August 17, 2021
From Main Street Vegan

posted August 17, 2021

by Chris Day, VLCE

Photo Credit: Bertrand Borie on Unsplash

“But, where can I find raw cashews?” I asked my new friend.

“I have no idea. I thought raw cashews were toxic,” she replied with a shrug.

It was 2018 and I had just moved from central New York to Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica, and despite having been vegan since 2013, I was rendered clueless about how to navigate my lifestyle choice in a foreign country. Where would I find nutritional yeast? Is tofu a thing here? What about my favorite vegan burgers? I had no idea where to start.

The Internet wasn’t much help as the majority of vegans lived in the larger cities of Costa Rica where the products I needed weren’t so hard to find. It wasn’t so easy in our little town of five thousand people. On my first trip back to the States six weeks after we moved, I filled my suitcases with all the food I needed to support my lifestyle but I knew this was just a temporary solution and I’d need to figure out how to work around these hurdles for the long term.

Thinking back, there are some things I wish I’d known three years ago–the things I found invaluable since moving. These are the tips that can be applied to any situation whether you’re just traveling or making the move to a foreign country.

Photo Credit: Chris Day

  • Look for a vegan Facebook group in the area you’ll be going to. You’ll get the best information from people who live in your destination. Shortly after moving to Costa Rica, I created a Facebook group for vegans and vegetarians around the lake where we live. Before long the group grew to 148 members–some vegan, some vegetarian, and some just curious. It became a valuable resource to me on where to source various products, and which restaurants are vegan-friendly. It’s also a great way to meet new people.
  • Make sure you know a little bit of the language before you get there. Check out the free app I Am Vegan that will translate the most important phrases you’ll need into over 100 languages. Most translation apps will work, too but nuances in languages may not translate well.
  • Download the HappyCow app. HappyCow isn’t just restaurants: you’ll find health food stores, cafés, and juice bars among other businesses. Make sure you pay it forward and leave reviews for future expats and/or travelers–you can even go the extra distance and add vegan-friendly restaurants to their database. When I’m leaving a review on TripAdvisor I always put {VEGAN} in the subject line to make it easier for other vegan users to find.
  • Photo by Chris Day

    Don’t be afraid to talk to the owners of restaurants and grocery stores and tell them about the benefits of catering to a vegan clientele. You might be surprised to find out what they’re willing to provide if it means increased business. Make sure they know about Happy Cow as a way to get the word out about their vegan-friendly business.

  • Look for substitutions. When I couldn’t find raw cashews or extra firm tofu to make ricotta cheese, I discovered a macadamia farm only a few miles from us. Who knew macadamia nut ricotta would taste so amazing?! When refrigerated tofu for tofu scramble was nowhere to be found I took a chance and used shelf-stable firm silken tofu and now I prefer it over what I used to use.

It’s always a good idea to pack your sense of humor and your love of adventure when exploring other parts of the world. Whether you’re moving to another city or another country, being vegan in a new place may not be easy at first. But with a few tricks, you’ll be “speaking the language” in no time.

Photo Credit: Chris Day

Chris Day, VLCE is a Main Street Vegan Academy Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator living in Nuevo Arenal with her husband and five rescue dogs. She is a graduate of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, and holds certifications from Rouxbe Culinary School in both Professional Plant-Based Cooking and their Forks Over Knives programs. Her website can be found at