Tyler and Vanessa Brown moved their family of six (+ two dogs) to Costa Rica. They share the answers to their most commonly asked questions.
Why did you move to Costa Rica?
Tyler answers: As much as I’d like a cool car or a nice house, I’ve always realized it the things that have made me the most satisfied in life have been the great meal, the interesting experience, the new language, the unique conversation, the great story, time spent with loved ones or complete strangers that make you think, laugh, and grow.
Our decision to leave the United States, our family, and our business behind was a combination of frustrations of never having enough time, money, or energy to raise our kids how we wanted, and the desire to push ourselves into something difficult and unique.
How did your friends and family react to your news of moving to Central America?
Tyler answers: Truthfully, I think most of our friends and family were excited for us. Most people thought what a fun adventure we’d have. However, there were a lot of comments made by people that really cut deep. “Wow, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t put my kids at risk like that living in another country.”
Oh, so we’re into putting our kids at risk? That’s our jam? I think a lot of people forgot that kids live and thrive in parts of the world outside of the United States. And that there are many places outside of the U.S. where kids live much safer lives.
“How are you going to drive to an island?”
Well, Costa Rica isn’t an island. Okay, this one didn’t cut deep. Just made me laugh, though, when I heard it a few times.
“Aren’t you worried about being kidnapped?”
Huh? Where did you get that? Have you ever thought what other countries think when they see the news from the United States with it’s murders, shootings, kidnappings, etc. You can’t turn on the news without seeing the tragedy. Why is it you think some OTHER country is horribly dangerous and you are somehow safe in America?
I think most concerns were genuine worries for safety, and I'm grateful for that. I just wish that these concerns had come from a more informed platform.
How do you prepare to move to another country?
Vanessa answers: It was an idea we had talked about for years. We decided to be brave and gave ourselves 14 months to just do it already. We put a huge poster board in our bedroom to map everything out and then we were on a mission. The board was full of firm goals and by what dates they needed to happen. We got to work with loads of to-do lists. Even after finding out we were pregnant with our fourth baby girl did not change our plans. We are self-employed, so there were many things to do financially and on the business end.
I took on the task of selling about 80% of what we owned. Selling it all felt refreshing to do, helped us save even more moolah for our adventure, but it just about did me in. There were car registration issues, new international bank accounts to set up, a last minute passport for the new baby, health department visits, and a billion other things. Even our two dogs that were coming along with us had their own set of to-do lists. I survived and got it all done, but I was on the verge of a breakdown when it was finally time to go.
I shipped my husband and two dogs out in our fancy Dodge Caravan stuffed to the brim with all our homeschooling supplies and things to keep the kids happy. They were on their way from Utah to Costa Rica. (Yes, he drove, and you can read all about it on our blog, it's a whole other story.) When my baby was a little over 6 weeks old, the five of us were on our way. I packed our lives into 5 suitcases, all under 40 pounds. We were accompanied by my mother so I could handle flying to Costa Rica with the four kids. As we flew away from Utah it was hard to process that the move was finally happening. I started homeschooling, birthed a baby, got our house ready for renters, and moved to another country, all within six weeks. I was starting to finally feel everything as we flew far away from everything I knew.
Did you make any mistakes?
Tyler answers: Big mistake #1- Rented a house sight-unseen. We were coming down in the beginning of November. Starting in December is high season in Costa Rica which means that prices go up, and availability goes down. We decided that we needed to lock a house down or we might be out of luck. We found a town we liked and a house that seemed suitable. Sure enough, it wasn’t.
The house had a leaky roof. It had a weird layout where the third bedroom, the second bathroom, and the kitchen were only accessible by leaving the house and going down a set of stairs and using keys to gain access individually to those rooms. It was tough. I had brought my family halfway across the world and we were in a house where three of our girls were sharing a hot, stuffy room and we were jammed into a house that we didn’t fit. We quickly found another house that suited us better. The town we had chosen was more isolated than we had realized. The house was awful. Yes, we were in paradise but it was a tough adjustment.
We haven’t fully adjusted, and that’s not a bad thing. Our family still doesn’t speak much Spanish, we’re still far away from church friends, and we’re still trying to make sure that we’re taking advantage of this amazing opportunity. But as long as we’re trying I think we’re accomplishing our goal.
