Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!
In This Issue:
- We’re Looking for a House Sitter!
- What’s Up with the Yeatmans?
- Our July 2014 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses
- Are You Cut Out for the Expat Life? by Suzan Haskins
- Our Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica
- What Do You Do All Day? Check Out the CAA!
- Monthly Weather Report for San Ramón, Atenas, Nuevo Arenal, & Quepos – July 2014
And like our friends in the States, we celebrated U.S. Independence Day on the 4th of July…except we did it in Costa Rica! Every year, the American Colony Committee sponsors the largest U.S. 4th of July Celebration in Costa Rica (you can read more about it in our July Cost of Living report below). The U.S. Embassy has representative there, handing out literature about their services and trying to answer questions. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion were there, as were the Peace Corps and the Little Theater Group, San Jose’s only English language theater group. We were especially interested in talking with the folks from the Peace Corps. Our niece, Tina, is currently in the Peace Corps, assigned to a small village in Cambodia. It’s a far different experience she’s having than the Peace Corp volunteers here in Costa Rica (where it’s nicknamed the “Posh Corps”).
Paul had an appointment with an orthopedic specialist through the Caja for an old knee injury. Granted, it took him eight months to get the appointment and see the doctor. But it didn’t cost anything which was great and he has a follow-up appointment in March. Treatment is to exercise to strengthen the knee, but no walking on hills — unfortunately, that’s all there is around our house. Paul also had an ultrasound at the Caja hospital San Rafael in Alajuela, ordered by the liver specialist he has been seeing. For those of you who expressed concern, please don’t worry. Paul is doing great and is only seeing the liver specialist for an evaluation due to Hepatitis B when he was young. He is just being proactive about his health after noticing something on his blood tests related to liver function.
Food and Music
July was a great month for food!
- We joined some friends for a “mole feast.” When we were in Mexico in June, we shopped for various dried chili peppers for ourselves and our friend, who also cooks authentic Mexican food. She made a fantastic Mole Poblano,(pronounced: MOH/leh poh/BLAH/noh), served over chicken. It took several days to prepare and included over 20 different ingredients.
- We also met up with some visiting expats and were treated to dinner at Restaurante Casa Colombia here in San Ramón.
- And as you will see below in our cost of living article, we dined at a new, and now, probably our favorite, restaurant, Marra’s.
- Last, but certainly not least, we went to a jazz brunch at another local restaurant to hear our friend, Joe Anello, and his quartet. This performance also featured the talented violinist, Melissa Jimenez, first chair violinist with the Cartago Symphony Orchestra. It was a great afternoon of music and good company.
Presentations and Tours
But the crazy-busy part of our month was the week of July 21st. We started the week by participating in the International Living Fast-Track Costa Rica Lifestyle & Opportunity Conference at the Real Intercontinental Hotel in Escazu. We had two presentations, the first on why we moved to Costa Rica and what our lives are like here. The second presentation was about the Caja, Costa Rica’s national public medical system and our experiences using it. You can watch part of our first presentation here. (Note: the video doesn’t play on iPads or iPhones.)
Then, right after three days at the IL conference, we had our July healthcare tour on Thursday and Friday. Four couples (including one who had attended the IL conference) joined us this month to learn about both public and private healthcare in Costa Rica. You can read more about the tour we are offering in the article below. Though Paul does the tour, our tour guests come to our house for lunch and to hear two featured speakers, so I’m busy too.
We had one day free, then, on Sunday, greeted tour guest from George Lundquist’s Retire in Costa Rica on Social Security tour at both the cabinas, where we previously lived, and at our current house. Monday was another full day, especially for Paul as he did a Central Valley tour for someone we met at the IL conference.
But no matter how busy we are, we make time to enjoy the beautiful sunsets we’ve been having this rainy season. Here is just one example.This photo was taken from our back patio, facing west towards Puntarenas and the Nicoya Peninsula. We just love this big, beautiful expat life we’ve built for ourselves in Costa Rica!
In July, we once again met our goal of living here for less than $2,000 per month. In most categories, we either met or were under our monthly averages: groceries, transportation, healthcare, pet care, and rent/phone/utilities.
There were some variances in the other categories. For instance, we spent a bit more for meals out because we discovered a really good, new restaurant in our town and we had to try it out. We were already in town to listen to the CAA choral group perform at our local music school so we though we’d treat ourselves to dinner in a nice restaurant we just happened to see. Like many of our friends, we were impressed with both the food and service. And in a little town like San Ramón, that’s saying something. So if you find yourself in our area, give Marra’s a try. You can check them out on facebook. (FYI, they don’t have a liquor license yet, so BYOB if you desire.)
