Recently, my mom said to me, “its like you are doing the retirement thing early”. Well, I can’t really argue with that observation, however, I like to call it my half-time break. We are both in our mid-forties and we wanted to retire from the life of busyness, pursuing things that won’t last at the expense of the things that matter to us most. We both always said we will probably never retire in a traditional sense. We both love to work too much – we get a rush from the satisfaction of rising above difficult challenges, achieving goals, and taking risks. I’d rather work as long as I can, while also living life like I am retired for as long as I can. Our half-time break is a chance to reflect on the past and chart a new course for the future. I realize that we are the fortunate few. Generations before us would not have had the opportunity to work remotely and live abroad; others don’t have the courage to stop life half-way and make big changes and some people might find themselves “alone” on the quest. Our half-time was and continues to be a family decision and commitment.
As an expat living in Costa Rica, there are rules and regulations on working here. For the most part, one cannot work at all in Costa Rica, unless one has gained permanent residency. For highly skilled jobs or for jobs that cannot be filled by a Costa Rican, an employer can apply for a work permit for one year. Costa Rica has a highly skilled workforce with a 9.5% unemployment rate, so that is not a very likely avenue for a U.S. citizen. Also, compared to the U.S the pay rates are very low. So, even if one could work, on average, the pay is 15-30% of what it is in the U.S. for the same job and fluency in Spanish is a mandatory for many of these jobs. We did our homework and understood the laws and the reality of the situation before moving here. Initially, we thought of making an investment, such as real estate or buying a business. As an investor or business owner, we could receive income from managing and owning the business, but we could not fulfill any jobs that can be performed by a Costa Rican. Investments over 200K can make you eligible to apply for temporary residency, in addition to providing a livelihood. It seemed like the romantic thing to do. Call HGTV International and go on the hunt for an exotic Costa Rican retreat center, however, after our business trip to Costa Rica in May of 2016, we realized we were not ready for a decision like that or ready to jump into being business owners the minute we stepped off the plane. Instead, we spent the six months leading up to our move developing a plan that enabled us to have a modest flow of income from the U.S. via our investments, savings and remote work assignments. We knew that we needed extra flexibility in the first six months to adjust to our new surroundings, focus on the homeschooling of the kids, to travel and reflect on our first-half in order to begin planning for the second-half.
I don’t want to diminish my first-half. I gave it all I had and I was happy doing it. I was driven, ambitious and passionate about my work, pouring my heart and soul into it. By all measures, I was successful, climbing the career ladder. I cared deeply about my team and the mission of our organization – it never lacked meaning. I’d like to think a small part of me lives on somewhere there, but the realization I’ve come to accept in this half-time break is that my legacy is short and does not run deep. I celebrate this half, as I know it is my foundation for the next half; my training ground, where I was able to define my abilities, in order to use them for their highest potential in the second half.
It is important to me in the second-half that we do this together, as a family. Our second half will be about creating a lifestyle and making a meaningful impact for our world. I believe we were called to Costa Rica for our half-time break for a reason.
Marc and I have been spending the last several weeks exploring our ideas, meeting with potential partners and taking inventory of our talents. It is exciting to design our future and be budding entrepreneurs, at last! Our office with a view isn’t bad either.
Since we don’t have residency and are currently on a tourist visa, we must leave the country every 90 days. Our 90 day period is coming up and we have booked a trip week to Granada, Nicaragua. Granada is one of the oldest colonial settlements in Central America. It sits on Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America and has views of the Mombacho volcano, which erupted more than 400 years ago and is home to a mystic cloud forest in its highest regions. Wish us luck! I will be sure to chronicle our border crossing adventures and feature in an upcoming blog.
We started Spanish lessons this week. We go to our teacher’s home and she provides our family of 5 a group lesson. Abby was most excited to receive her own colored notebook, folder, and homework. Marc wins the award for best effort – he even started to read the book, The Alchemist in Spanish – a page a day!
As we immerse ourselves in the Costa Rican culture, shopping at our local feria (farmer’s market) and cooking have been one of our favorite things to do. We recently tried to make a popular Costa Rican dish, Chifrijo, commonly found in bars. It is a combination of rice, beans, meat, and pico de gallo. This is the recipe we modified to recreate it. For a healthier version, cook (not fry) your meat and brush olive oil over corn tortillas and bake them, using the tortillas as your crunchy base.