The dream of having your own slice of paradise somewhere abroad will, for most of us, always be just that, a dream. But for those who are willing to put in the effort, that dream can become a reality. Just ask Joey Dwyer, a photographer and filmmaker based in NYC that created his own DIY outpost some 2,200 miles away from home in a remote part of Central America. Joey recently shared his story with us, along with a how-to guide on what it takes to make something like this happen.
So what are you waiting for?
8 years ago, my brother, Timmy, and I found ourselves surfing perfect waves all alone in the NW corner of Costa Rica. It was a magical trip that left us deeply in love with the region, and we knew right away that we needed to find a way to spend more time down there. Occasional visits here and there just weren’t going to cut it.
Years later, when the opportunity presented itself for us to buy a piece of land near our favorite stretch of beach, we couldn’t pass it up. But excitement quickly turned into uncertainty as we realized that we didn’t know a single thing about buying land and building in a foreign country, nor did we have the deep pockets of typical investors. So how did we pull this all off?
Below is a rough outline of the steps we took from start to finish. You don’t need a ton of cash, just a little bit of hard work and determination.
Do your homework.
Choose your location, and then start researching. We spent months learning more about the area, studying the economy and currency, learning the policies and laws, and developing a better understanding of US regulations in foreign countries. I would love to say that this was the most arduous part of the whole process, but that doesn’t come until later.
Reaching out to the locals was one of the most vital steps in our entire process. We ended up buying property from a tico we befriended in the water (he also ended up being our contractor). Make sure to learn the local culture, traditions, and language, and, more importantly, be sensitive to the needs of the local people.
Hire a local lawyer.
Once we were certain we had the right place, we hired a local lawyer to help guide us through the transaction phase. It took a little while for us to find a trustworthy one with the appropriate knowledge and background for our situation, but it was worth it. The lawyer provided us with useful information about taxes, building codes, and laws.
Design your new home.
Now comes the fun part: plotting out the property lines. Make sure to include the major trees and landmarks that you want to keep. Then design a structure within your budget. Remember to keep an open mind, and never settle on your first set of plans. You’ll learn that there are a variety of different building materials and ways to create your space.
Promote the local economy.
Hire local workers. It helps you integrate with the community, and their appreciation is displayed in their hard work and dedication. In addition, the locals know more tricks about the land than anyone else. Since our area is located on a fault line, there was a certain way to build and support the main structure of the house. Our local workers showed us tactics and tools that blew our minds. And don’t fear if their systems look a little archaic, you just have to appreciate what they do and trust that they know what they’re doing.
Choose the right materials.
Talk to the locals to see what materials you can source. This will be the cheapest and most efficient way to gather the most reliable supplies. The closest town to our plot has a great wood factory that does custom cuts. We became super friendly with the guys at the mill, and they taught us all about the local woods and which ones to use for certain situations. Most of our main structure is built out of teak, which grows abundantly in the region. It’s also a sturdy wood perfect for withstanding the most intense heat and rain.
Now comes the most arduous part I was talking about before. Building takes time and patience, and most importantly, precision! Things may not always go according to plan, so take it slow, be patient, and appreciate the progress that you make day by day. And of course, enjoy the people who are helping to make your dream come true! We were thankful to have my dad and girlfriend with us to assist during the building phase.
Editor’s Note: Joey and Timmy had to leave Costa Rica before construction was complete, but they plan on returning soon to install floors, a roof, and more. The brothers are currently working on finishing up their first documentary, Running on Empty, which chronicles Sgt. Brendan O’Toole’s 3,600 mile run across America in support of veterans. Watch the trailer and learn more about the film here.