Canadians Living in Costa Rica – Interview with Dave and Monica Dolezsar.

Dave and Monica Dolezsar, originally from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, first arrived in Costa Rica with one-year-old Cassandra in tow. They came looking for adventure and to “try something new” in September of 2004.

Dave says they were hoping to find “an opportunity to see life in a different way than we could in a 9-to-5 lifestyle of a modern North America city. Basically, we didn’t know what we would find, and we were looking to find something we didn’t know existed.” And, Dave adds that he wanted to learn to surf!

Canadians Living In Costa Rica – Between beach and city

They bought a little resort with a Tico house, two cabinas, a restaurant, bar, and ice cream shack on the beach in Playa Zancudo, near the Panama border, from a local Tico.

Did they find what they were looking for in Costa Rica? Dave says, “That, and much, much more. Still finding more of it each day. Except for the surfing, the resort kept me so busy I truly had NO free time my first year in Costa Rica.”

“When we first moved to Playa Zancudo in the south, it appeared to be the most remote place on the planet that I could convince my wife to move to,” Dave adds. They said that Playa Zancudo was “a real Swiss Family Robinson meets the City Slickers adventure.”

They liked having the opportunity to live in a place that most people would only read about in an off-the-beaten track guidebook. And, Dave says, it was nice “to be able to be one of the people who lived in one of those destinations where everyone always says, ‘You should have been here before the tourists arrived.'” There were some drawbacks to living in such a remote location, however, including difficulty in being able to buy “Gringo” groceries.

The now-4 member family currently resides in Alajuela (baby Ethan was born in Costa Rica). They chose the area because they had friends who were selling the home they currently live in. And, Monica had no intention of having her second baby at the beach, so being close to CIMA Hospital was important.

Dave says, “No matter how hard I tried, I could not convince my wife to have a baby in southern Costa Rica. At first she was even thinking we were going to go back to Canada, but luckily we met some people who had a baby in San José and they had only good things to say. There was no comparison in any way between the options of having a baby in the south and having a baby in San José — they are completely different worlds!”

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Their current home is situated north of the Juan Santamaría International Airport, with views of both the Poás and Barva volcanoes. They love the view and privacy of the area. They also appreciate “the value for how nice our house is compared to a similar type lot in the Santa Ana or Escazú areas.

Also, it is still fairly close to San José for trips to the city.” Drawbacks? Most of their friends live in Santa Ana and Escazú, so they have about a half-hour drive if they want to visit; a lot of their friends feel that it’s a long drive. Dave says, “We found this funny because back home in Canada we couldn’t get anywhere within the city limits within a half hour.”

From There to Here

In Canada, Dave and Monica both worked for Oil and Gas in Alberta — he was an engineer and she was in marketing. While they both loved their jobs, Monica was ready to give hers up whether they moved to Costa Rica or not, as she was ending her maternity leave and didn’t want to put her daughter in day care. They gave it all up, Dave says, because they were ready for a change. “Why do the same thing for the rest of your life? we thought.”

The reaction of friends and family when Dave and Monica announced their intention to move to Costa Rica ranged from “Are you crazy?” to “We wish you best of luck” to “When you get eaten by a snake in the jungle I am not coming to get your bodies.”

While Dave didn’t harbor any fears of being eaten alive in the jungles of Costa Rica, Monica did have some trepidation about the creatures they’d find here. She was also concerned about giving up their secure, high-paying jobs for the unknown.

I asked Dave what finally convinced him and Monica to make the move to Costa Rica. “Nothing in particular — I always knew I wanted to live an adventurous life and had been looking for a few years for that perfect opportunity to take my wife and just give everything up and try something completely new.

Every vacation we would try an off-the-beaten-track destination, and I would ask my wife if she could live at such and such a place and she would say no. But when we came to Costa Rica she said, ‘Maybe,’ and I knew that was as close to a yes as I was ever going to get. I knew I had to move fast before she changed her mind.”

