Casey Halloran is a native of rural Pennsylvania. Fresh out of college, he moved to Costa Rica in 1998 and began a Costa Rican web directory. That business transitioned into an online travel agency, Casey and then-roommate and fellow expat Tony Silva, grew their 2 person start up into the largest online agency in Central America. In addition to Costa Rica, the agency now offers customized vacations to Nicaragua and Panama. Casey is married to a Panamanian and they reside in a suburb of San Jose, Costa Rica. caught up with Casey to get his expert tips for moving to Costa Rica.

What are some essentials I should take for a Costa Rica move?

Physically, I think it is wise to travel with as little as possible. But you’re going to need:

1. Money — it’s not cheap to live in Costa Rica anymore. You’ll most likely need more money than you think, so you really need to do your research.

2. Warm Clothes — if you decide to live in the Central Valley, you might be surprised to know that it gets chilly during some parts of the year. Now by chilly I mean 65 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hardly Minnesota in February. However, it’s not particularly fashionable nor comfortable to be walking about in beach gear in San Jose most of the year.

3. Guidebook — there are tons of books, websites and guides to travel, living and retirement in Costa Rica. You should really hone your knowledge to have some lay of the land before you arrive.

4. GPS — there are almost no road signs in Costa Rica, so driving can be extremely difficult. GPS is a great solution to that problem.

Mentally, you’re going to need:

1. Patience — moving to any new country and culture requires a LOT of patience. There are going to be bad days.
2. Language Skills — if you really want to be happy in Costa Rica, you’re going to need to be able to communicate in the native tongue.
3. Awareness — things here are NOT like home, so you need to be aware and alert. Don’t let your guard down until you really, really know your way around the legal system, business practices and basic human interactions.

If you had a friend visiting for a week which places would you show them?

I think for first-timers, it’s smart to visit Manuel Antonio Beach and the Arenal Volcano. Those are two iconic destinations that are really like nowhere else. Manuel Antonio is a beach and National Park that has 3 types of monkeys, gentle waves and a wide variety of boutique hotels with stunning views from hilltops down to to the ocean. Arenal is famous for its hot springs and the near-perfectly conical volcano. It’s not currently active, but is still an amazing site and the hot springs are legendary.

What are the people like in Costa Rica?

It’s a bit cliché at this point, but “Ticos” are some of the nicest people on the planet. They really are the main attraction in the region as they are courteous, knowledgeable about their country and believers in protecting nature and the environment. The country has no standing army and strong education system.

Which areas would be perfect for a family to move into?

That really depends on the family. Some folks prefer the Central Valley around the capital city of San Jose as it features mild weather, good schools and the best access to modern hospitals, shopping and nightlife. Others prefer life at the beach our mountains, which is far more laid back and simple. Costs, lifestyles and access to modern living vary greatly throughout the country.

Are there any unusual customs or practises foreigners should be aware of?

I think the most common phenomenon throughout most of Latin America is a very different concept of time. Things move slooowwwwly here and when a local says, “tomorrow” that might mean 3 months. This is one of the more frustrating things for expats to get used to.

Where do the Costa Ricans go out?

Ticos love to head to the beach. They really love their country and frequent a lot of the same places that tourists do. In the Central Valley / San Jose area, there are a lot of restaurants and nightlife. Costa Rica has a strong local economy and this can be seen in the rising cost of living in San Jose and the throngs of locals who frequent the increasing number of upscale stores, restaurants and bars.

Do you have any other top tips for people moving to Costa Rica?

Assuming you are from a developed country, you must remember to be very cautious. The legal system doesn’t really work here and there are a lot of scam artists, both local and foreign, who prey upon new arrivals. Take your time with your decisions, choose your friends wisely and don’t accept things at face value. Do research, get second opinions and cover your butt with contracts, payment plans and other ways to offset risk. Even in doing that, you WILL face setbacks…you just need to soldier on and keep things in perspective.

For more information, check out Bookmundi’s excellent guide on Costa Rica.