Hello friends and welcome to another edition of the Expat Extra! Today I am featuring Jackie and her husband Junior, who live in the Guanacaste region (western coast) of Costa Rica. We just met Jackie and Junior a couple of months ago at the International Living Conference in San Jose where both Greg and Jackie spoke (they both performed well!). We very much enjoyed getting to know them better over the conference weekend. They are young and ambitious, and will show you that you don’t have to be retired to move to a foreign country!
I hereby, give you Jackie:
Where are you from in the States? Tell me about you and your husband and where you came from (include your dog too!).
I grew up in Michigan, about 20 minutes east of Detroit. I met my husband in 2011 and we moved to Chicago in 2013. My husband is originally from Brazil and despite his disdain for winter, he knew moving to Chicago was always my dream and agreed to it. We got married in 2014, and exactly two weeks after returning from our honeymoon we adopted our pit/lab mix Harvey at 14 weeks old. At that point it would look from the outside in as though we had it all. Junior was the Director of e-commerce for a shoe company based in Chicago, I was a senior publicist at an agency in the city, by that point specializing in corporate franchise clients. We had our trendy apartment in Wicker Park with our adorable puppy. The second winter in the city came, we tried to plan a trip to Brazil to visit Junior’s family, and that’s when it all started. Winter was just beginning, we were already desperate to escape the bitter cold, and I didn’t have enough time available to take off of work and make a trip to Brazil worth it. We thought, amongst other things that seemed to be backwards in our lives, that it was time to look at a better alternative.
Where do you live now, how long have you been there, and what is the community like?
We have lived in Tamarindo, Costa Rica for just over a year and a half. It’s a melting pot of a community with locals and many tourists and expats from all over the world mixed in. Tamarindo is one of the more developed beach towns along what is called the ‘Gold Coast’ of Costa Rica, though it still has a quirky, old time beach town charm. There are a lot of surf shops, restaurants and bars. Dogs run free on the beach and have their own dog parties – Harvey is in absolute heaven here. It’s a growing, bustling town, and even though there are certain things you cannot find in town, it is the type of place you grow to know everyone’s name. A growing town, with a close-knit community feel.
Why did you decide to move to Costa Rica? Tell me about your journey to get there.
I kind of jumped the gun and started answering this in the first question. But in general we were fed up with living to work, fed up with the status quo, fed up with the corporate grind, fed up with a less than healthy lifestyle and fed up with winter. We knew we wanted to leave the States, and Costa Rica became our destination as it would keep us in a close enough time zone to work with clients remotely, we could live near a beach for much less than we were living in the city, the weather would be hot and sunny all year, and the Spanish language also drew us. Junior already spoke Spanish and I wanted to learn.
How is your life different now, than back in the States?
It is completely different in almost every way. We have more control over our schedules and time off work, which has been the most valuable and noticeable difference. Our living expenses are about half of what they were in Chicago. In the past year and half since we’ve lived here, I think we’ve been on at least 10 trips – including a few in and around Costa Rica, one to the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua and an entire month tour throughout Brazil. Our next planned trip is to Cuba in January. We have much more freedom to travel, which was a major goal of this move. Where we used to exclusively eat out for every meal, now we have the time and energy to make our meals at home, and we have access to lots of fresh, local food. We have time to work out daily. We walk the beach every morning with Harvey, which we obviously weren’t doing back in the Windy City.
Do you and your husband do anything work-wise, or are you retired?
Not retired quite yet, haha. Junior is a web developer – he started out freelancing when we moved and since then, has taken on a remote role as the Director of Project Management for a development agency with all remote employees. When we first moved I maintained a few clients who I had handled publicity for, for several years. Since, I have discontinued my work with them to pursue freelance writing. I write for various publications, including covering Costa Rica for International Living Magazine.
Tell me about a “typical” day for you guys.
We wake up and make a fresh smoothie. I make my coffee and take it with me on a beach walk with Harvey. Sometimes Junior comes and sometimes he stays home to do some reading in the morning. He typically works a fairly normal workday, so starts at the computer about 9 a.m. For me my schedule varies based on my current projects. The property we live in has a few Air BnB rentals attached which I also manage, so I usually check my email, take care of anything that needs to be tended to with the house and then put in a few hours toward anything I’m currently writing. We generally have lunch together and we’re able to take our time. The best thing about our new freedom schedule is that if we have friends in town for example, or just need to run a couple of errands, we generally have the freedom to take the afternoon off. We workout everyday at 5. We both do CrossFit at a gym in town and some days I take a break to go to Yoga instead. Sometimes we watch sunset from our house or head to the beach to watch. We try to make dinner at home as often as possible and then usually watch a bit of Netflix in the evening, unless we have plans with friends.
