Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Before You Go

After much research and checking out all my favorite websites for cheap tickets I finally bought my ticket.  Staying diligent I checked the same sites I was checking before and found a flight for $200 cheaper.  I immediately bought it and will be flying to San Jose, Costa Rica on August 9.  Oscar will be flying in a week earlier to (hopefully) get our apartment situation settled.  I am really excited about moving and decided to write up a little something about some things to consider before you leave your home country.

1. Visas  First and foremost- do you need a visa?  What kind of visa?  Is there a fee?  Can you get one at the border or do you have to get one before you leave?  What are the requirements for the visa?  How do you renew your visa?  These answers can all differ depending on what country you are a citizen in and which country you are visiting.  Usually being a citizen of Canada, USA or the EU will be of your advantage.  Most of the time you will not need a visa to visit countries.  But ALWAYS CHECK FIRST.

USA-Costa Rica Visa:  Citizens of the USA do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica.  You will be stamped with a temporary 90 day visa at the border.  Renewing this visa is super easy and how most gringos stay in Costa Rica for years  All you have to do is leave the country for 72 hours (a long weekend) and you will get a brand new 90 day visa on your return to the country.  This is a super easy, cheap way to renew your visa, plus you get an excuse to visit Panama or Nicaragua every 3 months.
The requirements:  Here's where a lot of people might get caught up.  In order to enter Costa Rica you MUST HAVE proof of onward travel.  This means you need to have proof you are leaving the country.  This can be a return plane ticket, a bus ticket to another country, or a plane ticket to another country.  In my experience they are not that picky about this in the airport.  Where you will have to have documentation is land borders, especially Panama/Costa Rica.

2. Vaccinations  What vaccinations are mandatory?  What vaccinations are suggested?  What proof do you need of vaccinations?  I learned this the hard way-- GET YOUR VACCINATIONS!  Depending on what country you're leaving, entering, etc you need certain vaccinations.  You can check this information on the CDC website.  Do your best to try to find this information out straight from your country's embassy in the other countries or from their websites.  I made a huge mistake of trusting a 3rd world country's health website and paid for it dearly.  From USA - Costa Rica you do not need any vaccinations.  Typhoid, Hepatitis A and B are recommended, and some doctors will try to put you on malaria pills.  I suggest getting typhoid and Hep A/B for ease of mind, but leave the malaria pills at home.  You have to take one EVERY DAY which can be annoying and pricey for the meds.  Plus I hear they give you freaky dreams (though you might be into that).

3. What to bring  What should you bring?  What can you buy there?  What is not allowed into the country?  How will you get your stuff there?  What will it cost?  My general rule for packing is to ONLY PACK WHAT YOU ABSOLUTELY WILL DEFINITELY NEED.  Then take out 1/2.  Especially if you are planning on spending 6+ months in your new country, leave your shit at home.  Or sell it.  Seriously.  No matter how different/remote a country might seem I promise you they have what you need to survive.  If you end up forgetting to bring an umbrella, they will sell them.  Buy stuff there if you need it.  Try to leave most stuff at home.

A good tip for getting as much stuff as possible to your new location is to try to book a flight with an airline that will check 2 bags for free.  The airlines are starting to get stingy with baggage so read the fine print before you buy.  Wear your largest, bulkiest clothing on the plane so you don't have to pack it.  When I first moved to Costa Rica I wore my tall boots, puffy jacket, and pants onto the plane.  It left a lot more room for other things in my bags.  If you can, layer on the clothing too.  You might look silly but it'll cost less!  A final suggestion is to ship your stuff that you just can't live without.  I haven't looked into this yet, but I'll post an update when I do.  (**Update: June 10--  Shipping is stupid expensive.  I looked up shipping my blender and I was quoted between $500-$2000!!  I've decided to pack everything I can in bags and put it into checked luggage.**)  The problem with Costa Rica is a lot of times the taxes to bring something into the country is MORE than just buying it there.  A few things I don't want to leave behind: my sewing machine, kitchenaid stand mixer, and kitchenaid blender.  I think I'll have to pick and choose with those items as they're all large, heavy and bulky.

So this post has turned a little lengthier than I originally planned.  But I hope it helped guide a few to make some smart decisions.