Want to work virtually from Costa Rica and still make big money? Check out this exclusive interview with Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs.com
The dream is to live on a white sand beach in Costa Rica, but to do that, you still need to make a living.
There are many ways to earn a healthy income while living in Costa Rica, but my favorite is to still work virtually from the U.S. or Canada, where you’ll enjoy time flexibility, higher wages, and you’ll never have to change out of your flip flops for business shoes again.
In order to bring you a rare inside look from one of the world’s authorities on virtual work, I had the honor of personally interviewing Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of Flexjobs.com.
I hope Ms. Sutton Fell’s insight and wisdom answers a lot of your questions and encourages you to build your virtual career!
Norm Schriever from CRexpat.com: Sara, how would you define virtual or stay-at-home careers?
Sara Sutton Fell: Virtual or stay-at-home careers include a wide variety of terms that all come to the same conclusion —a job where your primary place of work is NOT a traditional office, but your home office. Other terms that essentially mean the same thing include telecommuting, virtual job, telework, and remote job.
CRexpat: Do you see a rise in virtual careers?
Sara Sutton Fell: Absolutely!
As technology makes it easier and easier for people to work from a variety of locations away from the office, virtual careers are becoming more popular and more mainstream. According to the Telework Research Network, there has been a 60% increase in the number of people telecommuting for work since 2005. At FlexJobs, we’ve seen the number of open telecommuting and flexible job listings increase over 50% since the end of 2011 and now, going from around 7,000 active listings to 14,800 currently.
CRexpat: What is the best way to go about finding these jobs?
Sara Sutton Fell: Of course, we think FlexJobs is a pretty great resource!
Unlike other job search websites, FlexJobs specializes in finding, screening, and listing only telecommuting and flexible jobs, and we pre-screen every job and employer before adding them to our site.
No matter where a job seeker searches for virtual or telecommuting jobs, they should know to use keywords like telecommuting, virtual job, and remote job. Phrases like “work from home” and “work at home” are commonly associated with scams.
CRexpat: What is the biggest mistake people make or pitfall in getting a virtual job?
Sara Sutton Fell: The biggest mistake people can make when looking for virtual work is to not pay attention to the scams in this niche. While many legitimate at-home jobs do exist, there are a huge number of scams out there, so job seekers need to stay alert and educate themselves on those scams and how to spot them.
At FlexJobs, we help job seekers identify the legitimate, professional- level virtual jobs amid all the scams. Our team of job researchers scour hundreds of job listings every day to weed out scams and find the legitimate listings, which get posted on our site for job seekers to view.
CRexpat: Can you give us a little more information on that?
Sara Sutton Fell: Some examples for job seekers to steer clear of scams: Jobs that sound too good to be true, that promise easy money for no work, that ask you to “invest” or pay to get the job, that require wire transfers through Western Union, or that just sound “off” should be avoided
CRexpat: Where/who are your employers?
Sara Sutton Fell: We have over 3,300 employers with open job postings on our site, and over 20,000 who have posted jobs in the past. They are large and small, from Fortune 500 companies to start- ups and nonprofits.
We mainly have employers from throughout the United States, and we also have companies based in Canada, Australia, the UK, and other international locations. Some of the most widely recognized names of employers who use FlexJobs to recruit virtual job seekers include: IBM, Capital One, AT&T, Rosetta Stone, the IRS, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, TripAdvisor.com, and Kelly Services.
CRexpat: And where are your clients?
Sara Sutton Fell: Like our employers, our job seekers are located throughout the United States, with some living internationally as well. According to a survey we did last year, 77% say they live near a big city, and California (11.7%), Colorado (7.7%), and Texas (6.6%) had the most respondents, though we do have job seekers from all 50 states.
CRexpat: What advantages do job seekers get by using your company?
Sara Sutton Fell: To put it simply, we make searching for a legitimate virtual job easier, faster, and safer.
Because our team of job researchers is doing the hardest work for our job seekers -- spending hundreds of hours every week searching for, screening, and verifying virtual job listings -- our members can spend the majority of their job search time crafting excellent applications, rather than scouring through hundreds of job listings every day.
On FlexJobs, job seekers have access to thousands of pre-screened, legitimate, and professional-level telecommuting and flexible jobs, as well as our Company Database where they can research thousands of employers who offer telecommuting and flexible jobs, and our Community area with hundreds of articles, videos, and advice columns to help their job search and career development.
FlexJobs is the leading job search service of our kind, and we are 100% dedicated to our job-seeking members.
CRexpat: Thank you, Sara - and I'm sure all of the people living in Costa Rica and working virtually would love to thank you, too!
Ready for more life-changing insights that will help you move down to Costa Rica, find virtual work, and start living again?
Go to CRexpat.com for the full handbook.
You’ll probably guess that my favorite thing about living in Costa Rica is being right by the beach, where I can swim, play, and (try to) surf endlessly. Or, it could be the perfect tropical climate, with sunshine every day and gentle sea breezes at night.
A more practical person might even surmise that it’s living in paradise for about half the cost of the United States.
Don’t get me wrong; all of these things are wonderful. Every day, I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in a place where other people come for vacation.
But for me, none of those are the best part of living in Costa Rica. You might laugh when I tell you because it seems like such a small thing.
My favorite thing about living here is walking through town each morning, saying hello to people.
I'm an early riser (the roosters help with that), and the first thing I do is throw on my swim shorts, slip on my flip flops, and take a stroll down to the beach.
This early, the sun is just starting to peak over the palm trees and warm the dirt roads. But there are already a lot of people out, like me. I say hi to them all.
Every morning, I pass the same abuela – grandmother - sweeping in her front yard, and we exchange a friendly “Buenos dias.”
I see the same surfers walking barefoot to the beach, their board balanced under one arm, and we acknowledge each other’s presence with a simple nod.
A talkative expat from New York walks his Chocolate Labrador on the same route every morning, and I stop to pet him (the dog – not the expat!)
I always stop by my favorite coffee shop, Saritas, for a few laughs and updates on the village gossip before I fill my mug and keep walking. I pass the nice French couple that just opened a dive shop, the young teacher from San Francisco on her way to school, and the Tico farmers in their fruit truck, selling ripe mangos, bananas, and coconuts. Finally, I make it to the beach.
There are people jogging on the cool sand, kids splashing in the waves, and surfers paddling out to catch the next set. People walk their dogs, drink their coffee, and sit on lawn chairs, watching the ends of their fishing poles for signs of a nibble.
I greet everyone I run into, whether by stopping and chatting, a quick hello, or just with a warm smile.
It’s comforting to know that these people are always here; always around me; like a big family.
I’m part of their lives, just like they’re part of mine, and it feels like we all belong here.
Maybe that’s the sense of community and oneness that has slowly slipped away in modern U.S. life?
Either way, THAT’S my favorite part of living in Costa Rica!
For you, it probably will be something different.
Or, most likely, you’ll have 100 favorite things and can’t decide which one is most endearing.
And I’d love to hear about them!
The Moving to Costa Rica Handbook
The daydream is a familiar one; you’re sitting on a white sand beach by the crystal-clear ocean, a soft tropical breeze blowing as you sip your third piña colada and finish up the day’s work (which only consumed a few hours) just in time for the dazzling sunset.
Unfortunately, then you always wake up, shackled to your desk inside a corporate cubicle, your boss droning on about how you forgot to put a cover sheet on your TPS report, so he needs you to come in to work on Saturday. And someone stole your red stapler. Again.
Sure, living in Costa Rica (or anywhere that’s warm, fun, and has nice beaches!) is a wonderful daydream, but without a practical plan to make income, it remains just that.
But here’s the good news for all you 9-to-5’ers 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.
Here are just 10 of the 50 virtual or online jobs you can do from the beach (in Costa Rica or anywhere you choose!):
Writing content for media, websites, customer outreach or marketing content, or just about any business blog. Additionally, you can write your own books, special reports, or guides and sell them virtually.
3. Virtual call center/Customer service representative
As long as you have a phone and a headset (or a computer) you can take calls anywhere in the world. In fact, the Business Process Outsourcing industry (call centers) is one of the fastest growing jobs in places like the Philippines.
Virtual medical care is a rapidly growing field.
14. Chat support
More and more companies are moving away from phone support once they see the convenience and economical savings of offering live chat support for customers, which you can do from anywhere!
18. Medical billing
One of the work-from-home stalwarts, you can organize medical billing records for doctor’s offices.
21. Virtual assistant
A lot of busy business people don’t want to hire a full-time assistant in-house, so they outsource daily tasks to a virtual assistant.
24. Affiliate marketing
You can promote other peoples’ goods or services on your website or blog, and when users click on your links and purchase something, you get a commission. In fact, affiliate marketing gurus like Tim Schmidt of Affiliate U and Ice Cold Marketing not only make some serious coin but are nice enough to share their systems and teach others how to do it. You can find out more here.
33. Facebook and Instagram ads manager
The hottest thing in online and social media marketing right now is the use of paid ads and booted content to promote your brand or business. To do it right, there is an expertise involved, so companies will hire someone to manage tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in paid ads.