Do you ever get homesick?
Not really. Junior has moved around a lot in his life, so he’s used to being far from home. For me, I of course miss my family and friends, and when we do go back to the States to visit it’s always very exciting. But I never find myself feeling like I want to move back, and when it’s time to come home from a trip, we’re always excited to get back here to the beach!
Have you experienced “Culture Shock”?
To be honest, not really – I feel like we did enough research before moving that we were pretty well prepared for the things that would seem different or even strange to us. So while there have been things to adjust to, like “Tico Time,” there hasn’t really been anything that has shocked us.
Do you have any funny stories from living abroad?
Oh man, too many to recall in one sitting I feel like. Moving abroad and funny stories pretty much go hand in hand. Probably one of the funniest was trying to find our vet’s boarding facility we wanted to go check out for the dog. This was soon after we moved and we were still getting used to the fact that there are no addresses in Costa Rica.
The directions were something like this: “3rd left from the gas station, pass two bridges and take another left, pass one more bridge and you will come to 3 mango trees on your left, turn left there and go to the end.”
First of all, we wound up majorly lost, because I assumed the 3rd left from the gas station meant 3 streets after we passed the gas station. Well alas, lost in English/Spanish translation, he actually meant the 3rd left BEFORE we reached the gas station. Once we figured that out, my husband was already nice and frustrated.
The rest of the directions were pretty easily followed until we got to the mango tree portion, when we came to a crucial realization: neither of us could definitively recognize a mango tree, particularly in a sea of other trees we were passing along the way. “What does a mango tree look like???!!!!!” “I DON’T KNOW!!!!!!”
Needles to say, I now can easily identify most tropical fruit trees, including mango and papaya.
Have you lived anywhere else around the world or do you plan to?
Junior lived in Brazil until age 16. Costa Rica is the only foreign country I’ve ever lived in. And we’re not sure, maybe! Now that we’re no longer dependent upon a particular location for work, we could live anywhere – but for now we’re loving Costa Rica. We have a lot more traveling to do, and in terms of living I think we’ll be here for a good while.
Tell me one or two of the “best” things about living in Costa Rica.
The laid back vibe. People don’t let things stress them out too much, and they place the utmost importance on things like enjoying the little things in life and time spent with friends and family. These values have rubbed off on us more and more and we love it, because this is what we want our life to be about – enjoying and spending time with people we love. And the natural beauty, including the weather. Everywhere you look is another gorgeous setting, the wildlife is incredible, and here at the beach the sun shines every day of the year – no more boots or coats for us!
Not everything is “pura vida” all the time, please tell me about 1 or 2 things that have not been great for you here.
The lack of urgency can sometimes be an issue for us, I think mainly because we are still working. So for example, if our internet goes out, we need to sometimes really hound the company to come out and take a look or check our service and get it running again. If we weren’t working on a daily basis and depending on it, we might be a little more patient, but we have to be the annoying customers when we have internet issues, and that can sometimes be stressful.
The fear of our dog. He is part pit bull, and we’ve learned that the discrimination of these dogs stems far beyond US borders. Many people here are automatically afraid of him too and it can sometimes cause awkward situations. He’s never caused a problem, but people assume he will – so certain places for example have refused to rent to us. It’s just a hurdle to navigate that can sometimes be frustrating, particularly because we know the nature of our own dog and that the fear is completely unnecessary.
Any advice for new people moving to Costa Rica?
Rent first, definitely. Come with an open mind. Come with the expectation that life will be different. Do not try to change Costa Rica. Either be willing to adapt, or be prepared to leave and maybe try a new place. Take advantage of opportunities to explore throughout the country, as there is so much variety in landscape, weather, amenities, etc. You might be surprised at which area ends up being your favorite.
Jackie Minchillo is a freelance writer, gone from climbing the corporate ladder to international digital nomad, determined to enjoy life long before retirement. She’s the lead correspondent covering Costa Rica for International Living Magazine and writes about all things life for a variety of other publications. After one year living in Costa Rica, she compiled 365 learnings from 365 days abroad, you can read them here. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram.