Becoming Location Independent: Decisions, Decisions

By guest blogger Lisa Carter. Photos Copyright © Lisa Carter.

LAST JANUARY, my partner Jon and I were just back from a five-week trip, and my feet were already itchy. But not for a vacation. This time, I was ready to put our talk of becoming location independent into practice. We had long wanted to continue our freelance careers as a translator and software designer from wherever in the world we might be.

Over the years, Jon and I had made certain choices – to have no children, to be self-employed professionals, to own no property or pets – that would allow us to combine work and travel. We discussed a whole gamut of options, from perpetual wandering, to snowbirding from a home base in Canada, or moving abroad, returning in the summer to visit family and friends.

As so often happens, however, life interrupted. Career changes, financial constraints and family health issues put all of our grand schemes on hold. Until this past winter, when I realized we simply had to start the process if we were ever to make it happen.

The first thing we had to do was make several decisions. Jon and I spent many an hour discussing options, defining what it was we truly wanted.

In her mind, Lisa's bags were already packed

Where would we go?

As a Spanish translator, I was rooting for somewhere in Latin America. As an English-only-speaker, Jon wasn’t too sure. Costa Rica emerged as the most viable option for several reasons:

* Temperate climate
* Spanish is the official language, yet a large enough expat community means English is accessible
* Potentially lower cost of living
* Similar time zone that would not unduly affect our clients
* A peaceful, democratic nation with a well-educated population and high-quality healthcare

How long would we stay?

Once we had narrowed the place down, if we were seriously considering Costa Rica as a place to live several months a year or obtain residency one day, we would need to spend enough time there to get a proper feel for the country.

If we went for six months to a year, we would likely have to close things up in Canada so as not to incur double costs. If we were to go for less than that, we would need to find a tenant to sublet our apartment.

We would also have to work within the tourist visa time-frames for Canadians: a 90-day stay is granted on arrival, after which you must leave for 48 hours before being granted another 90-day visa. After six months, you must leave for one week.

Would we house-sit or rent?

House-sitting seemed like an excellent option financially and because we were flexible with our time. It would also allow us to try living in more than one spot. After researching it further, however, we found that most people have one or more pets, stipulating that the house and pet required constant care. This meant weekend forays to explore other areas of the country would be out of the question.

Renting thus appeared to be the best option. Because Costa Rica is a vacation destination, there are countless options available via the Internet – furnished, unfurnished, short-term, long-term, large, small, with and without amenities, in every area of the country.

Which area of Costa Rica would we choose?

Costa Rica is a small but diverse country. In less than 20,000 square miles (smaller than the state of West Virginia), there are mountains, volcanoes, valleys, tropical forests, coffee-growing lands, Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. It is a land of micro-climates, with marked wet and dry seasons.

With a population of only about 4 million, the majority live in the Central Valley around the capital of San José. Surfing towns dot the coast, quaint colonial towns fill the hills, and gated expat communities are common in the heart of the country.

Editor’s note: The feature photo at the top of the page shows Costa Rica placed inside of Ontario, with Lisa’s city of Ottawa at its lower tip

How could we afford it?

Jon and I would not be able to maintain one place in each country plus all of the associated expenses. Would we therefore pack up our apartment and pay for storage? Could we find someone to sublet? What other expenses could we cut down on? Was there a way to put our Canadian cell phones on hold? Was it possible to suspend our car insurance?

There would also be several additional expenses to factor in if we were to live and work from another country: airfare, travel insurance and tech upgrades.

While all of this was exciting to research, it was also rather daunting. Becoming location independent wasn’t nearly as easy or carefree as going on vacation. But we had begun the process and were excited about the possibilities.

Blackberry pic of Jon & Lisa in Toronto on their way to. . . .

Now, six months after our deliberations began, Jon and I have just arrived in Costa Rica for a three-month exploratory stay. The next in this series of posts for Milliver’s Travels will describe the preparations that allowed us to experiment with living a location independent lifestyle.

Lisa Carter of Intralingo

Lisa Carter


LISA CARTER is a literary translator and writer with a passion for travel. She and her partner, Jon, live in Ottawa, Canada – at least for now. They are currently experimenting with being digital nomads based out of Atenas, Costa Rica. You can find Lisa on her professional website, her personal food blog and on Twitter @intralingo.

