I’m living in a 3rd world country?

Well, of course the culture is different here, I mean, I’m in a foreign country, right?  And as some people would remind me…  I’m in a 3rd world country (thanks, Mom).  But it’s true.  Well, technically, “3rd world country” is a bit of an outdated term, I guess these days Costa Rica would be more classified as an “underdeveloped country”, but even that is hard to fathom when you think of the world class hospitals throughout the country and cities like Escazu (American-style shopping & restaurants).  I like to think of Costa Rica as more of a “developing country”.  In any case, one of the reasons we picked Grecia as the town to start out in, is because it is a small, local town – I haven’t seen any tourism here, and it just seems to be more real and authentic to the local customs and way of living.  I really have not even been here a full month yet, but here’s my observations thus far…

The people here are amazing.  When we see someone while walking by on the street in the morning, we say “Buenos Dias” (good morning) or “Buenos” (short for “buenos dias”), and they always respond in kind and with a smile.  It is known, that if we do not do this, we may appear as “frightened/leery/anxious American tourists”.  Also we learned to not say “Hola” (Hi) as a greeting, unless we’re prepared to sit down and have a nice long chat.  “Buenos” (or “Buenas” in afternoon/evening) is more of a greeting to say in passing, or we can also say “Adios” – which to us Americans means “good bye” – but here it is used in passing, like “hello & good bye” (I don’t want to sit and chat, but wanted to acknowledge you).  It’s little nuances like this that we have learned already, and I’m sure there are TONS more…

After meeting someone for the first time, the next time we meet, they greet me with a kiss on the cheek (just one kiss, on the right cheek). This is the custom here, and seems so endearing to me.  It’s just more personal than a hug, you know?  Even teenagers and little kids do it – it’s so sweet.  I truly love that I’ve been greeted like this already, and I have greeted (or said goodbye) to people with a kiss already.   Here I am with a model I hired, demonstrating the kiss on the right cheek (said model would not keep his hands off my hips, I do NOT think that’s part of the local custom here…).


The babies and children here – are very well behaved.  NEVER have I heard a screaming tantrum in a store, or in public.   In the park, kids play together well and run around, like normal, and have fun, but it never gets out of control (amazingly enough).  I’m not sure what the differences are exactly – but somehow the Costa Rican people raise their kids to be more respectful, from a very early age.  One friend told me he thinks one reason is because they hold their babies facing out (to see the world), instead of facing inwards…  Food for thought.



There are dogs everywhere here – roaming freely (some are owned, and some are not, but they all seem to roam freely).  At first it is hard to get used to, and I felt so bad for all them…  but now am coming to realize that it is a good life for them – simple and free and they are happy.  And they all seem to get fed, trust me.  They know to get off the road when a car is coming.  As our pal Richard says “the only dead dogs you see on the side of the road are dumb ones” (NOTE:  we haven’t seen ANY).  And we have not seen any aggressive dogs either.  On our hikes we encounter many dogs, but they just usually come up to within 10 feet of us, maybe do a little “soft barking”, and then let us walk by…   I’ve never felt fearful of a dog at all here.


I haven’t seen any homeless people here in Grecia.  I’m sure they are here??  But I, at least, haven’t seen any thus far (San Jose is a different story).

It’s rare to see trash anywhere.  It’s so clean here!   And I never really see people picking trash up, either (although I’m sure they must).  I think people here are just more clean and respectful of their environment.

If someone comes up to you trying to sell you something (happens sometimes in the park) – it’s better to not give an affirmative “no” or “no, thanks” but instead say “otro dia” (maybe another day)…  For some reason saying a point blank “NO” is almost rude or offensive AND it is hard for them to accept, so they don’t go away, they keep asking you again.  It’s like they can’t take “no” for an answer.  We have learned to say “otro dia” from our friend (thanks, Lair!), and it works well.

Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way here.  You really need to watch out for yourself while walking around in town and crossing roads, etc.  Sometimes, we do find a car driver will slow down and wave us through, but this is definitely the exception here.  As long as you know this, it’s not a problem.

