Expat Living in Nicaragua: 5 Things That Took Some Getting Used To

As Gordon and I prepared for our move to Nicaragua two and a half years ago I tried to envision what life would be like. I knew expat living in Nicaragua would be different than life in Canada.

I knew there would be challenges, but looking back I realize there were a lot of things I hadn’t “really”  thought about.

In this article I will describe five challenges I faced as part of becoming a Nicaraguan expat.


“What do you mean I can’t buy a bottle of wine to give to our friends who have invited us over for dinner?”

Prior to moving to Nicaragua the word “budget” wasn’t really part of my vocabulary. Gordon and I were far from what you would call wealthy, but if either of us wanted something we bought it. I rarely looked at prices when I was grocery shopping and whether it was clothes, cosmetics or over-priced Starbucks coffee I consumed a lot!

Now that we have a monthly budget of $1400 USD we actually have to pay attention to how much money we are spending on a daily basis. We can’t always partake in all the activities we would like to. And we definitely don’t buy things we don’t really need.

Over time I’ve become comfortable in our spending and realized that being on a budget isn’t all that bad.


Coming from Canada I knew it would take time to get acclimated to the heat in Nicaragua, but what I hadn’t thought about was the fact that we wouldn’t be living with air conditioning. For us time at the beach isn’t followed by afternoon siestas in a chilly air-conditioned room.

Electricity in Nicaragua is expensive. If we used air conditioning in one room an average of eight hours a day we could end up having to pay at least $150 USD for electricity each monthWhen you consider over ten percent of your budget could go to paying for electricity (i.e. air conditioning) it really changes your perspective. 

We currently live in San Juan del Sur where daytime highs average between 28ºC – 34ºC. Average lows only drop to between 18ºC – 24ºC, but sleeping with a fan at the foot of the bed, taking cool showers before hitting the sack and only turning the air conditioner on for a few hours a night in the hottest months of April and May works for us.

Forewarning: If you are someone who isn’t prepared to live without air conditioning you’ll definitely need to add extra into your budget for electricity.


Whether it’s barking dogs, announcements blaring from loud speakers on a truck, roosters crowing, firecrackers going off or bad karaoke coming from your neighbour’s house noise is everywhere in Nicaragua — and it’s hard to escape — especially if you live in town.

Having a set of earplugs nearby at night helps, but if you’re someone who can’t live with a lot of noise I definitely recommend living out of town. You still won’t be able to escape the odd rooster, random barking dog or troupe of early rising howler monkeys, but life will definitely be more tranquil. 


Typically when you’re vacationing in a destination where you don’t speak the language it’s pretty easy to get by. Besides good food and drink — which in a pinch you can obtain by pointing to — what more does one need? Maybe directions to the beach? Generally there is little need for a common language.

This is definitely not the case when you are living in a place where you don’t speak the language and need rent an apartment, buy a cell phone or get your truck repaired. Not speaking Spanish made completing these tasks (and others) nearly insurmountable, but somehow we managed.

Learning the language has definitely made day to day life in Nicaragua easier.


Going from working full time and having a relatively busy social calendar to being unemployed with no friends was a change that definitely took some time to adjust to. My wish of having nothing to do all day came true, but I quickly learned that having nothing to do all day is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Since moving to Nicaragua I’ve learned that I am happiest and most content when I am participating in meaningful work or activities. Whether it’s helping out at Bar Republika, volunteering with local organizations like Comunidad Connect or meeting with a concierge client incorporating, structured activities into my life works better for me.

It took some time, but my circle of friends has grown and now my social life competes for time with my other activities. I’ve found balance and life is good!

Living in Nicaragua: 5 Things That Took Some Getting Used To

– Celebrating my 39th birthday in San Juan del Sur with cold cervezas, good friends, live music and a beautiful sunset. Sometimes living in Nicaragua feels even BETTER than being on vacation! PHOTO CREDIT: From the Hammock in Nicaragua


Gordon and I quickly learned that living as an expat in your favourite holiday destination is very different than being a traveler there. Life doesn’t suddenly become a vacation just because you move somewhere warm and tropical.

Admittedly, in the beginning I really struggled with some of the changes and challenges life in Nicaragua presented. Gordon on the other hand settled into semi-retirement and life in a new country with relative ease, which seems to be the way with most expat couples we have met here.

All in all I have no regrets with making the move to Nicaragua. There have been many foreseen and unforeseen challenges along the way, but that is life in general. In my opinion overcoming challenges is rewarding and fulfilling no matter where you live. Expecting the unexpected is good advice and certainly holds true for expats living in Nicaragua. 

Posted on August 12, 2014, in Making the Move and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Very helpful and informative post, Elisha. My wife and I plan to retire in a few years, however not permanently to one place … instead we plan to spend 3-6 months in a new place each year. Nonetheless, your comments also apply in that scenario and will prove helpful in the future.

  2. Colleen Leppanen

    Hi Elisha – great article. You hit the nail on the head – it’s so true! We’re still trying to learn Spanish. We’ll be back in a few months.
    Take care!
    Colleen Leppanen

  3. Great 5 point information. First-hand facts always best. Thank you!

  4. This is great! We lived in Barcelona for 2 years while in grad school and who doesn’t love BCN? I always tell people, many who claim it as their fav city, is that living is different than vacationing. So so true.

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