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Living Abroad in Costa Rica

True Expatriate Stories

© Erin Van Rheenen, from Living Abroad in Costa Rica, 1st Used by permission of Erin Van Rheenen and Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.

Erin Van Rheenan

Author Erin Van Rheenen

I made the final decision to move to Costa Rica in mid-August, just as my garden was in late summer bloom. I touched down in San José less than three months later, in October, the end of the rainy season, when tropical rains come down hard every afternoon, transforming the landscape into a riot of lush green that needs no tending to thrive.

During those brief months between the seed of the idea and the fruition of the dream, I scrambled to prepare for the big move. First, a host of questions needed to be answered. Would I rent or sell my house? What would I do about health insurance, bank accounts, credit cards, and my reliance on email and the Internet? In short, I was confronted with the basic questions that accompany any big life change: What would I take with me, and what would I leave behind?

Though I don’t recommend such a compressed time line to anyone thinking of making such a move, sometimes you need to seize the opportunity. When it dawned on me that every question I had, every other person moving to the “Switzerland of Central America” would also have, I went about my research with newfound energy and desire to explore every angle.

Since I planned to work full-time up until two weeks before my departure, I had to take care of everything in the margins of my old life. But as often happens when you decide on a new path, you begin to see your intended destination in everything around you. Costa Rica was everywhere! I called AAA to ask if my membership had any benefits that extended abroad; the woman on the phone had just returned from Costa Rica. The beaches, she sighed. The forests. The cute little monkeys! It turned out that a colleague’s brother went down regularly for month-long surfing stints. It’s like no place else, he said. Everything there is so alive. A friend had a friend who with her husband had bought a bakery in a small town three hours from San José; would I like her email address? What began as peripheral to my everyday life started to push itself in to the very center.

Which is as it should be: You need to let the country take you, at least a little bit. To open up a space where the idea of living there can grow. But you’re in luck—you’ve chosen to consider life in one of the most fertile places on earth. If it can’t grow in Costa Rica, it can’t grow anywhere. This book will help you determine whether this particular deep-green dream corresponds to what you’ve been longing for. And if it is, this book will help you make that dream a reality.

About Erin

Erin Van Rheenen began her career as a serial relocatee at the age of five, when her parents moved the family from Oregon to Nigeria. Most of her adopted locales, however, would turn out to be in Latin America, and included Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico.

In 2002 she arrived in Costa Rica, thinking she had it made. Her Spanish was good, she had a degree in Latin American literature, and she’d already adapted to many new countries. What more did she need?

Plenty, it turned out. Knowing all the conjugations of the verb “jump,” for instance, won’t help when the locals tell you that you need a chapulín (grasshopper) to pull your rented 4x4 out of the river. And having read dozens of Latin American novels doesn’t make it any easier to decipher Costa Rica’s labyrinthine medical system.

Erin now knows that a chapulín can be more than a hopping insect, and that medical care in Costa Rica, once translated, rivals that available in the United States. As for discovering the lush variety of this tiny country, that’s a lesson Erin is happy to keep on learning.

Erin has been writing since she can remember, and in 1998 won the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society prize for best new novel. More recently she has published essays and articles in venues including Passionfruit: A Women’s Travel Journal and The Sun. She has also taught writing at City College of New York and at the San Francisco County Jail. She is a member of Bay Area Travel Writers.

Erin can be reached through her website,

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