1 August 2016

Diana Miskell - Expat in Alajuela, Costa Rica

Diana Miskell - Expat in Alajuela, Costa Rica

Diana Miskell is a 67-year-old artist who lives in Costa Rica. Originally from the province of British Columbia, Canada, she moved to Costa Rica with her husband as they were in search of a new adventure. “We had never set foot in Costa Rica before we arrived,” Mrs. Miskell explained. “We disposed of most of our "stuff", put the remainder in a storage locker, and arrived here with six suitcases and our cat.” Presently, she and her husband have been living in Costa Rica for three years and five months.

Mrs. Miskell noted that the formalities required to relocate to Costa Rica were challenging, but not particularly difficult. “We used a lawyer (highly recommended), did some things ourselves, used a translator when needed,” she said, adding that the process can be slow and sometimes puzzling. She noted that the most difficult aspect about living the expat lifestyle involved learning Spanish. “We always make an effort to speak in Spanish (as best we can) and this is most appreciated,” she said.

The relocation process is one that is filled with a number of prerequisites and procedures, and expatriates who are unfamiliar with these requirements may be feeling overwhelmed by it all. To make the moving process easier, expatriates may want to consider looking for the right relocation services company to assist them when it comes to processing important paperwork, as well as looking for the right packaging materials for the move. Another helpful aspect of the expat lifestyle to consider is the language barrier. It can be helpful for expats to have some familiarity with the language spoken in the country they will be relocating to. Thus, expats may want to consider looking for nearby clubs and associations which can offer language-learning opportunities through meeting other expats who knows the local language.

Find out more about Diana Miskell’s experiences in Costa Rica in her full interview below.

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: We wanted a new adventure. We had seen and done just about everything in B.C., Washington, Oregon and California - driven on almost every highway and byway. Canada is a great country and we have no beef with it.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: Atenas, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Q: How long have you been living in the Costa Rica?

A: Three years and 5 months.

Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence? 

A: We did a lot of research on line, talked to people who had been here and decided to give Costa Rica a try. If it didn't suit us, we would just move on. We had never set foot in Costa Rica before we arrived. We disposed of most of our "stuff", put the remainder in a storage locker, and arrived here with six suitcases and our cat.

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Costa Rica?

A: Learning to walk on the sidewalks without breaking an ankle!

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in Costa Rica? What was your experience with these?

A: Only have experience with acquiring our cedulas (ID cards), drivers' licenses, and signing up for the socialized medical system (this is mandatory if you want to be a legal resident). We used a lawyer (highly recommended), did some things ourselves, used a translator when needed. Not particularly difficult, but lots of paperwork, can be slow, sometimes puzzling. Always an experience.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: With my husband.

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Costa Rica? How did you manage to find a social circle in the Costa Rica?

A: Easy to meet people and make friends. A lot of it has to do with networking. Also, there are quite a few Atenas Facebook pages where information is shared, etc. We socialize with both expats and Ticos. My friends and I have participated in learning how to make tamales with Ticas as our teachers. Great experience.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Too many things to mention. Read the guidebooks, get out there and explore. 

Q: How does the cost of living in the Costa Rica compare to your home?

A: Coffee is very inexpensive and absolutely the best. This is, after all, a coffee growing country. A meal at a soda (very small Tico run restaurants) - the best deal around. A huge plate of pico gallo (rice and beans), chicken or similar protein, plantain, corn tortillas, salad, local cheese - around 2,000 colones (or less), about $4.00. Meals in an expensive restaurant, in an upscale restaurant in areas like San José or Escazu, meals can be quite pricy. But Vancouver, B.C. restaurants were expensive too. Wine is mostly imported from Chile or Argentina. We don't buy it much - I guess they start around $12 a bottle and up - but the wines taste good to me. Cigarettes are apparently very inexpensive compared to Vancouver. I recall that one package of cigarettes when we left Vancouver in 2011 was $10.00 a pack. Here they seem to run around 1,000 to 1,700 colones per pack, depending on the brand (Chinese brand vs. American brand). So that's about $2 to $3.40 a pack. I don't smoke but this is what I have observed.


Q: How do you find the local culture and people in Costa Rica?

A: Ticos (Costa Ricans) are lovely, welcoming people. We have always been treated with respect. Of course, that is how we treat them. We always make an effort to speak in Spanish (as best we can) and this is most appreciated. The local culture is family and community oriented. We were invited to a Tico wedding and we considered this a huge compliment. Taxi drivers are our friends. 

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living the Costa Rica?

A: Both of us are hard pressed to come up with anything negative about living in Costa Rica - seriously. Everything is positive - the people, the weather, the sheer beauty of this small country, the beaches, the history.

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Not really. A few family members have visited.

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Don't have to!

Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Who knows what the future holds - we love Costa Rica but also want to visit some other countries. No interest in moving back to where we came from.

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: I guess learning Spanish! But a challenge is always good.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in Costa Rica?

A: Learn Spanish or at least make the effort. Interact with the Ticos. Don't isolate yourself behind a gated community. Do not compare where you came from with Costa Rica. Explore the different foods and food products. Shop at the ferias (outdoor markets). Travel the country. Eat where the locals eat. Good manners - very important. I always say in Spanish, "How are you?” they ask me how I am, and I answer, and then I can apologize for my limited Spanish! Don't associate exclusively with other expats, although you certainly want to have expat friends and a network. You want balance. Relax and go with the flow. Thank your lucky stars every day that you live here. Realize that this is a very small country and it cannot possibly stock the stores with every product that a larger country can carry. Very expensive to import goods here. Buy what the locals buy as much as possible. There are some American-style stores where you can indulge your cravings but they can be pricy. Embrace the "less is more" philosophy. Rent, rent, rent a house for several years at least before making a decision to buy. Live in different areas. Decide what you want: the beaches? (hot and electricity is expensive to run AC); the mountains? (closer to many amenities, cooler depending on elevation). Enjoy your adventure. Keep an open mind. For example, the reason the sidewalks are not in the pristine shape we were used to in Canada is because sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner the sidewalks are in front of so some will keep them in condition and some will not. Also, a small town like Atenas only has so many municipal dollars and there are better things to spend it on: education, health, the elderly, etc. Don't waste your precious days hanging about with negative people. If they are unhappy here, there's a good chance they were unhappy where they came from. Remember: A big smile and a "buenas dias" goes a long, long way.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Costa Rica?

A: Yes. An excellent one is www.retireforlessincostarica.com. Gloria and Paul Yeatman keep track of all their monthly expenses and show how one can live in Costa Rica on a budget, and still live well.

Two more excellent sites are: www.spidermonkeyrehab.com and www.howlermonkeyrehab.com  - our friend Michele Gawenka and her husband Paul rescue, rehabilitate and hopefully release certain monkey species back to the wild. They live in San Ramon.

Another site I like is http://windowonthepacific.blogspot.com/ - a blog created by two Toronto guys who built their dream home on the southern Pacific coast and are working towards full time retirement there.

To see more of Mrs. Miskell’s work, her art website featuring Horse and Cattle Art is www.dianamiskell.com and her Costa Rica Blog is http://dianascostaricablog.blogspot.com/.