I grew up in Canada and never thought for a second that I would leave to live somewhere else. My parents expatriated to Costa Rica more than 10 years ago; the second time in their lives that they expatriated (the first being from Poland). They asked me many times if I’d like to join them here and my answer was always a resounding “no.”
I was worried about what my life might look like in Costa Rica, or rather my lack of a life. I saw their home in Ojochal as a great vacation destination, but hardly a place to make a life for anyone but a retiree.
As with most Millennials, it turns out that I am able to change my mind easily.
A common character trait of Millennials is self-expression. I’m not for selfies on Instagram, but if I were, Costa Rica would be a dream place to flaunt my ego. But I believe that Millennials are not necessarily a generation of narcissists, and 63% of us feel that it is our responsibility to care for an elderly parent (vs. 55% of Boomers).
Although I would never dare to consider my mother elderly, she is the reason why I chose to finally come here, after the passing of my father two years ago.
While here, I found my ideal outlets for self-expression in the jungles of this luscious land. I have reared new hobbies and cultivated old ones, including surfing (to replace skiing), gardening, nature hikes, exploration, cooking, writing (blogs and books) and reading.
For me, Costa Rica turned out to be an unexpected adventure in life, love and career. I relish every opportunity that this bountiful land offers and I am so grateful to have found myself in a true community.
Working in Costa Rica
According to Forbes Magazine, by 2025, Millennials will make up the majority of the workforce. We are the largest generation alive right now. What this means is that pursuing our dream career comes with much competition.
For anyone who is tech savvy or entrepreneurial, Costa Rica is a welcoming base to live and work in a different way, without the pressures of the traditional western 9-5 lifestyle. Younger travelers who come to this country on holiday often find themselves feeling at home and at peace. I have met many Millennials in our Southern Zone region who have started their own successful businesses operating BnBs, bar/restaurants, yoga retreats, permaculture farms, writing blogs, starting magazines, and handcrafting items from the plentiful natural resources.
It is a simple process to open a business in Costa Rica, and anyone is eligible regardless of nationality. The only requirement is to sign your corporation with a Costa Rican lawyer, whose address will become the legal address for your business.
There are also those who have been able to transport their livelihoods, working in areas like web development, accounting, project management, or investing in the stock market.
Bringing diversity to our lives
Millennial growth in America has largely been a result of immigration. We Millennials are statistically more receptive to other cultures because we are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever.
Perhaps it is for this reason that I find myself settling into life in a foreign culture with such ease. It helps that there is a blossoming expat community in Ojochal (and many more like it in the Southern Zone), but there is no denying that I am in a place other than my home and native land.
71% of millennials appreciate the influences of other cultures on the American way of life, and I appreciate the influence that Costa Rican culture has had on my life. Slowing down, taking the time to get to know my neighbors and my community, and serving it in a variety of volunteer roles have become my new norm. In Costa Rica, I have grown to understand that it is my civic duty to be involved.
We are a strong community in the Costa Ballena (our tri-town region in the Southern Zone), and we use social media and messaging apps to host groups for a variety of aspects of our society, including security, events, business news, items for sale, asking advice, weekly/monthly social groups, and volunteer roles that need to be filled.
Becoming involved in community is easy in Costa Rica. And as a Millennial, it is important to me to work hard now for the sake of our future.
Considering the climate
The world has seen the results of significant climate change and environmental degradation in the last 30 years – roughly the median age of Millennials. The Costa Rican government is working hard to shift towards low-carbon products, limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
The Costa Rican government is pushing to become the first carbon neutral nation. The plan is to serve as an example to the rest of the world for how to tackle climate change.
Pascal Girot, senior advisor to Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy says “the idea of being climate friendly, climate neutral, low emissions coffee, low emissions meat, we’re seeing this as a niche product.”
Costa Rica’s policies reflect that this nation would rather tackle niche markets, such as in the example of growing organic coffee. Rather than trying to compete with larger exporters, Costa Rica’s coffee growers are counting on conscious consumers who will appreciate the quality of the exported product, restricted by smaller yields of this tiny nation of 4 million people.
Costa Rica produces about 1% of the world’s coffee supply, yet it wants to be the leading nation for producing climate-friendly coffee, thus differentiating it from its larger competitors like Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.
Costa Rica is banking on Millennials, who are the most likely market for high-quality, environmentally friendly, low-carbon coffee. Quality is highly regulated in Costa Rica, and producers are guaranteed a significant cut of the profits. It is a fair trade system, if not always labeled “free trade.”
Millennials care less about titles and brands and more about the inherent quality of the product. We prefer to know where our products come from and what it took to get them to us. We care more about the social and environmental impacts of what we consume than generations past.
Much like many of my fellow Millennials, I prefer to make things for myself when I can. Kombucha, ginger beer, hot sauce, chutney, salsa, chocolate, vinegar, liqueur, cheese, assorted pickled things, etc. are always cooking, stewing, brewing or bubbling away in my kitchen. Costa Rica provides endless inspiration and incredible ingredients with which to enjoy nature.
Millennials are willing to find creative solutions to fight the problems that have been left for us to tackle by generations past. We strive to turn waste into fuel and reuse whatever we can in the process. We would rather invest in the future by making better choices today than overly concerning ourselves with the higher prices involved in doing so.
Compared to “back home”
In the US, the level of Millennial optimism is lower than their counterparts in developing countries. 36% of Millennials in maturing markets believe that they will be better off than their parents, compared to 70% in developing markets. This is because we have been sold lies about the “American Dream” and how achievable it is.
Those of us who have found ourselves in developing nations can see how easy it is to live a dream life by more simple means. In Costa Rica, this means fresh water, fresh air, friendly people, universal eligibility for health insurance, and the ability for nearly anyone to own or invest in a business or real estate.
We are all trying to find ourselves, and Millennials just happen to be more outspoken about this goal. We are not an immature bunch with a superiority complex like some choose to believe. We are loyal to what we like and we will invest our money in a better future, rather than a more profitable today.
We are more likely to be overworked and underpaid than our older colleagues, even though we are the most educated and tech savvy group to have ever entered the work force. And thanks to the financial crises around the world, common prejudice, and huge student debts, our economic outlook is worse than it would have been for previous generations.
Despite this bleak outlook, we Millennials are reaching the collective age where it’s of no use to speak to us about authority. We are coming into roles of authority ourselves. World leaders now come in 30-year old varieties, for the reason that we are the visionaries who want to see a brighter tomorrow.
For those visionaries who are ready to see a brighter today, you need look no further than this tiny strip of land between the American continents. Like many Millennials, Costa Rica wants to lead the world in making better choices, not worrying about being the underdogs. We know that we are about to inherit this earth and we are ready to take ownership of this challenge today.
And so, I, and others like me who have found themselves living in Costa Rica, may not be earning what we would be in a more developed country. But we are living our dream life, regardless of past expectations.
By Alex Swift