How did you decide where to live, and what have you most enjoyed?
Vanessa answers: After the first month of living in what I lovingly refer to as the house of horrors we found a wonderful place to live. I said adios to the bats, iguanas, frogs, mold, filth, snakes infested home and didn’t look back. A year before moving to Costa Rica we took a vacation here to check it out. We fell in love with where we stayed, Playa Hermosa, which is about 5 minutes away from the main city Jaco. We chose Jaco based on a list of criteria that was important to us and our family. The beach, house with a pool, larger city with more activities, schooling options, kids classes, places to work on our hobbies, other ex-pats, and affordable. Keeping in mind the day-to-day things was important, too. Like grocery shopping, keeping up the car, checking books out at a library, attending church, etc. How hard would it be to accomplish these things? I didn’t want it to be too hard, so Jaco was perfect for you.
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My advice to anyone wanting to move to Central America would be to write down what you need from a location, what your family needs, and to find a place that suits that. Ask yourself, your partner, and your kids important questions. What do we want our day to day life to be like? How far do we want to be from adventurous things? How important is the beach? A particular style of schooling? Classes for the kids? A church location? The feel of the downtown? Cost of living? Climate? The food scene? Opportunities to serve others or serve in certain volunteer organizations? Then pick a location based off of your list. There is a lot of research you can do online but I really suggest heading out for a visit first. Who knows maybe it turns out you can’t deal with the humidity or you don’t love the feel of the country. You never know until you are there in person.
What is the cost of living?
Tyler answers: The average person in Costa Rica makes about $500 a month. When I heard stories of faraway places where people earn pennies a day I always assumed that the cost of living must be so low that it balances out, right? Wrong. The cost of food is not cheaper here. If you want to eat like you do in America you are going to pay a LOT more on food here. If you want to simplify your food intake then you can probably save a few bucks off what you’re used to paying in the U.S. We’ve done this and I’m glad. We eat a lot more fruit than I used to (admittedly, I NEVER ate fruit before but now I start every day with a fresh smoothie), we eat a lot more rice and beans, and we eat a lot less desserts, cheeses, and meats.
Cars are expensive to own. Gas is expensive, about $5-6 a gallon.The government places such high taxes on all imports that your car is going to cost you 50% more here than in the U.S. Not just your car but your computer, your DVD player, etc. Utilities are outrageously expensive.
Rent is cheaper. We’ve got a 4 bedroom house about a 5 minutes walk to one of the more famous surfing beaches in the world. It’s got a pool and a pool house. How much would this cost you in Santa Cruz? Waikiki? Manhattan Beach, Miami, or Myrtle Beach? A pretty penny, that’s how much. We pay just over a grand a month.
The interesting thing that we’ve noticed, though, is how we’ve allowed ourselves to live differently. We’re paying ourselves less while living here but I don’t notice too much difference. We’ve only got one car, and sometimes I’d like to buy the nice cheese at the store, but we’ve allowed our pace to slow down so we don’t need as much money.
So how do the ordinary folks around here making $500 a month do it? I’m not sure I have that figured out. I do know that most of them live in houses that wouldn’t pass muster in the states, use hardly any electricity, and joke that a rich guy is someone who eats meat every day. Not too many have cars, they take buses, or walk to nearly all their destinations. You know what? In spite of that I have seen numerous reports and studies showing that Costa Ricans are some of the happiest people on earth.
How has it been for your family unit?
Tyler answers: In the states I worked like a son of a gun. From dawn till late at night you could normally find me doing something business related. I didn’t see my kids too often, didn’t exercise, ate poorly, and wondered how I had turned a passion of mine (dog training) into a business that owned me. Our family is not immune to struggles here in Costa Rica. I wish my kids had more friends and could communicate in Spanish. I wish my wife had the friendships here that she had in Utah. Every day, though, we typically eat all three meals together. We pray together. We study scriptures together. We swim in the pool nearly every day. We’re at the beach 2-3 times a week. Our family is growing into a much more cohesive unit. I’m finally able to participate better as a parent in our family. I’m finally getting to know my kids. My wife and I joke together a lot more these days.
What adventures have you had? What have you learned?