Costa Ricans appear to be very hard working.  I have not met anyone who is lazy here.  While walking around, we always see people working in their yards or gardens;  sweeping or mopping their tiled patio’s; doing laundry and hanging it out to dry (dryers are rare here, most people hang their wash on lines or even bushes(!) to dry).

There is barbed wire and fences and gates everywhere here.  That, along with the dogs, does seem to deter petty theft, but I also think it’s “just how it is” here.  Like in Dallas, Texas – everyone seems to have a fenced in backyard.  I thought that was weird when I moved there from Wisconsin – in Wisconsin no one has a fenced in backyard.  So, again, once you get used to it, it’s no big deal.


barbed wire…


Fences and gates surround most houses here.

The local people (called “ticos”) are really and truly genuinely NICE people.  We run into people all the time – on the bus, in the stores, at soda’s (café’s) and at the pharmacy (when I tripped & fell on my face and totally scraped my knee up).  Our first time coming home from town on the bus, we were nervous about knowing when to get off, and this sweet lady just seemed to sense our nervousness and started talking to us.  She knew English (pretty darn well!) and she tried to help us, asking where we lived, etc.  So nice!  Most of the time if you ask the locals if they know any English – they will say “oh no…  just a little English”, etc. – but it’s not true!  They start talking and they carry on the whole conversation with us in English!  They are very modest.  When we go in soda’s (always good, by the way) – we always start by greeting in Spanish, and trying to say what we want in Spanish, and it seems like as soon as they know we are making an EFFORT to talk in Spanish, they are so helpful and sweet, and help us with the words and then they start saying stuff in English, which is even more helpful!  It really amazes me – because here we are – foreign people (“gringos”) – living in their land – and they are totally kind and gracious to us!  Not sure the same can be said about some people in the U.S….

When one of my aunt’s first found out I was moving to Costa Rica, she was worried about me standing out with my fair features and said “well I hope she’s getting contacts and dying her hair!”…  which I found funny and sweet, but of course had not even considered.  Well, we found her fear to be totally unfounded.  The people here are really so courteous and nice, and it appears that they truly LIKE gringos (or at least they like us…  or maybe they’re just scared of my hubby.).  Here’s a picture from the bus we were on the other day…  you can see Costa Ricans look mainly just like us (at least from the back).  Although I guess Greg & I do kind of stand out (Greg being tall and me getting blonder by the day).  Ah, well…


That’s all for now folks!

Peace! — JenJen


I quit my job in my early 40’s, sold everything and retired early to live a simple life in Costa Rica!

Check out my book: "Costa Rica Chica" - the book.

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30 Responses to I’m living in a 3rd world country?

  1. Great article! I have pretty much the same observations as you. I don’t know if you’ve seen blond haired children with dark haired parents yet, but I’ve seen quite a few. Grecia has the distinction of being “The cleanest town in Costa Rica” and they are proud of it!

    • Thanks so much Debbie! I know you had mentioned that – blond haired kids – I have not seen yet, but am on the lookout for (and I truly don’t feel like I stand out anyway). 🙂

  2. Very well written, Jen, and I agree 100%! After having lived here for three years, first in the Central Valley like you and then here in the Pacific NW beach region, we have noted some subtle differences in the people. It was very refreshing to find that they actually LIKED us and love conversing with us. I wrote newletters (instead of a blog) about our adventures the first year or so because I wanted all of our friends to know that no, there are no guerillas with machine guns behind every tree and that we are quite safe and having the time of our lives. Enjoy the culture and immerse yourself in it as much as possible – our friends and family in the U.S. are missing so much!

    • That’s funny – the guerillas with machine guns behind every tree – but I know, seriously that’s what people think… Gracias for your kind comments!

    • Hi Kathy Ernst:
      I am interested in the Pacific NW beach region because I need to be near the ocean. Where would you suggest? I’m kind of drawn to Samara because they have yoga and a language school.

  3. As to the greeting kiss, and his hands on your hips, this may have been a response to your hands on his shoulders. This greeting is generally done with a mutual holding of the forearms.

  4. Pretty much spot on JenJen! Not all Ticos appreciate gringos though and some gringos deserve their behind-your-back jokes, but in general they are amazingly tolerant of our broken Spanish and strange customs. I wrote a post about the No thing, it really is considered a bit rude.

