Family from Costa Rica wanted to move to Miami, but instead got a job at EPAM Minsk

Andrey Arroyo is working as a data analyst, Aimee Reagada –as a tester, their son Matthias – without five minutes a first-grader. Their homeland is Costa Rica. In the middle of June they got off the plane in Minsk airport to live, work and study in the “center of Europe”. Belarus is their first European country keeping in mind the transfer in Frankfurt

So far everything goes according to the plan. This is one of the first examples of relocation became possible due to Decree №8:  now the HTP residents have a right to employ foreigners without a time-consuming process of  obtaining a work permit.

-“Why did we decide to leave Costa Rica?” – Aimee says  – In order to have better opportunities for our son, and ourselves so that he can get a good education and learn other languages.

To understand the mood of this family regarding migration, it is not enough to read something in Wikipedia about Costa Rica. The first sources depicture the country being as Central American Switzerland – the most prosperous state in Central America with a green paradise between two oceans. Having good relations with the United States (Costa Rica abandoned the army in 1948) developed IT industry, the export of coffee, tourism now bring pretty good amount of money to the country. If we dig a little bit deeper though  it is revealed that drug trafficking, corruption, security problems, etc has a place there. Generally, if a person thinks about migration means one has grounds for thinking about that.


Why we chose Belarus

Aimee started to talk. At first, we thought about moving to US or Canada. It is situated relatively not far off, just about the same time zone and the flight from Costa Rica to Miami is cheap and takes only 2.5 hours. But migrating to US is a very difficult process for the moment because of the migration legislation and the president Trump … Yes, when we first thought about moving to US five years ago, nevertheless Trump didn’t run the office there were problems on the border all the time.

You could go to Mexico or Chile. But people speak Spanish there and we, on the contrary, were looking for a country with another language. So that was the reason we were thinking about Europe. We began to look for job through LinkedIn in Germany four years ago. Everything went well, I got phone calls from three companies. But there was a problem back then: we did not received our university diplomas at that time and that became an obstacle to the employment. We were raising a child and we had other reasons to postpone the education. After that case we devoted two years to get our university degrees.

So when we got our diplomas of engineers on hand we resumed the search for work in Europe: Germany, Netherlands, Spain … But there were not as many vacancies as we saw four years ago. I was discouraged that we couldn’t settle down in Europe!

I was contacted from the UBS bank in Poland. They offered me a job as a tester. It took about three months to be employed. But unfortunately the employer could did not have any job offers for my husband.

And we thought to ourselves: it does not really matter! We will go to Poland Andrey will find something being in the country. And we faced another problem: Poland tightened the rules of entry because of the large number of immigrants . The first contact with UBS was in October and I received the final offer in December. I began a process of getting a work permission then and in April this process was still in full swing. The Poles made requests for new documents. The problem also was that it could take us two years to get a residence permit there.
EPAM company contacted me in March: “Hi! There are open vacancies in Belarus. Are you interested in that? “And we said “Yes!”.

We knew only two basic things about Belarus: it is the former Soviet republic and it is situated in Eastern Europe. We began to seek information about the country, searched for photos and we also found groups in social media created by immigrants in Belarus. We found out that people are very friendly and we thought “why not?”


Employment and document procedure

Andrey continues. That was easy! March 15th – interview with Aimee, March 21st – interview with me and on March 28th we got our job offers. We began to prepare the documents immediately and in 15 days we were all packed. That was so fast! We were waiting an answer from Poland for six months and here everything was decided within a half a month. We thanked the Poles for their help and told them we both already received job offers from another company.

Minimum documents were needed for moving to Minsk:birth and marriage certificates, our diplomas. We entered the country without having visas and we are in the process of getting a temporary residence permit for the moment. It has to be done by the end of July. And it seems to me that it all has been made possible thanks to a new law issued in March in your country.


First impressions about Minsk

Aimee continues. It is very beautiful city, with clean streets and beautiful and kind hearted people. People here read periodicals in transport and on the streets! Hardy anyone reads anything in Costa Rica, everyone are always on their phones. Children run around the yards, everything is very cheap. As we do not speak Russian everyone is trying to help us.

We met only a few people who reacted unkindly in all this time. When we wanted to pay the fare in the subway for the first time, the seniora in the window did not understand us and did not even try to help us. The subway security guard could speak English and he cleared up everything for us. The second time was in the store, when the cashier asked something in Russian, we did not get it and asked her:”Sorry, English?”. He looked very strangely at us and said coldly:”No”. But right after he heard us talking Spanish, his attitude immediately changed. Maybe he took us for Americans first? But in general two unsympathetic people in a month is nothing. Everyone at work is very nice, constantly advise us something and take us for lunch. Also the employees treat me with candy. I am getting fat.

