Are you dreaming of building a family life in Costa Rica? You’re here, so my bet’s on yes.
And if that’s the case, then welcome. You’ve found your way to the right place. I’m Becky and I’m raising my two sons here. The ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the highs and the lows – we’ve been through it all!
As a relocation specialist, though, I’m grateful to have insight into much more than my own experience: I have helped countless families move to Costa Rica and, along the way, I’ve learned a lot about what makes for a successful – read: easier, less fraught, more joyful, and better organized – move and transition to family life in Costa Rica.
So, with that in mind, here are seven actionable tips based on years of experience:
Tip #1: Kids Come First
It’s no secret that we parents love our kids. And yet, it’s also no secret that there is no official Guidebook to Parenting, so we don’t always know the best way to love our kids. It’s often a guessing game – a best-guess guessing game, of course – in which only hindsight is 20/20.
So, let’s take some cues based on the hindsight of parents I know who have been there, done the move to Costa Rica with kids. The successful ones? They all put their kids’ needs (note: not always the same as wants) first, with everything else coming in a distant second.
And by this, I mean there is no one formula. You, and you alone, know your child or children; only you can perform the alchemy of blending their needs and personality and preferences and all the million other factors that go into making this transition as seamless, as natural, and as nurturing as possible.
Tip #2: Nail the Timing
When we’re excited, it can be so hard to play it cool, especially when we’re also playing a long game.
But timing is perhaps the most important factor in planning a successful transition for your kids, and it’s one I’ll suggest right from the top: If you’re going to go all-in on hyper-planning in any aspect of life, this is probably it. Because kids of almost any age have a lot of balls in the air, between school and friends and extracurriculars and other factors in such a life-changing transition.
Unless your kids are well-versed in moving, making new friends, changing schools, and similar big-time life events, then you’ll want time to help them make a successful transition. For example, most parents choose to move between school years; additionally, you may want to factor in any applicable sports seasons, “last years” at summer camp or other milestones, and other completion of other commitments.
That said, once you have the general outline of timing, don’t overthink every tiny detail or you’ll risk being overly ruled by (and beholden to) the clock. As a rule of thumb, you’ll probably want anywhere between 6 and 18 months to plan a successful move to a happy and fulfilling family life in Costa Rica.
Tip #3: Choose the Right Season
Seasons? In Costa Rica?
You betcha. In addition to choosing the season of life (aka timing!), you’ll want to choose the right season for your move with kids. And it may not always be exactly what you think it is…
Weather Season: It may seem like a no-brainer to move during the dry season (mid-November through April) but you should know that this is also our high season. That means it can be difficult – and pricey – to find home rentals, especially at the beach. That said, if you move during the rainy season (May through mid-November) – well, it’s wet. And no one loves getting their moving boxes wet.
School Season: If you’re on the U.S./Canadian/European school calendar, you may be surprised to know that Costa Rica’s school year runs from February through November. That is, unless you choose one of the international schools (see our overviews of private schools in Tamarindo and private schools in Playas del Coco) that runs on the U.S. calendar…
Holiday Season: Moving during the high holidays – that is, Christmas (and here, that’s basically all of December!), Holy Week, and July vacation – is a recipe for high stress! If you can avoid it, then avoid it.
Tip #4: Learn Spanish Together
If we back up to timing and the long game, I’d suggest Spanish lessons as one of the items that make your long-term planning list.
It’s true that Costa Ricans are highly educated and many people, especially in tourist areas, speak English. That said, your experience will be richer, your friendships more genuine, and your entire experience more authentic, if you make the effort to learn Spanish.
Don’t worry about mastering the Spanish language; that will take practice, time, and lots of on-the-ground work. But, if you can, learn the basics: verb conjugations, basic vocabulary, and common lifelines, like “where’s the bathroom?” (¿dónde está el baño?) and “which way to the beach?” (¿por dónde la playa?).
Tip #5: Pre-Establish a Network
There are lots of pros and cons to the Internet. One of the big pros? The ability to “meet” and connect with like-minded people and discuss family life in Costa Rica.
I highly recommend hopping on Facebook and searching for expat and family groups. Ask your questions. (And ignore the haters.) Private message (aka PM) the people with whom you feel a connection. Friend the best ones. And, if your kids are old enough, let them get in on your family’s friendship cultivation efforts.
In addition to getting a wide cross-section of inside scoops, you may just pre-meet your (or your kids’) future best friends.
Tip #6: Consider an “Expat Community”
I know – you don’t move to Costa Rica only to live with other expats, right?!
Here’s the thing, though: In Costa Rica, an “expat community” is not a community solely comprised of expats. Rather, it’s a very international community comprised of Costa Ricans and an eclectic mix of dozens of other nationalities.
In other words, living in an expat community doesn’t mean that you’ll be living in a neighborhood just like “back home.” What it does mean is that you’ll live among like-minded (that is, internationally minded) people, many of whom have already done what you’re about to do. That can be infinitely comforting.
It’s even more helpful for your kids, who will have a built-in group of peers who have moved abroad, changed schools, honed their Spanish skills, and tackled all the challenges your kids are about to take on. Living in an expat community is community, and that can be everything to you and your kids and your family life in Costa Rica.
Tip #7: Involve Your Kids in the Decision-Making
Whenever possible, give your kids agency. Talk to them about adaptability, of course, but follow it up with tools and shortcuts to faster and easier transitions.
Whenever possible, let your kids be a part of your big family decisions. Invite them to help you pick your future home (and really take their opinions into account). Take them to every school campus visit (and help them assess each based on important-to-you AND important-to-them criteria). Involve them in every decision where they can and should have a voice, and they’ll understand that this is your (the plural you!) move.
Want to Talk about Family Life in Costa Rica?
Hi, I’m Rebecca Clower. (My friends call me Becky.) In 2006, I did what you’re preparing to do: I followed my heart and moved to Costa Rica.
Over the years, I’ve set down roots here. I’ve given birth to my two boys and I’m raising them here in Costa Rica. I’ve founded a wildly successful business. I’ve been on international TV. I’ve given back to my community. I’ve taken on major positions of responsibility and authority.
In other words, I’ve made Costa Rica my home. Not my sometimes-home or my home-away-from-home or even my second home, but my only home. I am a dual citizen and have completely integrated into Costa Rica and my community. This is it for me. I’ve made my transition.
Along the way, I’ve become an expert on Costa Rica relocation. And so, for years, I’ve made it my job to help other people make their own successful transitions to Costa Rica life and living. I offer real, honest advice and expertise to my clients. I promise not to sugar-coat the hard truths or gloss over the tough parts. I will tell you the whole truth, the full truth, and even the hard truths.
I hope that you’ll find the beautiful truths to outweigh them all. So, sign up for updates, download my free eBook, check out my relocation services, and feel free to get in touch. Let’s get started!