25 August 2016

Nadine Hays Pisani - Expat in Costa Rica

Nadine Hays Pisani - Expat in Costa Rica

We’ve had the chance to talk to Nadine Hays Pisani, 45, an American expat who has moved to Costa Rica with her husband. Mrs Pisani who has been living there for seven years now works as a writer of the Happier Than A Billionaire series and owner of Happier Than A Billionaire Productions.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I’m originally from Linden, New Jersey, or Exit 13 off the turnpike. I’m not sure why people from New Jersey insist on giving their highway exit, but it is a long-standing tradition that is widely honored. Exit 13 is not the most scenic place to grow-up, but I find that living near oil refineries gives one an appreciation for skies not yellowed by sulfur.

After a successful run at being chiropractors, my husband and I decided to chuck it all at thirty-seven and head south to Costa Rica. We didn’t have much of a plan. I often say “two plane tickets, no plan, one dream.” However, we knew that we were not going to spend the next thirty or so years stuck in an office.

Many thought we were crazy, including us! But I felt like I had one shot at doing this, and that window was closing fast… I mean really fast. There was a moment in time I was brave enough to do this, and I knew that moment was not going to last forever, so I jumped straight off that ledge.

Flash forward to today and I’m the author of the Happier Than A Billionaire series. My latest book, the 2016 edition of the Costa Rica Escape Manual, is the “how to” on moving to Costa Rica with a lot of funny stories tossed in between. Being an expat is hilarious, and if you keep your sense of humor during the stressful times, you end up with a very interesting life.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: We first lived in the mountains of Grecia: one of the most beautiful towns in the world. Now we live on the coast close to Tamarindo. Although it is a lot hotter at the beach, I’m always snorkeling or kayaking. It’s definitely a trade-off, but it’s hard to beat sitting at the water’s edge watching the sunset.

We originally chose Costa Rica because of its cost of living and biodiversity. You can be at the top of a volcano in the morning and lounge on a beach by afternoon. Costa Rica is less expensive than other countries, but not the cheapest place to live. You can find rents ranging from $300 a month all the way up to $5000. A lot depends on where you want to be and what your budget is.


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

A: I’ve been in Costa Rica over seven years and continue to be amazed by this country. Nothing gets old here. Every sunset is exquisite, and the wildlife is spectacular. I’m so incredibly happy. I realized a lot of my dissatisfaction in the States was living such a hectic lifestyle. Time just disappeared, and next thing I knew, I was at my practice ten years.

Time feels more tangible now, like something I’m holding in my hand. It has a shape and color. It passes along as before, but it’s warmer and kinder. It’s God’s currency, and I’m grateful that I get to spend these moments in a life that fits better than the one I had in the office.

As for some of the more difficult things about living abroad, learning the language has been the most challenging. My husband picked up on Spanish right away, but I’m a slow student. For example, I once asked a neighbor for a bag of urine instead of flour. I make friends wherever I go.


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: You cannot take a job away from a Costa Rican. You can open a business, but working legally can be challenging. Work permits are very, very expensive and unless you have a particular skill an employer cannot find anywhere else, you are unlikely to get a permit.

Because I am a resident, I qualify for the healthcare system. My husband used it for his hernia surgery. I wrote extensively about that experience in my second book. The boy was that different than the United States, but he did great, and the surgery was successful. So it depends if you are a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full type of person. Even though it was a crazy experience, we didn’t pay a dime and my husband is feeling great.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I’m lucky that I get to share this experience with my husband. I’m also lucky he lets me write about the ridiculous things he ropes me into. He’s a “how bad can it be” kind of guy while I’m an “oh boy, nothing about this will work out” sort of gal. Somehow we balance each other out, which really means I go along with his ideas and find that my life is overwhelmingly more interesting when I take more chances.


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 Costa Rica?

A: No matter where you go, expats tend to form their own little communities. It’s a great way to be introduced to a country when you can understand someone speaking the same language as you. Ultimately, you end up meeting more and more neighbors and locals within the community and you start to assimilate. I have many Costa Rica friends and they have been lovely to me. The best part is watching their face while I practice my Spanish. Their expressions are priceless.


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

A: This country will amaze you. Every part is different with different microclimates. Rent a car, get on the road, and start traveling around. My favorite moments are sitting on the back of our scooter while my husband and I explore dirt roads to see where they lead.


Q: How does the cost of living?

A: Coffee is cheap since Costa Rica is a coffee producing country. The cost of meals at restaurants varies. If you are in a tourist town, they will be expensive. Also, there is a 23% tax added (10% for servers tip plus a 13% tourist tax). That always increases the bill more than you expect. But there are smaller places to eat along the side of the road that is less expensive called sodas.

I’ve had great bottles of wine for roughly ten dollars, mostly ones that are bottled in South America. I’m not sure how much cigarettes are; I think they are cheaper, but I’m not going to say for sure. The last thing I want to do is promote smoking. I quit in my twenties, and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.


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

A: Costa Rica is a friendly place. If it weren’t for the kindness of the Ticos (Costa Rican term for the locals), I wouldn’t be living here.


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

A: I live a happy life. There are positive and negatives about living anywhere, no matter what the latitude. The most important thing is to give the happier times more weight. When you value those times more, you’ll be amazed at what you remember and what becomes part of your experience. Traveling is all about attitude. Pack a good one and you can live anywhere.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Now with Skype, FaceTime, and all the other ways to stay in contact with my family, I rarely get homesick. Trust me; you are not doing your family any service by living a life that makes you miserable. Your grumpy mood is not appreciated. When your family sees how much happier you are, it’s surprising what that does to relationships. I’m so much more present now; so available to them emotionally that I was before when I was trapped in a haze of depression and anxiety. Plus, I do go home to visit them so it’s not like I’m stuck on Mars.


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

A: You never know where life will take you, but I’m building a home right now in Costa Rica so I’m not going anywhere too soon (except the hardware store).


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: Do it for the adventure and for the love of travel. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s the imperfections that make for an extraordinary experience. 

If you would like more information about living in Costa Rica, check out my blog Happier Than A Billionaire. You can follow my progress of building my home in Costa Rica. Heavens, who knows how that is going to turn out. But like my husband says:

 “How bad can it be?”