Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!
In This Issue:
- Explore Costa Rica and Learn Spanish at the Same Time
- Things Happen – Our September Budget Update
- Another Reason We Chose Costa Rica – the People
- Book Excerpt from Butterfly in the City
- Snow-Birds with a Twist – Aboard the “Dragon’s Wing”
- Crime Stats in Costa Rica-Part 2
- Featured House: Bargain Ocean-View Home in Desirable Neighborhood $95K Firm
We’re taking Spanish language lessons again, this time in Heredia at CPI: Centro Panamericano de Idiomas. We’re in class together for 4 hours every week and we’re loving it. It’s a big commitment, but one we think will pay off many times over. We’ve gone to class for two weeks already and I’ll bet CPI is the best language school in Costa Rica — it’s a great way to learn Spanish quickly. It may be expensive, but you get a lot for your money.
There’s even a way to make the Spanish immersion process work for you. If I were a newly-arriving expat, the first thing I’d do after getting off the plane is to take a month of immersion Spanish at CPI, and either live with a Tico family as part of CPI’s home-stay program, or rent one of their student apartments – after all, you’ve got to stay somewhere! After that month, you’ll have a much better understanding of both the language and the culture, which will lead to a much more enjoyable experience in Costa Rica.
You could take advantage of CPI housing in all three locations: the Central Valley’s Heredia campus, the cloud-forest of Monteverde, and the tropical beaches of Flamingo. For expats who want to know more about Costa Rica, or for those thinking about relocating to Costa Rica, CPI’s three campuses offer a great opportunity to explore different areas of the country while learning Spanish:
From the Heredia campus, you can explore the Central Valley cities of San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, Grecia, Sarchi, Naranjo, Atenas, Palmares, and our personal favorite, San Ramon. (At Retire for Less, we’d be happy to customize a tour for you of these western Central Valley towns.) Four and a half million people live in Costa Rica, and up to 70% live in the Central Valley for its great “eternal Spring” climate, jobs, and modern, up-to-date services.
From the Monteverde campus, you can explore the popular areas of Tileran and the beautiful Lake Arenal. Available services are growing there, and a thriving expat population will show you the way.
And from the Flamingo campus, you can explore the popular beach communities of Playa Hermosa and Playa Coco. (We’d be happy to recommend a local retirement tour of the beach area.) Great medical facilities, an international airport, and other services are only 30 minutes to one hour away.
This is a cost-effective way to defray your tuition costs as you determine where you might want to live – three campuses with three wonderful locations to help you get to know Costa Rica. Remember, you’ve got to stay somewhere…so you might as well stay at CPI’s residential facilities and learn Spanish at the same time. CPI even has a “Retirement Travel Program” designed with our age-group in mind.
And when registering, don’t forget to ask for your 10% Retire for Less Discount on everything CPI offers – tuition on all of CPI’s quality Spanish programs, housing, transportation, and many cultural activities. This special discount can literally save you hundreds of dollars every month. And CPI’s Spanish programs are accredited by many universities.
We always advise people to come to Costa Rica with some extra money – at least $15,000, $25,000, $50,000 over their Social Security or Pension, because unexpected things happen and can blow any budget. For us, a pair of eyeglasses and a new radiator blew our September budget.
If it weren’t for those unexpected expenses, we would have been right within our monthly budget of $1,700-$1,800, but things happen. Last February, we were right on our way to setting a record of $1,356, our lowest and most austere month, but things happen, like a fender-bender requiring a $1,100 car repair.
You can rest assured that things will happen, unexpected accidents, Illness, auto repairs, hospital stays — some small expenses and some not so small. You just never know, so plan on the unplanned and bring some extra money so you have a reserve fund, over-and-above your monthly retirement checks.
