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Of Love and Outlier

In less than four years, Nataliya Schulman relocated to Costa Rica with her daughter, bought land, built a home, built a business, obtained residency, and made lifelong friends

Poas Volcano's main crater

In September of 2018, I arrived in San Jose with my one-year-old daughter, 17 suitcases, a Beagle, two car seats, and an insane, blind hope for something different. Having spent more than two decades of my life in New York City and then a brief stint in Austin, TX, I was in a permanent state of brain fog due to the political climate, rising health care costs, and being priced out of the housing market time and time again. I was exhausted. Something had to give. 

In hindsight, I can see how this seemed completely insane to my family and friends. I barely spoke Spanish, I hadn’t stepped a foot in Costa Rica, and knew absolutely no one here. My harebrained logic was this — the child was small, and therefore the most flexible she would ever be to her surroundings; there were enough resources to survive a while without working, and at worst, it would make a great story.

Within 2 weeks, I met the staff of Outlier Legal to apply for residency “just in case”. Mainly, I met Dawn Drummer and Rafael Valverde, who had the same crazy glint in their eyes, having quit their US-based lives 6 years prior. I had all apostilled documents in-hand and was whisked away in an uber to the police station to take very messy ink fingerprints. Back then, Outlier Legal was functioning out of a small house in Escazu. I remember that there was a beautiful garden, some funky art, and a couple of dogs running around.

The CEO’s “office” was a desk, squeezed in between several other staff members. There was no ego here, just a human desire to help. As someone who ran a very tight, very formal Real Estate business in New York City, the thought of having the freedom of doing something you love while bringing your dogs to work seemed very appealing. There were no suits. I fell in love with Outlier right then and there. Shortly after, I fell in love with Costa Rica.

Learning the “Pura Vida” lifestyle

For the first 6 months, we lived in Grecia. I could see Poas from the second story of our house, and after decades of city smog, the fresh air was intoxicating. Weeks later, there were the funny things that slowly drew me in. For instance, I didn’t know Grecia had a massive sugar cane processing plant.

I didn’t know that once a year, what seemed like ten thousand trucks would come at snail’s speed through the one main road in town (obviously the road my home was on) to deliver said sugar cane to be processed, causing comical traffic from one end of town to the other. I texted “running late — sugar cane… again” to my daughter’s daycare literally everyday. No matter how much I tried to give myself extra time, it never worked. I learned to laugh it off, like the staff of Learning Time. “Pura Vida,” they said.

There was that one time I ran late due to a rogue cow that had run away from its owner. It was being coaxed back across the road by a very calm man using a stick. No one honked their horn at this man — not even a New Yorker like me, who was known for pressing the “door close” button in the elevator a good 10 times in a row. “Pura Vida,” I said.

In those first 6 months here, my daughter was diagnosed with asthma, but it has been well-managed based on the climate, and by doctors who really take the time to see her. In the states, we would be seen for 10 minutes after an hour-long wait. In Costa Rica, we were seen on time, and for an hour.

After that first appointment, I had the pediatrician’s personal cell phone number. I thought this was completely crazy, until I realized all doctors here do this. The pediatrician would text prescriptions for her kid rashes on a weekend, and for the first time since she was born, I did not have to worry about whether I could afford another medical bill.

New life, new friends

Four years later, we’ve lived all over the Central Valley, and no matter how close to San Jose we get, the experience has always been the same. The people are calmer, they are more accepting, and they keep an acute focus on what really matters.

I have drawn up a will, opened a bank account, bought land, built a home, opened a business (then shut it down — we all make mistakes), paid taxes, obtained residency, sent my daughter to daycare and school, lived through Covid with a golf course as my backyard at the time, spent countless hours staring at the fields, the ocean, the waterfalls and the volcanoes. I’ve made incredible, lifelong friends.

Honestly, I am in love with Costa Rica. I speak a lot more Spanish, albeit not as much as I would like, so I am still learning. I am at the farmer’s markets every weekend with my daughter, who is now 5, hanging on to my leg while waiting for fresh-squeezed orange juice. She runs into her friends regularly and the moms and I get to spend a couple of hours catching up with no agenda.

I have friends from Bolivia, the US, Chile, Colombia, Canada, Israel, and all over Europe. We share long, uninterrupted hugs and have much more time for each other than we ever would have up North. I couldn’t have ever imagined the freedom that came without worry over being able to afford my life.

Lush palm trees surrounding Manzanillo beach at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Manzanillo beach at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Outlier won’t leave you hanging

I now work for Outlier Legal. Several of the people I met in my first weeks in Costa Rica, I see everyday.

For instance — Johnny Lara, who manages Outlier’s real estate team, was the Real Estate agent who helped me find our first home. He spent hours on video calls with me back then, and in true Tico fashion, he didn’t think it odd when I asked him if he could help get some groceries delivered to the house before our arrival so we were not looking for the supermarket after coming off a plane.

He stocked the fridge, no questions asked. I remember him saying “I won’t leave you hanging.” He didn’t then, and I am so glad to see him in our midst, helping other expats find their piece of paradise.

Mario Rodriguez, who filed countless rebuttals to immigration’s absurd denials for our family’s residency is here, still fighting the good fight for expats. His track record is incredible, and if he ever shows up at Immigration, they part the seas for him out of respect. A hero, honestly.

Patricia Gonzalez, who spent 4 hours of her day helping me open a bank account with just a passport in 2019, is still here. You can’t miss her — she is the one with the biggest smile, undeterred by the bureaucracy of financial institutions. 

I Wen Chen, who helped us be prepared by not only providing very clear instructions on the vital documents my family would need for residency (can you imagine the hoops one has to jump through if one was born in Kamchatka, Russia?!) but also by answering countless silly questions with aplomb, is now onboarding our staff members by teaching them the ins and outs of servicing wild-eyed expats who decide that they’ve had enough and Costa Rica is the next stop in their journey.

These are just a few names in a sea of 80 professionals who dedicate their working lives to being there for us. Outlier Legal is woven with the thread of people like me. Like you. People who have gone beyond their comfort zone to follow a little voice inside that guides them from what they know is safe towards what they know is right.

Was it easy? No. Was it simple? No. Would I do it again? Any day.

I am proud to be an Outlier and help people like us —like you— find their way home. If you’re on the fence, if you’re wondering if this crazy adventure is for you, let us help you figure it out.

We’re here. We get it. Pura Vida.



Nataliya Bari serves as the Real Estate and Business Development Director. Her educational background is in Communications and Real Estate. Prior to joining Outlier Legal, Nataliya spent over a decade running a successful Real Estate Brokerage practice in New York City and planned global events for the International Federation of Accountants. Nataliya is fluent in Russian, is a Certified Master Negotiator and approaches leadership with a sense of humor and humility.

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