• Sara B.

Moving abroad during a pandemic: a double-edged sword

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

When COVID starting getting nasty back in April, anyone we came across usually had one question for us (after kindly asking how we were...): "So, are you still going to Costa Rica?" Our answer was, of course, "Of course!" We were blindly plowing ahead with all of our original plans, unwilling to let something as minor as a virus get in the way of something we'd been meticulously preparing for and dreaming of for a very, very long time.

Well, that was five months ago, when there was this thought that COVID might clear up by summer (early, mid, late, whatever!) Hmmm, right. So here we are, now three weeks to the eve of our departure (which, it's worth mentioning, has changed several times thanks to flight cancellations): it's crunch time. This is when all the really, really important stuff gets done: in the US: closing and wrapping everything up; in Costa Rica: sending and setting everything up. Well....all of that, amidst a global health crisis and daily changes to openings and closings of borders and cancellations of flight offerings, has proven to be a less-than-methodical process. But there have been some silver linings (very few, but significant). Here's what it's like to move abroad during a pandemic.


Let's start with the downsides (warning: they are long. If you're as done with Coronavirus doomsday talk as I am, skip down to the upsides):

1. Borders are closed. Like really, really closed. Costa Rica, as of today, is accepting tourists from only Madrid, Spain and Frankfurt, Germany. Our family is in neither of those places at the moment. Hmmm. However, for some reason, there are (very few) flights going into the country from the US. More hmmm. Since Johel and two of our kiddos are Costa Rican citizens, we've been assured by the Costa Rican embassy that the rest of us can get in as well, since our plan is to reside there. So, I guess we'll get on one of those few operating flights and see what happens at the border.

2. Our flights have been changed (And changed again. Oh, and then cancelled.) We received the dreaded email that our flights had been "modified" to something ridiculously inconvenient last weekend, and when we made the call to see what we could do, the kind Delta agent sadly informed us that, actually, there were no flights to Costa Rica from the US on Delta. At All. From Any City. Until September 17. ?!?!?!?! While still on the line, moving our Delta tickets to September - just in case - I frantically searched for anything - anything - that would get us down there on time. We're leaving our jobs, selling our house, and not enrolling our kids in school. Sitting here for an extra 2-3 weeks just killing time is really not an option.

We found the something on American. For some unknown reason (but I'm desperate, so I'm not asking questions), they are still running daily flights to Costa Rica. Great! We got on one flight even a bit earlier than we originally planned (that is 60% full. Who are these people?!?!)

3. We will be arriving to an unfinished and unfurnished house in Costa Rica, only to have to quarantine ourselves for 14 days (by candlelight, possibly....electrical setup to a new house from abroad is surprisingly complicated in this country. Ah, this is just the beginning....).

So, in fairness, some of the unfinished part is due to our project manager who leaves much to be desired, but I promised Johel I wouldn't blog about that until the project was done, and we were happy and settled in our new home, but part is due to COVID-related issues:

1. Costa Rican businesses selling construction materials have been periodically closed in the major cities

2. Driving restrictions have been placed on residents, making some workers have to leave the construction site early to make it home before curfew

The unfurnished part is because part of our perfect master plan was that Johel was going to head down to Costa Rica a week ahead of us to buy all the appliances, mattresses and some food and make the beds, make sure the internet was up and running, and organize some of the stuff we shipped. This, of course, would have meant that he would have picked up the car that we had shipped, brought it to La Flor, unpacked, and then headed back to the airport a week later to pick us up. He was essentially going to make the house feel like a home before I showed up with the kids.

Wellllll, now that borders are closed, we need to travel together as a family to increase our odds of all actually getting into the country, which means we will have to pay someone else to pick up our car (which will be too full of our shipped stuff to also haul home any actual humans). Looks like we're hiring someone else to actually drive us to La Flor from the airport.

For this reason, I'm packing headlamps, peanut butter, sour raisins, and our portable speaker for dance parties in our spacious (read: empty) living room. I'm hoping this will distract the kids from the fact that there aren't doors, windows, beds, electricity, or toilets in their new home. Wish me luck!!

4. Last, but not least, we get to travel on a plane and hang out in airports for hours wearing masks. Can Johel and I survive it (begrudgingly): yes, of course. Can Yori, who really doesn't sweat this kind of stuff and actually doesn't really care? Sure. But Ollie's bonkers with this and shares his mom's attitude problem, and Leo is three, so I'm not quite sure how that's all gonna work. Please, God, don't let us have any flight delays after we get to the airport!


Ok. That's enough of that. Let's move on to those few, but notable, upsides to this crazy plan.

1. We have been blessed over the last several months with much more free time than we would have had without COVID. Kids were home, work was initially somewhat flexible, travel plans we had that would have kept us crazy busy until the last second before we left were cancelled, and my summer-intense job was suddenly not intense in the slightest. While 95% of the Madison events we love didn't happen, we had the time to create some fun new

traditions in their places and got to spend a whole lot of time with a few really great people.

So while our social circle didn't include all of our closest friends and family, it included some really great ones pretty often. We discovered cool new parks we hadn't visited before as we struggled to find new things to do and spent more time than normal at home (which is good, because now we're selling it!). All in all, I really can't complain about how our summer has shaped up, and I don't think our kids really can either (and this is very important to me as a mother who imagines her kids are taking things a lot harder than they actually usually are.)

2. Really, why wouldn't we want to leave now. In the short term, nothing's looking up. Virus: raging. Neighborhood: Amazon's putting up a warehouse nearby, which people assure me will hurt home values (this is good news when you're selling while things are still doesn't really matter if it's true or not...). School's going 100% virtual, at least initially: good grief. No thanks. Once we get over the hurdle of actually getting to La Flor, I think our situation will be golden: I'll get to really implement homeschool on my own terms since it sounds like the small local school is basically out of commission for now. We'll take many, many long-weekend trips to less-touristy destinations to hike, swim and explore. And we'll work extensively on our land preparations: building cabins and landscaping without feeling like we need to pulled away to address other obligations from a US job that might have gone remote without COVID. It feels like the perfect time to get away. We'll come back when things are a bit more in order here. Let us know.

So there we go, ending on a positive note. 2020 is already shaping up to be one for the world history books: I'm excited that it will be the same on a smaller scale right within our own family.

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