Exclusive Interview with Rich Pearson of Upwork.com about digital nomads and virtual work for expats.
Don't fall victim to the misconception that living in Costa Rica is cheap - it's not, although you certainly can enjoy a beautiful, comfortable lifestyle at much less than living in the U.S. or Canada.
So, please forgive me if I'm always bringing our conversation back to the pragmatic by giving you insight and resources into working and making a living from Costa Rica.
Today, we'll take a big step towards that because I have an exclusive interview with Rich Pearson of Upwork.com, the world's biggest virtual work platform. Throughout this 30+ -minute interview, Rich shares his vision on being a digital nomad, working virtually from Costa Rica (or anywhere), and how Upwork can help. He also talks about how the rise of technology and globalization has empowered expats like never before.
Great stuff for any expat who is serious about moving down to Costa Rica and still needs to work!
And don't forget that I put a huge amount of resources at your fingertips with the Special Report on Working & Earning Income from Costa Rica.
Enjoy the time with Rich Pearson of Upwork and contact me if you need anything!
We've covered a lot of big, important topics in regards to your move to Costa Rica like finding housing, working, visa, and health insurance. So, now it's time to start getting into the nuts and bolts of less noticeable items on your checklist. For instance, what to do with your mail back in the U.S. or your home country once you move? Can you easily receive mail in Costa Rica? What about shipping things privately?
Let's get into those nuts and bolts:
Your mail back home:
You’ll want to go online with as many bills, payments, and accounts as possible, but still there will be some correspondence that needs to be physically mailed to a U.S. or home country address.
There are services that will accept mail on your behalf, open it and scan it, but they are really expensive.
The best way to go is to change your official address back home to a family member or close friend’s residence. Assure them that you won’t be getting too much mail and ask them (or pay them!) to open your mail, take a quick digital photo of whatever letters look important, and email those photos to you.
In exchange, you can put them up at your house or apartment when they come visit you in Costa Rica!
Maybe you simply file a change of address to your new registered address back home before you head down to Costa Rica, but remember that this means the kind person helping you will receive a flood of junk mail, offers, catalogs, and other undesirable paper. So I just canceled my mail at my old address and did an official address change only through the few entities that are important to get mail from (right now that’s IRS, health insurance, and cell phone carrier for me).
I still use a home address of a friend in the U.S. for all my official mail, and it works great.
Sending and receiving mail in Costa Rica:
People don’t rely much on the national post system in Costa Rica for a good reason! There is no reliable home delivery mail service. In fact, most Ticos don’t even have real addresses, just directions like “500 meters south of the church and 200 meters west of the school.” If you want to get mail, you need to go to the local Costa Rican post office and get a box for around $8-12 a year, called ‘apartado.’
However, if you do go for this option, you will need to wait, as many locations require a one-year waiting period before you are able to sign up for the box.
Mail from the U.S. or abroad:
Mail from the United States takes about three weeks to a month so make sure you set up all your bills online, and you have a good Internet banking system in place before moving!
U.S. and other military veterans living in Costa Rica are required to have a mailbox so they can receive official and important documents. The most efficient and cost effective way to get things to you and back home is still to pack stuff with friends who are coming or going! Choose folks who are reliable, but if you start asking around, there are always friends and friends of friends coming down to Costa Rica for a vacation soon.
Politely ask if they carry a few things down for you. If your stuff is heavy, pay their luggage fees for any extra weight.
There are a few options for private shipping companies:
• Jetbox, Aerocasillas and Mailboxes Etc. charge for ownership of a US-based PO Box
• When you want to send something just send it to your PO box in the U.S. and they’ll receive it
• One charge for shipping from the PO box to Costa Rica, and very low base rate per month
• Cheaper option charges higher monthly price with unlimited free shipping option
• The whole process takes less than two weeks
• FedEx, UPS, and DHL are efficient but very expensive, $100 per 2lb package
Finding work once you move down to Costa Rica may not be easy. Many of the unskilled or non-specialized jobs pay Tico-level wages, so you'll be competing with the locals and working way too hard (for too little) to enjoy your new home.
Therefore, opening your own business may be the best path to earning money.
In part one of this blog, I covered a few tips on opening a business and business planning.
