People have told me that I’m brave and that they admire me. Venturing out and doing this crazy thing – quitting my job in my early 40’s, giving up my income, and moving to and living in a foreign country. And I think some of my friends and family secretly think I’m crazy (they’re just too polite or nice to say it). It’s true – it IS weird. It IS crazy. This is NOT the norm! When Greg and I first started talking about it, I was like, well this is nice and fun to talk about, but there’s NO WAY we’ll ever really do it. I mean – who really up and quits their job and moves to a foreign country with no plan of working before retirement age? Well, it turns out, I do. We do.
Back in 2011, as my husband’s job situation became more and more stressful, I became increasingly worried about him, and we talked more and more of DOING this dream-thing we’d talked about. Yes, he could quit and go work somewhere else, but it would probably end up being the same situation (stressful, tied to his cell phone, on call 24/7).
So many people work till 60 or longer (usually longer), and once they retire are in such poor health, that they don’t even get to ENJOY not working anymore.
Managing people is always stressful (as I knew from my dad), but the position he was in had him continually torn between two different divisions of his company, and then throw in the client (usually attorneys). And, well, it just wasn’t pretty. Suffice it to say – it was affecting him mentally, physically, and emotionally, and it was affecting us as a couple. This was the first time in our marriage that I felt helpless. Something big had to change. We started seriously considering moving to Costa Rica.
Greg and I were both in relatively good health, and wanted to do this now while we still could and enjoy ourselves. So many people work till 60 or longer (usually longer), and once they retire are in such poor health, that they don’t even get to ENJOY not working anymore. Another thought I always carried around in my heart was that my dad had cancer and died at 59, with no enjoyment of retirement whatsoever.
He did take “early retirement” the year before he died, but there’s no way it was enjoyed the way it’s intended to be. It really breaks my heart after all the hard work he put into his job, over his whole adult life to support my family, that he never got to retire and just do what he wanted to do with his time… Greg’s dad had been in poor health for a while, but was amazingly STILL working (part-time), and we knew his days were numbered (diabetes which affected both his feet so he could barely walk, several heart attacks, and most recently – kidney failure and dialysis).1 (yep, this is a footnote!)
We asked my mom (who’s a world traveler) if she’d like to join us, and she jumped at the chance. She’s great to travel with, plus we wanted her to see firsthand what we were considering and offer any opinions or questions that we might not think of.
The main reason we could not “retire early” in the States was healthcare costs. Also – we were afraid the lifestyle we were used to would be very hard to cut back on if we continued to live in the same environment. We had talked about a few other foreign countries, but discarded them for various reasons. I won’t bore you with the details. The country we kept coming back to over and over again was Costa Rica. Here’s a few reasons why:
- It’s not TOO far away from the States (i.e. – a 4 hour plane trip from Dallas)
- Time zone is the same (central time) – except Costa Rica doesn’t practice daylight savings time (so for half of the year there is a one hour time difference).
- Costa Ricans are known to be welcoming and friendly to Americans
- They have a stable and peaceful government (no army since 1948!)
- They have good infrastructure (fancy word for good/affordable healthcare and easy internet access/wifi throughout the country)
- Spanish is the main language (we’d always wanted to learn), and we heard lots of Costa Ricans also speak English fairly well.
- There are affordable fully furnished houses for rent
- Crime seemed to be relegated to petty theft unlike the drug cartel/kidnapping issues that plague several Latin American countries
We did lots of research online and reading of books, and decided the next best thing to do was take a trip there. Neither of us had ever been. We asked my mom (who’s a world traveler) if she’d like to join us, and she jumped at the chance. She’s great to travel with, plus we wanted her to see firsthand what we were considering and offer any opinions or questions that we might not think of. We visited in January of 2012 and traveled to three different areas of the country: Grecia (central valley), Arenal Lake (by a volcano, which was supposed to be active) and Playa Hermosa, Guancasate (the Pacific beach area). We had a blast. We rented an SUV and packed a LOT of due diligence into 10 days.
Grecia: We wanted to start in Grecia, as it was close to San Jose where we’d be flying into. It was a small town we had read about in the Central Valley with temperatures ranging from low 60s at night to no higher than low 80s during the day. No AC or heat was required in the homes in Grecia. We stayed at a modest B&B that was owned at the time by an awesome Canadian couple, Denny and Rachel. They were kind, informative and helpful. They hooked us up with some local expats that we had breakfast with one morning, and then we also met a real estate agent, who wanted to know if he could drive us around that day and show us potential rental properties/prices, just so we could get some ideas. Everyone was kind in Grecia, and we liked the small town vibe.
Playa Hermosa: We also wanted to visit the Pacific beach coast areas, even though we knew the temperatures were quite a bit hotter (and they were!). While doing our online research, we found a website called www.BoomersOffshore.com, run by an expat couple, Fran and Andy Browne. They have been documenting their experiences beginning with their plans to move to Costa Rica and continue to document daily events including things as mundane as paying their bills. What’s even better, their stories are told through video.
Having watched over a hundred of their mini-reports, we got in touch with Andy and Fran and hired them for two days while Greg and I were checking out various beach areas in the Guanacaste region. Their “Due Diligence” tour is geared to people just like us who are thinking about a potential expat lifestyle. They showed us tons of things including possible areas to live, grocery stores, doctor and vet offices, as well as other beach towns in the area. They answered all of our questions, all day long, with no sales pitches or hype. They were teaching us about the things we really needed to know that would help insure a successful transition to the expat lifestyle. We really enjoyed them and we got a full taste of the Pacific beach side.
Lake Arenal: Lake Arenal is a HUGE lake, and we stayed at a resort there (a small reward for all of our hard due diligence work we’d been doing) called Los Lagos. We were dismayed to hear the volcano was currently dormant, but the place we stayed was awesome, and had several natural hot springs and a gorgeous pool. They had good food and lovely scenery – lizards, butterflies, every type of bird you could think of, even a crocodile “farm.” It was a great vacation stop for us.
So, with our first trip to Costa Rica under our belt, and much discussion and thinking about things, we finally decided together that – YES, WE WANTED TO DO THIS. It still seemed super crazy, but it was exciting, and it would be an adventure! And hey – if it didn’t work out or we didn’t like it for some reason, we could always move back. With our decision made, we slowly and methodically went about saving as much (more) money as we could and sold all of our possessions. A few things were a little hard for me, but overall – it was very FREEING to get rid of all this “stuff” we’d accumulated over the years. It felt good. I didn’t want to define myself by the house I lived in, the type of car I drove, or the designer purse I carried. Enough was enough. Time for a change, indeed!
1 As many of you know, Richard (Greg’s dad) recently passed away on June 20th, three short days after we arrived in Costa Rica.
Top photo by ohad (Creative Commons)