At the same time residents here are very unapproachable like a wall. it is a common thing to hug someone when you meet people in Latin America, but here people do not do that. It is fun.


Salaries and prices: here and there

Aimee says : I worked for English company MicroFocus (Hewlett Packard has recently bought it) and my income was $4000. $600 of this went to the taxes so I got $3400 on hands. Earning this money in Costa Rica is not much. Well, it is enough for keeping you comfortable, but you cannot save money for travelling because everything is very expensive in our country.
Renting an unfurnished apartment without household appliances cost $1200. $1000 is spent for food per month, for gasoline – $100 each of us, so the total transport expenditure is $200 per month. We paid $200 for Matias’s school and this doesn’t include food.

The salaries in Minsk are much lower, but the living cost is cheaper here. A large apartment near the metro station Uruchie( two bedrooms, a living room, a large kitchen, two bathrooms) costs us about $600 and in Costa Rica such would cost you $1500. The food expenditure is something around $350. We went to the restaurant, ordered an appetizer, main course, dessert, coffee, one drink for everyone and we paid 79 rubles, e.d. $ 40. You would pay $120 for something like that in Costa Rica.

The school (a private bilingual kindergarten-school) in Minsk costs $ 600 per month and it includes food, transfer to/from home and mugs.

City transport along with Uber rides cost $100 for all of us per month. We would like to rent a car, but local driving license is required and it is a three- month training course in Russian, which is unrealistic for the moment. Public transport is very good here. It will take you 2 hours to ride a 5 km way on a bus in Costa Rica because of the traffic jams. Here if you take a subway you will spend 10-15 minutes travelling that distance. And it is super clean here, without any dirt, stink smell and rats of a dog size like in New York or Chicago.


Belarusian food

The local food has too rich flavor as a lot of salt and seasonings are added to it. It is new to us. Black bread, for example, is very strong in taste. But it is without any preservatives and it becomes stale after 3 days. And in Costa Rica bread keeps its state after a month of lying in the breadbox.

We fell in love with dairy products. They are so fresh, much better than we have in Costa Rica.We love soups and salads. But the situation with meat is uneasy. There is very lean meat and plenty of beef in Costa Rica. It is hard to find ground beef here, pork is everywhere to buy and it is very fat.

Fruit is different here but we like it. Bananas, pineapples, watermelons are grown in Costa Rica all year round and they cost a penny. Import fruit is a different story, it is very expensive. A kilogram of cherries, for example, costs almost $20. For kilogram of peaches and kiwis – $12. Here they are very cheap and fruit has a taste of an actual fruit, not the taste of plastic or cardboard like in America. We were told that in winter the situation with fruit cost will change. We’ll see.


School for Matthias

As soon as EPAM made a job offer we started to look for a school in Minsk. First, we found a private school having the word”international” in the title. The education there costs $1800 per month. We got upset because we are not able to pay that much. The recruiter from EPAM company advised us to consider another private school, costing three times less. The classes are conducted in both Russian and English. Mattias goes to the kindergarten within this private school and his level of English has improved very much during this month. Our son understood the English speech before but prefered to answer in Spanish. And here he has to talk English as it is the only language of communication away from home. He gets very excited when hears the Spanish language though.

At home Mattias is demonstrating his muscles: “Look, mommy, what good-looking muscles I have! I do plenty of runnings and exercises at school!” He is very pleased with that as in Costa Rica children generally do not have such active lifestyle. He says that it is a bit of a problem to make friends for the moment. Children at kindergarten try to talk to him in English. We heard that education here is at a good level so we consider to transfer Mattias to a public school in the future, perhaps to a place where Spanish are taught.

Parents turn to their son: “Mattias, tell me, what are your friends’ names at school? Herman and Zlata, right? What do you usually do?”

Mattias: First, we have breakfast, then we play and after that we have a second breakfast. There are also lunch and dinner and in the evening we go home. We are also studying there. I can already count in Russian: one, two, three, four.. (He counts to 11 demonstrating his excellent pronunciation)

Aimee:  We also began learning the Russian language. Only a couple times a week now: the Belarusian girl who we met in the social media gives lessons to immigrants. The Russian courses should begin at work in august.


On IT and economics in Costa Rica

There are a lot of American IT companies and multinational companies in Costa Rica. The representative offices of IBM, HP, Intel, Accenture, AT & T, etc are situated here. But there are not so much specialists who can meet the need of these companies. The education is expensive, and the free one cannot train specialists on a good level.