Here are some more tips and notes on opening a business in Costa Rica:
To do it properly, I encourage you to take your time, study the area, the market for your services and the competition, talk to a lot of business owners, network with the right locals and expats, and build a super conservative business plan.
Owning a business can be a supreme headache in Costa Rica if you’re not prepared and don’t have the right, trustworthy people on board. But once you’ve carved out your niche and done all the hard work to get the doors open and promote your business, it can bear huge fruit, giving you the opportunity not only to live in paradise but also make great money at the same time!
First, you’ll need to secure an employer that will sponsor you in the process. You’ll have to demonstrate that you are filling a position that a Tico does not have the technical expertise to fill. Common work visa fields include: health care, IT, biotech, and international business. Don’t just jump into opening a business and start spending money (because you’ll never stop!). Instead, do plenty of research and get to know the area, the market, your competition, the logistics, and even seasonal changes.
The vacation rental business has several key aspects: marketing, reservations, housekeeping, maintenance, concierge services, transportation, and bookkeeping.
Will your business cater to Ticos or tourists and foreigners? There’s a huge difference in how you market, how you do business, and even how you run your day-to-day operations.
If you decide to open the doors to a business that’s looking to attract Ticos, recognize that most of the country’s purchasing power is located in the Central Valley. A total of 75% of the country’s population resides in the central provinces of San José, Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago. About 60% of the population is under 30 years old. Intelligent business people target this demographic.
But, you’ll have to seriously adapt your idea due to the vagaries of the local market and different purchasing power. Don’t get any grandiose ideas since the country only has about 4.5 million people and a quarter the people are below the poverty line with little or no purchasing power. You cannot expect to market products on a large scale as in North America.
So, for many foreigners it’s easier and far more lucrative to set up a business that targets tourists as their demographics, which usually means being located in the heart of these tourist zones. With the huge influx of tourism into Costa Rica every year, restaurants, hotels, scuba diving outfits, fishing and boat tours, 4WD and motorbike excursions and rentals, and starting just about any other tour company are all great viable options for new businesses.
Starting an Internet-based business that targets a U.S. and Canadian market will greatly increase your chances of success here. For example, I know a couple of Americans who started Spanish schools that bring groups of students here. I know a Canadian who founded an online newspaper. Another friend started a cell phone rental service for tourists.
Whatever you do, don’t expect to strike it rich. With luck, you can make a good living and enjoy an amazing quality of life in Costa Rica!
The results are in!
Thank you, everyone who took the time to participate in my survey about moving to Costa Rica - the response was huge and I really appreciate it!
Now that I've crunched the numbers and read your responses, it also gives me a greater insight into who you are, why you're looking to move down to Costa Rica, and what needs, challenges and resources I can help with.
And the best part is that one of you is going to win a $25 Visa card, as promised! (So scroll down to the end if you want to see if it was you.)
Here are the results of the survey and my quick notes (with little colorful surfboards attached):
It looks like most of you are either gung ho about moving to Costa Rica ASAP (28% within one year) or just thinking about it in the future with no definite time (44%).
About a third of you are set on moving to Costa Rica, a third of you are considering other countries, and a third aren't sure at all!
Surprisingly, the largest group (54%) of people considering moving down to Costa Rica have never been there!
While there are a lot of retirees (54%) moving down to Costa Rica, a good number of you (25%) are looking to semi-retire or just live a slower pace of life when it comes to work.
To that point, only a third of respondents say that they definitely will have to work and earn income when they move to Costa Rica, while 29% aren't sure and 38% won't.
Lifestyle is the biggest attraction to moving to Costa Rica, followed by the lower cost of living, its proximity to the US or home, and healthcare. Interestingly, Costa Rica's natural beauty is only the fifth most prominent reason for moving there.
Figuring out the visa situation is your biggest concern, followed by the language barrier if you don't speak Spanish, and then, how you'll make a living. If you ask me, earning income and making a living should be the #1 concern!
How can I best help you with your move down to Costa Rica? You want accurate information on living expenses, the visa and residency situation, buying or renting real estate, where to move in Costa Rica, and any possible safety issues.
Oh yeah, the $25 Visa gift card. Thanks for reminding me!
After a random drawing, I'm happy to announce that...
