14 September 2016

Mark Van Patten - Expat in Costa Rica

Mark Van Patten - Expat in Costa Rica

We’ve had the chance to talk to Mark Van Patten, 68, an American expat who has moved to Costa Rica with his wife. Mr. Patten who has been living there for five years, is now retired.

Read more about his experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: Born in Michigan, moved to Costa Rica from Kentucky.


Q: What made you move out of USA?

A: We retired and felt we could not afford to live in the U.S.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We moved to Costa Rica in 2011 because of the lower cost of living, wonderful weather and friendly people.


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

A: Five years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: Just my wife and I.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Yes, but we communicate daily via email and will make phone calls from time to time.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Part of the reason we moved to Atenas, Costa Rica was the reputation Ticos have for being warm and friendly people who are tolerant of expats. We have found this to be true.


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: There is a large expat community that lives here full time and plenty of snowbirds during the high season. There is a Men’s Club and a Women’s Club that meet regularly. A couple of restaurants are gringo hangouts. Atenas is a small community so it’s rare to be in town and not see a familiar face.


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


  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: 50 cents.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: $5 for lunch, $10 for dinner.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: $25 for dinner.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Don’t know.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Costa Rica?

A: It often changes so any guidance I offer is likely to be outdated at some point in time. Best to reach out to somebody already living in Costa Rica to find out the current situation.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Don’t know.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Costa Rica is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: In Atenas, expats love Doctora Candy at Linea Vital. Government healthcare can be “iffy” for regular care. Emergency care is acceptable. CIMA is a private hospital that many expats use.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or Costa Rica? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: No health care. As with any insurance, it is a calculated risk to “self-insure.”


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Costa Rica? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: We shipped via ocean cargo container. We used a 40-foot container and brought a car that my wife thought she could not live without. We used Barry Wilson from ShipCostaRica.com and found him to be reliable and trustworthy. Find a boy scout who knows how to tie good knots and every eight feet or so secure the load with a mesh made of rope.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: Language.


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

A: Postive: Wonderful climate (best in the world we say) Friendly, accommodating and tolerant locals. Negative: Selection of “gringo” brands in the grocery, infrastructure and inflation.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Sight sees at Volcanoes, rain forest and beaches.


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

A: No.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Be patient. Learn the language and keep learning. Remember the government does not do “logical” things in a timely manner.


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

A: Learned a lot from WeLoveCostaRica.com and ARCR.net forum. Yahoo Groups has an active Costa Rica Living forum. Facebook is taking over as the “go-to” source for current information. Many Facebook pages for communities or activities.