To help you prepare for your move and to help you make the most of your Costa Rica experience, we have come up with our top 10 tips on how to prepare, move and settle in Costa Rica.
Whatever your reason for considering a move to Costa Rica, whether it’s a relocation for your work, or perhaps you enjoyed a Costa Rica vacation and just want to move back and enjoy the Costa beaches and lifestyle, relocation to Costa Rica or anywhere else overseas for work or immigration can be fun, exciting and life changing. However, any international moving can also be extremely stressful with changes that can potentially affect your emotional state and your relationships.
Of course, it’s easier for some people to adjust to new cultures, new surroundings, languages and new climates than others, but if anybody in your family does experience difficulty with the move, the effect can often be destabilizing for the whole family.
- Understanding the process of settling into a new life in Costa Rica
Probably the most common sensation for anybody going through an international move is ‘culture shock’. This doesn’t need to be anything drastic or ‘shocking’, but often the smallest of changes, whether to routine or simply to availability of goods in the local shop, can be unsettling.
Secondly, being home-sick is a completely natural phenomena that affects most people during any relocation. Don’t worry, it’s generally the same for everybody to some degree and it gets easier with time.
Understanding the stages in advance and the fact that these are extremely common emotions for anybody in this position, will help you adjust and deal with them as they arise.
Basically there is an accepted “curve of settlement” which can be divided into 5 distinct phases. Kalvero Oberg was the first to set five distinct stages of ‘culture shock’ in 1958. He included in his model of adjustment phases the experience of a reverse adjustment to the home country.
Oberg described the stages of culture shock as:
- Honeymoon or tourist stage (fun)
- Irritation and anger stage (fright)
- Rejection or regression stage (fight)
- Integration or assimilation stage (fit)
- Reverse or reentry stage
We will look at the first 4 stages here as we are focusing on the move to Costa Rica rather than the return, but this is also worth considering.
When first arriving at your destination, and for the first few weeks, the most likely emotions will be excitement and positivity, just like Oberg summarized “the honeymoon or tourist stage”, or what we will refer to as “fun”. This is a natural reaction to the opportunity to explore Costa Rica, the beaches, the beautiful Rica country and the Costa Rican people.
The next most likely stage is what Oberg referred to as “irritation and anger” and what we refer to as “fright”, where everything can become overwhelming and make you feel like not seeing anybody, wondering how you will make it work. The reality of living in another country may hit you and you may start feeling homesick.
You may consider packing your bags and going home, or you may just feel like staying indoors and not meeting anybody, either way this is a common emotion and whilst it might be worth having a plan in place to go home just in case, in most cases this phase passes and we move onto the fourth stage which begins to get more positive.
So, assuming you are still there and have resisted the possible urge to go home, you are most likely to feel that things aren’t so bad and will start to focus on the positive as you move into Oberg’s “integration or assimilation stage”, which we will refer to as “fit”. Fitting in is the ultimate goal and once this happens you will start to feel positive about your surroundings, feel like going out and meeting people, getting involved in social activities and basically building a life in your new surroundings which may well include learning the language and understanding the culture.
The important thing to note here is that all of these emotions are completely common and normal, and most people, given time will get through them and reach the same conclusion; that life is for living, wherever you are and it’s best to make the most of it!
- Learn and understand the language
An understanding of Spanish, even if you are not fluent speaking, will make life much easier and will definitely speed up the process through to the “fit” stage. Even a basic understanding will help in the everyday activities such as grocery shopping or filling the car with fuel.
- Keep in touch with friends and family
It takes time to forge new friendships, wherever you are, and Costa Rica is no exception. It is important therefore to make sure you can easily maintain contact with your friends and family back home which will help prevent your new ‘home’ from becoming a lonely place.
Using current technology, such as Facebook and Skype makes this simple and cost effective, however making the effort is still very important.
- Join online expat clubs and forums
When you relocate to Costa Rica, you will become part of an exclusive community of expats, most of who are either in the same boat as you, or have been in the past, and others who may have many years of experience in Costa Rica.
You will normally find most people are more than happy to share their experiences and help you settle in to your new surroundings. Forums and communities such as Internations and expats in Costa Rica Facbook pages are fantastic starting places.
- Join local clubs and get to know people as soon as possible
The quicker you start meeting local people, the sooner you will feel settled. Costa Rican people are very friendly and accommodating so making the effort to meet your neighbors, or talking to people in the local shops will really help the settling process. Also participate in events organized by expats in Costa Rica or the great events that Expat Housing Costa Rica offers.
- Understand the local customs and etiquette
It is usually common courtesy, wherever you travel, whether on vacation or for an international move, to at least gain an understanding of local customs and etiquette. This can save embarrassment but also will help you settle in.
Expat Housing Costa Rica provides “crash course” and workshops in culture and etiquette and it is often useful to ensure these embarrassing situations are avoided and to speed up the settling in period. Dates for workshops and trainings about the Costa Rican culture can be found on-line and this is also a great way to get in touch with other expats.
- Proper planning prevents…
What may seem like common sense, or just basic everyday things, can often be overlooked, but by planning in advance and ensuring these basic things are in place can make the difference between the “fun” and “fright” stages we identified earlier. Try to make sure you have a decent place to live before you move, a bank account if possible, an internet connection and a phone.
It’s always helpful if you have visited Costa Rica before your arrival. Perhaps take a vacation in Costa Rica, or get the company to provide a reconnaissance visit. It’s good to know the neighborhoods, groceries and other recourses, all of which can contribute to the settling in phase of your move from the time you arrive.
Of course, it’s not always possible to have everything arranged before you arrive, but the more preparation and arranging that can be done in advance will reduce the amount of stress and anxiety that being somewhere new can sometimes cause.
- Understand the office culture
If you are moving for work, you may find the Costa Rican office culture quite different to the one you are used to. It is therefore worth talking to your colleagues in the office to make sure you understand what is expected in terms of meetings, timeliness and general behavior.
- Watch and learn
Don’t be afraid to ask if you are unsure about anything. Generally people will gladly help and would rather you ask than do something wrong or embarrassing. Watching how others act will usually provide an insight into the general behavior that is acceptable and expected.
Expat Housing Costa Rica assist you in every subject written above. Want to know when our next great event takes place? Join us now to get the date and info.
- Relax – be patient
Even the most confident and prepared people don’t settle in immediately in Costa Rica. There will always be unexpected events that cannot be anticipated or prepared for and nobody will expect you to fully understand the Costa Rican culture or people immediately.
The same goes in Costa Rica as most other destinations – focus on the new, exciting and positive aspects rather than what you might be missing at home. Living abroad will always be an amazing experience which will create many special memories and long lasting friendships, so our advice is to relax and enjoy it.