Costa Rica – A Land Where the Exceptions Are the General Rules

15th January 2024
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I’ve always said that in Costa Rica Murphy’s Law works overtime. You know, the one that postulates that whatever might go wrong, probably will.

That “general rule” of life in Costa Rica is especially true when it comes to trying to move from Point A to Point B, in a car – and the tighter the time schedule the more certain that the law is bound to kick in, seemingly for the sole purpose of delaying your arrival. Which is also why we say in Costa Rica that if you’re on time to an appointment, you’re early – and only if you’re 30 minutes “late” are you effectively “on time.”

I’m sure there are readers with some Costa Rica road experience who would agree – like when you’re barreling along on a lonely stretch of road, only to be impeded by a farmer herding his cows right down the middle. And then there’s the almost endless episodes of “road construction” as workers try desperately to beat back the jungle from taking over the highway.

However, for the most part, Costa Rica is a land where the exceptions are the general rules. That’s one reason I always get peeved about all the wrong-headed advice you read on the countless Facebook groups, where “experts” will tell you how things “really are in Costa Rica” – usually in the form of some anecdote that happened to them.

But the truth is that “anecdotal” advice doesn’t equate to a general rule that anyone can expect to encounter across all the myriad of life situations you will face as a Costa Rica expat.

One recurring piece of advice that really gets under my crawl is the one that states that you should never use a realtor to do a real estate deal, since there is no licensing in Costa Rica and all realtors are greedy charlatans, yada, yada, yada…

Let me dispel this so-called general rule with a logical exception that you’re bound to encounter in the course of your real estate search efforts…

You see, most expats invest in areas where almost all properties are “listed”, er at least the good ones. Thus and therefore, it’s sorta hard to see the best of what’s available if you follow the sage online advice of avoiding all real estate agents!

Here’s another one you hear a lot – it goes something like this…

You need to find a local (non-realtor, of course) who can search for you, talk the lingo, and make sure you don’t get “gringo-priced.” Those that have followed that advice are probably also the same ones complaining about getting ripped off in their real estate deal.

Now so-called gringo pricing can exist in areas like getting your car worked on, or buying a horse. However, real estate is one area where prices are what they are and the best way to get a fair price is to buy a property that has been fully exposed and tested by the real estate market – typically by being listed with, you got it, an f’ing realtor!

Oh for sure, again there’re always exceptions…

For instance, yes there are bad realtors in Costa Rica – usually the ones that are functioning independently and without the required “credentials”, like actually being legally able to work in Costa Rica and being registered with SUGEF (a topic for another post). And yes if you get ahold of one of those bad ones, you can have a bad experience, duh!

Therefore, be careful, but don’t buy into any supposed general rule that “all realtors in Costa Rica are bad and are to be avoided.” A good realtor can be your best asset before, during and even after your deal!

The influx of newly-minted expats, along with the explosion of Facebook groups focused on them and their plight, are giving rise to a corresponding glut of bad “anecdotal” advice. I tell my clients to peruse these groups and glean from them what useful tips you can, but be highly skeptical and suspicious about, well, just about everything you read.

Many are filled with gringos who have either already had a bad experience, or are itching to have one, and they just love to bad-mouth the country and everyone in it, especially the Costa Rican people…

And that leads to the following rule, which I will concede is a “general” one…

The best way to fail in your expat adventure is to come down here and immediately get on the wrong side of the ticos (Costa Ricans). One way I see many doing that is to stupidly, or naively, trust people you don’t know, or can’t even really communicate with, with your stuff and then develop a negative bias about all of them when you end up getting something robbed from you.

There’s quite a bit of petty theft in Costa Rica. You have to be careful and if you’re not, yea, you’re liable to get ripped off. But that event does not automatically lead to any “general rule” that all ticos steal and are not to be trusted.

I’ve lived here over two decades and sure I’ve had some things stolen. And yes I am careful about who I trust. But in my view, all in all, ticos are wonderfully trustworthy, honest, and hardworking people. In general, they are poorer than you and don’t deserve to be taken advantage of by you either trying to pay them less than they should be paid, or quickly accusing them when a fork goes missing!

Bottom line is that in this country the exceptions are much more noteworthy than most of these supposed general rules because, in reality, there are very few of said rules. Just like in the context of traffic law, we don’t have iron-clad rules down here, we have “suggestions.” And I suggest you take head of those, especially the ones mentioned in this post.


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