How We Got Here

Several folks have asked us “Why Costa Rica?” and “What sort of planning did it take?” I thought that while it’s fresh, I’d post the answer. Let me know if I missed any details you’d like.

Why Costa Rica? Well, our first choice, as I described in our new adventure was actually Brazil. Sadly though, the US has tight restrictions on Brazil and so Brazil has tight restrictions on Americans coming in. We wouldn’t be able to stay more than 30 days realistically – at least there was no guarantee. So Deb began a hunt of other locations that fit our criteria. Here’s our Top 10 reasons (in good ol’ David Letterman form) why we chose Costa Rica as the country, Playa Portrero as the city, and the specific place we live, Casa Dutry, in order of least to most important.

11.   The swimming pool at the house was a bonus!

10.   We had to have air conditioning (primarily for Vie, who thinks it is too hot when
it is 70 degrees).

9.     We didn’t want a place with dangerous rip currents so we could feel comfortable letting the kids go surf by themselves. The surf in Playa Potrero was perfect.

8,     Our new home had to allow dogs of course.

7.     The rent had to be pretty modest.

6.     The house needed to have three bedrooms. Two bedroom places are common and so are 4-5 bedroom places, but three bedrooms are hard to find.

5.     Costa Rica is the happiest country on the planet according to the Happy Planet Index (there is no military, and there is great education and health care).

4.     The place had to be warm and by a beach (hey, if you are going to move to another country, make it amazing) – and within walking distance to the beach.

3.     We needed to bring our dogs without them having to go through a quarantine process (which is common in Europe and many other countries).

2.     We needed to be able to stay at least six months and up to a year.

And the number one reason:

  1. We wanted a country where the kids could learn another language within another culture. Spanish worked particularly well as Deb studied it and I knew Portuguese and Italian.

What sort of planning did it take? The whole thing took a lot of planning over several months. It was really broken up into two parts: planning where we were going and planning to leave. Deb did a brilliant job on the former and I took care of most of the prep work to leave.

Deb started by looking for the right country. Some of the top contenders were Portugal, Ecuador, Uraguay, Belize, Panama, Chile, and Spain. There were others but based on our criteria she chose Costa Rica. We made a vacation trip the year or so before to nearby Tamarindo and loved it. Deb scouted some more details afterward.

We got more serious about moving about 10 months before we ended up leaving. At that point Deb started the 6 month search for a house to rent and that’s when we learned about and added many of the other criteria (such as no rip currents). It was a lot of emailing property owners and rental companies. She started with vrbo.com, airbnb.com, and various real estate and property management companies. Then went deeper searching for communities and local blogs where home owners post homes for rent with not a lot of responses. She finally found a small local agency, LEP, and then she narrowed down property choices. We got very lucky in finding what we did.

The next big planning hurdle that she took on was getting passage for the dogs. No quarantine I think translates to lots of paperwork. This included knowing all of the vaccinations and certificates they needed to enter the country, as well as finding the right airline to transport them. She researched how the airlines cared for pets and a lot more. As I mentioned in Roots, I ended having to drive to Tumwater, WA for final paperwork for the dogs (during the government shutdown).

Meanwhile, I was started by planning and prepping for the big estate sale to get rid of our stuff. I detailed a lot about in that post. That was a huge endeavor. Fortunately, I quit work a good 5 weeks before we left so I had a lot time to prep at home.

Another big task was renting our house. We initially expected to have to find a Property Management company (which we did), but good fortune struck and a good friend was looking for a place for her family to rent. They took a look and loved our place. That made the whole rental planning far easier. We still had a lot of work to do to set the house up for rental (adding CO monitors, deep cleaning, wall fixes and touchups). Of course we had to overdo it and paint two rooms and add a new floor before we left. That’s all less about move planning though.

There were a few other details that took planning and a bit more than we planned. One thing in this category was cell phones. We had to buy new, unlocked cell phones and then we had to work out that it was best to wait until we were in Costa Rica to get the SIM cards for them. That worked out pretty well.

Getting to the airport was more pain than I expected. We had to go to SEATAC airport in Seattle and rent a minivan with stow-and-go car seats so we could transport the dog crates (and luggage). We planned for a cab to take Deb and the kids, but when it didn’t show, we ended up all cramming in the same vehicle. The opposite was true in Costa Rica. One of the nice things about using a property management company is that they have a concierge. This meant that Deb was able to have them arrange transportation from Liberia airport 45 minutes away and it was there on time and ready to go, fitting all of us comfortably. The comfortably part took a little planning. Deb sent the 2 dog crate measurements (cm) to make sure that they would fit in the vehicle along with our large amount of luggage and 4 people.

