Let’s warmly welcome Jen Seymour, the latest person to be featured in my Expat Living Interview Series. Originally from the United States, Jen and her husband retired early and moved to start a new life in Costa Rica.
She talks about expat living and joins the esteemed ranks of others, like Christopher Allen in Munich.
All About Jen
In June 2013, when in her early 40’s, she broke free from the rat race of North America where bigger was better and moved from Dallas, Texas all the way to Costa Rica with her husband. She quit her artificially lit cubicle job, sold nearly everything and left all sense of stable income behind.
When she’s not blogging or writing, she is either hiking, baking, “yoga-ing”, sipping coffee, making arm candy or enjoying a glass of boxed wine. She has found life to be completely different than in the United States, in a very good way.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from a little town in Wisconsin, but after college followed a boyfriend to Dallas, Texas. I ended up dumping the boyfriend but stayed in Dallas for the next 18 years.
Where are you living now and how long have you been there?
We now live in the mountains of the Central Valley in Costa Rica. My husband and I decided to retire early from our jobs in Dallas and moved here for a more natural, affordable, and down to earth life.
We’ve been here for a little over a year and it’s been amazing so far!
Do you plan to stay in your current location or move somewhere else in the future?
For now, we are planning on staying in Costa Rica. The people, sunsets, coffee, climate, fresh fruits and wildlife are making it impossible to even think of leaving.
What’s your personal story? What made you decide to take the big leap and leave home?
My husband’s job was killing him – both physically and mentally. That’s what got us starting to think about alternative solutions. At first, it seemed really crazy to move to a foreign country, but the more we thought about it, we thought why not?
My dad died very young and never got a chance to enjoy retirement. We made the bold decision to retire early, even though we weren’t as “financially set” as most people are when they retire, because we know life can be short.
We don’t know what’s around the corner and didn’t want to wake up one day, find one of us sick and dying and not have had this opportunity.
We made the decision to stop driving ourselves crazy with our current stressful lifestyle in the United States and trade it in for a more low-keyed, down to earth lifestyle. We took a year and a half to sell our house, furniture, cars etc. and we moved here with just nine suitcases.
It was very freeing and one of the best decisions we ever made.
Do you ever miss home? What do you do to cope?
It may seem odd, but I don’t really miss home. We use Facetime to call our moms and siblings and keep in contact with friends through emails and Facebook.
How do we cope? We tell people to come visit us. We’ve had visits so far from both of our Mom’s!
Well, it’s pretty hard to blend in here, at least physically. I’m blond (most Costa Ricans have black or dark hair) and my husband, Greg is 6’3” tall (most Costa Ricans are much shorter than him).
However, the Ticos (Ticos are local Costa Ricans) are the nicest people – they accept us, are kind to us and treat us with respect. It has been amazing getting to know them and their culture. Actually, the kindness of the Ticos is one of the best things about living here.
Did you have to learn a new language? If yes, what? How did you go about learning the language and how long did it take you to become fluent?
I should learn the language faster.
But in reality, I’m very slowly learning Spanish, at my own pace.
It does not seem to be too difficult to get by here with just a little Spanish. Most Ticos are so kind that when they see me trying to speak their language, they help me out – either with sign language, or the bit of English they usually seem to know. Between pointing, hand-motioning, lots of laughing, some Spanish words and some English words, I am almost always able to talk my way through something and sometimes even surprisingly have a “conversation”.
What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?
When we first visited Costa Rica on a trip in early 2012, I was introduced to bathroom etiquette.
I sat there on the toilet, looking at the sign in front of me that said in Spanish and English “Please put toilet paper in the trash can”.
Say what? Maybe they meant the paper towel after you dried your hands? Surely it didn’t mean used toilet paper. But if it did mean used toilet paper and I flushed it down the toilet instead – what would happen?
Later, I found out they did indeed mean the used toilet paper. The plumbing system here in Costa Rica just can’t handle the heavy toilet paper, so most places asked you to deposit the used toilet paper in a sealed trash can.
Another shocking thing is to see people everywhere with machete’s! They walk on the street with them, travel on buses with them and use them for everything, from cutting grass, to weed eating and to chopping bushes.
Life is much more simple here, but the Ticos have a solution for everything and usually at a much more affordable price tag than how we do things back home.
What is your number one tip about how to live life as an ex-pat?
Life here happens at a much slower pace. There is also what is called “Tico Time” – meaning things happen very slowly, or mañana – tomorrow, or another day, or even later.
Do not try to bring your culture into the Costa Rican culture. Remember that you are here as a guest, in a foreign country and you should respect the local culture.
What do you love most about living abroad?
I love the freedom and absence of the “go-go-go” mentality in the US. For me, the “American dream” seemed to be a bad dream. You know – working harder for less, buying a big house and other things … We weren’t happy, especially with my husband’s stressful job.
Living abroad in Costa Rica has really opened my eyes to a happier, more low key and pleasant life. I don’t have a big house or a car to my name now, but I’m happier here with much less.
My life is actually richer here with the natural beauty and time I have with my husband now.
Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)?
I’m here with my husband and honestly don’t know if I would have made the move all by myself. We’ve met single women and men expats here, and I admire them for making the move solo, especially the women!
What do you do work wise? Did you have a job before you arrived or did you look for work when you got there? If you didn’t have a job, how did (or do) you land work?
I don’t work anymore! Hard to believe, as we are in our early 40’s, but yes – we are retired. It’s a balancing act, as we try to live frugally and on a budget, but at the same time try to enjoy and experience life as much as we can.
Recommended reading – Jen’s book, Costa Rica Chica: Retiring Early, Simplifying My Life and Realizing That Less Is Best, where she doles out even more about her story and moving experience.
Expat Living Information
If you like these interviews like this one from Jen Seymour in Costa Rica, check out my Expat Living section. Also, learn about what it like to come home after living abroad or how to learn German in Berlin.