What Would I Do Differently?


Occasionally someone will ask me such things as “Are you glad you moved to Costa Rica?” or “If you had it to do over, would you do it again?” or “Do you miss the States?” or “When are you coming home?” or “Have you ever wished you had moved to a different country?” or “If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?”

The short answer to all but the last question is that  I absolutely love Costa Rica and have never once missed the United States nor doubted it was the right thing for me! And I have not gone back, having no reason so far. Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows why this is true for me and that Costa Rica is a perfect fit for my love of nature. But before I tell you the one thing I think I did incorrectly, a quick summary of what I did correctly . . .

A local dancing in last month’s Christmas Parade in Atenas.

What I Did Correctly Before My Move Here

If you go back to the beginning of this blog in June 2014 you will see that I was pretty meticulous about the details of a move to another country and fortunately I had had the experience once before when I moved to The Gambia, West Africa for 3 years. I followed all the websites’ and individuals’ suggestion of doing my “due diligence” (a popular phrase then) which simply meant lots of research on living retired in Costa Rica and the details of doing it legally, successfully and learning what it would take for me to be happy here, etc. ad infinitum! I did that! (Except not thoroughly enough with the language part!)

Plus I traveled here 4 times before moving and checked out other countries online and in the case of Panama, visited them 3 times (a reasonable option). Plus my last trip here before moving was to take the “Live in Costa Rica Tour” sandwiched on either side of a two-day conference by ARCR on all the details of a move here, residency options, legal stuff, both private & public medical services, shipping stuff here, getting a lawyer to help, etc. And on that same trip I hired a local lawyer who specialized in expat residency and began my residency application which was made easier with still some time still left in the states so I could personally secure all the needed legal documents that would have been much more difficult trying to get from here!

So, Then What Would I Do Differently?

 Just one thing! I would have made learning to speak Spanish fluently my JOB ONE! Though I had two brief classes in Nashville, I was a slow learner and not using it there, so to accomplish that . . . 

I should not have made finding a place to live the first task, as I did, but I should have enrolled in an Immersion Spanish Language School for the first 4-6 months (in another town since there is not one in Atenas) where they provide a cheap rent living with a Tico family that speaks only Spanish plus daily language classes and local tours in Spanish. Younger people might accomplish this in 3 months to some degree but a slower-learning old man like me needs more time and I’m just guessing on the 4-6 months. I tried one of these immersion schools for one week in Feb. 2020, just before Covid hit us big here, and it was very helpful, just not for a long enough time. It would be harder now while paying higher rent for my more permanent housing. But I’m going to talk to them again and may try additional weeks periodically with follow-up classes on Zoom or Skype. My current teacher is not moving me forward fast enough and nor is Duolingo! I’m ready for a change in my language learning!  🙂 I will report on any change made and what progress if any I make.  🙂

So, my only regret about being “Retired in Costa Rica” is that I am still not fluent in Spanish – though I am immensely better than when I arrived here! 🙂 I speak more Spanish than maybe many of the other American expats (some don’t even try.) I do great in restaurants and traveling 🙂  and okay in the supermercado and other shopping, but I could do better and cannot handle much over the phone. Taxistas help me, so I am better there than on the public buses and the free public medicine that I should be using more is one place I can’t manage with my slow, simple Spanish – that and some casual conversations, especially with strangers, though it helps when a marketer calls on the phone that I can honestly say “Lo siento, no hablo español.”  🙂  Stay tuned for updates!

Last month’s local Christmas Celebration in Central Park Atenas.

So what I’m saying is that if I had learned to speak Spanish fluently that first year, the rest of my 8 years would have been so much easier and more fulfilling! 

That’s what I would have done differently! 

¡Pura Vida!


