1 August 2016

Liisa Vexler - Expat in Costa Rica

Liisa Vexler - Expat in Costa Rica

We’ve had the chance to talk to Mrs. Liisa Vexler, 41, a Canadian Expat living in Costa Rica.

Seeking a new lease of life, Mrs. Vexler and her husband decided to move to their honeymoon destination, Costa Rica. Though it still pales in comparison with Canadian winter sports, Mrs. Vexler enjoys surfing at Costa Rica with her two sons a lot. While the warm locals and like-minded expat community there has no doubt made the transition smoother, Mrs. Vexler took a while to find the right school for her children.

On the challenges in her three years there, she said, “Costa Rica is still a developing nation. This means there is less organisation in many places. This can mean less bureaucracy in some cases, but much more in other cases. There is also corruption, though this has not affected us directly.”

Mrs. Vexler, who is a writer, follows a wide variety of websites about Costa Rica and has published books on her move abroad. Read more about Mrs. Vexler’s experiences as an expat in Costa Rica, in her full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I am from Ottawa, Canada.


Q: What made you move out of Canada?

A: We were looking for an adventure that included warm weather and another language.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: We live in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.


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

A: My husband and I came here on our honeymoon and fell in love with the country. After several progressively longer vacations, we made the first move in 2011.


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

A: Three years.


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

A: We had a hard time finding the right school for our older son. We did, and we are so glad we kept on searching for the optimal fit.


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

A: It is easy to live for extended periods of time in Costa Rica if you are willing to exit the country every 90 days. If that is not convenient, it can get expensive for a family. Temporary residency is an option and many people can qualify in one of several categories i.e. student visa or property owner. We are expecting our residency to be official shortly.

We have expatriate health insurance which gives us full coverage for any medical service including routine check-ups with no deductible. Some people may find this excessive but it gives us peace of mind.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I live with my husband and two boys, ages 9 and 7.


Q: How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: My boys love it here. They have made good friends and have become good little surfers. They miss the quality of organised team sports they might be part of in Canada. My husband really enjoys it here and we sometimes have to pinch each other to remind ourselves we are not dreaming.


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

A: Derek, my husband, notes that he has met more people in the three years we have been here than in our last ten years in Canada. Expats are open to new friendships, and the slower pace of life allows for more time socialising and relaxing. We both find that most expats we meet are like-minded as well. We all come from different walks of life, but we all have at least something in common, a desire for a different life or adventure.


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

A: We spend a ton of time at the beach, adults chatting and children running in and out of the ocean with surfboards, boogie boards, balls, etc. So, surf lessons would be my number one recommendation for new expats in this area. After that, there are natural wonders all over the country in this area and a little further away that offer endless opportunities for exploring. We love taking weekend trips to the Arenal volcano area to enjoy a different microclimate.


Q: How is the cost of living in Costa Rica?

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: $1.25

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: $5-7

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant? 

A: $25

  • How much is a bottle of wine?

A: $7

  • How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: No idea!


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

A: The people of Costa Rica, the Ticos, are what made us fall in love with this country. They are warm, friendly, genuine people who love children.


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

A: Costa Rica is still a developing nation. This means there is less organisation in many places. This can mean less bureaucracy in some cases, but much more in other cases. There is also corruption, though this has not affected us directly.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Definitely. I miss my friends and my parents, who were very involved in our day-to-day life before we moved.

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I call my mom.


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

A: We do not have any firm plans to move, but we do think about going back to Canada. My children are really into sports and would really like to experience a Canadian winter (i.e. hockey and snowboarding).


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

A: I mentioned before that finding the right school was hard. We assumed that the American school would be appropriate, thinking that it would be progressive and laid-back given its location – most expats we meet are looking for more for their kids. It turned out to be just the opposite, using a very traditional curriculum and teaching style that did not work for my children or for me. We had to accept that we had made a mistake and make a change.


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

A: Research the different areas of the country before you move. So many expats I speak to did not do their homework before they moved and find there are things they did not expect. They either turn around and go home or have to move again within the country. If you like the beach, make sure you can deal with the heat. If you want a low cost-of-living, don’t move to a tourist area, but choose a little village instead. Join expat groups on social media and ask questions. Most expats will be glad to help.


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

A: I sure do! Besides mine, which I love because I get to share the stories of all kinds of expat families, I love WanderlustLiving.com for her gorgeous photos and easy-to-digest articles, and TravelMother.com for her sweet, philosophic perspective. Finally, I really like MyTanFeet.com. They have a wealth of information about both living and visiting Costa Rica.

For more about my family and me, visit FamilyFreedomProject.com or check out my books, The Family Freedom Project, and Moving to Costa Rica with Kids, on Amazon.