I’m moving to Costa Rica. What should I bring?
It’s a question that everyone asks when they’re preparing for their move. The truth is you can find (almost) anything you want here.
There are big box stores like PriceSmart, Walmart and shopping malls with many of the designer brands in major centers like the San José area, Liberia and San Isidro del General. Some examples are City Mall in Alajuela (close to SJO airport), MultiPlaza in Curridabat, Centro Plaza Liberia and Monte General Mall in San Isidro del General (Perez Zeledon). However, depending where you live you could be hours away and may not have many options locally.
Cost and quality are also factors to consider when determining what to bring. Import duties are very high and the quality of many products will not be what you are accustomed to.
Do you own a home in Costa Rica, or will you be moving into a furnished or unfurnished home or condo/apartment? What items do you use every day and can’t imagine being without? This will also influence what you choose to bring.
Whether you ship a container or haul it down in totes and suitcases, what you decide to bring has a cost, so choose mindfully.
Top items to bring to Costa Rica
If you spend any amount of time in the kitchen, this might be a big one. It was for me.
Small appliances cost a lot more here and you may not find the brand or quality that you want. Even if you are renting a furnished home or apartment, they will often have only the bare minimum when it comes to kitchen essentials.
I brought my Vitamix, Instapot, Magic Bullet, high quality chef knives and fry pans, food processor, hand blender, and my favorite gadgets.
I also brought an electric single induction burner and I’m so glad I did! Many homes have outdoor food prep areas but not necessarily a stove, so this can easily be used anywhere you have an electrical outlet. Gas stoves are also common here so this is a quick and easy way to heat or prepare food without bothering with the propane. I rarely turn on the stove.
Most common spices can be found in your local supermercado (supermarket) but if you have favorite blends or brands it’s a good idea to bring them. Organic spices can also be very hard to find. If you often use specialty herbs and spices in your cooking, pack them. Fresh herbs are readily available at the supermercado or local feria.
Most people have specific dry goods and packaged food that they absolutely love. As a vegan I packed nutritional yeast and soy curls, but I wish I had brought brazil nuts since they’ve been very hard to find. Prepared foods, especially imported brands, are quite expensive. Be prepared to pay on par with Canadian prices, and higher than what you’re used to in many parts of the United States.
Mattress pads and good quality bed linens, towels and pillows are bulky but might be worth the space in your luggage if you have it. It can be difficult to find quality items that don’t wear quickly. If you are renting you won’t necessarily know the bed size, but I brought 2 sets of queen size cotton sheets and a mattress pad and am glad I did.
Most common prescription medications will be available at your local pharmacy (farmacia) although it may be the generic version of the drug so be sure to know the latin-based name. Unless it is a narcotic, antibiotic or psychotropic drug you can likely get it over-the-counter without a prescription. If you are loyal to a specific brand of over-the-counter medication, bring it. They can be very expensive here. If you wear contacts, bring extra solution because it is also quite expensive.
Personal care items
Do you see the pattern here? If you have a favorite brand or item and have space in your luggage, bring it. When it comes to personal care items you can find many of the common grocery store brands but if you use organic, cruelty-free or other specific type, chances are you won’t find it. In any case you will have a limited supply so unless you travel home frequently be prepared to switch to what is available locally. Sunscreen is very expensive in Costa Rica so it’s a good idea to pack extra.
Cost is a big factor when it comes to technology products. You will find that everything is much more expensive, so bring what you need. Keep in mind that these items are a big target for theft, so be cautious and make sure you have a safe or good security at your residence. I also brought a small portable safe that I use for money, my phone and ID when a large safe isn’t available. It’s a good idea to have extra quality charging cables as well!
Most expats will say they brought far more clothing than they needed. I had planned to be at the beach and ended up in Central Valley so I came with a bunch of bikinis and tank tops when I could have used my hikers. It isn’t easy to find good quality clothing so breathable fabrics and quality footwear are worth the space in your bag. Leave the expensive and fancy clothing and jewelry behind and opt for functional, lightweight and casual.
I’m renting so don’t have experience with this directly and I’ve read differing opinions on whether it’s good to bring tools. They are often heavy and will incur a fair cost to ship so keep that in mind. Quality may be a factor in deciding what is worth the weight – I will investigate further and provide more information on this particular topic.
If you are moving with pets it’s a good idea to have a supply of tick and heart worm treatment as well as any other medications they require. This will give you time to get settled into your new location before having to make your first visit to the vet. I also brought a box of Fortiflora which is a probiotic that I give to my dogs whenever they have stomach upset and it always does the trick! The cost of tick and heart worm treatment is comparable to what I was paying in Canada, but it must be given year round here so budget accordingly. Lower quality pet foods like Purina and Pedigree, as well as some local brands, are available at local grocery stores. Mid-to-high end foods like NutriSource and condition-specific foods from brands like Hills are available through your veterinarian, and PriceSmart carries the Kirkland brand.
My best advice is bring as little as possible, but bring what you love. Simple living is not only good for the mind, body and soul, it’s good for the environment.
The best things in life aren’t things
~ Art Buchwald
Feature photo credit: Tookapic on Pixabay