Okay, maybe one other little thing that was not a problem when I first moved, but recently my small Credit Union in the states that I’ve been a member of for 45 years has had difficulties getting a new debit card to me quick enough or wiring money, where a larger international bank would be better equipped to serve me overseas. And I have to have a U.S. bank because my pension checks require that for auto-deposit. I’m still managing and have shifted some of my savings to my Costa Rica bank, but that is one other little detail that one considering a move here needs to straighten out, preferably before the move!  🙂 

And by the way, the U.S. Social Security is more accommodating than my other pension sources, as they deposit directly into my Costa Rica Bank Account. And it was easy! I just went to the U.S. Embassy’s SS Window in San Jose and they took care of it immediately with that very next check arriving here!  🙂 Plus that became my “proof of income” for the residency application.  🙂

¡Pura Vida!

Language & Cable Services

New Internet & No TV!

I live in a Spanish-speaking country where it is the official language and it is needed for almost all services, public and commercial. When I lived in the States I heard many people say about immigrants, “If they want to live here, they can learn English!” And I basically agree, though I now know from experience that it is easier said than done!

“Spoiled Americans” here who refuse to learn Spanish or even learn very slow like me, have created a need for English speakers in many of the commercial customer services here, like the competitive cable services who are learning that Customer Service in English can mean more money from the thousands of Americans living here.

My first cable service here was pretty good service for a long time and by waiting I could often get English-speaking customer service if needed, but recently everything was going wrong. No TV service (which helped me decide to drop it) and frequent failure of internet and more frequently the WiFi connections. I tried repeatedly to get technical service and to change my contract to faster internet and no TV, both with my bad Spanish and then asking for an English speaker. At least 5 efforts failed with either disconnected calls or the promise of a call-back that never happened.

Thus I decided to switch from CableTica to TeleCable and when I called the new company they instantly recognized I was weak in Spanish and within 30 seconds switched me to a very good English-speaker. We set up a time for the técnicos to come out and rewire my house at their expense. I waited until they were here in the house to call the other company to cancel my services with them. (I needed the internet even if intermittent!) I called and canceled in Spanish, briefly explaining why. Within 2 minutes I received a phone call back from a very fluent English speaker (probably a supervisor) at that company, apologizing profusely for their lack of service and English-speakers, almost begging me to give them another chance, even offering 2 months free! I told him I was sorry but he was too late with my new service being installed as we spoke. Then he took my credit card number to pay him for one of their trucks to come out and pick up their TV Box and Internet Router which was cheaper ($22) than me having to return it in the city by taxi!

I now have 100 MB TeleCable Internet Service and no TV! A happy camper!   🙂   And if you are worried about my lack of entertainment, I do have Costa Rica Netflix for which I attach my computer to the TV to see those great nature documentaries and rarely a movie!   🙂   Plus I’m always reading on my Kindle a book and the Washington Post for news and Comics! What else does a guy need?   🙂


+ Spanish Immersion Coming!

Thus cable service became “the straw that broke the camel’s back” on my slow fluency in Spanish and I signed up for one week of Spanish Language Immersion to see if an old man can handle it and then if so I will add more. This will simply make my 2 hours a week with tutor Arturo here in Atenas more effective and hopefully greatly advance my verbal & listening abilities.

I could have used the school that meets closer at Jaco Beach with 4 hours of Spanish a day combined with 4 hours of surfing lessons a day, but decided that was probably not best for me!   🙂    So instead, I chose a school in Heredia, just beyond Alajuela, where I will spend one week as my February travel experience at about half the price of most birding trips. I will live with a Tico family within walking distance of the school where I will have 4 hours of intensive Spanish Language Classes every day along with a few local field trips using the language (I’m going for InBio and Toucan Rescue Ranch), plus the Tico family speaks only Spanish in their house, which may be where I learn the most! 🙂   The name of this school is Tico Lingo and it is just one of many all over Costa Rica – but not one in Atenas.

These schools are packed with high school & college students in the U.S. Summer when school is out! Six weeks is common for them with some doing two months straight through. I am not sure my senior adult brain could handle that much immersion, so I am trying one week and then if it goes well will more likely do more single weeks scattered over the year and not straight through. MY NEXT ADVENTURE! Last week of February! And hopefully it will motivate me to do more in my Spanish Blog, Aprendo español en Atenas and not switch to Spanish on this blog!   🙂

¡Pura Vida!