Why I quit my job and moved to Costa Rica…

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 & I first started talking about it, I was like, well this is nice & 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)…  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…  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 & 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!)

The main reason we could not “retire early” in the states was health care costs.  Also – we were afraid the life style 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 1 hour’s 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 health care 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

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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 first hand what we were considering and offer any opinions or questions that we might not think of.  We visited in January of 2012 – 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 60’s at night to no higher than low 80’s 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 expat’s 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.

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The Church in Grecia.

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 & Fran and hired them for 2 days while Greg & 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 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.

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Playa Ocotal

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Playa Hermosa, at sunset…

Lake Arenal:  Lake Arenal is a HUGE lake, and we stayed at a resort there (a small reward for all 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 – lizzards, butterflies, every type of bird you could think of, even a crocodile “farm”.  It was a great vacation stop for us.

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Me and my Momma at Los Lagos.

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Walking on a pretty scary swinging bridge thing…

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!

That’s all for now folks.  Any questions or other topics you’d like me to address?  Comment here, I’m happy to answer, or blog about.

Peace – JenJen

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.

Jen

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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22 Responses to Why I quit my job and moved to Costa Rica…

  1. Great article, JenJen! We’re going through the same process right now. Myself, husband and our daughter (now 9) will be moving to the Guancaste region in July of 2014. I will continue to follow your blog posts. I will also check out BoomersOffshore as I have not come across their site yet in our research. Pura Vida!

    • Hi Amy! Wow – congrat’s on you guys moving here soon, with a young daughter – that is very cool! Let me know if you have any questions or I can help… 🙂

  2. Amazing, Jen. What an truly inspiring and incredibly heart felt story. I’m so glad I read this post. I wish you and Greg a world full of wonderful in your new home while you traverse this courageous journey. Well done you!
    Big hugs and sloppy kisses,
    Shelley

  3. Love reading things like this. In two years, my husband and I plan on leaving Tucson, AZ for CR. Our business(Costa Rican Food Truck), house and life will be up for sale and when it’s all sold, we are off. My question for you, since you don’t seem to mention it on here, how do you plan on setting up residency there, being that the perpetual tourist option is being phased out? I know a lot of people who do not have the means to qualify for residency go this route, but I am seeing very quickly, with first hand accounts of my friends in CR, that this soon will not be an option, being that CR is no longer giving 3 month entry permits to returning “PT’s” and Panama is now no longer allowing entrance to their country for PT’s unless they have an actual plane ticket. Hopefully this was not something you were relying on, but you could possibly have another plan, I just didn’t see it mentioned in this blog. I’ll go and check your other blog entries, since I am super curious about a first hand account of moving there, with all the logistics. Please please keep this blog up, as i find most people start and when they get into the routine of life in CR, they seem to stop. Or maybe they realize it’s not the dream they imagined, and just don’t feel like talking about their disappointment anymore. 😉 Pura Vida!

  4. Hello!
    My friend emailed me your story and it just made my day. I have been a traveler for many years – I have always said travel is the greatest teacher. But once bills and loan payments caught up to me, I settled back in the state of Maine to get a solid job and start paying off my debt. Of course that’s what everyone thinks you must do – work work work to pay off debt which inevitably gets you into more debt, haha. I have always been the blacksheep, the “crazy” one such as yourself. I finally said screw it, I have been working the 9-5 office job for nearly 3 years now and it is not for me. So I said enough is enough, I am going to move to Costa Rica. It started off as a joke but now I am locked down to the idea. I am 29 years old, I want my future to be something VERY different than what this current path would bring me to, so massive change must happen to get me on the path I desire. With that said, I took the entire month of January off to travel to Costa Rica. I hope to get a lay of the land, perhaps look for some employment, get things lined up for the very near future when I sell my belongings and shift life southwards. Being an Outdoor Education graduate, I am certain I could find some source of employment. I loved reading your story and saying “YES” – she gets it. So thanks. Any insight you may have, recommendations, etc – that may make this road less bumpy for me would be more than appreciated. Hope you are well, basking in the sun and have a smile on face. Cheers 🙂

    Mat Robedee

    • Mat – thank you for this comment! I’m so glad you found my blog. Good for you for deciding to make the move too (we need more young gringo’s here)!! I will continue to blog about things associated with our move here, differences, residency, etc… so stay tuned!

      PS – and YES, I get it. 🙂

  5. My husband and I have been reading your blogs (yours and Greg’s). We can certainly relate to your initial thoughts of moving to CR and doing the research ahead of time. We have visited CR last year and will return again in January 2014 to explore the central valley area for future re-location. Getting rid of stuff is definitely the first step to this process and we are doing just that. Reading your comments about the excess in North America and a desire for living a healthy lifestyle resonates with us the main reasons to make our move to CR. Perhaps we can meet up during our week in Grecia. Pura Vida.
    Annie & Frank

  6. I have to say that I completely agree with the last part. We are getting ready to move abroad, D minus 5 months, and it feels great to be selling off everything and preparing for a new lifestyle.

  7. Great article. Proud of you guys for not waiting for the day when who knows??? Maybe you wouldn’t be able to enjoy retirement. The stress in Marks job was killing him, too, but I’m thankful he made it to retire at 63 healthy enough for us to now be enjoying Costa Rica. We’ve looked a it for 16-18 years, and it was definitely time to move forward with our dream!
    We have to do the unloading of “stuff” this next trip home, and there are some things I won’t part with….but overall, we are looking forward to experiencing the “freedom” of unloading all the unnecessary stuff, and/or all the stuff we won’t need anymore!

  8. It doesn’t sound like you went about your decision to move here in a “crazy” manner. Coming to scope it out and do some in-person research is a great idea. I think it’s great that you two decided to retire early, and can really enjoy living life to the fullest in such a beautiful place!

  9. I really look forward to reading your blog. I hope you eventually write a book!!

    I spent a week in costa rica with friends. Loved it as well. We went to the beach, interior and the volcanoes. I can’t wait until you two buy a house and are ready for company! I want to come visit.

    Luv ya!
    Lindi

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