37. Language teacher
Believe it or not, knowing English well is a commodity, and these days you can teach English via your laptop anywhere in the world (see profile at the end of this article).
49. Athletic trainer
Thanks to Skype, Facetime, and video conferencing, personal training has gone online, giving any trainer access to clients all over the world at any time, location independent. Likewise, the cost of personal training has become far more affordable thanks to this innovation.
Please note that these are just a sample of the jobs you can do virtually (I even know of a mortgage broker who works remotely with the help of a great team back home!) 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 real listings of these companies, more information on jobs you can do virtually, a special interview I did with the VP of Upwork when writing this guide, tips on work visas and other hacks, and much more here.
-The Official Expat,
How much will it cost you to live in Costa Rica?
The answer is, of course, “it depends,” because each expat, traveler or visitor has a different standard of living. Additionally, different areas within Costa Rica can be more or less expensive, and even the time of year (rainy vs. high season) can make costs fluctuate wildly.
I will say this: living in Costa Rica may not be as inexpensive as you may think. (Sorry!)
People often think that because it’s a Central American or tropical country that it must be a paradise where you can live like a king or queen for next to nothing, but that’s not the case anymore. International influences, the spread of resort-quality living and advances in local knowledge, skills and infrastructure have seen costs escalate in past years.
Then again, a lot of expats(try to) live like their on vacation, spending lavishly and spending money on things like adult beverages every single night (or day!)
The good news is that you can still live very well on a modest budget in Costa Rica with some planning and discipline.
For retirees that factor in things like healthcare costs, it can be far less expensive than living in the United States for a better standard of life.
Expenses vary widely depending on area and lifestyle, but here are some average monthly expenses for 2017-18:
Apartment (simple): $300 - $500
Condominium (larger or more luxurious): $600 - $900
House (2-3 bedroom): $500 - $1,200
Electricity (house): $75 - $200 depending on location and air conditioner use
Water/sewage (apartment): $12
Cable TV: $40
High-speed Internet (ADSL): $25
Cleaning service or a gardener for $2/hour or $200/month
Entertainment is very affordable with museum entrance or
concerts around $5
Import duties make it very expensive to import your car, probably best to buy locally
Consumer electronics are much cheaper in the US, bring them with you instead of buying in Costa Rica
Here is a survey of approximate costs in Costa Rica:
Basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district ≈ ₡ 4,375 ($8)
Combo meal in fast food restaurant (Big Mac Meal or similar) ≈ ₡ 3,572 ($7)
500 gr (1 lb.) of boneless chicken breast ≈ ₡ 2,127 ($3.90)
1 liter (1 qt.) of whole fat milk ≈ ₡ 709 ($1.30)
12 eggs, large ≈ ₡ 1,817 ($3.33)
1 kg (2 lb.) of tomatoes ≈ ₡ 1,071 ($1.96)
500 gr (16 oz.) of local cheese ≈ ₡ 2,097 ($3.84)
1kg (2lb.) of apples≈ ₡ 2,444 ($4.48)
1 kg (2 lb.) of potatoes ≈ ₡ 935 ($1.71)
0.5 liter (16 oz.) domestic beer in the supermarket ≈ ₡ 873 ($1.60)
1 bottle of red table wine, good quality ≈ ₡ 6,099 ($11)
2 liters of Coca-Cola ≈ ₡ 1,588 ($2.91)
Bread for 2 people for 1 day ≈ ₡ 704 ($1.29)
Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 square feet) furnished accommodation in EXPENSIVE area ≈ ₡ 588,758 ($1,078)
Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 square feet) furnished accommodation in NORMAL area ≈
₡ 339,203 ($621)
Utilities 1 month (heating, electricity, gas) for 2 people in 85 m2 flat (915 square feet) ≈
₡ 49,026 ($90)
Monthly rent for a 45 m2 (480 square feet) furnished studio in EXPENSIVE area ≈
₡ 499,000 ($914)
Monthly rent for a 45 m2 (480 square feet) furnished studio in NORMAL area ≈
₡ 242,077 ($443)
Utilities 1 month (heating, electricity, gas) for 1 person in 45 m2 (480 square feet) studio ≈ ₡ 40,838 ($75)
