|Costa Rica: Better Than Iran|
1.) Not Knowing the Language
Okay, now this one is pretty much your own fault and the one of the five that you have the most control over. I came down here with somewhat of a working knowledge of Spanish, but as I quickly found out, it wasn't near enough to be useful in an emergency situation. I worked on it immediately though, and in about six months I got to the point where I was fluent enough that my brain wasn't translating everything into English anymore, it was like carrying on a conversation in my own language. Immersion training at its best. However, I do know either ex-pats down here who after 10 or more years still have not picked up any Spanish. This is as ridiculous as it is disrespectful to the people of your host country. In the case of Americans, doubly so because of all the flak we tend to give Latin American immigrants in our country who refuse to learn a working knowledge of English. This was painfully illustrated to me one time as I took a complaint call in the Geek Squad from a woman who claimed that her husband had fought in Vietnam and shouldn't have had to hear someone say "para espanol,. marque numero dos" when he called our support line. Yes, this actually happened, but don't analyze it too much as it will eventually hurt the back of your head.
2.) Unreliable Infrastructure
This is one that I am dealing with a lot lately, and it can be absolutely infuriating. I work online, I am not a farmer or shoemaker. My livelihood, reputation, and professional effectiveness are all dependent on my Internet connection. Here in Costa Rica, the Internet is provided to the entire country via one small undersea cable that stretches from Panama City to San Jose. If a pod of particularly flatulent dolphins were to swim by at just a certain angle, the entire country could potentially lose Internet for weeks. But as it is, it cuts out randomly and for hours on end throughout the course of the day. In a 24-hour day, I am out for at least an average of one of them. Some days it's more, some days it's less. And now that the rainy season is here, the electricity now enjoys the same amount of reliability.
|My Saturday Night|
This is going to happen no matter what you try to do to stop it. And let's not confuse prejudice with bigotry, which is one of the most loathsome of human traits that many have not yet been able to grow out of. Prejudice is judging a person or a situation before one completely knows anything about them. If you have moved to a country that can be classified as Third World, then it will be presumed by most of your neighbors, acquaintances, and business contacts that you are somewhat well-off. Many people in these countries grew up hearing stories of how rich Americans and Europeans are, and how they throw their shoes away when they get holes in them instead of taking them to be repaired.
Again this is not bigotry on their part as they do not believe themselves to be superior to you. But they will see you as a possible source of revenue in some very imaginative ways. No less than four times have I gone househunting down here and had some kind of variation of this conversation....
Me: "Wow this is a really nice house, and I think it's really perfect for the price! Gimmie a lease now you crazy house renting sum'bitch!!"
Slimy Tico Realtor: "Jes, it eez very nice Senior Gipson, how much did the ad say eet whaz per month again?"
Me: "$500 US a month, why?"
Slimy Tico Realtor: "Ah! Jes, that ad was a mistake, eetz actually $2500 a month. We had a new girl that week, eend she was a confuz-ed....and....where joo go-eeng?"
|My Tactical Nuke in the War on Tico Price Gouging|
4.) Status of Residency
Depending on your host countries relationship with your native one, this could be more or less stressful than it should be, but it always will be. Costa Rica is a neutral country like Sweden and Switzerland, so their immigration laws tend to be a little bit more stringent. And their Parliament recently passed a law that states anyone who overstays their tourist visa can be find up to US$100 per day that they stay over, as well is be deported to either Panama or Nicaragua and not be allowed back in for a minimum of five years. Luckily I was grandfathered out of that due to my relationship and my Costa Rican children. But at the time that that law had passed, I had overstayed my tourist visa by two years...
The point is, don't overstay your tourist visa and don't do anything that would risk you getting any illegal status. In some countries that comes with jail time, unreasonable fines, forcible deportation, or in real paradises like North Korea, shot in the face. You should just figure on taking a miniature vacation every 90 days or however long the visa lasts. There are only a few countries that won't renew a tourist visa, be sure to check with your Embassy before you decide your entire life there and you should be fine. Most of the ex-pat community here in Costa Rica just factor in their three-day trip to Panama City every three months as a part of the schedule of their lives.
If you are seeking permanent residency or citizenship, be sure to jump through every single hoop they put in front of you, when they put it there. It will no doubt be a long, clunky bureaucratic process that will eat a little bit of your sanity along the way as I demonstrated in a post from four years ago. But just think of the pleasure you will know when it's all said and done and you write that letter to your IRS (or equivalent) that simply says "Bite Me" like I did.
5.) Culture Shock and Difficulty Assimilating
This is going to be more or less impact if a person depending on their ability to adapt and their mental fortitude. There was something that Bruce Lee once said to his good friend and student Dan Inosanto when Inosanto first came to train with him. Bruce Lee's unique methods of fighting and unarmed tactics that eventually became known as Jeet Kune Do was hard to swallow for Inosanto at first because of the traditional methods he learned from childhood. The quote was "empty your cup so that you may drink my tea". This meant that he had to let go of all the preconceived notions that he built up based on his experiences and traditional methods training. This same thought holds true for anyone who wishes to assimilate into a society that is not their own. A simpler, more familiar quote that applies just as well is, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do".
I adapted, but many people don't. You hear stories all the time about Americans or Canadians who moved down here and never leave their house. They are imprisoned in Paradise, and the more time they spend indoors, the crazier and more paranoid they get. But I will admit to it being funny sometimes when I turn on the news and see a story of yet another gringo loco on the roof of his house with a shotgun screaming about how his banana trees are trying to rob him. This actually happened.
So in my experience, those are the biggest five headaches I've had to deal with since living down here. No doubt your mileage will vary, in some places will be easier to assimilate to than others. I'm sure Americans who go to live in Canada are at lesser risk of numbers one and five on this list, for example. But wherever you are, you will always have this blog to come to for quick advice, and a chilled rum drink served in a hollowed out coconut tipped in salutation....