Wednesday 21st August 2013

Picture of Richard Bexon

Today we meet Richard Bexon, a British expatriate who left Surrey in the United Kingdom to live in his wife’s home country of Costa Rica. Richard has since put his passion for the country and travel to good use and has started his own successful travel agency that arranges bespoke tours and itineraries for people who want to explore Costa Rica. Here he shares some practical tips as to how expatriates who have their own business ideas can translate their dreams into reality.

Please tell us where you are originally from and what prompted you to move overseas?

Originally from Woking, Surrey, UK. I had always been an independent person, probably because of my parents’ early divorce and spent 7 years living in France while being at boarding school in the UK. Every vacation I got I went to France and enjoyed other cultures and languages. The British culture is very much like its food, a little bland.

Why Costa Rica?

I met my wife while an internship at a hotel group in Minnesota, USA. During my university course I had the opportunity to gain work experience in the UK and asked if I could take it internationally and get a better understanding of how the international work scene worked. It was approved and I decided that, as the US was one of the biggest economies in the world, I could learn a lot there.

I actually had an interview for a financial analyst job working for Exxon Mobil in the UK about one month before I choose to go to the US. However, I did not find out until I had already accepted the job in the US, that they had sent the contract by recorded mail one week later and that it had sat on the stairs for three weeks (my flat mates never told me). They called up the day after I accepted the US internship and I had to say no. I think this was fate.

During the internship I was working on the reception and my now wife was a Supervisor of the Chamber Maids. We met, fell in love and moved to the UK, as I had a friend who was starting a business in the hotel industry and wanted my help. She lasted one winter in the UK, until she said: “let’s go to Costa Rica”. I had been numerous times and loved the country and thought “why not?” So one month later we found ourselves living in Costa Rica.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from your life as an expat?

Do not expect the same level of service in your home country. You need to relax and go with the flow, remember you are a guest in their country.

What three things do you like the most about living in Costa Rica?

  1. A recent study by the Happy Planet Index rated Costa Rica as the #1 happiest place on earth ( I can certainly attest to this and this is reason #1. The people here are very friendly and family orientated and some countries, especially the UK and US, are losing this.
  2. The business rules are a little less strict and the costs to run a business are much lower, with a highly skilled, English speaking workforce. Business rates are non-existent and the cost of staff is about 70% of that in the US.
  3. The weather is fantastic, especially compared to the UK. We get about 95% of the year with sun and the average temperature is in the low 80’s. I believe the sun has a huge part to play in people’s happiness.

What three things do you like the least?

  1. Dealing with government institutes: Costa Rica is a very bureaucratic place and you have to make sure you have all the right papers stamped by the right places. There is no clearly defined list of paperwork needed for certain documents and you may find that something that looked like it would take 10 minutes takes a whole day. It is always best to do your research beforehand and never trust the government websites: the rules change constantly.
  2. The cost of living has rapidly been rising and my food bills are now more expensive than they were in the UK. My wife and spend over $1000 a month just on food alone. It was like we woke up one day and everything was twice the price.
  3. The development in some beach areas has not been controlled (Jaco, Tamarindo) and the landscape of some of the beaches has been ruined (in my opinion). Costa Rica is a country with more wildlife per sq meter than any other place in the world (5% of the world’s biodiversity in less than 1% of the landmass). As the country is not as organized as it could be, some of the permitting in certain areas is a little lose and no plan exists. This had led to the construction of 20-storey buildings, like those found in Mexico, right on the beach.

What advice would you give to someone who was relocating to Costa Rica for the first time?

I would highly suggest coming down on a long vacation for a few weeks or months to make sure that you fit with the pace of life here. In order to acclimatize to the way of life you will have to lower your expectations and be prepared to accept that not everything will go your way. If you can do this Costa Rica will work for you, if not, you may be better staying in your home country.

While in Costa Rica you started your own Internet-based travel agency. Please describe what you do and how it came about.

We custom design luxury vacations to Costa Rica for people mainly living in North America and the UK. We focus on service and organizing the disorganized, Costa Rica. You can plan your vacation yourself; however, it is very time consuming and can be difficult if you do not speak Spanish, especially when here in Costa Rica.

We use our team of in-country Travel Consultants (from the North America and the UK) to put together your ideal vacation using our comprehensive knowledge of the country to make sure you get your perfect vacation. We meet you as soon as you step off the aircraft and are there for you 24/7. We make sure you have the vacation we promised and you expected, regardless of the cost to us.

What challenges did you face when trying to get your business off the ground?

The biggest challenge was wearing multiple hats to begin with, as it was just me. I had to be the marketing, sales, finance and operations manager throughout the day and had to manage my time with each hat efficiently. I needed to edit the website and attract more customers, while selling to the current ones. Then, once they were sold, arrange the logistics of their vacation and make sure I had enough cash flow to pay all the hotels and tour companies. The first three years I worked 7 days a week and only slept 4 hrs a night, but I was passionate about helping people see Costa Rica with a reputable company and with someone who was an expert on the location.

What three top tips can you offer to expatriates who wish to start their own businesses abroad?

Understand the costs of running a business in the country. A lot of Latin American cultures are very socialist and the costs of hiring people can be very high. Furthermore, the employee has a lot of the power in the relationship. In Costa Rica the average cost of an employee on top of their wages is around 35%. So, if you are paying them $1000, the real cost to you is around $1350.

Make sure that you are passionate about the business you wish to start. Any start up is going to need a lot of drive, which will come from passion. Now put this in maybe a less organized country than your home country and you better make sure you have passion. The road is not easy, but the benefits can be huge.

A work-life balance is important. Remember you moved to the country you are in for a reason, probably to have a less crazy life or because there was something you liked about your new home country. Bear this in mind and make time to enjoy this aspect.

What’s next for you?

I would like to take our model, which is currently in Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua throughout Latin America and hopefully global one day. All of clients ask us, “what other countries do you do?” or “why can’t I travel the world with you guys?”. When we can help our clients enjoy a hassle free, expert design vacation worldwide, we may then stop.

We are one of the biggest Travel Agencies in the region, but would like to offer our services globally and have a following of loyal clients traveling throughout our brand worldwide.

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