Our household expenses were higher also because we needed a new hot water heater. Unlike what we were used to in the States, you don’t see hot water heater tanks here in Costa Rica. Here, they tend to use tankless, on-demand systems, either fueled by electric or propane. Our water heater is propane and is used for both cooking and for hot water. We go through about one and a half tanks per month at about $16 per tank. About mid-July, we all of a sudden had no hot water but we did have a flame on our gas stove. After having it checked out, we came to the conclusion we needed a new hot water heater. So, we headed into town and were lucky enough to find a hardware store with one in stock. The next morning we had it installed by the handyman (and wonderful neighbor, Oscar) who works for the owners of our rental house, and hot showers were once more in the picture! The cost of the hot water heater was about $280 but we only paid half ($139.66) and the owners of our rental house paid the other half.
Personal Care & Clothing
The personal care & clothing category was also a bit higher than normal. Paul went on a buying frenzy (for him, anyway) and bought three pairs of shorts at our local “Poco Loco” Ropa Americana, totaling a whole $28.25. And I had my hair cut and colored for $22.60. Yes, I’m a natural brunette, that is until those “white roots” show up every 6-8 weeks or so.
The only thing out of the ordinary in our entertainment category was our 4th of July celebration. Every year, the American Colony Committee sponsors the largest U.S. 4th of July Celebration in Costa Rica. The cost is 5,000 colones (about $10) per person to get in. It’s a “good old fashioned 4th of July celebration” complete with hot dogs, popcorn, Uncle Sam and the U.S. Marines. It not only celebrates our Independence Day, it also pays homage to our host country, Costa Rica. You can see both the U.S. and Costa Rican flags flying in the photo to the left.
This and That
Our miscellaneous category was also higher than normal in July, representing a gift to the youngest daughter of our friends and neighbors, Oscar and Alexa. Carolina celebrated her Quinceañera last month which we most regrettably missed as we were in Mexico at the time of her party.
Office Supplies and Expenses
And then there is one last exception to our normal monthly expenses, this time in the office supplies & expenses category. It was time to replace the printer ink on our Epson color printer. Since it uses four different color cartridges, it can get expensive to replace them: a little over $54 total to buy one of each. Also, we’ve been having lots of problems (including spotty access to wifi) with our laptop, probably due to the moisture in the air. It IS the rainy season, after all. The first step was a thorough cleaning and a new cable to connect to the router. Cost: less than $28. Once we finish backing up everything on our laptop, it goes back to the shop for a complete overhaul. We’ll keep you posted on the costs involved.
As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months:
- Why the Cost of Living in Costa Rica Is Totally Worth It (Viva Tropical)
- Our 2013 Cost of Living Summary
- Our 2012 Cost of Living Summary
By Suzan Haskins
What makes for a happy expat? This is something I think about often, because honestly…not everyone is cut out for the expat life. The rewards are tremendous and it’s a wonderful, life-changing experience, but there are challenges—and most are easy to get beyond.
From my experience (and I’ve been an expat for 13 years now), those who thrive living overseas are those who are well prepared ahead of time. They’ve done lots of research and they know what they’re getting into. Overall, they have positive, optimistic perspectives about most everything…
And they all seem to share these 7 attributes:
- Love of adventure. This pretty much goes without saying. If you love exploring new places and seeing things you’ve never seen before, then you’re on the right path, because that’s what expat life is all about.
- Appetite for novelty. Your neighbor brings you a bag of some strange kind of spiky fruit you’ve never seen before and tells you it’s good for your love life…the entire village is going to “cleanse” themselves in an ice-cold waterfall at midnight and has invited you along…at the last minute, the entire country has taken the day off to watch an important World Cup match… If you can embrace and immerse yourself in the spirit of it all, you’ll be just fine.
- Tolerance for cultural differences. Does it drive you crazy when things don’t happen at the appointed hour? Get used to it if you’re thinking of moving overseas. We joke that in Latin America, “mañana” doesn’t mean “tomorrow” but “some time in the future.” The thing is, priorities are just different outside the States (where my husband Dan and I are from). Instead of chasing the almighty dollar and punching the time clock, most of the rest of the world runs at its own pace. Family obligations come first and are always more important than work or money, and that’s as it should be.
- A large dose of self-confidence. If you believe in yourself and your ability to deal with just about every situation you might possibly find yourself in, then you’re good to go. And here I might add that you need to believe in the concept of “personal responsibility.” Trip on a crack in the sidewalk and twist your ankle… Have a reaction to the detergent used by hotel housekeeping… Forget your phone in the back of a taxi… The menu is only in Spanish… Back home, if you get hurt or, even sometimes, just find yourself in a bad mood, you can sue someone. The rest of the world is not like that. (And, of course, the good news is that it’s doubtful you’ll ever be sued yourself.)