Jeff Crispell is the winner! Jeff - just email me to claim your $25 gift card.
This week, the U.S. will be celebrating their Independence Day - July 4th. For those of you who are moving down to Costa Rica, you may be wondering how the holiday is celebrated in this country, if at all.
The good news is that Ticos and American expats alike rock out for July 4th! In fact, the U.S. Embassy in San Jose throws a HUGE party every year for all U.S. passport holders and their families and friends, and many bars, restaurants, and social clubs around the country do the same. Called "The American Colony Committee," it's grown so big that they hold it in a local park and the festivities start on the 3rd, culminating with star-spangled fireworks.
The event includes plenty of games, bands, historical reenactments, and, of course, beer and hot dogs!
In the spirit of friendship and partnership, I've found Ticos to be really supportive and even excited to celebrate the United States Independence Day.
I first went to my U.S. Embassy party as far back as 1999 and had a blast then, and it's still a fun and fantastic patriotic event.
Here are a few photos (from the Tico Times and other sources) to show you more. Have fun and celebrate the 4th safely, no matter where you are!
The Official Expat,
I received an encouraging email this week from a really nice U.S. surgeon who is looking far ahead to his eventual retirement or semi-retirement and strongly considering Costa Rica as his best option. Already having purchased the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook, he was kind enough to reach out to compliment the info it contained, but also see if I had any extra or parting nuggets of advice for him.
Off the top of my head and considering his circumstances, this is what I emailed him back. Of course, everyone is different, but this is one to grow on, as they say, as you start planning your move down to Costa Rica, too!
1. Think about spending part of the year in Cost Rica and part of the year back in the States. Even though it’s paradise, for me, the rainy season can become a slog of wetness and mosquitos haha. It's also nice to get back to the U.S. and see family, friends, and do some shopping/paperwork/banking, etc. I think that balance allows me to appreciate both even more!
2. Be VERY careful when it comes to finances. I’m making a broad assumption that you’re comfortable financially, and while that will afford you many opportunities in Costa Rica, it can also potentially make you a target. Stay low-key and be careful, as there are scams and hustlers everywhere, and far too many expats move down and start shelling out huge chunks of money in real estate deals or to open businesses, only to go belly-up and lose a portion of their precious nest egg.
3. Do some charity work – either here in Costa Rica or in neighboring Nicaragua, where they REALLY need it. I find that living in Costa Rica or abroad is great, but all of the sunshine and good times won’t mean anything without a PURPOSE or MEANING to our lives, including the inherent human need to be connected and part of something bigger than ourselves.
Too many expats go abroad and just become lost or depressed because they lack those things and just start drinking every day or withdrawing. Getting involved and helping those in need is the most positive, effective way to counter that!
Those are my two cents (three cents?) since you were nice enough to reach out.
Please read through the handbook at your leisure and then contact me any time so we can chat or answer your additional questions!
Living in Costa Rica is a wonderful daydream, but without a practical plan to make income and earn a living, it remains just that - wishful thinking.
Here’s the good news for all you 9-to-5’ers and corporate slaves out there: the dream is possible. You CAN travel or live anywhere in the world and take your job with you, still making money in the U.S. (or your home country) virtually.
I’m not going to blow sunshine at you at tell you that it’s easy, as it may take a lot of research, planning, and hard work. But it IS possible to live your life by a beach, or on top of a mountain, in a foreign country and still make a living. They even have a name for these new virtual workers – Digital Nomads.
Advances in technology and the prevalence of freelance job portals online like Fiverr.com, Freelancer.com, and Upwork.com have made working virtually easier than ever. In fact, people have been doing it for years, and a U.S. Census report shows that the number of people who work virtually or from home has soared by 41% in the past decade.
The prevalence of virtual and online work has also set us free (geographically speaking) to live abroad or travel like never before, with an estimated 6 million U.S. citizens live overseas. I’m seeing more and travelers and expats working virtually from their laptops, making just enough money to keep their dream alive (especially in some countries where living expenses may be much lower), while others bring in $10,000 or even $20,000 or more every month working virtually.
So, whether you are a stay-at-home mom looking for side work, a college student who wants to backpack around Europe and still make some money, or a 9-5 burnout who gives it all up and lives abroad to be a beach bum (like me), the dream is alive and well.
