I’ve been living in Costa Rica now for around 2 years. Costa Rica is a beautiful country, especially for someone like me with a passion for biology and animals. But life is not always easy down here, and it takes time to learn how Ticos (that’s how the Costa Ricans call themselves) “tick”. Especially as a female traveling and living in this country alone, there are certain things to watch out for… and I’ve learned my fair share of life and work related lessons.
Working as a freelancer in Costa Rica was easier than I ever would have thought. I decided to become a freelancer in the beginning of 2012, when I’ve quit my job in a volunteer company to see “what else is out there”. I’ve decided to open up my own volunteer organization (Green Life Volunteers) and I designed and developed the website for the organization myself.
After I was done with the Green Life Volunteer’s website, the first emails began rolling in and I had my first volunteers sign up. And then I thought to myself – Why not offer to make websites for people in Costa Rica? So shortly after I posted an ad on “craigslist” – that’s the typical “gringo” (or foreigner) portal for job offers, housing, car sales, dating services, and anything else you can think of. Someone responded quiet soon, a gringo from Puerto Jimenez with some new Cabinas who needed a website. We talked on the phone, and soon after I was on my way down to the Osa Peninsula… where I arrived in April and never left since.
For my first website work I didn’t really get paid, but I was able to “stay for free” at the Cabinas I was making the website for. This “barter” system is still quiet common in Costa Rica – for me it was the first time exchanging work for living space. Later on it would become quiet normal, for example making a website or business cards for a dentist in exchange for fillings or a dental cleaning.
Only a few weeks after my arrival, people in town had already heard about me, and shortly after living in Puerto Jimenez I had someone knock on my door for two other websites (this time for money). I kept getting new clients, just by word of mouth, up until recently (around a year later) when I started to advertise my skills in a facebook group. I’ve always been busy though, and had projects from the typical website, to making a map for the Osa Peninsula and Puerto Jimenez, and designing logos, flyers, business cards, and brochures.
It wasn’t always that easy – even though I never had a lack of offers for new projects, I’ve worked for way to little money out of desperation .. and had to struggle for several months through the rainy season (when no-one really has any money, and especially not to spend on a website or promotional material)… ! Also I thought that since I’ve had no experience really, I had no right to charge as much as someone with years of educational and work experience as a web designer. Now I’m starting to charge higher and more normal market prices for my work.
I can say that life as a freelancer in Costa Rica can be hard, especially if you don’t know (yet) what you’re doing. You have to be willing to except less pay than other designers elsewhere in the world, but you’ll be rewarded with living in a beautiful place surrounded by scarlet macaws and monkeys. My goal was never to make a lot of money, but just to live a happy life.
Additionally, my goal to support conservation and sustainable development has come true: I’m now making websites for or website improvements for several conservation organizations, schools, and research projects around the Osa Peninsula. I’m charging very little or almost nothing for my work, but I’m happy to help and do my share for a better world.