Working in Costa Rica – my third year…

cyber security

As snow birds to a small beach town in Costa Rica from our small mountain town in Colorado I have enjoyed this perk with an internet job.  Each year working online in Costa Rica has gotten easier. Last year the electric company, ICE (pronounced EE-say) installed fiber optic cable with very reliable high speed internet and the electricity flickers off much less frequently. Conveniences like e-sign, video conferencing and online meeting platforms have become universal and easy to use.  From a day to day standpoint my actual work goes as smoothly here as it does in Colorado.

At the same time, however, each year increased layers of security have been implemented to meet the compliance requirements of client information. In February I switched to another employer with an international footprint.  Prior to hire and many times in the few weeks after hire they assured me that I could work from Costa Rica.  Surprise!!  Three weeks after I was hired I received a call and an apology telling me to stop work immediately while in Costa Rica. The CEO and IT decided that effective immediately no employee can  access client information while outside of the US.  Since my whole job involves being completely in client data…I suddenly was faced with a big dilemma.  My boss and HR both told me they would try to find a solution which would allow me to continue to work for them but no one was optimistic.  They gave me a week to fly back to the US to continue my job.

If you are IT savvy you are rolling your eyes, I think.  And, I am no expert.  But, even with VPNs, RDPs, verification keys, passwords, etc., my company did not feel they could verify the security of my internet enough to satisfy their compliance concerns.

Based on the initial understanding with my new employer that I could work from both our homes we began a big expansion of our home here in CR, family planned visits, and we even considered renting out our home in Colorado and living here full time!!! That phone call put a sudden and shocking stop to our comfort and peace of mind and our plans.

After much discussion, prayer and consideration my DH and I decided we would follow our plan to stay in Costa Rica regardless of what my company was able to do.  We felt we had too much invested in CR to change course now.   I told my company that I earnestly hoped a resolution would be found so I could continue to work for them, but that DH and I had decided to continue our plans and remain in Costa Rica.  If I couldn’t work for them, I would take a sabbatical year.  (I’m not gonna lie, that sounded great to me!!)

It took three weeks, but my company came through!  They found a job for me in developing / editing educational materials while I am in Costa Rica.  And, when I am in the states I will do my original job as planned.  I feel pretty lucky to have landed with this company.  Most employers might not go to so much trouble to accommodate my two country lifestyle.

So, back when we were first planning our snowbird life, I naively thought the internet was the internet and with an online job I would be able to work from anywhere in the world.  That is true, but…  If you are planning to work in Costa Rica be upfront with your employer.  Talk with IT (IT will know where you are.  Believe me.  They track IP addresses).  Talk with HR.  This planning and conversation may save you a lot of stress and surprises.  Every department in my company became involved with this issue.  They even wrote their first international IT policy…all my fault.  😉

Working in Costa Rica- the internet

One of the reasons we chose Costa Rica is that the Internet and electricity infrastructure seemed reliable.  I work remotely for a US company from our home in the states.  I sought this job because my husband no longer wanted to spend the winters in the snow and cold.  So, if he was going someplace warm in the winters I wanted to be sure I could go too!  I am a homebody at heart anyway and even if we never became snowbirds I knew working at home would be a great fit for me.

Here we are 1.5 years later and I am waking up to “go to work” for the first time in 2017 in my office in Samara, Costa Rica.   Overall it looks like I can get my work done here.  I have had a few challenges to overcome which have been very stressful!

We visited Samara in October 2014 for the month to first, see if we wanted to live here and second, find out if I could actually work here.  It was our test visit.   In booking our casita I had asked the owner 20 times about the internet speed and reliability.  She knew I worked online and the internet was critical for me.   As we were checking in to our apartment she mentioned in passing that the next day (my first schedule work day in CR) was a “planned” power outage from 8am -2pm!!!

The entire region was without power (and of course that means Internet too) for those 6 hours!!   It turns out power outages are scheduled periodically as the linemen work to fix or improve our service.  So, as long as I know the outage schedule  I can take vacation on those days or flex my time.   Sharing how the restaurants and grocery stores continued to serve and sell during these total power outages is a good story for another post!!

Monkeys on the wire

A second challenge is the power wanes and surges throughout the day and goes completely off a few times each day. Unless it is a scheduled outage, the power comes right back.  It flickers off only long enough for the internet to go off and for me to lose connection.  Then I need to await my laptop to find the wifi, re connect, re login the the VPN and then into the RDP.  Frustrating!  Last week we bought a surge protector with a built in battery for about $80US in Nicoya.  Genius!  Now we do not lose internet with every power flicker.  Work has gone smoothly ever since.

I have only had one other issue which scared me into thinking I would never be able to work here.  My company contracts with large corporations across the US.  The IT department from one of our largest clients  called me directly (something that never happens as I am a relative peon in my company) to say that “if I don’t stop using that VPN that routes through Costa Rica their security department would cut off my access!” :0!  Apparently they are looking at IP addresses from outside the US as potential security threats.  He seemed ok with it when I explained that I am actually IN Costa Rica.  He said in the future I should let them know so their security department does not get alarmed and turn me off.

It did not occur to me that my IP address would be an issue.  I thought the internet was the internet.  However I work for over 20 different clients and haven’t had any other issues.

So, there have been some adjustments but the joy of being here has been

worth these few problems.  Each day I start  on the deck…birds, yoga, howler monkeys’ chorus, the sound of the waves on the beach and my view of the fading stars and the emerging dawn.  Lucky me!!