Due to Kristin’s request, I’m finally getting around to writing a review of Poker Refugees. In October I moved down to Costa Rica with another poker player, spending a few weeks touring the country trying to find a city we’d both enjoy and was conductive to grinding poker. Ended up choosing Escazu (near San Jose), and after meeting with two other realtors went with Poker Refugees for our banking and Real Estate agent needs.
Kristin has been living in Costa Rica for a while, and over the past few years has developed a lot of good contacts to help ease the cultural transition for incoming poker players.
Nicki was hired at the end of last year to help out with the surplus of poker players coming down to Costa Rica, and is definitely an asset in the relocation process.
Since they’ve worked with a lot of poker players who have relocated to Costa Rica after Black Friday, Poker Refugees can introduce you to the local poker networks, which are primarily in Escazu and Jaco. There’s also a Facebook group dedicated to Costa Rican poker players, which is helpful to find other poker players down here.
They have a very strong track record of getting local bank accounts for people who move, which will be the most difficult thing to accomplish in order to get back grinding.
While helpful in answering questions about Costa Rica, the communication between Poker Refugees and relocating players hasn’t been great. Most players coming down have a few stories regarding communication errors. One group of poker players found an ad online for their place saying utilities were included. After signing the lease and were surprised when they got ~$1k in utility bills a month later (which apparently were not included in their lease).
Poker Refugees offers extra services in addition to the standard relocation package, however, most of these extra services are a little sketchy. For instance, they charged a group of three poker players $400 to allow their iphones to work on the Costa Rica cell phone network, a service which a local cell phone shop would charge ~$25 per phone. At least one of their iphones didn’t work, and the players simply picked up cheap burners. In Costa Rica it’s typical to receive a kickback from recommendations, so take them with a grain of salt. Don’t be shy in getting second opinions or finding alternative sources of information if you’re planning on relocating, especially on monetary issues.
When setting you up with a bank account, they will provide a form from an accountant stating your expected yearly income. The prices different players have paid for their letters have varied between players in the same income bracket, which is supposedly what the cost is based on. A few Costa Rican locals have mentioned this form is primarily for applying for residency, and I didn’t need one when opening another bank account without Poker Refugee’s help while in Costa Rica. Be aware of the additional costs when moving down. Some players have had to hire a translator to help setup bank accounts, which have varied from $50-$200 per trip depending on the players who purchased the service, and something you might be able to convince Poker Refugees to throw in for free. I heard people who hired Poker Refugees to setup a Canadian bank account simply received a phone number for a Canadian lawyer, who then charges his own fee to setup a bank account (I did not encounter this situation, but something to clarify if you’re thinking about relocating to Canada).
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Poker Refugees for poker relocation. You’ll most likely pay an extra $1-2k for what most people would get from a good real estate agent and an hour or two on Google. However, the Costa Rican realtor market can tend towards the scummy side and you’ll avoid one or two awkward situations that pop up living in a foreign country if you go with a solid real estate agent. I don’t believe the properties I looked at with Poker Refugees were as good of a value as properties I looked at with other real estate agents, and I felt a lot more confident that other real estate agents were actively trying to knock your rental price (and their own commission) down. The best reason to go with Poker Refugees is their strong track record in getting bank accounts up and running, which they generally get in one or two tries. If you do decide to go with Poker Refugees, be proactive and clarify exactly what you’re expecting to receive and get done before any monetary transactions to reduce the likelihood of negative experiences.
If you’re looking at another option/second opinion for relocation down to Costa Rica, I’d recommend Bruce Wood (he’s from the US, firstname.lastname@example.org
/ 877-845-4533). I’d also highly recommend talking with current players that are already here to get a better idea of what to expect.