Finally, there were things we planned but didn’t get right. For example, I was excited to learn that Amazon shipped to Costa Rica for $4.99. But, it doesn’t ship consumer electronics (eg., cables, cell phone covers, printer cartridges) and things from most non-Amazon sellers it seems. So far these are the things we’ve needed.

Likewise, I read that while some services such as Pandora and Netflix don’t work outside the US. But, Xbox Live did. Well, yes and no. Netflix did work in Costa Rica. Xbox Live did for gaming. Pandora didn’t. So, I subscribed to a VPN service (I used Unblockus.com) which helps media content get through. It does and we have Pandora now, however the fine print is that Xbox Live movie rental and downloads don’t work and can’t. I’m still working on a way where we can see new movies. Ironically, I thought we could at least go to the theater here, but there are none in the several towns around us. At least Unblockus helps in that web content, media, etc. is not defaulted to Spanish which helps the young adults until they learn Spanish (then we switch back J).

In all, the planning was an adventure in itself and definitely part of ours. Once we found the rental and started seriously planning, it took a lot of our spare time. It was worth it though – both the move and the fact that we did spend time planning. It means we can now focus on small missed details easily and not face a mass of unexpected details. Planning certainly takes the edge off of any change.

Arrival

We all arrived safely in Costa Rica, Thursday October 24 for our new adventure. We’ve gotten rid of our stuff, taking only the most important with us and successfully uprooted from our life in Seattle. The first few days have already been a big change – and not just geographically.

Our trip was pretty easy actually. After our challenging departure in one minivan because our cab was a no show(!), things got easier. We got to the airport 3 hours in advance and did all of the dog paperwork and prep. Lucy was very curious and Isis was a bit tentative, but they both went into their crates well. Security was easier than I expected with all the technology, but they did open up the bag with all the hard drives, modems, routers, etc. to take a look and then I got to put the puzzle back together. The 2 flights were uneventful and we all got a bit of sleep.

Arrival in Liberia was what we were most worried about and Lucy and Isis did fine. They were super excited to see us and get out, of course. Isis had a little accident but I had planned for that and brought disposable towels, etc. Customs went very smoothly; it seems the thing of most interest to the customs folks was our sewing machine!

We headed “home” in another large van for an hour ride from the airport to Surfside, our new community sandwiched between Playa Portrero and Playa Flamingo. Along the way we passed by the cool little town of Brasilito (“little Brasil”) and that made me smile (because I am still a carioca at heart). We stopped by a small Mercado and go some supplies then made it to our new home.

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It is a beautiful 3 bedroom house known as Casa Dutry. It has a wonderful little swimming pool, gated yard – great for dogs who aren’t familiar with the area or the critters, and just enough room.

Deb had brilliantly arranged for someone to bring us dinner that first night. Chef Miguel’s stew and fixings were amazing. We were all wiped out so it was a perfect end to our first night. And then we slept for many hours!

The next day two days involved a bit of rest, a bit of exploring and a lot of setting up. We didn’t have Internet initially  the modem in the house was missing. Our landlord got us one immediately but then we had to get the cable guy out because we weren’t getting service. Despite folks here saying things are slow here, the cable guy came out “within 24 hours” and earlier than I expected. Actually, it was just as fast as a similar call in Seattle. I just set up a new wireless router and now we are mostly digital again.  We still need SIM cards for our Costa Rica phones.

The kids are settling in. Things are different of course. The pool helps J. We’re starting off with a “vacation” attitude and letting them relax, rest and have fun. They are still a bit grumpy that everything wasn’t working immediately and things like our new dishwasher(s) is named “Aidan” and “Vie”, but they are starting to embrace the life change more each day. It really has only been two days; Deb and I haven’t gotten there either quite yet.

Coming back from getting groceries and looking for SIM cards, we had an unexpected world change moment. We turned on the radio and found a program that was evidently the surf program, “man.” It talked about the surf and the season and featured some really great personalities who lived the surfing life and played great tunes from the 80s. “Man”, what a cool welcome. Hunting for it on the web, I think it is the Evan Luck show.

We then had another great experience at dinner. We stopped at a local pub here called Maxwell’s. It instantly became our new favorite hangout, like the Hudson was in Seattle. You can bring your dogs, which was very cool (there’s probably a whole post coming on dogs here soon). The food and Margaritas were awesome. The real treat though was meeting the owner, Kelly who is truly larger than life. Vie was still a bit grumpy but Kelly managed to lighten Vie up and get a smile. She asked Vie to come help decorate for Halloween and now Vie has a new bud here.

Here in Costa Rica, people talk of the pura vida – the pure life. People are very happy, helpful and welcoming. They actually say “hi” (or “hola” on the street). It is a very different feel than Seattle – or any place I’ve ever lived. Like us, people seem to work to live, not live to work. It’s probably a bit early for us to really speak about pura vida with any sense of real understanding. But soon, I think we’ll find it.