Living Abroad in Nicaragua
© Randall Wood and Joshua Berman, from Moon Living Abroad in Nicaragua. Used by permission of the author(s) and Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved. For more info please visit Moon's website, Moon.com, and www.GotoNicaragua.com, a site created by Wood and Berman for fellow Nicaphiles to come together, plan their trips, and ask questions.
Is Nicaragua right for you? The first thing to consider is that, despite so much recent hype, an extended or permanent stay in Nicaragua is a bold and major lifestyle change. It would be wrong—and seriously misguided—to expect living in Nicaragua to be remotely similar to more traditional warm-weather retreats, like Florida or Costa Rica, for example. There are as many challenges as there are opportunities here, and the process of determining whether Nicaragua is your cup of tea should not be taken lightly. Moon Living Abroad in Nicaragua is a tool to assist you with that process; eventually, however, the questions you ask are your own, as is the responsibility of being prepared.
Start with, “Why am I moving to Nicaragua?” If your first answer has to do with something you read in a real estate brochure, flashy magazine article, or get-rich-quick scheme you found online, then you’ve got some more research to do.
Ultimately, you’ll face the most important and potentially challenging aspect of living in Nicaragua: its poverty. Although a few upscale resorts and gated communities have recently sprouted in the southwest corner of the country, nowhere in Nicaragua will you be sealed off from the harsh, everyday realities of one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. For many foreign visitors, this is their reason for coming—to import goodwill, skills, and knowledge to people who have not had the opportunities we in the United States, Canada, and Europe take for granted. These well-intentioned souls will find plenty of work to do, though creating sustainable solutions to poverty rather than more dependency is a far greater challenge than learning how to take a bucket bath or use a latrine. Will you know how to make a meaningful difference?
Business-minded immigrants believe the answer lies in investment, jobs, and the trickle-down effect. They figure they can help the economy and turn a small profit at the same time. Perhaps you are one of these, restaurant blueprints in hand or images of a long-dreamed lakeside bed-and-breakfast flitting through your head. You’ll find your own set of trials and tribulations, from a short-changing contractor to an unexpected beachfront-turned-swamp in the rainy season, to the classic bureaucratic nightmares so common in Latin America—all of which you’ll bear with your slowly improving Spanish language skills. Are you ready for such tests?
Even foreigners who arrive with no motive loftier than taking a break from the rat race, or even retiring from it, will be pushing their normal comfort zones. Basic services like electricity and water fail sporadically throughout Nicaragua. The recently privatized telephone service is improving, but at times the nation’s entire telecommunications network gets saturated and there’s nothing you can do but relax and wait. Some highways are smooth, but most roads are bumpy and uncomfortable, the drivers aggressive and reckless, and traffic snarls between Managua and Granada are the norm. Can you roll with such inconsistencies?
Then there is the Nicaraguan administrative and legal system. Your every run-in with the petty officials that demand and process your paperwork, from getting a driver’s license to paying your taxes, will exasperate you and make you long for home, where everything seems to just work better. Do you have the patience?
Though we had no idea what to expect when we first moved to Nicaragua in 1998, it ended up being a perfect fit, and we have never stopped thanking our lucky stars for the different ways in which this place has affected our lives. Maybe you will be similarly enchanted; maybe you won’t. Discovering if Nicaragua is right for you means asking all the questions above and more. It means reading this book and others, and above all, it means flying south and taking a gander. Research what you’re getting into: Take a Spanish course, talk to Nicas, and chat up the expatriates who have made Nicaragua their home. Walk the streets, ride the buses, visit the markets, sample the food, and see the sights. Whether or not you decide to stay, this experience—and at least some part of Nicaragua—will remain with you for life.