora of answers and offers to help follows. Some of these turn into offline conversations and even in-person meetings. It is even more special when you can be the one offering support and answers to those eager to live this life in paradise. This support also transcends into your everyday life in Costa Rica. Whether someone helps shuttle you to the nearest city when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere or jumps in to translate for you when setting up a utility, Ticos go out of their way to help in the best ways. When you befriend one of them, you have a friend for life.
4. Rely on the unreliable
From communication with your kids’ school to the availability of electricity, you never know what you will get. You set up a time for your house cleaner to come every week, but yet she often shows up on a different day and/or time. The dance recital was supposed to start at 7, but it is now 7:30 and the curtains are just rising. Playdates are made on the spot and birthday parties planned a week in advance. This is not due to a lack of social life or planning, it is due to loving the moment and people in your life right now. You will go crazy in Costa Rica unless you tame that type-A personality.
5. Bugs, bugs and more bugs
There are so many bugs in Costa Rica! Army ants that swoop in cleaning up every surface. Lice infections you can’t brush away. Stomach bugs that plague your whole family. From creepy crawlies to bacteria, you will encounter so many kinds of pests while living here. But hey, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, right?
6. Welcome to the ‘80s
It is true that life is simpler here. Kids get dirty playing outside for hours and there is less stress about testing, rushing to/from after-school activities and keeping up with the Joneses. But that also comes at a price. It’s not uncommon in the Tico culture to brush off common bullying behavior, use female-demeaning language and dismiss responsibility for mistakes. This can be downright infuriating, especially if your child is having any social problems at school. Just take a chill pill, dude.
7. World view is truly worldly
You might have moved to Costa Rica to give your family a better world view, expecting the socialization and schooling with Ticos to change your children’s ideas of needs, wants, happiness and contentment. Then you find yourself surrounded by not only Ticos but families from the Americas and Europe too. You realize the new world view you sought has truly become worldly. The blessing of exposing your children to multiple languages is amazing until you realize they have picked up more bad words in Spanish and French than usable phrases. You will also find the heartache that comes with this worldly community: people come and go often, and finding friends who stay can be difficult.
8. Kids play with each other
Over and over again, I am amazed at how diverse our friend circle is, but I am most elated by how kids play differently here. Children, pre-teens and teens all play together regularly, regardless of gender, language, nationality or age. Take a group of mixed-age kids to the beach and throughout the day, you will see everyone partner up with a different kid in the group at some point. Watching a French teenager build a sand castle with an Argentine 3-year-old, or a group of boys and girls who just met team up to play a pick-up game of fúbol, makes you wonder — where in adulthood do we lose those socialization skills it takes to be productive world leaders?
Best of all, moving to Costa Rica is about unleashing expectations, being uncomfortable and learning through it all … for kids and adults. By showing your children that you are struggling, learning and adapting just like them, you are modeling life behaviors too few people learn these days. Embrace the tranquila life and enjoy the unexpected.