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  1. This is very cool! I will be very interested to read the next post about your preparations! What a really interesting experiment, quite unique I’d imagine, so I’m glad you’re writing about it so I can follow along!

    • Thanks, Julia! It *is* very cool — Jon and I feel extremely fortunate that this is an option for us. I do hope you’ll read future instalments when I’ll talk about our preparations and the reality of being here. I know how much fun it can be to live vicariously. And who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to try something similar — not that you’re any stranger to living abroad! 😉

  2. Lisa – this is AWESOME! Congratulations and I’m SO glad you’re writing your adventures here on Milliver’s Travels! I can’t wait to see your next article and enjoy your exploratory stay!

  3. Hi Lisa, this is a great post, I’m really looking forward to the rest in the series. I didn’t realize you were planning to do the exact thing my husband and I are in the midst of planning!

    We are also hoping to become location independent, most likely living part-time in Canada and part-time in…? Costa Rica is one of the places on our shortlist, so your posts are really going to help us out! 🙂

    • Katherine,
      Too funny that you and your husband are planning the same thing, even to the same place! I do hope the info I provide will be useful to you… 😉

  4. Raymond says:

    I’m so happy that you both are doing well,it’s great to posting your new venture, I’m sure it will be a inspiration to a lot of people. Take good care and looking forward to read more.

    • Ray,
      Thank you for taking the time to come and comment! It is so appreciated… I do hope our experience will help others who are considering making such a move, to Costa Rica or elsewhere. Details about our preparations will be coming in the next post. 🙂

  5. So much to think about…. Looking forward to what comes next. You are now doing what I’d love to do. Perhaps soon! Enjoy every minute!

    • Wendy,
      I think you’re not the only one who’d like to be doing what we are — thus these articles. 😉 Perhaps armed with a little knowledge and encouragement more people will be willing to give it a try.
      Thanks for coming by and adding your thoughts!

  6. Miho Kinnas says:

    This article is really interesting! I am looking forward to your next installment. My husband and I are getting there soon. (Just sent daughter off to a college. We still have a dog – she has a few more years left in her life. – we can learn from you.- btw, remember me? from writersandcritters Miho

    • Really glad you found the article interesting, Miho! (And yes, of course, I know you from writersandcritters.) 😉 One thing I can tell you right now is that there are many, many expats down here, mostly retired, so there’s always someone to learn from/lean on.

  7. WOW! I love this piece. I’m so envious but more than that – so inspired by your decision to go for it. Your careful considerations obviously made that possible, but for less daring people, all of that thought might have just proven the need to NOT leap right now.

    I’m so looking forward to your posts.

    • You’re so right, J! My husband and I aren’t real risk takers, and I especially tend to over-think things. We decided these traits go hand in hand, so we keep telling each other NOT to think about our plans too much! Because if we did, we feel sure we’d just end up talking ourselves out of them! :s

    • Thanks, J! I do hope these articles will inspire people. Although it is true that the decisions can be daunting… As you say, it all depends on personality type: some will be challenged and excited by them, others overwhelmed. In our case it was often a mix of both!

  8. Tony Hamway says:

    Well, Well, Well.

    Lisa, to be sure, you are a gifted writer. Cup-led with your passion for culinary delight and numerous tbsp of adventure, you’re a feast for the I’s and you’s in this audience.

    O.K., O.K., I’ll get back to my point – your writing and this article. Thank you for sharing both your experience and suggestions in such a fluent manner. As others have mentioned, you keep me wanting more. So, whether it’s half-baked; stirred, or just whipped up, I’m excited to read more. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for your next entree.

    Thanks again

    • Tony! I’m so glad you came by and commented… Truly. And with your characteristic puns. 😉 I’m so encouraged that people are interested to learn more! I’ll be getting the next article together very soon…

  9. Lisa,
    What a thorough overview of the things you must consider when contemplating location independence. I will be looking forward to learning from you and Jon. I just read a great book that ends in Costa Rica. If you need a fast-paced fiction read that spend the last third of the book in your new home, try The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond. ENJOY!!!

    • Alison,
      Thank you for coming by! There certainly are a lot of decisions to be made when doing this, but it’s all worth it! Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll see if I can get it on Kobo! 🙂

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