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May 11 2013

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Our Four Year Review of Living in Costa Rica

On April 1, 2013, we celebrated four years of living in Costa Rica. In reflecting on our experience, I thought I’d encapsulate my thoughts about our Costa Rican adventure in the following 11 areas.

The People

Paul's Mantra

This is my favorite one. The people are so much more wonderful than I originally expected. It’s the main reason our experience here has been so good and is getting better every day. You can’t just read about the Ticos in a book, you have to experience them. We have learned a lot from them. They possess the formula for happiness. I think I have it, too, but being around them constantly reminds me to:

  • Be easily satisfied
  • Keep expectations low
  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Keep acceptance high

Don’t get me wrong, Ticos are far from perfect and they have problems too, but you would never know it.

Peace Mentality

Ticos have a “peace mentality,” I think, because they have no army or navy. Young people never worry about entering the military and dying in some far-off land, or returning with some horrific injury. It never enters their minds. Of course, it was like this before we got here and it’s the same way today.

Universidad de las Américas, Puebla, Mexico

Spanish

Well, I always wanted to live in a Spanish speaking world and learning the language was a high priority. I knew some Spanish before I came, because I went to and graduated from The University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico in 1977.

Presently, we take four hours of immersion Spanish each week and are determined to improve…and we are! It increases our enjoyment of all phases of life here and helps us fit in.

Cost of Living

This also has been a pleasant surprise. Even with yearly inflation of 5%, we’ve managed to keep our living expenses low, averaging under $2,000 per month, including medical and car expenses. When you read our budget issue later this month, you’ll see we managed to live for just $1741.00 in April. We do it and you can do it too. Remember, it depends more on how you live. We chose simplicity, yet live a fun, full,and rewarding life. If you’ve got $3,000 a month, you can live just about anywhere in Latin America. And if you’ve got $4,000 a month, you can live anywhere in the world, even France, which International Living Magazine says has the best health care system in the world.

The Beauty of the Country

We thought it was beautiful 5 years ago when we first came for a visit, and we still think it’s spectacular now. It’s amazing just how much natural beauty there is in this tiny country. We’ve since learned that the beauty of the country also extends to its people.

Climate

When we first arrived four years ago, the climate was a bit of a disappointment. It just wasn’t sunny all the time where we lived at 4,000 ft. elevation near San Ramon. But you know what? I got used to it, and now I love it. It’s become the 6th reason we stayed in San Ramon. Of course, four months ago, we moved to a house in the same general area but 1000 ft. lower and are experiencing a completely different microclimate. One thing I know for sure: the weather is a whole lot better than in Baltimore from where we moved!

Healthcare

We had high hopes for the health care here in Costa Rica and we haven’t been disappointed. We are saving money, yes, but we have also found the quality of healthcare here more than adequate, and in some areas, excellent. We use a mix of the public (CAJA) and private systems and have written a lot about our experiences.

Dentistry

Sign above the sink in Paul's favorite soda: "Please don't brush your teeth here"

This happens to be one of my money-saving tips.  It’s true, you can save money with Costa Rican dentistry, and the quality of care is excellent. Just look at Costa Ricans’ teeth (far better than the English ?). Many people here, both young and old, wear braces. And they brush their teeth three times a day, even after eating at restaurants.

Interestingly, we found that a high proportion of dentists here are women. Our friends at GM Medical have a male dental surgeon on staff, right here in San Ramon, who can save you thousands of dollars on your dental work.

Keeping Busy

We were never worried about keeping busy like some people are. We had intended to start a small, part-time business like Retire for Less, but I also thought I’d just have fun in a new place learning Spanish and getting to know the Ticos. Neither Gloria nor I are “A” types, so this has never been a problem for us. It just doesn’t take much to make us happy. Still, for others, what to do all day is a major concern. That’s why we write “What’s Up with the Yeatmans?” every month and encourage people to read our articles on simplicity.

Traffic

I think Ticos drive pretty well, although motorcycles, bicyclists and pedestrians are another issue. Traffic gets worse every year but the infrastructure has improved, too, and keeps the traffic moving. Naturally, as one gets closer to San Jose, the potential for traffic problems increases, and it’s been that way since we arrived. Part of the problem is that there aren’t a lot of alternative routes.

Banking

Banking may have been the biggest, and most delightful, surprise of all. Like most people, we started with one of the national banks. Since we weren’t buying or building anything, we opened an account with $20 at Banco Nacional and never used it. We did most of our banking through ATMs and exchanged dollars for colones when needed, but never at Banco Nacional. Once we found Coopenae, the credit union to which we now belong, our banking fortunes really changed. We came down with a modest reserve of cash, not a lot of money, but a “just in case” fund, should something go wrong. (We recommend that people have at least $10,000-$20,000 in their emergency fund, just in case.) Thanks to the great CD rates on colones accounts, our reserve has increased dramatically:

  • 11.75% in 2011
  • 12.5% in 2012
  • and now 11.25% in 2013

Sweet! Additionally, I love going to Coopenae. They are efficient, with no long lines like the national banks. Two of my friends are bank officers there. Interestingly, I originally learned of Coopenae by striking up a conversation with Asdrúbal Zamora, Investments Executive, on the street one day. I quickly found out that, 27 years ago, he was an exchange student at Towson Senior High School in Towson, Maryland, my home town.

The Bottom Line

So, four years later, our experience in Costa Rica has turned out better than we expected, though we’ve tried to keep our expectations were fairly low anyway. We just wanted a simpler life with less stress and anxiety, and to be out of the “rat race” in the States. We want to enjoy our home, our friends, and our “little lives.” We’ve never looked back and look forward to the next four years in our adopted country.

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