Dave and Monica took about four months to plan their move, and as Dave says, “If we planned to move in a year it would have taken a year. In reality, there was not enough time to plan it all. We just planned as much as we could in the time we had and left the rest up to fate.

As they say, ‘Adventure is just bad (or not enough) planning.’ And we knew we were in for an adventure.” Their planning included doing their homework, and finding out things like the ability of foreigners to own property, availability of good medical care, how the locals took to foreigners, the costs of living, and cultural values regarding families.

A Day in the Life Of a Canadian Couple Living in Costa Rica

Dave and Monica say their average day is quite busy. Now that they have time in their lives to focus on their children, the kids seem to take as much time as Dave and Monica can give them. Dave adds, “One big difference in Costa Rica is things that take an hour to do back home in North America can take days or weeks to do down here. We are also very much into home improvements, renovations, and decorating, which keeps us very busy, too.”

For fun, Dave and Monica like to explore small villages for shopping and decorating opportunities. “Whether it is a village for wood working, or a street famous for its green houses, or an area with leather crafts or pottery — trying to find out what different areas of Costa Rica have to offer is what we like to do.”

Dave says the craziest thing he and Monica have ever done was to “move a brand new living room furniture set we ordered out of San José in a gigantic box on a small fishing boat to our home in Playa Zancudo. The box was much bigger than the boat, the sea was rough, we had our nine-month-old daughter with us, two friends, plus the boat driver. To this day we don’t know how we made it.”

Dave and Monica both say it has been easy for them to make friends here, once they meet people. “The hardest part in the beginning was meeting people. For us, once we joined a local expat playgroup for our kids we had more friends then we likely would have had back home.” Dave says that most of their friends are either expats or Ticos married to expats.

The Canadian Kids are Alright

Monica and Dave’s two children have lived the majority of their lives in Costa Rica (their son was born here), so they don’t know anything different. Some of the things the kids enjoy most are “chasing butterflies, picking fresh mangos, and 365 days of summer. Having crocodiles and hummingbirds around seems to be pretty exciting for them, too.”

Though she is still too young to attend school, Dave says they have chosen a local private school for their daughter near their home. As far as the quality of education in Costa Rica, Dave says, “With the private schools, I think they are very good. With the public schools I am disappointed. In our research before coming here we heard about a great ‘education’ of Costa Ricans; how they can all read and write, etc. After moving here we find this not as true. In the more remote areas, kids seemed to go to school to grade 6 or 8 at most, and really all they seemed to learn was how to read and write.”

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One of the things about Costa Rica that Dave and Monica appreciate is how Costa Rican society places a high value on family. “Family seems to very high priority of the people, and it is nice to know everyone tends to look out especially extra for young kids.”

As far as Spanish, Dave says that their four-year-old daughter spoke more Spanish when they all lived at Playa Zancudo, surrounded by Tico tourists and staff. “Now that we live near San José, she has a much bigger circle of Gringo and Canadian friends and Mommy and Daddy around only. She uses English 95% of the time and only speaks Spanish with the part-time maid. That is why we know it’s time for her to go to school.”

Challenges and Advice

Dave says his biggest challenge has been learning Spanish. “I am a language moron. My wife said, ‘Oh, don’t worry, once you submerge yourself in it you will pick it up.’ Three years later she can carry on a conversation with anyone in Spanish and I still have trouble introducing myself.” He adds, “Thank God I have good body and hand language. Or, at least I think I do. Maybe my hand language sucks, too, but the Ticos think I am so hilarious they make extra effort to help me out.”

Dave believes it is very important, but not essential, to speak Spanish in Costa Rica. “It depends on what you want out of Costa Rica. The country can offer you a lot more once you speak the language of the people. Every day, I know there are things I am missing because I still have not mastered the language.” Dave admits, though, he wishes he was able to speak Spanish before they made the move to Costa Rica.

While healthcare was a concern before they came to Costa Rica, Dave says that near San José, private healthcare is “more than adequate and often better than what we could have found in Canada.” In Playa Zancudo, however, healthcare was a bigger concern. “We knew we would have to find away to get to San José if a serious medical situation arose.”

Their experience with the healthcare system in Costa Rican has been very positive. “As newcomers to the country, even the flu here is different than back home. All the typical things that can go wrong do go wrong. Ear infections, flus, colds, insect bites, etc. are usually quickly and easily diagnosed by a local doctor or private clinic, and once you become aware of what is going wrong you can walk into almost any pharmacy and get some sort of medicine to try out.”

Dave admits they worried about crime before moving to Alajuela. “This is one area that in the remote south we don’t worry about as much as we do now that we live in a more populated area near San José. It’s here and you can’t hide from it. Like most things in life, the more attention you give something the more obvious it becomes, so since everyone talks about it you hear more stories all the time. There are ways to live safely and to protect yourself and your family. We take the necessary steps and then do our best not to spend the rest of the time worrying about it.”

Dave and Monica have had a couple of personal experiences with crime since living in Costa Rica. “When we were selling our car and a guy came by to look at it, he snagged a couple of small items out of our house when we were not looking. I was also stupid enough to give him money as part of his scam before he disappeared and we never saw him again. We have had a few other things happen as well, but they are minor.”

One of the things Dave says he could definitely live without in Costa Rica is waiting in lines. “I am learning to live with them because I have to, but most lines have no rhyme or reason.” He also takes issue with the quality of workmanship he has seen. “There are experts who can do things just as good as the best, but also I find too often if you ask someone to do something for you they say they are an expert even if they have no clue about what they are doing. I find as I get better with the language and spend more time here, I am finding better and better real experts for projects I need done.”

Words of advice for someone back home thinking of moving to Costa Rica? “Don’t come here with expectations — it is a different place then back home. If you come to see life differently with few to no expectations, things will be exactly that. Also, NEVER ask advice from a Gringo who has different values than you do.

People move here for all kinds of reasons, and you will never find a more opinionated group of expats than those who have moved here. If your views as to why you moved here are different from theirs, you will never hear the end of it. Too many people think there is only one way to do things, and if it isn’t the way they suggest you are making a mistake.”

I also asked Dave what he thinks the five most important character traits are that one needs to live happily in Costa Rica.

  1. “Be able to live with or at least not stress out over ‘Tico time.’ Things are slow — really slow.
  2. Be prepared to look out for yourself — don’t expect others to have to take care of you.
  3. If you are a clean freak, be prepared to have someone do half the job and you will need to be the one to finish the other half to your expectations.
  4. Be able to tell fact from fiction. There are a million stories out there about what life is like, but remember people in general are storytellers. Some people only tell horror stories and other only tell happy stories even when they are telling the same story.
  5. Be the type who can live with each day being different — what is true today may not be true tomorrow. Whether that means electricity, phone and Internet working (or not), or if the item you saw in the store yesterday is going to be there tomorrow or ever again.”

I asked both of them how the other likes Costa Rica. Dave said that Monica likes living here, but misses “many of the advantages of living in a North American city. It may not be the best but it is an adventure and Costa Rica has grown on her.” Monica replied that Dave “could be happier. My husband is never truly happy. He always thinks there is something better, another adventure to chase. Which sometimes frustrates me, as it would be nice to just settle down for a while and relax.”

Whether or not they stay in Costa Rica remains to be seen. “We have no plans to leave and we have no plans to stay. We never planned to be in Costa Rica, and here we are. So part of what brought us here may more than likely lead us to leave one day.”

Written by Wendi Patrick. Wendi Patrick is a California transplant who currently lives in Ciudad Colón with her husband, son and ever-growing menagerie of animals.

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One thought on “Canadians Living in Costa Rica – Interview with Dave and Monica Dolezsar.

  • LarsDecember 21, 2017 at 8:27 am

    I’m interested in moving to Costa Ross like the couple in the article. I would like all info available regarding step by step process of moving there. . looking for work. . buying or starting a business. . buying s house


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