Since our family has lived in Costa Rica for a little over a year now, we have been contacted by several families asking us for advice on moving to Costa Rica and any packing tips and tricks. So I figure I should just write a post about it. We brought eight suitcases, a large cooler and a snowboard bag filled with some oversized items. We were told that coolers were really expensive down here, and indeed they are, so we packed things in the cooler, taped it up and checked it as baggage. I mean, you’re clearly going to need a cooler in Costa Rica!
We are a family of four, so we each checked two bags, and we paid extra for the cooler and the oversized snowboard bag. One of the main questions we get asked is, “Is there anything you wish you would have brought” and the answer is really no. To be honest, we brought too much stuff.
I packed way to much clothing for my kids, they are either in their school uniform or swimsuits all the time and my son literally sleeps in his board shorts. If your kids are attending school here, buy the bottoms for the uniforms at Old navy, Target or Children’s Place before you come. They are a fraction of the cost and are very hard to find here. Your kids only need a few pairs of shorts, t-shirts and tank tops. Flip flops and tennis shoes are really the only shoes your kids will need, they don’t even need to wear shoes in most restaurants or markets for that matter. I brought my daughter down a bunch of dresses, but she never wears them. If you plan on traveling inland to the Rainforest it is chilly and rains a lot more, so you may want to pack a light jacket or sweatshirt for everyone.
I packed shorts and t-shirts for my husband, he has one pair of jeans and a few button up shirts and polos. I would have packed him more swim trunks and workout shorts. I wear the same four pairs of shorts over and over, I have a few maxi dresses and maxi skirts. I brought one pair of wedges and have only worn them maybe three times. Flip flops and tennis shoes are really the only shoes you need, and maybe another pair or two of sandals. I have a few nice things to wear on occasion, because sometimes you will want to shower, take your hair out of a ponytail and look a little put together;) I suggest bringing hats, an extra pair of sunglasses and a few beach bags.
I would pack more running shorts, sports -bras, yoga capris and workout apparel; I spend a lot of time in these clothes than anything else. This is very much beach living, so everyone is very casual. However, I go back to the States for work – so I did have to pack some jeans, closed-toed shoes and other things that are appropriate for the States.
This is a pretty civilized third world country, they have all the toiletries you will need, they will just cost more. Shampoo and conditioner is expensive, brands like Suave and Pantene are $8/$10 a bottle. However, my Secret deodorant (clinical strength ) is the same price as in the States, about $10. I packed about 6 of these thinking I would not see it down here, and they had it, and for the same price! I was shocked. They do not seem to have liquid body soap here, they still use bars of soap so deal with that or pack some body soap.
Toothpaste, plenty of toothpaste down here, but if your kids love the special bubblegum flavor then pack up some of that, they have it here, but again it’ll cost you $6 bucks. Tampons, I was nervous about the kind they would have here so I packed for about 6 months, but they have American brands here, so no worries about that. If you have a special face soap, or medications you’ll of course want to bring those special items with you.
Pack a lot of bug spray and sunscreen since they cost double the price in Costa Rica. Our kids are now out in the sun so much, we barely apply sunscreen anymore, except on their faces and for really long beach days. There are plenty of Pharmacy’s where we live and even a Beach Side Clinic that is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week so even if you need something special or over the counter, chances are you can get it. There is usually someone at the pharmacy’s that speaks enough english to understand what you need as well.
Packing up our electronics was my husband’s job and probably much more important then any of the clothing. We both work online and well, we cannot live without our laptops, iPads and iPhones. It’s because of these devices we get to live (and work) in Costa Rica! Besides the basics, Harris packed our Apple TV and remotes, our Apple Time Capsule (which is a back up drive and wi-fi router), external batteries, extension cords and a few multiple prong plug-ins for the wall (which is great for traveling & sometimes outlets are hard to come by). Along with the Apple TV we stream Hulu and Netflix for shows and movies.
We packed a BlendTec blender but only the base made it into the country. Harris took it out of the box for better packing, in fact he shoved his socks and underwear in the jar and to protect the blade. His socks and underwear made it but the jar was no where to be found. Still a mystery. Perhaps security didn’t like the blade being exposed or they stole it. Good quality blenders are expensive down here.
Peanut butter and granola bars. It pains me to pay $7.00 for a small jar of peanut butter or a box of granola bars when in the States you can pay $2.50. It’s so annoying, so I always pack these on our trips back from the States. I admit to buying the granola bars from time to time, but they are like treats at our house, highly protected. Water bottles, these are triple the price in Costa Rica. And I have a moral issue with a water bottle being $20 – $30 bucks, so bring plenty of these.
The kids brought a few favorite stuffed animals, legos, books, games and a few small toys. I packed the board games, Sorry and Monopoly, by just taking them out of the box and putting the pieces in Ziploc bags and then just packing up the folded board. Pack a deck of cards and any other simple games for the kids. School supplies, definitely buy them before you come, they will be triple the price in Costa Rica, we made this mistake last year, so this year we stocked up this summer when we were in the States.
Stupidest thing I packed:
I brought the kids rain boots and umbrellas. HA! These are not necessary. They used them once in Monteverde, but they could have just jumped in puddles in their flip flips or barefoot. When it rains in Costa Rica, you want to enjoy it not hide from it under an umbrella. I also packed us rain ponchos, they have never been out of the package.
I should also note that we live at the beach and moved into a house that is fully furnished, which most expats do. So, if this is the case, you will not need household items like sheets, towels, and dishes. Depending on your lifestyle, work and where you choose to live, less is more. If you are moving to Costa Rica, then chances are you are looking to get away from all your “stuff”. So, don’t bring it with you. Sure, if something is going to make your kids feel more comfortable and secure, then bring it. But, they do not need four pairs of pajamas and seven pairs of shoes, trust me.
Good Luck and Pura Vida!