    • Thank you, Casey! Believe me, I totally know that some gringos are rude to the ticos here (we’ve had to experience this, and it pains me). And I’m sure there’s some Ticos that are not super nice and friendly – I just haven’t met them yet!

      Yes I really liked your post on the NO thing, as you went into greater depth with it. We were happy that a friend of ours told us about this early on, as it’s one of the nuances that probably would have took us a long time to pick up on our own. Thanks for reading my blog!

  5. Yup, exactly. The kiss is a cultural thing. In Miami, it was such an infectious ritual that it spreads to the non-Latino community; greeting with kisses would happen between everyone.

    I wish I could agree with you on the trash. It’s definitely not that way everywhere. That was one of the things that actually saddened me in Herradura was seeing the trash by the roadside everywhere.

    I was actually just talking with someone else about the disdain for gringos here. It’s not overly prevalent but it sadly exists.

    This is a great place with friendly and warm people, no doubt.

    • Scott – that’s too bad to hear about the trash and some disdain for gringo’s. I’ve definitely spent most of my time here in Grecia and am basing my comments on Grecia so far. Maybe I’ll stay here for a while. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. What a great article. I’ve read quite a number of books on moving to Costa Rica and have never seen it encapsulated as well as you did. I’d also recommend the book “The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica” to learn more about Ticos.

  7. Jen, what would be a minimum budget for a couple to live in Costa Rica? I mean simple life type living, not bringing our U.S. lifestyle with us.

  8. Hi, Jen!

    What a nice “walk down memory lane” for me! We moved from Arizona to Grecia 3-1/2 years ago.

    Your observations are similar to what ours were then — and continue to be today! Like you I’ve noticed how very well behaved the Ticos ninos are! And how Tico fathers take a very active role with their children — boys AND girls! Whenever I admire a baby, usually the mom/dad/grandma/grandpa will stop and let me see the child more clearly! How sweet! (FYI, “ooh!” and “aah!” need no translation into Spanish!)

    Regarding hair — notice the redheads you’ll see! And the Ticos with curly hair! Sometimes even curly red hair!

    In Grecia we’ve found that Ticos and Gringos are most helpful to us! Even after years down here, my Spanish skills are sketchy to say the least. But I figure I get to entertain the Ticos with my vastly improved pantomime routines! 😉

    I look forward to more of your posts! If there’s anyway I/we can help y’all, just ask.

    P.S. Cute “model” you’ve got there! 😉

    • Muchas gracias, Sheron! Do you still live here in Grecia?

      Correct on the Tico fathers – I agree (just saw one with his baby today on the bus). AND I was looking more carefully and today (we went on a few errands in town) spotted two children with blondish-brown hair – very light in color (although not “blond”). Have not seen any red heads yet – will keep looking for!

      Thank you for your comments (and I agree on that super cute model!!). 🙂

  9. I believe the correct term is “Developing Nation”. If you’ve been to Nicaragua, you would notice the difference in that respect right away. Besos, Kathleen (Writing to you from McMenamins Sandtrap, overlooking my Golf Course)

  10. I have lived in Costa Rica for nine years and the reason I believe the children are so well behaved is because they are raised by everyone in the family – from the 4 years old helping up to the 80 year old. The entire family helps taking care of the children and they are not put in playpens, no daycare, no strollers, but carried around wherever they go and greeted with love. People will stop and talk to your baby – the babies are royalty in this country. This is one of the first thing I realized many years ago and it is beautiful. Another thing is that the children are not spoiled with stuff. I live in a poor town and these children learn to play with what they have and know not to ask for anything in the store. Life is Pura Vida 🙂 Welcome to Costa Rica Chica!

    • Lisa – thank you for this input! And you’re right – I’ve never seen a baby in a stroller here. Interesting, and all seems to make simple sense, when you think about it.

  11. Glad you’re enjoying your life in CR. Have been here 6 + years and arrived with only 3 suitcases/ Look forward to your adventures. Lived in DFW and Flower Mound, TX for muchos anos.

    Pura vida

    • Skeeter – thank you so much! WOW on just 3 suitcases!! So interesting we are meeting so many people that came from Texas. Thanks for reading my blog. 🙂

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