I’m the type of person that spends more time researching what to pack than actually packing. Now having spent about one month in Costa Rica, I can tell you with solemn honesty that no matter how much you plan, it will always be different when you arrive. Therefore, I thought it would be good to clear up some of the tropical fog about studying abroad in Costa Rica.
- FICTION: You should buy an international SIM card before you leave. — Don’t do that. Everyone here uses pay-as-you-go services. The SIM cards cost about $2, and if you don’t already have an unlocked phone to bring, you can buy a simple one here for around $40. The rates are really good for local calls, and for calling home Google Voice, Skype or Viber work great.
- FICTION: It is very hot in Costa Rica. — A week ago I actually had a friend send me a screenshot of the weather in Ames, Iowa verses San Jose, Costa RIca; it was over 10° F warmer in Iowa than in Costa RIca. Once it starts to rain, the temperature drops into the 60s, and I’ve been told that come December, it will get even cooler.
- SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN: Specialty diets are hard to maintain. — For me, it has been relatively easy for me to eat gluten-free because everything is already made of corn and rice. Quite a few people understand the term “celiac,” and many foods are labeled with or without gluten. That said, there is also a lot of food sold without official packaging. I’ve been told that eating vegetarian is far more difficult because there are so few people here who chose to do so. Furthermore, I’ve yet to find a good place to buy soy or almond milk for those of us who are dairy or lactose intolerant. I’d recommend bringing your own supplements if you must maintain a special diet.
- FACT: It rains in Costa Rica… a lot! — I cannot speak for the rest of the year, but so far it has rained every single day that I have been here. When packing, do bring a rain jacket and shoes that can get wet. You will want an umbrella, but you can buy those easily once you arrive.
Some other good tips about packing: don’t bring more than your airline will allow. It just doesn’t make much sense for how much many airlines will charge you. Plus, you’ll probably find that you’ll want different clothes than the ones you packed once you arrive. Along that same note, try to bring your own toiletries (shampoo, make-up, etc.). Imported items such as these can be up to three times the price here.
In the end, even though I may not have packed as well as I had thought, my host family has taken excellent care of me. Therefore, my final piece of advice, for no matter where you are traveling, DON’T WORRY. You will forget things; you will wish you had packed something different, but you are still going to have an unforgettable time!