Vanessa answers: Visiting the crocodiles on Tarcoles River, spotting monkeys in our backyard, chasing the kids around one of the many beaches, buying our food from the Feria every weekend, and being able to recognize the call of the Scarlet Macaws flying overhead. That is just a little look into the many adventures we have had here. Lots of them don’t cost a thing and are a part of our day-to-day life.
I have learned that it is important to put yourself out of your comfort zone. You will meet people that will make you open your eyes and pop the bubble you might have been living in for too long. And even in poverty, hard situations, and heartbreak you will see the beauty of other’s souls. You will remember why you try so hard to treat people the way you know you should. You will remember to work your hardest to be a good mother and father. When feeling vulnerable outside of your comfort zone you will learn how to find even more of who you are.
There are many times that I look over at my two oldest and watch their eyes and know a little bit of what they are processing in their heads. I watch their eyes tear up, I see them struggle, I watch them be brave, and I watch their hearts learn how to love others even more. Our experiences out here have taught us so many things, and a lot of it is hard to put down into words.
What has been the hardest thing for your family?
Vanessa answers: Making friends, finding the new flow of your family’s day-to-day, and catching on just takes time. When meeting a new family doesn’t work out, or you struggle with a new activity, or if it’s taking longer than you would like to learn the language. It is hard not to wonder why in the world you decided to leave your home. Just remember that it will take time for everything to click and to be patient with yourself and your family. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself along the way, even when things end up being harder than you had expected.
Homesickness is real. You watch everyone back home gather for holidays, all your friends go out for a fun night, or watch your nieces grow even older. Facebook is a blessing and a curse when you live far away. Some days you turn it on and are excited to see how everyone is doing. The next day you can slam your computer in frustration and feel down on yourself.
Are you glad you moved to Costa Rica?
Tyler answers: 100% yes. I wish I could say that all of our problems disappeared and you couldn’t fit anymore sunshine, rainbows, or unicorns into our happiness cornucopia. That hasn’t been the case. But I’m thrilled that we’re taking more control over our lives and pushing ourselves. I love seeing my wife struggle to speak Spanish with new friends. I love that my kids have been presented up close and personal with real poverty. I love that we’re discovering wonderful people, places and experiences on the other side of the world from where things are comfortable, safe, and ‘normal’.
Vanessa answers: Yes, I worry about my girls fitting in and being happy all of the time. It is the mother's guilt in me, and I don’t know how to get it to stop. They are experiencing important things, they are around their Dad a lot more, involved in activities, and are making friends. I have to remind myself of this. But my heart hurts knowing that they miss school back home, friends, their dance teacher, etc. Taking them to live in another country is a great opportunity and I am glad that we are all experiencing it together. On a personal level, I needed a good awakening; I needed to be reminded of life outside myself. That is when I learn and grow the most, and the move has most certainly done this for me.
Earlier today we decided to hop in the van and explore our little city of Playa Hermosa. We followed our long dirt road and bugged a couple of the locals to see if anything was cool ahead in the jungle. We found ourselves at the end of the road and in paradise. Waterfalls, little cliffs to jump off of, pools of cold water from the hills. The girls threw rocks from pool to pool, my husband started jumping off of higher rocks into bigger pools. The baby and I sat watching everyone in this movie come true. Just our little family, in the middle of nowhere, deep in the jungle, having a ball together. Happy we did this, happy we are here? Why yes I think so.
Vanessa blogs at INeverGrewUp where you can see a more detailed view on what life is like in Costa Rica. She enjoys reading, asking her husband to whip her up late night treats, and finding peace in the ocean. She hopes to add more hobbies and have a more interesting bio after her four girls give her a chance to breathe.
Tyler owns DogBehaviorOnline and Mi Adiestramineto de Perros, where you can learn how to train your dog through articles, videos, and dog training DVD sets. Also, a local training company CommuniCanine in Utah. He enjoys surfing, spending time with his five girls, and putting on the bite suit to be attacked by dogs.
They have four daughters; Abby (6), Cameron (5), Shae (1 1/2), and Reagan (4 months) and two old dogs. Whatever questions you might have on moving to Costa Rica, they would be glad to help, email us at inevergrewup at gmail dot com.