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Why Do American Expats Leave Costa Rica?

some American and Canadian expats are leaving because of Costa Rica’s vaccine mandate. But people have been throwing in the towel and moving home way before Covid-19.

So why do some expats, after falling in love with Costa Rica, suddenly decide to leave?

It’s really not cheap.

Costa Rica is one of the most expensive Latin American countries you can live in. Food costs tend to be lower, but gasoline, clothing, electronics, and any imported foods (peanut butter) will cost more than you’re used to paying.

Many Americans initially feel Costa Rica is not as expensive…but once they need a new pair of shoes or a new phone, they really feel the pinch.

If you reel in your spending habits and just buy local foods, like rice, beans, fish, fruits, and vegetables, then you can live cheaply here.

But those American comforts will cost you.

For people who retire here, they might relocate to cheaper Latin American countries when their pensions are no longer sufficient.

A very slight culture shock.

Here’s the thing — During a vacation, Costa Rica does not seem very different culturally. But over time, you start to see a difference.

I’ve been to countries like India where the culture shock was immediate. I’ve been to places like England where I basically felt like I was in the United States.

Costa Rica has a few differences that seem to steadily aggravate Americans over time. Being emotional, for one, is not as shunned. Americans don’t really know how to navigate this. People are not as blunt or direct, and there’s a lot of beating around the bush and protecting people’s feelings. There’s a lot more small talk, reading between the lines, and prioritizing politeness…which some Americans dismiss as “fake.”

There are paid vacations, guaranteed bonuses, and other worker protections. You cannot just fire someone and stop paying them, for example. There is a guaranteed pension. This really seems to aggravate Americans who want to start a business here who are used to more relaxed hiring practices.

And let’s not forget about the trips to the ICE…the electric, phone, and cell phone company where you might have to wait in line for hours.

I was once in a post office with an American who wanted to mail something, and they were shocked that the post office did not sell envelopes. We had to wait for the local store to open to buy an envelope, then come back.

Americans are used to being catered to, and to having efficient lives. Sometimes the Pura Vida pace and culture isn’t relaxing for them…and becomes a source of stress instead.
Making money is difficult.

If you have a way of making money in Costa Rica, whether it’s online, from your own business, or otherwise, then this can be a great place to live.

But as a foreigner, making money can be difficult…and illegal. Working off the books can get you into trouble, and I don’t recommend trying to work illegally…aside from it being against the law, you’re not going to make enough to sustain yourself.

This might be a shock to American expats but if you’re working here illegally, you won’t be given Costa Rican minimum wage or worker protections.

There just aren’t as many different opportunities here as there are say, in California, Texas, or New York. There are call centers, hotels, and more jobs in the city of San Jose…but almost nobody moves here to work in San Jose.

Making money can be more difficult here for a number of reasons…legally or otherwise.

It’s…not a place to hide.
I become confused when Americans think Costa Rica is a place to hide from rules, from social progress, from socialism. Costa Rica is very socialist, and gay marriage is now legal here, and I’m seeing more doctors who are willing to perform hormone therapy for trans individuals.

While I’m not saying it’s some kind of perfect utopia, I am saying that this is not the place if you’re trying to relive the 80s or step into some fantasy Wild West land where you can do whatever you want.

Costa Rica is not a good place to hide from social progress. It is, and has been, a peaceful country. There’s no army, and this country has always placed importance on education, healthcare, and the environment…and collaboration, meaning, yes, they are likely to have vaccine mandates.

Once Americans realize they cannot hide here, and have to deal with the same kinds of changes regarding sexism, racism, gender expression, and sexual orientation, they might leave.

Money, cultural misunderstandings and differences, and a kind of longing for a lawless or nostalgia for a more conservative world are some reasons I see expats changing their mind regarding Costa Rica.

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