Internet (1 month) ≈ ₡ 23,681 ($43)
40” flat screen TV ≈ ₡ 278,957 ($511)
Microwave 800/900 Watt (Bosch, Panasonic, LG, Sharp, or equivalent brands) ≈
₡ 61,744 ($113)
Laundry detergent (3 l. ~ 100 oz.) ≈ ₡ 4,423 ($8)
Hourly rate for cleaning help ≈ ₡ 2,679 ($4.91)
1 pair of jeans (Levis 501 or similar) ≈ ₡ 37,335 ($68)
1 summer dress in a High Street Store (Zara, H&M or similar retailers) ≈ ₡ 32,545 ($60)
1 pair of sneakers (Nike, Adidas, or equivalent brands) ≈ ₡ 63,215 ($116)
1 pair of men’s leather business shoes ≈ ₡ 52,347 ($96)
Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI 140 CV (or equivalent), with no extras, new ≈ ₡ 11,780,900 ($21,579)
1 liter (1/4 gallon) of gas ≈ ₡ 605 ($1.11)
Monthly ticket public transport ≈ ₡ 18,679 ($34)
Taxi trip on a business day, basic tariff, 8 km (5 miles) ≈ ₡ 6,008 ($11)
Cold medicine for 6 days (Tylenol, Frenadol, Coldrex, or equivalent brands) ≈
₡ 3,587 ($7)
1 box of antibiotics (12 doses) ≈ ₡ 9,415 ($17)
Short visit to private Doctor (15 minutes) ≈ ₡ 41,657 ($76)
Deodorant, roll-on (50ml ~ 1.5 oz.) ≈ ₡ 2,694 ($4.93)
Hair shampoo 2-in-1 (400 ml ~ 12 oz.) ≈ ₡ 3,519 ($6)
4 rolls of toilet paper ≈ ₡ 1,552 ($2.84)
Tube of toothpaste ≈ ₡ 1,262 ($2.31)
Standard men’s haircut in expat area of the city ≈ ₡ 4,335 ($8)
Entertainment & Dining Out:
Basic dinner out for two in neighborhood pub ≈ ₡ 16,185 ($30)
2 tickets to the movies ≈ ₡ 5,835 ($11)
2 tickets to the theater (best available seats) ≈ ₡ 17,974 ($33)
Dinner for two at an Italian restaurant in the expat area including appetizers, main course, wine and dessert ≈ ₡ 33,574 ($61)
1 cocktail drink in downtown club ≈ ₡ 3,748 ($7)
Cappuccino in expat area of the city ≈ ₡ 2,086 ($3.82)
1 beer in neighborhood pub (500ml or 1pt.) ≈ ₡ 1,921 ($3.52)
iPod Nano 16GB ≈ ₡ 118,758 ($218)
1 min. of prepaid mobile tariff (no discounts or plans) ≈ ₡ 38 ($0.07)
1 month of gym membership in business district ≈ ₡ 35,333 ($65)
1 package of Marlboro cigarettes ≈ ₡ 1,924 ($3.52)
One last note for you: You'll find that you can fit your lifestyle to your budget, and STILL really enjoy yourself. A lot of the best aspects about life in Costa Rica - like going to the beach, enjoying nature, meeting great new people, and just experiencing the laid-back pura vida vibe - are FREE!
The Official Expat,
For more information on moving to Costa Rica, the cost of living there, and even how to get work and earn income as an expat, click here.
When I quit my job, sold my home and car and all of my possessions, and moved down to Costa Rica in 2011, it was pretty scary.
Actually, it was damn terrifying.
I had only been to my new adopted home town of Tamarindo once, knew only one friend there, had no job, limited savings, and didn't even know Spanish!
However, looking back all these years later, it was the best decision I ever made.
I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that things are always easy in Costa Rica. Life isn't perfect, even though it is a true natural paradise.
But, what seemed like monumental problems when I first moved there - stupid things like freaking out when the town had a blackout, trying to communicate with my baby Espanol, and surviving the rainy season all seem like romantic nostalgia now.
Each day that went by, I became happier, healthier, and more ME, for lack of a better description, like layers of an onion.
That's why I write a whole lot about moving to Costa Rica and started this website. Sure, I want to make a buck like everybody else (but this is just a very humble side job).
But, it's more important for me to share my passion of moving to Costa Rica - or anywhere that makes you happy - when you're feeling trapped, unfulfilled, depressed (and freezing cold!) in the United States or Canada.
I could go on and on because it really makes me happy to think that you may be following the same path, but I'll leave you with this:
If you're like me, I can promise you that in Costa Rica...
You will slow down.
Things will be simpler.
You'll enjoy the moments more.
You'll be healthier than you've ever been in your life.
You'll smile and laugh more.
You will find your "tribe" and make lifelong friends.
Your money will go much further.
Every day, you'll appreciate what you see and experience.
You'll feel alive!