Here are our expenses for the previous two months:
We always knew this one and could kick ourselves for not adding it to our “Why we chose Costa Rica” list earlier. The longer we’re here, the more we’ve come to realize just how amazing the people are. They have welcomed us from the start. They’ve been civil, courteous, and warm. In some other countries frequented by expats, animosity towards foreigners has impacted their enjoyment of the country. But here in Costa Rica, we have always felt welcomed, without any anti-American sentiment. Since tourism is such a big part of their economy, Ticos are used to foreigners, both those who visit and those who choose to stay.
Also, Costa Ricans are really appreciative when we try to speak Spanish, despite our many mistakes. It’s the fact that we’re trying that they like, and in response, they are patient, tolerant, and humble towards us.
So, here’s our updated list of why we chose Costa Rica (and why we’re still here):
- Stable democracy since 1821 (this may be the biggest factor of all).
- The people are warm and welcoming.
- Can drink water in 95% of the country. In some countries, like Mexico, it’s bottled water all the way.
- Energy self-sufficient (85% hydroelectric, plus wind and geo-thermal energy)
- Improving infrastructure (roads, communications, etc.) – we’ve seen the improvements just in the last 3 years.
- High literacy rate (97%)
- 20% of the population speaks English, with the goal of being a bilingual country
- Excellent and cheap transportation system
- No Army so defense funds go to other areas
- Freedom without major restrictions to do, say, and be what you like
- Good national universal healthcare system and affordable private healthcare
- The weather in the Central Valley is outstanding, with comfortable spring-like temperatures. Take a look at our San Ramon climate articles for specifics.
- Costa Rica is SAFER, and has a lower crime rate, than its neighbors, with 10.3 homicides per 100,000, and decreasing.
- It’s a small country, 51,100 sq km (19,730 sq mi) – twice the size of the state of Maryland and just under the size of West Virginia
One of Paul’s favorite books is Jo Stuart’s, Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica. It gives a great picture of daily life here in Costa Rica, especially in San Jose, the capital. So much of what she writes, we agree with, and with Jo’s permission, we will reprint excerpts in our newsletter from time to time. Here’s one where she, also, talks about the Costa Rican people:
I was charmed (and still am) when Ticos thank me. They don’t just say “Gracias,” they usually say, “Gracias, muy amable.” Which means, “Thank you, you’re very kind.” Being told I am kind often enough makes me see myself as kind and wanting to be more so.
My life here is further enhanced each time a Tico says, “You’re welcome.” Here they don’t say, as they do in most other Spanish-speaking countries, “No hay de que” or “De nada” (“For nothing”); they say, “Con mucho gusto,” or “Con gusto.” (“With much pleasure” or, more loosely, “The pleasure is mine.” My friend Jerry has said more than once that giving and receiving are the same thing and Ticos seem to believe this. I have been trying to remember to say both “Gracias, muy amable” and “Con mucho gusto.” Language is a powerful influence on attitude…
There is a custom here that many North Americans have picked up, that of brushing cheeks with seeing a friend or acquaintance. In the States, after an initial handshake following an introduction, I seldom touch that person again, certainly not my travel agent, my doctor, or my landlord. Here, I do. Touching cheeks makes me feel a connectedness to others — and when you think about it, is much more sanitary than a handshake…
What cinched my love affair with Costa Rica was discovering that their national bird is the Yigüirro. The Yigüirro ( which I can’t even pronounce) is very similar to the U.S. robin but smaller, and much less colorful. The Yigüirro neither threatens anyone’s existence (it certainly is not a bird of prey), nor is it a rare or endangered species. It is a common little dun-colored bird — an “Everybird,” if you will. I think a country that chooses the Yigüirro as its national bird has something to say to the rest of the world about peaceful co-existence, humaneness, self esteem, and equality.”
(Excerpted from pages 47-49)
Most “snow-birds” come to Costa Rica during the dry season (normally December through April) and go back home during the rainy season (normally May through November). But Gayle and Paul Sommers have a unique twist on the concept. Read about it below.
We have been sailing for most of our married life and have owned a number of different sailboats over the years. My husband Paul’s dream was to split our time between a home ashore and a home onboard a sailboat. He retired in 2011, and we “tried out” Costa Rica, moving here in 2012.
