Published on May 24th, 2016 | by Mark Chesnut
“My Costa Rica” — Jason Mueller on Expat Living & Starting a Business Abroad
Originally from British Colombia, Canada, Jason Mueller first visited Costa Rica when he was in high school. “Needless to say, I fell in love with the country,” he says. Today, he has made his dream of living in paradise — Jaco, Costa Rica, to be exact — a reality. His online work gave him the flexibility to make the move, and even launch his own enterprise — Jaco Ropes, a ropes course attraction — in Central America. Here, he shares his story of living the expat life and starting a business in Costa Rica, and also provides some handy travel tips for those of us who can visit but haven’t found a way to live there yet.
What do you personally like most about Costa Rica?
My favorite part of living in Costa Rica is the food; especially the organic fruits and vegetables. I have always been conscious about my health in Canada and I am finding it a lot easier to stay healthy here. Since I have moved here I have lost some weight, and that is usually the case for most people that come for extended periods of time. I have two friends that are dropping weight like crazy. I am enjoying the laid back lifestyle; in North America everything is go, go, go and it’s nice to have things not be in such a rush (sometimes). The rules are much more slack here, which is very nice.
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What are the biggest misperceptions that you think foreigners have about Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is classified as a third-world country, so many people think that it is very dirty and you don’t have all the amenities that are offered in first-world countries. The truth is that Costa Rica is a very clean country, and most of the first-class amenities are offered.
I think a lot of people scare when they hear about malaria, dengue or zika. The truth is that it is a concern, but there are many dangers even in everyone’s backyard, so don’t be scared to come enjoy the sun.
Many people think that Costa Rica is an island, but it borders Nicaragua and Panama. I think people confuse Puerto Rico with Costa Rica. It took my dad six months to stop saying “how’s Puerto Rico?” — “Dad! Costa Rica!”
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If you have a free day with no work, what’s your idea of a perfect day in Jaco?
I enjoy hanging out at the pool or on the beach after a little surf session.
What are your favorite restaurants in Jaco and elsewhere in Costa Rica? Any must-try foods you recommend to visitors?
A casado is a typical Costa Rican dish with pinto (rice and beans) meat and a vegetable. If you come to Costa Rica this will be your cheapest option, and places like Rustico and Marea Baja in Jaco offer a big plate for $5 to $6; these types of restaurants are called sodas. My favorite place to eat in Jaco is called Green Room; they have many healthy options. Try as much exotic fruit as possible. Starfruit and granadilla are two of my favorites, but any of the fruit here has so much more flavor compared to what I was used to in Canada.
What are the absolute must-see attractions in Costa Rica for first-time visitors?
Manuel Antonio is a must-visit national park about one hour and 15 minutes south of Jaco. It has easy access and is a spectacular place to go and enjoy the white-beach scenery. You will encounter many monkeys, sloths and an array of birds.
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Any personal favorite activities that are lesser known?
My favorite off-the-beaten-track place to visit is the mountains below Chirripo, which is the highest peak in Costa Rica at 12,533 feet. You can make the hike and there is a hut just below the peak to spend the night. or you can just enjoy the waterfall scenery on a cloud bridge hike near the trail head. I enjoy the cooler temperatures up in the mountains, and the air is so clean and refreshing, it really is a magical peaceful place.
Your business, Jaco Ropes, sounds like an exciting place to visit. What are the biggest challenges to starting a business as a foreigner in Costa Rica?
The hardest part has to be dealing with “Tico time.” I mentioned earlier that it’s such a laid back country, and I enjoy this when I don’t have a deadline associated with the business. Ticos are the locals in Costa Rica and they are notorious for never being on time or letting you know that they are not going to make it on time. This can become very frustrating when you are trying to run a business, as you can imagine. You can usually expect that when a local promises you the job done by a certain time, you can multiply that number or day or month by three. The language barrier is also very difficult to deal with, but I have a Tico business partner, so that helped a lot.
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What’s the biggest reward of doing business in Costa Rica?
The biggest reward is just going through all the challenges and looking back to see everything complete — well in our case, we are still making changes, but we opened in October 2015.
Jason is a hard-working Canadian living in Costa Rica who enjoys traveling and help as many people as possible along the way. When he’s not working on his projects, Jaco Ropes and Costa Rica Guys Trip, you can find him chilling at the beach or up in the mountains on an adventure.