A few tips on culture and etiquette when you move to Costa Rica:
If you’re planning on visiting the beautiful tropical nation of Costa Rica for a vacation - or maybe a more prolonged stay - it’s important you learn about the culture, etiquette, and traditions of the wonderful Ticos and Ticas (we’ll explain that) who live there.
For that reason, I’ve included a detailed chapter on culture, etiquette, and traditions in my Moving to Costa Rica Handbook. But here, I wanted to give you a few quick notes about adapting culturally to life in Costa Rica.
-My greatest hope is that when you live in Costa Rica, you make a genuine effort to learn the local culture and assimilate. Of course you don’t have to pretend to be a Tico (they won’t let you forget that you’re a foreigner!) but, to me, it shows respect that you want to blend in and adopt some Costa Rican ways, finding a happy medium between who you were in your home country and the new, evolved and more worldly person you will become living in Costa Rica.
-I’ve seen far too many expats that move abroad (in many countries - not just Costa Rica), only to refuse to learn the language, refuse to learn the local etiquette, nor adopt any of the customs or traditions.
(They basically sit around and complain about their new host nation.) In my opinion, that is a travesty!
-Every moment you’re in Costa Rica, think of yourself as a guest in someone’s home and act accordingly. By following this rule, you’ll find that you assimilate and blend into life in Costa Rica seamlessly, enhancing your enjoyment and endearing and representing both yourself and the perception of foreigners to all the Ticos you encounter day to day.
-Costa Ricans are known for their laid back, friendly and hospitable ways. They are almost always cordial and welcoming to foreigners, too, often inviting them to family gatherings or dinners.
-Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos and Ticas, a reference to their affinity for adding an “ico” to the end of words, which denotes that something is small or little in a cute way.
-For some people, it’s difficult to learn a second language (myself included), so be prepared to put in the work if you are serious. Keep a notebook and write down new words every night and study for half an hour or an hour every morning and you’ll pick up the basic vocabulary very quickly. These days, there are amazing apps and interactive games you can access on your smart phone to help you learn.
You may think that because so many people speak English, you don’t need to learn Spanish. While it’s true that you can probably get by with only English, especially in tourist areas, it’s a travesty if foreigners don’t make an effort, and reinforces the perception among Ticos that people from the U.S. and maybe Canada are lazy and a little arrogant.
-It’s best to start learning the basics before you arrive – you will never be able to fully immerse yourself in the culture unless you understand that.
-To take your language lessons to the next level, look for a local teacher for some lessons in grammar and how to speak in complete sentences correctly.
-Tico time, “la hora tica” means that people generally arrive 30 minutes late or so to a meeting or any event.
-So, remember to be patient! Things do not move as quickly and efficiently as they do in the U.S. and Canada (and you wanted to move out of that fast-paced rat race!).
-Customer service can be painfully slow and frustrating, especially outside of the cities A simple task could take half of your day, so manage your expectations – there is no sense in being that annoying, frustrated gringo. You WILL have to wait longer, so just accept that and try to cope with respect and understanding.
-Costa Rica has been ranked as the happiest country on earth in yearly polls! Some of that Tico happiness will definitely rub off on you when you live there!
Want more tips on culture, ettiquette, and traditions in Costa Rica?
We have a WHOLE lot more to give you in the Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook.
Or you can email me any time with questions or just to say hi!