Beware of the so-called experts and overnight gurus
Costa Rica’s popularity and good business climate has brought with it a
whole slew of enterprising foreigners. Unfortunately, some of these people
lack qualifications in their fields of endeavor.
In Costa Rica, the word “expert” is sometimes used very loosely in the
expatriate community, on numerous web sites in English publications and
on business cards.
Do not get me wrong; there are some highly qualified native English
speakers here. Nevertheless, one should be extremely cautious when dealing
with foreigners who consider themselves experts in Costa Rica. Just because
a person was a professional in his home country or has gone through the
process of moving here does NOT qualify him to be an expert here. Some
foreigners consider themselves experts just because they have lived here
for a short time. Remember, anyone can build a web site and say anything
I know people who move here, and go into business and miraculously
become experts overnight. Costa Rica is indeed a magical country!
Many naive newcomers have been taken advantage of by other foreigners
who call themselves “experts,” but are really incompetent impostors. So, be
If you happen to come into contact with any foreigner who calls himself
an “expert,” no matter how convincing he may be, do all of the following:
1. Ask for references from other foreign residents who have used the expert’s
services. Don’t rely on the testimonials that appear on a person’s web site.
They may be slanted. If your expert will not give you any references, you
will know immediately you are being duped or sold shoddy second-rate
services. Also, try to contact the person’s last employer before they moved
to Costa Rica. Again, if they will not give you the contact information,
you can bet the person is hiding something. If a person who is younger
than retirement age claims to have been highly successful in his or her
former country, they may be trying to cover up something about their
2. Check with the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR) to see
if they are familiar with the person’s services.
3. Enter the person’s name in a search engine such as Google to see what
comes up. There are even companies you can pay to do a background
check if you suspect something.
4. Ask how long the person has lived in Costa Rica. If they have been here
for less than 10 years, be careful. It takes more than a year or two to know
all the ropes; it takes years to understand this country. For example, many
of the relocation and entrepreneurs mean well but just don’t have enough
experience under their belts to tell you the entire story.
5. Find out what the person’s educational background was when they
lived in their home country and if they have any formal training in the
Latin American culture, studies or foreign investments. If someone was
a plumber, janitor, welder or doctor prior to moving here, this does
not qualify them to give professional advice about Costa Rica.
6. Be ware of colorful, well-designed web sites built by so-called experts
to express their admiration for the country to attract naive foreigners.
7. Be cautious about publications that appear to be helpful on the surface
but incessantly hype the services of the person(s) or organization
8. Over the years I have run into so-called foreign experts who live
comfortably in upscale in “Ivory Towers” and gated communities in
gingo enclaves such as Escazú. The majority of their friends are other
English speakers, so they have never really immersed themselves in
the local culture. They are virtually still foreigners living among other
foreigners. These people live in virtual isolation of the real Costa Rica.
Few of them have any contact with Costa Ricans except for their maids
and servants and rich Costa Rican friends from the country-club set.
They rarely venture out of their safe environment to gather the necessary
experience to confront real life situations here. Most live as if they were
still in their home country, and give advice about a country and culture
they really don’t know.
9. Beware of the information and advice on the so-called “hobby web sites.”
These include the growing number sites put up by expatriates in Costa
Rica to share their experiences. On the surface these sites seem helpful
but the majority of the people behind them are neophytes who have not
lived here long enough to really be qualified to give good advice. Most
of these individuals don’t even speak enough Spanish to really get an
objective view of the country and culture.
There are even a few video-type blogs portraying people’s experiences
who have moved here. While they are entertaining they shouldn’t be
considered a true source of information. Unfortunately, the internet
has now given every “Tom, Dick and Harry” a chance to be the star of
their own reality show.
10. Most importantly, find out if the person is truly fluent in Spanish. There
is no way a person can have expertise unless he or she can communicate
with the locals and understand the nuances of the local humor, culture
and language. Beware: there are many foreigners who say they speak
fluent Spanish with a vocabulary of only a couple of hundred words. I
have run into many of them in my 30 years here.
Opening a Real Estate Company in Costa Rica
By Lester Núñez
I originally came to Costa Rica from Victoria, British Columbia
where I was licensed as a broker and worked in both residential and
commercial real estate sales for over fifteen years. My interest grew in
Costa Rica because of the country’s weather and culture. Basically, I
guess I just wanted to seek my Hispanic roots.
My plan was to open a real estate office in Costa Rica. Shortly after
arriving I met my present partner, Mercedes Castro, who had been
working as an independent real estate agent here. My goal was to provide
excellent service combined with professionalism and integrity, just like
North Americans are accustomed to back home. However, much to
my surprise I soon discovered that the local real estate scene was very
disorganized. There was no licensing of agents, no formal training and
little regulation. Anyone was permitted to sell anything. Now all of
this has changed.
I quickly aligned our real estate franchise with the Costa Rican
Chamber of Real Estate (CCBR). My partner and I have worked very
closely with them over the last five years to formalize real estate training
and licensing as in the States and Canada. This has mainly been achieved
by educational courses, creation of an Internet-based multiple listing
system and licensing requirements.
The Costa Rican Chamber of Real Estate in conjunction with UNED
University have created a twenty-two unit course which takes six months
to complete and trains future agents.
Multiple listings were also created to further modernize the local
real estate profession. The local multiple listing system is now affiliated
with MLS Today which has its base in the U.S. and Canada. Now both
the agent and client are now better off. Also, there is legislation pending
to regulate the real estate business. All the government has to do is give
It initially took us a couple of years to get our business off the
ground. Our international listings and advertising have been our “bread
and butter.” It is well-nigh impossible to make a living off the local
I love Costa Rica because of the climate, inexpensive health care,
tax benefits for foreign residents, Spanish culture and much more. You
really couldn’t get me to return to Canada for anything in this world.