Happiness will come from people, places, and experiences - not things.
You'll wake up thankful that you're in Costa Rica.
It will feel right.
The Official Expat
Every year, more and more U.S. citizens are moving south to Costa Rica.
Of course, the sunshine, natural beauty, and laid-back vibe are all big factors that pull them to the land of pura vida.
But, there are other factors in the United States that are pushing them south, and the stark reality of the economy - especially for retirees - is front and center among them.
The economy? Isn't it booming, with record stock prices, a hot housing market, and low unemployment. Yes. Sort of. For some people. For now.
However, the economic prognosis is not quite as rosy if we look big picture and long term, especially with the Baby Boomers leaving the workforce and entering their senior years at a rate of at least 10,000 per day through 2030!
So, today I wanted to bring in respected financial guru Jason Matthews, who was willing to share a few facts, stats, and analysis from his new book, The Age of $elf Reliance.
After seeing these, you'll realize that moving to Costa Rica may not just be about a better quality of life, but a financial necessity for many people.
The Official Expat
Excerpts from The Age of $elf Reliance by financial guru Jason Matthews:
I see the next financial downturn coming, again.
They called the Great Recession of 2008 a “once in a century” disaster but I believe that this next economic downturn will be even more disastrous than the last, ruining more lives and lasting far longer – a new American Depression, even.
This “new reality” is hitting a lot of people like a slap in the face or a punch in the gut. What is that new reality?
Quite simply, we’re spending more than we earn!
• 52% of Americans are spending more than they earn every month.
• 21% have regular monthly expenses that exceed their income.
• In fact, the average American spends $1.33 for every dollar earned.
• And 1 in 4 Americans has more debt than savings!
But the real fundamental reason why things will get harder and harder for the average American over the next twenty years is one that's not often talked about: our rapidly aging population.
In fact, Baby Boomers make up about 22.9% of our entire population, which is more than any other generation except for Millennials (24.5%). Remember, too, that there are another approximately 30 million Americans 70 years old plus, or 9.3% of our population.
Add them up and we’re looking at about 106 million Americans, or almost 35% of our entire population (well over one in three) that’s 52 and older!
Why is our aging population such a problem?
Guess what these ten thousand new seniors every day do on their 65th birthdays? They apply for Social Security (that can start at 62, actually), Medicare and Medicaid. So, instead of 100 million Americans paying into our system, paying taxes, etc., they'll suddenly stop contributing and start withdrawing funds.
Consider these facts about U.S. workers and retirement:
• Today, less than 7% of Americans have pensions. (Only 50% of employers even offer retirement plans, let alone match them.)
• As of 2017, the average American’s Social Security retirement benefit is only $1,363 per month, or $16,356 per year. But 43% of single retirees are counting on Social Security to cover 90% or more of their post-employment income.
• 31% – nearly one-third- of all non-retired adults have no retirement savings or pension at all. This isn’t just a post- Great Recession hangover, as that’s the same number that had zero retirement savings in 2017 as 2014.
• Of all non-retired adults ages 60 or older who are still working, about 14% still have nothing at all saved for retirement.
The shift in economic reality affects far more than our savings and retirement.
• Medical debt is choking us, too, as 60% of U.S. bankruptcies see medical bills as a significant factor for the financial insolvency.
• About 22% of Americans surveyed say that they have had an unexpected medical expense in the last year, which cost them $2,000 to $3,000 out of pocket.
As our population ages significantly and tens of thousands of Baby Boomers reach 65 every single day in the U.S, the healthcare burden is affecting Americans like never before—and will continue to grow more profound.
Can you now see why I brought Jason Matthews on board for this guest blog about the financial reality that will send some many retirees to live in Costa Rica?
If you have any financial questions, feel free to contact Jason directly at MatthewsFinancial@gmail.com
Or, you can purchase his book on Amazon and get much, much more - including startegies how the average person can best prepare for the coming financial storm.
“I’m thinking about moving to Costa Rica,” are words I see every day in emails, Facebook messages, and from people who have read my articles about life as an expat in that country.
“I want to move down to Costa Rica to live, buy a house, and open a business,” is the usual agenda, but their life-plan isn’t well thought out after that. I see a lot of people rushing into their big move, spurred on by visions of a stress-free, easy life on the beach. Their experience can either truly be “living the dream,” or a complete nightmare, based on what happens next.
Let’s break down that plan, with excerpts from my typical answers:
1. “I’m thinking about moving to Costa Rica.”
Costa Rica truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but what do you truly know about it? If you think all-day, everyday life there is sitting on a postcard-like beach, you might be shocked to hear that people actually have problems and challenges there, just like they do back home in your current life.
Of course, Costa Rica is a wonderful, healthy, and positive destination for many expats, but just make sure you think it through, do your homework, and prepare adequately for real life – not a rosy fantasy.
Fun Costa Rica fact:
The proper way to say 'Email' in Spanish is, 'Correo Electrónico.' But that's too long for everyone in Costa Rica, so they just call it.... 'email." Simple, huh?
2. “I want to establish residency/become a citizen.”
Establishing residency in Costa Rica can be an expensive and timely proposition (unless you marry a Tica!) So don’t worry about residency just yet — the country will grant you a 90-day tourist visa, so all you have to do is leave the country for a few days — or a few hours — after that (called the Border Shuffle), and come right back in on a new visa. You can still get a driver’s license and function just fine without residency, while still keeping your options open. Take your time and make sure it’s where you want to be before establishing residency.
3. “I want to live there [permanently].”
I recommend visiting for prolonged periods of time, first, to get to know the country, the different towns, the people, and the culture, before you commit to it. Start out with a month or two and go from there. If you really want to see what it’s like, go during their rainy season/low tourist season. Don’t treat your visit like a vacation, but instead, meet as many locals and expats who live there as possible, exploring different parts of the country.
No matter how beautiful Costa Rica may be, it’s always good to get back Stateside for a little bit every year to “recharge the batteries” seeing family, friends, enjoying cooler weather, etc. The best schedule I can imagine is splitting the year between Central America and the U.S., but that’s just me.
4. “I want to buy real estate.”
Err on the side of caution with buying real estate in Costa Rica, or any country. That’s good advice for someone in the U.S., as well if they don’t know the local market very well. To complicate things there can be issues with holding title, getting loans, etc. and it’s undeniable that there are pockets of ridiculously overpriced condominiums and projects plagued by HOA issues. Wait at LEAST a year before you even think about buying real estate. You can always find a nice, inexpensive place to rent, giving yourself time to learn the ropes.
5. “I want to open a business.”
Be careful. Too many people who want to move down to Costa Rica and open a business invest their life savings in it, only to become stress-cases and lose all of their money.
Sometimes you need a Costa Rican (Tico) on the paperwork for an official business, which could further complicate things. You need to see what it’s like in the low season, too, before making accurate projections on profitability.
1. Your jaw will hurt from smiling and laughing so much.
2. Traveling or living abroad, you’ll meet so many strange people who talk, dress, eat, play, and worship different than you’re used to. (Then again, they’ll think the same about you.) That means you'll have to be out of your comfort zone!
3. You’ll probably have to disconnect from technology more - letting your calls go to voicemail, putting down your smart phone, and logging off social media.
4. This will make it necessary to interact with actual real live human beings with alarming frequency. These interactions won’t just be a quick “hello” in line at a store or a word in passing at the office. No, you’ll have to sit down next to complete strangers and carry a whole genuine conversation for hours.
5. Everything is new, different, and uncomfortable when you travel or first move abroad. A lot of what you see and experience might force you to recalibrate your whole belief system.
6. You’ll have to face your fears at some point…like every single day.
7. You’ll find out that life is bigger than your To Do list, and all the structure, planning, and control you’ve been embracing isn’t nearly as important as you thought.
8. You’ll have to think long and hard about what you want out of your short time on this planet. Once you do that, you might not want to settle for your same mundane and unfulfilled life, which could lead to all sorts of unsettling changes.
9. You’ll have far less to complain about after traveling or living abroad. In fact, most of your problems won’t seem like real problems any more.
10. You’ll realize that most of the material stuff you’ve accumulated isn’t needed at all, and, in fact, is holding you back.
11. There will be way too many new friends from all over the globe who want to keep in touch. It takes a lot of time to maintain all those friendships. They might even want to visit you, and invite you to visit their home countries!
12. You might fall in love or even meet your soul mate – and they may live on the other side of the world - r in Costa Rica! How inconvenient!
13. You won’t always feel safe. It’s frightening to discover that safety is mostly a myth that we create and pereceive in our own minds.
14. Traveling will teach you that time is both an undefeatable opponent and your biggest ally.
15. Your ego will be shattered when you realize that you’re not special. In fact, you’re pretty damn insignificant. Traveling or living abroad will provide clarity that the only things that matter in life are how you treat people and if you leave the world better than you found it.
The Official Expat,
- Norm :-)
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Are you heading south to Costa Rica by yourself?
Good for you, as I firmly believe that’s the best way to travel. But, there will be challenges, loneliness, and unfamiliarity along the way, so here are some tips to help you acclimate to traveling alone, whether to Costa Rica or anywhere else in the world.
1. Understand that it’s a process
Traveling by yourself can be challenging; you’ll feel lonely and lost at times, but that’s just part of the process. Don’t expect it all to be perfect or fight the various feelings, just enjoy the opportunity to slow down and decompress. You’ll also find strength, resolve, and insight that you’ve never had. Consider the whole country or place you’re visiting as your playmate and your best friend! And I’m betting you do end up meeting some nice people along the way who become lifelong friends.
2. Reach out to family and friends
Once you know where you’re traveling and you start planning your trip, reach out to friends and coworkers to see if anyone knows someone in that country. You’d be surprised how many people have a friend, acquaintance, or family member who lives there or traveled there. They can either give you great tips and recommendations, or you’ll have the chance to meet locals. One thing I’ve learned is that hospitality is amazing in other countries. When you’re someone’s guest, they’ll invite you into their home, take you to meals and attractions, and spend so much time with you that you’ll wish you had some alone time!
A super way to meet nice people and build friendships is to volunteer. Do a little research ahead of time to find out what organizations, schools, and orphanages exist in that area, and reach out to them with an email. They might have meetings, social events, or of course opportunities to volunteer. You’ll meet plenty of amazing local people and other big-hearted travelers and volunteers.
4. Find the expat hangout
Every international city or town has a few bars, cafes, or restaurants that are favorites for expats. It’s easy to find them just by asking around, and you’ll have plenty of U.S. and English speaking people to talk to. In fact, they’ll probably talk your ear off with their life stories and woes, and you’ll be ready to get out of there and be solo again!
5. Practice the language
A big part of the feeling of the isolation when traveling solo comes from the language barrier. So learn a few important phrases like “hello, what’s your name, where are you from, etc.” and practice it with locals. Carry a phrasebook and practice with locals at your hotel, on the bus, and at restaurants. They’ll love it, and probably offer their friendship since you’re making an effort.
Almost everywhere in the world has a yoga studio or at least yoga classes. Even if you’re a beginner, you can jump in a class and get a good stretch. You’ll find that cool women and men from all over the world are doing yoga, and happy to get a bite to eat together or hangout after class.
7. Take a class
Likewise, take a language class, a cooking class, or a martial arts class to meet other travelers. Most tours of popular attractions jam a mini-bus full of tourists, which is good if you want to meet people.
8. Solo tours
There are plenty of cruises, resorts, and tour packages that cater to solo travelers. To keep the cost down, they’ll even match you with a roommate. Just ask about any solo travel supplements because they often charge individual travelers extra.
9. Explore the solo traveling websites. Here are just a few:
Singles Travel International is a roommate matching service for travelers.
AllSinglesTravel.com offers tours and cruises for singles and will find you a roommate.
Solo Travel Network features tales and tips from solo travelers as well as opportunities to network.
CouchSurfers.com also helps connect backpackers, travelers, and hosts.
AirBnb has special trips, deals, and events for travelers to connect.
10. Contact me! I'd be happy to say hi or connect you with friends and amigos in Costa Rica!
For more great tips on moving to Costa Rica, check out the Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook.
Safe travels - even if you're going solo!
Some people will move down to Costa Rica with plenty of savings and investments to maintain them the rest of their lives; others have businesses in the U.S. they can keep running, or other passive income sources.
However, most people will face the reality that, although the cost of living may be lower in Costa Rica, you still need to work and make money.
In the Special Report: Working, Earning Income, and Making a Living in Costa Rica, you'll get an incredible amount of information, advice, and even specific companies that are hiring in Costa Rica!
But, for now, let's cover some basics. The vast majority of expats that live in Costa Rica and work in-country find jobs in these fields:
• Teaching English
• Booking for tourism
• Blogging, books, websites, and other online content
• Selling real estate
• Other jobs you can do
• Working for a U.S. or international company in Costa Rica
I’ll break down some information for a few of these here (but I cover them all thoroughly in the Special Report on working in Costa Rica.)
Teaching in Costa Rica
This position entails working as an in-classroom teacher at a school in Costa Rica. However, instead of working in the public school system (and taking a job away from a Tico,), you’ll want to apply to the private international schools, which often focus on a good portion of English in the classroom.
The pay won’t be anywhere near what you expect to make as a teacher in the U.S. or Canada, but I’ve found it’s enough to get by. Since you sign a contract, (usually for the whole school year) you’ll have stability, an on-time paycheck that doesn’t bounce, and probably get asked back if you do a good job.
There are plenty of international schools and they always need good teachers. So, these jobs aren’t too hard to find even without a lot of teaching experience beforehand.
You may have some opportunities to work in Costa Rica teaching English, as well, which may or may not be in the setting of a school classroom. Some expats choose to set up their own cottage private tutoring business, teaching English to Ticos, their children or business people. However, don’t expect to make high wages working with Costa Rican locals unless you can set up group classes that are sponsored by companies.
If you settle in a place with consistent Wi-Fi, you can even try to set up English lessons for a much broader clientele through Skype.
The vast majority of jobs you’ll find for foreigners in Costa Rica probably entail helping other tourists, foreigners, and vacationers visit and enjoy the beautiful country. This could mean working for a tour company that puts packages and activities together, office work and marketing, or actually going out on the tours with the clients, like 4x4 or motorcycle trips, fishing boat charters, and the like.
Many people start these cottage businesses themselves, but if you don’t have the capital, the business acumen, or you just don’t want the headache, simply approach another foreign-owned business and offer to help. Foreigners that own businesses in Costa Rica find huge value in using local Ticos, who speak the language and know the ways, but there is also a great need for someone who speaks English and interacts seamlessly with their clientele, which is other foreigners coming on vacation.
Of course, you can try to work for one of the big resorts or hotels in Costa Rica, although you’ll have to move pretty high up in the ranks before you enjoy a wage deemed considerable in your home country. Sometimes, people offer to work at smaller hotels, bed and breakfasts, or nature lodges not for cash (plata) but in exchange for room and board. You might be able to help them with marketing, work as the host or hostess several days a week, or be the on-site fitness instructor or yoga teacher. This arrangement can work out great if you find the right fit and once you have your housing taken care of and even a basic meal or two a day, Costa Rica won’t be too expensive at all.
Booking for tourism
Another way to make a living in tourism that you might not know about is being an intermediary between tourists and other services in Costa Rica. Once you have an established relationship with local Costa Rican hotels, condos, and realtors, it’s standard practice to pay a referral fee if someone brings you a client.
I’ve seen these as high as 15-20% of the total tourist’s bill, which means a $100 hotel stay could land you $15-$20 if you bring them a client. While this may not seem like a lot of money, add that up for a weeklong stay ($105-$140), and over the course of ten different tourists and hotels. That’s not bad money!
It works particularly well with high-end and luxury condos and homes for rent. Some of these go for $2,000-$5,000 USD a week during peak times, which can add up to a nice paycheck.
You can also make referral fees for bringing someone to a tour or activity, like zip-lining, a fishing charter, or scuba diving but these referral payouts probably aren’t enough for you to make a living – just beer money.
However, if you have built some trust and even friendship with the tourist, why not take care of them from start to finish during their stay? Another great way to do this is to pick them up and the airport and drop them off, whether you have your own car or rent a van/taxi, and charge a small fee for your time of course. In fact, offering complete vacation packages for one price with transport, hotel stay, and activities all included is a great way to advertise and attract travelers.
Being a booking agent or marketer for tourists takes a lot of time and hard work. To attract a steady number of tourists, you’ll need a professional website, a consistent marketing campaign, know current prices, hotel and housing inventory, send a million emails back and forth, and so on.
But it can bear fruit over time. There aren’t any significant costs or risk (which I love) and as far as I know (verify this with your attorney and CPA) you don’t need to establish a business entity since you’re not collecting any funds from tourists, just referring them over to the hotel and help them book.
Once your job is done, you have nothing more to do during their stay. You can work as little or as much on this business as you wish and I’ll say it again (because it’s that important): you won’t need a lot of money to get started, and you’ll be incurring little or no financial risk.
Be aware that you’ll experience some serious ups and downs in business based on the seasons. The “high” or peak tourist season runs December through March approximately, when hotels are sold out, and prices can double or even triple. I can’t stress enough the roller coaster nature of tourism in Costa Rica based on the seasons.
Even in super popular towns like Tamarindo, a lot of people literally don’t have money to pay rent or buy enough food in the slow rainy months like October. During that time, many businesses close their doors and are boarded up for a month to do repairs and avoid paying employees. But come December, nearly every local that works in tourism is scrambling, putting in 70-80 hours a week until they can’t even keep their eyes open.
In fact, a lot of rental properties make 90% of their income for the year during the few busiest months – or even weeks – of the high season.
So be prepared for feast or famine if you’re going to work booking Costa Rican properties for tourists.
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Thanks for reading and good luck on your move to Costa Rica!
The Official Expat, Norm
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