A little earlier, on the internet, Paul saw a wonderful, funky, Kiwi-designed and Nova Scotia-built 30′ steel junk-rig sailboat in, of course, Nova Scotia. It was 30 years old and needed some repairs, having sat idle and unloved for a couple of years. Paul had some repairs done before we got onboard, and then as we made our way south, took care of more repairs along the way. We spent about 4-1/2 months sailing down the east coast, from Nova Scotia to Florida, leaving her “on the hard,” (on land) after moving to Costa Rica.
“Dragon’s Wing” is not spacious by any means, but has about everything we need. The man who fitted her out was an engineer, so there are some very clever design elements we’ve never seen anywhere else, like counters that slide to reveal other spaces. Dragon’s Wing is a very comfortable boat for the two of us and our dog and cat, though when the “ship’s dog” lays down, she takes up nearly all the available floor space! Dragon’s Wing has an ice box and two-burner propane stove in the galley, and secure bins filled with pots and pans.
Splitting time between our home in CR and our boat does make for some duplication: we have bedding, pots, pans, dishes, etc., on board. Clothing, other than foul weather gear and cold weather clothes we have no need for in CR, we take back and forth, but that’s really about the only thing that goes from home ashore to home aboard.
The best time to cruise in the Caribbean avoids the hurricane season, December through March, which is also the nicest time of year to be in Costa Rica. This year we’ll be cruising during that time, but this trip really covers new territory for us: we’ve never been to the Caribbean, not by sailboat, not by cruise ship, not by airplane, so other than what others have told us, we have no idea how we’ll like it.
But in the meantime, Dragon’s Wing patiently awaits us in Florida, and this year we hope to head to the Caribbean. Next year, depending on how much of the Caribbean we see this season, how much we like it, and how affordable it is, we may head further east, crossing the Atlantic. This mix of a house in Costa Rica and a sailboat ready to go offers us the perfect combination of both a settled routine and the cruising life. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worked for us, and we love being able to come back to Costa Rica, as well as our home aboard “Dragon’s Wing.”
Did you know that, according to the Organization of American States (OAS), Costa Rica has the highest robbery rate in the entire western hemisphere? In 2010, there were 943 robberies per 100,000 people in Costa Rica, with a total of 43,000 robberies for the year. In the U.S., during the same period, the robbery rate was 123/100,000. Historically, Argentina has held the distinction of the highest robbery rate, but hasn’t reported their stats for the past two years.
We’re not trying to scare you, but it’s important to know the facts about crime in Costa Rica. In its Costa Rica 2011 Crime and Safety Report, the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security (OSAC) states, “Crimes of opportunity, such as robberies, purse snatchings, and burglaries, are the most common types of crimes committed in Costa Rica and are increasing.” Here in San Ramon, we’ve always felt safe and have never (knock on wood) been robbed, but we know a few others who have. We sometimes hear of building sites being vandalized to steal copper wire to sell for scrap, or homes being broken into to steal computers and other electronics left sitting out. Security is #1 here. If you can’t leave your house unattended, if you are always worried about your property, then what good is “living in paradise?”
It depends somewhat on where you live. There is certainly more crime in tourist areas and big cities, just like in other countries. Even in relatively safe areas, there are safer and less safe choices. You have to be prudent, wherever you choose to live.
But despite the high robbery rate, as the homicide map to the right shows, Costa Rica is the safest country in Central America, and the 10th safest out of 37 in the Western hemisphere.
As a comparison, 14,000 people suffered violent deaths in the United States in 2010, at a rate of 4.6/100,000 people. Both numbers are the lowest in decades. The rate was also the 3rd lowest in the hemisphere, following Canada and Chile.