There are plenty of vacancies with good salaries above $3000 and as it is not always possible to fill the positions with local resources and the employers invite foreigners to work for them. Many people come from Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, the Philippines and Europe. The borders are open and it is easy to enter the country. Therefore there are lots of tourists, speaking Spanish and so other languages. Anyone who wants to leave Latin America choose particularly Costa Rica and also USA.

In Zona Franca, an industrial park, it is an analogue of your HTP (rather, the Chinese-Belarusian industrial park – are employes about 15-20% of the working age population of the country (the entire population of Costa Rica is 4.9 million people – dev .by). Around 20% of the population works in government structures, around 30% – in the service sector, 15-20% – in agriculture (there are minimum wages and unemployment).

There are few local Costa Rican enterprises. There work mainly those who does not have any command of English. Salaries there are very small so everyone try to learn English in order to start working in foreign companies. Due to close relationships with USA, 60-70% of population speak English.


On Belarusian IT sector

Aimee. We see that IT industry in Belarus is actively growing. And it seems like the situation here is very similar to one that was in Costa Rica 10 years ago. Everything started with ordinary service providers, call centers and technical support. Gradually more enterprises were opened up and foreigners started to arrive to the country. Local residents who did not speak English saw that tendency and went to English courses, wishing to get high salaries. Gradually more people started to work in IT. We ourselves started to work in a call-center.Once ,the friend of Andrei, who worked as a tester told us about the opportunity to get a job in IT as juniors. That job wasn’t a rocket science. It was connected with a web-design estimation. We submitted applications,did the training and got the jobs. That was 8 years ago and our income back then was $1500.

Since then I was learning to test and Andrey chose another path – data analysis. Then we entered the university and continued to learn engineering. The first time I changed a job in IT because other company offered me $300 more. And the next time I changed the place because I was offered $1500 more. People move from one company to another as they are paid more and more. Therefore the number of middle class increases, so as tax deductions.
We see the analogy with our country here: a few years from now there will be more transnational IT companies and the salaries will be more competitive.

Concerning the working processes, they are the same as in Costa Rica- you have a project with the deadline. The same organizational structure except for being a little bit stricter. Everything has its own standards and it is being followed rigorously. I am pleased with that. At the same time while doing the task nobody is standing behind your back, tracking your time.

Except for the working schedule, it is very different. Due to the proximity to the equator, the daylight is very stable in Costa Rica. Whether during the summer, or winter, it lights up at 5 a.m. in the morning. And at 5-6 p.m. it is already dark. Therefore people tend to come earlier to work as earliest as possible. I loved to start working at 6-7 am and finish at 3-4 pm. The earliest I can come to office is 9 am and there is no one in the office at this time. Everyone come to work at 10-11 am and leaves at 8 pm I cannot stay in the office till late hours!


On things we were surprised by

We were surprised by aversian of Belarusian people toward communism. When we were asking local people about places of interest to visit in Minsk, nobody suggested to go and see Lenin Square. Once we visited it by ourselves. Everything is so beautiful there: the square, the scenery, and even the Lenin’s sculpture. And later, when we were talking with a girl in Spanish and mentioned that, she made a grimace and said that she doesn’t understand why this statue was actually placed there regarding the fact that Lenin never lived in Minsk.

It is taught that communism is a good thing in Latin America. Yeah, even right now. There are small communists parties at the universities that support revolutionaries, they read Marx, Engels. However when we hear the stories of Belarusian people about the way they survived this era, you realize that there is another side of a story.


On future and nostalgia for home

Costa Rica is very beautiful place: mountains, rivers, beaches,volcanoes. People are very kind there. But the country is overpopulated, there are lots of immigrants, no control over the border, therefore – drug trafficking, increase in crime. We do not have such ability there: playing children in a yard until 11 pm without parent supervision. You cannot just have a peaceful stroll down the street after 7 pm.

Not many people want to leave Costa Rica as they are very attached to their relatives and they do not want to leave their comfort zone. But a certain part of the youth under 30-35 years is looking for opportunities for relocation.

Many are afraid to relocate but we were not. We are not going to come back home. Unless when we become old, retire and we will bask in the sun all day long. And now we plan to come to Costa Rica only to see our relatives from time to time. What if things are not working out here in Minsk? In that case we will go to another country. Germany, Poland or Spain – to a place where IT industry is developed. However, we like it here for now.


Oirginal text was published by Belarusian web portal  Written by Polina Legina. Photos by Andrew Davydchik. Translated  by Kristina Pashik.

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