In part one of this series, I covered 10 of the 50 virtual jobs you can do from the beach (in Costa Rica or anywhere you choose!).
Here are the next 10 jobs you can do from the beach in Costa Rica:
4. Web developer
This is one of the most common live-and-work-abroad jobs, and it does take a technical knowledge of web-building code and platforms, of course, but you can teach yourself or learn online.
9. Video producer and editor
Produce videos for corporations, non-profits, or entertainers.
11. On-line post-secondary teachers
There is a growing trend of online universities, colleges, and also high schools. Additionally, there are a lot of online teaching portals like Udemy.
13. Virtual tax preparer
You can prepare those pesky income tax returns over your laptop.
15. Data entry
Menial and unfulfilling, but who cares if you can do it by the beach?
20. Outside sales
Many sales jobs can be done via the Internet, phone, fax, Skype, etc. and are based solely on commission.
27. Graphic artist
Every company needs a logo, infographic, or other artwork.
36. Educational tutoring
Tutor children in after school programs or learning centers, or college kids in specific subjects.
Manage the books and accounting for any business - from the beach.
50. Life coach
Life coaching and the personal self-help industry is doing huge business, and what better mentor than someone living the dream from the beach in Costa Rica?!
Please note that these are just a sample of the jobs you can do virtually, so by no means is this list exhaustive.
Likewise, there are plenty of jobs you can pick up IN Costa Rica that are popular with foreigners, and many multi-national companies (like resorts!) located in the land of pura vida that are ready to hire.
You’ll find actual listings of these companies, more information on jobs you can do virtually, a special interview I did with the Founder of FlexJobs.com, tips on work visas, and other hacks in the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook's Special Report.
It's a tiny investment if you're serious about moving to Costa Rica but need to keep earning income!
The Official Expat,
How are you doing with your move to Costa Rica?
I thought I'd check in with you this week and see where you're at with your move to Costa Rica. My intention when I wrote the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook was to provide as much information, value, and help as possible to folks who are considering making the move down here to the sunny and beautiful land of pura vida.
So, the best way for me to do that is to get your feedback with this super quick survey. I promise that it will only take a minute or two and just by submitting it, you'll be automatically eligible to win a $25 VISA card in a random drawing!
Thanks again - and if there's anything at all you'd like me to write about or help you with, don't hesitate to drop me a line!
The Official Expat,
When I first moved to Costa Rica, I noticed that daily life revolved around the beaches. We really don’t need much – just simple accommodations, local food and perhaps a cold Imperial beer or two. As long as we can hit the beach every day to swim, surf or hang out with friends, life is good.
In fact, the beaches are packed first thing in the morning right at sunrise when everyone, young and old, takes strolls, runs, does yoga, walks their dogs and, of course, surfs. Again at sunset, there is a second majestic communal experience where everyone in town comes out to the beach to do it all over again.
So which beach is the best in Costa Rica?
Luckily, there isn’t one “right” answer, as there are so many beautiful beaches in Costa Rica that visitors have plenty to choose from.
Do you like seclusion? Great surf waves? Wildlife and rustic nature? A great place to chill, swim, and eat for the afternoon? Or a party-like atmosphere on your beaches?
No matter what, there’s a strip of sand (or ten!) with your name on it in Costa Rica.
We’ll go over our list of best beaches in Costa Rica (although this is completely subjective) and also some hidden gems.
Here is my list of best beaches in Costa Rica (in no particular order):
Manuel Antonio National Park
• Four beaches within the park - Manuel Antonio, Playita, Escondito, and Espadilla Sur
• Great surf surrounded by pristine natural beauty and white-sand beaches
• Daily visitation is limited as two are free public beaches, so be sure to get there early, especially if you go during high season
• The “whale tale” is one of the most hidden beaches in Costa Rica
• You can only walk out on the “tale” at low tide, as it’s submerged at high tide
• Very chill palm tree-lined white sand beaches with waterfalls nearby
• Paradise for hiking, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking Playa Tamarindo
• One of the most balanced and beautiful beach areas in Costa Rica, with something for everyone – tourists, surfers, nature enthusiasts and partyers
• Playa Tamarindo is a great long strip of beach, but there are some amazing smaller and more secluded beaches close by Playa Grande
• Located in Las Baulas National Park
• Great surf spot
• Tide pools to explore at low tide
• You can find nesting the endangered leatherback sea turtle
• Across the estuary from Tamarindo and many people wade, swim or paddle across, but look out for crocodiles! You can take a local transit boat across for cheap instead
• Great surf
• Recommend stopping at Lola’s Beach Bar, which is named after a famous pet pig that hangs out around the beach Malpais, Playa Santa Teresa, Santa Teresa
• Sits at the southwestern cusp of the Nicoya Peninsula, opposite Montezuma
• Enough commercial activity to provide creature comforts, but still tranquil and authentic
• Great surfing, stand up paddle boarding, snorkeling
• Scores of great beaches in the area Cahuita, Cahuita National Park
• Caribbean white sand beach area east of the small town
• Great coral reef for diving and snorkeling
• The beaches along the western side near the main entrance to the park are often crowded, but you will find more tranquil coast on the east
• Beautiful coastline with mangroves, estuaries and tropical forest
• Visit Playa Grande and Playa las Manchas right outside of Montezuma
• Great chill bohemian beach town with just enough nightlife
• Located at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula opposite of Malpais
• Montezuma Falls is a three-tiered waterfall nearby Playa Gandoca in Manzanillo
Playa Gandoca-Manzanillo, Gandoca- Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
• Located within the wildlife refuge
• March through April, (during the dry season,) is the best time to visit
• Perfect spot for snorkeling
• Great for dolphin and manatee sightings Cano Island, Corcovado Bay
• Protected biological reserve ten miles off the Osa Peninsula
• White-sand, palm-lined beaches, and fantastic coral reefs
• A must-see for nature lovers - tons of pristine wildlife, including dolphins and whales
• Great spot for snorkeling and SCUBA Tortuguero
• Caribbean beach near the national park famous for its rain forests and waterways
• Toruguero is one of the most vital green turtle breeding grounds in Costa Rica
• Large and diverse amount of rare birds, monkeys, crocs and fish here
Playa Cocles, Playa Cocles, Puerto Viejo
• Surf town with a charming Afro-Caribbean vibe
• Some of the best waves in Costa Rica
• Awesome black sand beach, or playa negra
• Beach bars and restaurants along the coast
• Easy access to the nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge and Cahuita National Park
More hidden gems among Costa Rica’s beaches: Playa Guiones, Nosara
• Great surf spot
• Very little development so bring what you need for the day Playa Virador,
• The beach is public, but there are no facilities available to visitors
unless you stay at the Four Seasons
Playa Potrero, Guanacaste
• Snorkeling, SCUBA, kayaking
• If you choose to stay the night there, you can easily access the nearby Palo Verde Natural Reserve and Santa Rosa National Park for a change of scene Playa Arcos
• Located in Marino Ballena National Park
• Most easily accessed via La Cusinga Ecolodge, where you can find the start of a trail down to the beach
• Surrounded by lush jungle
Playa Ventanas, Ojochal
• Located near the village of Ojochal, where you can get access to the beach by paying a few dollars to a local family to use their farm for parking
• There are two sea caves near the beach that you can explore at low tide
Playa Barrigona, North of Sámara Playa Carrillo, South of Playa Sámara Isla de Caño
• Located 10 miles off the Osa Peninsula
• You can reach the Island by boat tour
• Great spot for SCUBA and snorkeling Playa Cocalito
• A short hike from Drake Bay through lush jungle
• Great place for monkey sightings Papagayo Peninsula
• Home to two of the best beaches, Playa Blanca and Playa Virador
• The Four Seasons hotel controls access to both beaches, but they are technically open to the public if you are willing to hike to reach them
• Southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula
• Warm, clear water
• You can access the Islas via boat tour from Montezuma Playa Matapalo
• Located between Manuel Antonio and Dominical
• Gorgeous sunsets
• Playa Ventanas (Playa Grande)
• Located just north of Playa Grande Punta Uva
• Near Puerto Viejo, five miles west just off the main road
• Less development and tourism than Puerto Viejo
• Gorgeous coral reef Esterillos
• Located between Manuel Antonio and Jacó
• Very little development
• Located on the Nicoya Peninsula
• Rarely visited
• Here you can find mass nesting sites for sea turtles between August and November
• Playa Biesanz
• Located in Manuel Antonio in Punta Quepoa
• The beach can be reached by a short trail near the Hotel Parador
• Less touristy than the other beaches of Manuel Antonio
If you want to discover Costa Rica's beaches, the best places visit, and the top locations for expats, check out the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
I keep getting emails from all of you awesome folks asking about healthcare in Costa Rica. This week, that conversation goes in-depth with health insurance options for expats.
The great news is that Costa Rica has a fantastic healthcare system that's accessible to locals and foreigners alike (in part). And more and more people are going down to Costa Rica just to get a procedure or surgery, which would cost them way too much or be impossible to get in the U.S. (Canadians have that covered!)
Even if you’re not an official resident and therefore don’t qualify for Caja, you have other options for great healthcare in Costa Rica. Many expats and visitors opt for a combination of Caja, private pay and also keep their U.S. health insurance coverage to patch together the best possible medical coverage.
Here are a few other options outside of Caja:
INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros)
INS offers medical insurance autonomous of Caja. It’s a group plan offered by the Association of Residents of Costa Rica. It’s a government- run private plan (you’ll never see that in the U.S.!) that is available to legal residents or non-residents who pay into the system. If you sign up with INS, you’ll have access to about 200 affiliated doctors, hospitals, labs, and pharmacies throughout Costa Rica.
However, it does have a limit of $17,500 per year for treatment costs and does not cover pre-existing conditions or routine check-ups. INS pays out 80% of the cost for prescription drugs, examinations, doctor visits, hospitalization and treatment and 100% of surgeons’ and anesthetists’ fees.
The costs for NIS range from $60-$130 per month based on gender, age, and other health factors.
International health insurance policies:
If you’re not yet a resident of Costa Rica or will be going back and forth to the U.S. or traveling to other countries frequently, you might want to check out your options with international health insurance.
There are a handful of companies that offer insurance plans that will cover you anywhere you go in the world – including Costa Rica. Unlike the INS option that has an annual premium cap of $17,500 and excludes preexisting conditions, most worldwide health insurance plans cover up to a $2 million up to a $5 million lifetime limit.
The premiums might be a little higher than you’ll pay with INS or Caja, but they usually cover far more and offer greater flexibility. Just bear in mind they may reduce your premiums if you specify that you’ll only need coverage in certain countries.
For instance, most of them will still cover you when you go back to the U.S. (we exclude Canadians from this conversation because they have their health insurance all set up!) as long as it’s for 30 days or less. Plans do differ so check out some of the biggest international health insurance providers like Bupa International Insurance.
None – be your own insurance company:
With the sky-high cost of medical treatment in the U.S., it’s ingrained in us that we need a health insurance plan at all times to cover our medical needs. However, some expats choose not to carry medical insurance in Costa Rica at all.
Instead, the logic goes that they can just save the cost of the monthly premium in their own savings account, and have it there to pay for any private medical care if needed since the cost of health care is so reasonable in Costa Rica.
While I’d still never recommend going without some major medical plan in case of serious accidents, sudden sickness, and hospitalizations, but for expats who are in great health and have significant savings as a safety net, this is a viable option.
Again, I wouldn’t recommend this long term and maybe look at travelers insurance or something temporary so that you have base coverage on your way to establishing residency and Caja.
U.S. based health insurance:
Some U.S. citizens that move to Costa Rica choose to keep their U.S. based health insurance coverage, whether that comes from Medicare, our government-run healthcare system, from a spouse, or an old employer.
They may pay out of pocket for basic care in Costa Rica like doctor’s checkups and dental cleanings, but then go back to the U.S. for more major care or procedures.
If you have affordable health insurance – maybe subsidized with credits so the monthly premiums are low – you may want to keep this option and just get annual medical care taken care of when you make the trip back to the states periodically.
But, for most expats that don’t have affordable care taken care of back home, this might not be a great long-term choice.
The healthcare conversation is SO important for expats or visitors in Costa Rica, and I have lots of great, invaluable information for you in the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
Don't miss the #1 resource for moving to Costa Rica and living the dream here.
Download for free here.