In 2010, Costa Rica had a murder rate of 11.4/100,000 people. In 2011, that rate declined to 10.3/100,000. There were 527 murders in 2010 and 474 in 2011. Based on the stats for the first quarter, the 2012 murder rate will show a significant decline. Here in San Ramon, where we live, there is a murder rate of 0-5/100,000 for the whole canton.
The data in the OAS report was collected from police and crime investigative organizations in all countries throughout the hemisphere. The majority of murders were committed with guns, and most victims were young and male. Most frequently, the victims knew their assailants as in domestic violence, or were in the drug trade.
The website Diálogo reported in June 2012 that “Costa Rica’s Crime Rate Tumbles as Police Take Back the Streets” They point out that during the first quarter of 2012, Costa Rica had only 22 murders, down from 56 in the first quarter of 2011. Costa Rica has increased their security budget and doubled the number of police vehicles in the last year. “We are working to reduce the perception and feeling of insecurity that has grown in Costa Rica in recent years,” Security Minister Mario Zamora said in early May. “The more police and police vehicles are present on the streets, the more secure people feel walking in their neighborhoods.”
Here are the crime stats OAS reported in 2009 for Costa Rica:
- Suicides: 6.1/100,000
- Rapes: 36.8/100,000
- Thefts: 104/100,000
- Motor Thefts: 134/100,000
- Assaults: 162/100,000
Crimes other than murder are often under-reported in Costa Rica and many other countries because victims do not expect results from the police.
OSAC’s 2011 report also states, “Costa Rica is a stable, well-developed democracy which abolished its military over 60 years ago. Labor strikes and protests do occur in Costa Rica (but are) normally peaceful…Indigenous terrorist organizations are non-existent. There is no known organization targeting U.S. citizens or U.S.-affiliated interests in Costa Rica.”
We hope our articles on crime help in your decision regarding retiring in Costa Rica. Here are links to our previous crime articles:
Crime Stats in Costa Rica (June 2012)
Crime in Costa Rica (April 2012)
U.S. Department of State Update on Costa Rica (July 2011)
And in the interest of full-disclosure, we have been victims of one crime. If you haven’t already seen the video, here’s a replay:
- 1 bedroom/ 2 baths with plenty of space to expand on current home and/or build additional cabinas
- Ocean-view property with 5,342 square meters of land (1.32 acres)
- Desirable neighborhood and close to public bus line
- Sky satellite TV and wireless Internet available
Though we recommend you rent, rent, rent when you move to Costa Rica, we realize that some folks will still choose to buy, either early on or after they’ve been here for a while. We recommend purchasing properties under $150,000 because they are both easier to buy and easier to sell. Though we are not realtors, we work with trusted realtors who have many other properties in this price range available.
Click here to check out our other properties under $150,000 and read about what to do before you buy.
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What’s New on the Website
Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- CPI Immersion Spanish School – Choose the Best!
- Paul’s Monthly Tips to Live for Less in Costa Rica
- Shake, Rattle, and Roll? Then Drop, Cover, and Hold
- Thank Heaven for Beans, Wonderful Beans!
- Getting Ready for the Big Move to Costa Rica
- Happy Independence Day Costa Rica!
- Five Things You Need To Know Before You Move Abroad
- Costa Rica seems to have made great strides in 10 years
- Quit Your Job Right Now?
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Pay Cash for Almost Everything and Save 5-10%
- Festivities of the Patron Saints of San Ramón Parrish
- Should You Prepare Your Own Expat Tax Return?
- Why We Chose Nuevo Arenal, by Janet Bradshaw
- Why We Chose Costa Rica
- Documents You Need to Open a Bank Account in Costa Rica
- Money vs. Time
- Our 2012 Annual Cost of Living Update
- From 11.75% to 12.5% Interest on a 12-Month Certificate of Deposit!
- ‘Tis the Season…for Mold and Mildew
- Your Vote Counts: Absentee Voting Information
That’s all for this month, but we’ll be back in touch soon! If you enjoy our newsletter, please share it with your friends. We hope to see you online!
Gloria & Paul Yeatman
San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica