Moving to Costa Rica: Taking the Plunge
In July 2005, just before my senior year of college, I was introduced to this small Central American country that would change my life. Studying abroad for college credits, I spent two weeks in Heredia and three weeks on the beach at Playa Samara. On the weekends I traveled to exciting locations like Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, Montezuma and Arenal. I fell in love with the Spanish language, the country's natural beauty and, most of all, with its beaches.
After graduation, I didn't really know what to do with my life -- but Costa Rica was always at the back of my mind. During travels abroad, I encountered many expats and admired their willingness to uproot and move away from everything familiar. In 2007, I signed up for a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This certificate would qualify me to teach English to children and adults.
Completing the course was the easy part; deciding where I wanted to live and work was the challenge. What I desired more than anything was to live in a place where I could simultaneously improve my Spanish skills and my tan. Costa Rica is known for its warm and friendly culture; people generally speak with a clear Spanish accent, and the beaches are absolutely sublime. What better place to live? There is a reason why thousands of Americans have already relocated.
Having read about the national labor restrictions for non-residents, I was certain that it would be impossible -- surely no one would consider hiring me with a mere tourist visa. Although I had contacted dozens of employers all over the globe, I didn't submit a single application to Costa Rica.
Life finally threw me a curveball a few months later in the shape of a marketing position in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although I wouldn't be teaching -- and I would be farther away from home than initially planned -- I fiercely needed to get out of Atlanta. Accepting the offer, I booked my ticket for departure in two weeks.
Two days before the scheduled flight I should have been packing, but instead found myself scanning Craigslist for jobs in Costa Rica. I came across an ad seeking teachers for one of the most prestigious schools in Liberia. Halfheartedly, I forwarded my resume -- and within minutes, the school's principal had responded.
The administrator informed me that I was overqualified to teach in Costa Rica -- a TEFL certificate was hardly necessary. The only two requirements were that 1) I speak English as my native tongue and 2) I have a bachelor's degree. Technically, I would not be working for the school, but for a contracting company based in the U.S. -- this loophole would allow me to stay in the country without a work permit, as long as I left the country every 90 days. By that evening, it was final. I had the job.
Two days later, I found myself wobbling along the Liberia airport tarmac with three enormous suitcases and a backpack. Everything had happened so fast that my head was spinning. The air, even mixed with exhaust from the airplane, smelled refreshingly crisp and clean in comparison to Atlanta's heavy pollution.
It was hard to believe that I had really made it to Costa Rica -- and terrifying to ponder my lack of support systems. I would have to make it completely on my own, without any friends or family to fall back on. Looking at this as an opportunity to reinvent myself, I made it my mission to meet as many people as humanly possible. Newly relocated expats either sink or swim -- and I wanted to swim.
I quickly befriended the good-natured administrator who had hired me, a woman I came to view as a mother figure over the next ten months. A young English teacher took me under her wing and helped me find an apartment. The head of the science department taught me how to prepare Costa Rican beans. My landlord loaned me a cell phone line -- an item more valuable than gold to non-residents (more on this later). Everyone went out of their way to make me feel safe and welcome in my newly adopted country.
Within a week I had developed a circle of acquaintances that I could truly rely on. Once the dust had settled, I remember looking around and thinking, "Is this real?' It was real. I had escaped my monochromatic life in Georgia -- and living under the bright Guanacaste sun never felt so good.