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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Crime in Costa Rica, some facts and some opinion

A guy named Jack posted a question about crime. Thanks Jack. He asked if there was much crime in Costa Rica. He linked to an article on Costa Rica HQ. This article gives some great common sense advice. I think that most of this advice can be related to any travel for sightseeing. I would be as careful in San Fransisco or London as here. Cities have a lot of people, and not everybody is honest. This is true anywhere. Tourists in tourist areas are often targeted. You must be somewhat cautious whenever you travel. But then I am married to a paranoid.

Now what about if you live here? We live in Escazu, probably the swankiest suburb of San Jose. Lots of expats. Lots of rich Costa Ricans. Lots of targets. What is the crime like here?

First some historical opinion. When we considered this move, we did some research. What I recall is that there was a fairly large amount of burglaries. The ladrones breaking into houses while you are away and take everything including light bulbs, toilet seats and the kitchen sink. Here is one first-hand account of this type of event. It seemed that this risk could be combated (or at least the risk lessened) with some safety precautions, i.e. live in a secure area, have good alarms, barred windows/compounds, good locks, perhaps a dog. Also, having employees (maids, gardeners, etc) around would help as well. We did all this. Rented in a very secure (at least we think and this is probably the most important factor) area. Every house we considered my husband was reviewing the break-in possibilities. We think this house is pretty safe. To top that off, I have always said (much to my husband's disagreement), take it all - just don't come in when we are here - don't threaten my family.

We belong to the Costa Rica Living group on Yahoo. For those considering spending some time here, I strongly recommend this board. Lately there have been many reports of exactly this kind of attack. This scares even me. Still, I am pretty secure in our setup. There were complaints on the board not to publish this kind of information. Anyone who is against publishing true, factual information is probably trying to sell you something. While I feel secure, I don't plan to take the ostrich approach regarding the safety of my family. In particular, Costa Rica may have overbuilt in anticipation of rich, retiring baby boomers from the U.S. With the current real estate conditions in the U.S. this is probably not going to be the flood that was expected. I believe that this will eventually have a backlash effect here. If sentiments become too Anti-American, we would hop the next boat home in a heartbeat.

Now let's talk about some statistics and specifics:

  • Many people cite that there is a much lower crime rate here than in location x,y,z. This may be true, but is probably not the most applicable piece of information. What is more relevant is the crime rate against ex-pats. We are certainly targets. The impression is that we have money. All of us.
  • There was a recent letter by some big wig Embassy guy that portrayed Costa Rica as having an excessive amount of small property crime. This may or may not be true, however this is where your common sense comes into play. There are "good parts" and "bad parts" of any city. Try not to go places that there might be trouble. For example, LA is beautiful, but I have no interest in a tour of East LA. Likewise Boston versus South Boston.
  • Crime happens everywhere. I have been reading some blogs of Silicon Valley Moms (it is nice to be reminded of home) and recently saw this. Unfortunately in this world, you have to watch yourself.
  • You can always lie with statistics.

Truly, common sense and a little vigilance goes along way. This has been a heavy topic, but I don't live my life in fear. I don't flash the money when I take it from an ATM. I do lock my doors. But that is no different than anywhere else I might live.


Amelia Hart said...

I took a look at your reference to Costa Rica HQ and read through the part about where the writer's wife lost a $300 ring b/c she left it at the hotel where they were staying. As you say, crime happens everywhere. I live in Miami and don't have any idea what the crime rate is. However, I just read an email that my sister sent me about protecting myself from being a victim of crime. One of the suggestions was mostly a reminder about "Being aware of your surroundings." I guess there are always going to be bad guys out there, but you can't live like if you're paranoid either. You'd never leave your house if you did that. Thank you for sharing your insights on crime in Costa Rica.

Mary said...

Hi Jen,
Excellent detail on the crime in Costa Rica. It appears to be a hot topic at the moment. I also took a look at the Costa Rica HQ post, the Theft in Costa Rica post and the Back Down post and read the comments on all. I think it is fair to say that crime is indeed all around us. I live in Ireland, having returned from London after being there for 16 years. And I have noticed a considerable increase in crime - break-ins, theft etc. When I was growing up, people didn't lock their doors, they popped in and out of each others houses. Now it's a very different story. My mum lives out in the country, in a tiny village, and we have recently had to install a lot of security measures to ensure her safety. With regards to penalties for small crimes i.e. theft of $500, it would be unheard of in Ireland for anyone to go to jail for that. I wouldn't be put off moving to Costa Rica. It is a beautiful country with a lot to offer. And no matter where anyone lives, sadly, there will always be crime of some description. Impressive blog Jen.

Hideo Jimenez said...

I agree. In any country there are places that are safe and some places not so safe. If you are afraid to visit a new country just spend a little time to learn some of the culture and the language. Learn to be like the people there. There is no better way to learn the language than making new friends. Being naive of the culture and taking valuables with you to an unfamiliar place is never a good idea anywhere. Just take what you need. I've been learning a lot about the beauty of living in Costa Rica and valuable advice from this nice blog and How can anyone not want to visit after reading all these great posts.