- An aptitude for self-reliance. I have to laugh when new expats complain that certain products aren’t available in Ecuador, where I live. No, we don’t get some of those old favorite (and usually unhealthy) comfort foods here. We do, however, get enough of them, believe me. You do know what Half & Half is, right? It’s half milk and half cream. Pretty easy to make yourself. The Internet is full of do-it-yourself recipes and substitution suggestions. And, of course, there are overseas destinations where you can get just about every American product there is…so if that’s important to you, see point #7 and do your research about where those places are.
- A go-with-the-flow attitude. Everything I’ve mentioned so far has been leading to this. If you’re the type of person who can embrace the challenges and, even, find the fun and adventure in them, then you’ll be just fine in a foreign country. Laugh it off… You discover so much about yourself and then have great stories to share.
- They’ve done their homework. You cannot move overseas without learning as much as you can about where you are going. It just won’t work otherwise. You need to know about the culture, the weather, the residence laws, the health systems, insurance options, and much more. And to collect in one place all the documents that will be required along the way. You’ll want an idea of what your moving and upfront costs will be. You need a plan for communication with friends and family back home, and an idea of how you’ll do your banking and manage your financial life, and more. Getting all this organized before you move will vastly enhance your expat experience.
In fact, that’s my single biggest piece of advice: do as much advance research as you can. Read, watch videos, talk to the experts, establish a lifeline to some of the on-the-ground resources you’ll need (like attorneys, visa facilitators, health care professionals, etc.), and definitely talk to other expats about their experiences. We all have stories to share and advice to dish out—expat life is always a learning experience and always entertaining.
As an expat, you will never be bored, believe me. It’s a wonderful life and I’ve no doubt you have what it takes to make it successfully happen for you.
Article used with permission from Suzan Haskins and International Living.
Our newest tour is the Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica. When asked what he liked best about June’s healthcare tour, one of our guests wrote, “the wide variety of places we saw, the experts that Paul arranged for us to meet and talk with, and an emphasis on all aspects of health, not just doctors and hospitals. Mental health is just as important as physical, if not more so.”
We’ve lived in Costa Rica for over five years and have used the Caja, Costa Rica’s public healthcare system extensively, as well as the private system, when needed. We’ve learned the system and have been referred up the ladder to see specialists in the maze that is the Caja system. Gloria’s even had surgery here. Our blend of personal insights and on-the-ground experience combines to answer your questions about whether or not Costa Rica’s healthcare system could meet your individual needs.
But, while it is focused on healthcare, you will learn a lot more about living and retiring in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Most of the second day of the tour takes place in the town of San Ramón where we live and use the services. And you will come to our home for lunch that day to listen to two of our featured speakers.
Our tour is designed to save you both time and money, packing a lot of information into a short period of time. Our goal is to show you the possibilities and to try to demystify Costa Rica’s healthcare system.
Our tour lasts two days and 1 night and includes lodging, transportation, meals and non-alcoholic beverages.
Sample Itinerary: You’ll visit:
- At least two private hospitals in San Jose area
- Hospital Mexico, the largest and best public hospital (they even do open heart surgeries there)
- An insurance broker for a presentation on the various supplemental health insurance options, including public, private, and international plans
- A senior living retirement community
- CPI language school for a presentation about how learning Spanish increases your options for healthcare and some basic medical Spanish.
- Our local hospital here in San Ramón
- A local EBAIS (community clinic)
- A local private medical and dental clinic
- A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
- A pharmacy
- A health food store (macrobiotica), and more!
- If the Costa Rican healthcare system could meet your needs and put your mind to rest, once and for all, about this sensitive subject.
- About the public system and how it works, about the private healthcare system, and how you can use a combination of both to your advantage.
- About the EBAIS – where healthcare starts in Costa Rica.
- Approximately how much you would pay for Caja.
- About medical tourism in Costa Rica.
- About home health care in Costa Rica.
Introductory prices: $550 for a couple, $450 for a single.
Please contact us if you are interested in booking this tour. Space is limited.
- Paul Gets a CAT Scan Through the Caja
- Integration 102 – Speaking Up at the Hospital
- Waiting to See the Doctor, by Jo Stuart
People always ask us, “What do you do all day?” They are so used to doing and producing in North America, they just can’t imagine having a future that’s so open-ended. Well, we have a good answer: VOLUNTEER. It’s something you can do all over Costa Rica. Practically any town of any size will have some sort of volunteer opportunities just waiting for you.
In our town of San Ramón, it’s especially easy to get started with the Community Action Alliance. The Community Action Alliance is “an organization of expats and Costa Ricans in the greater San Ramón area, volunteering together for community enrichment…It enables members to realize a personal opportunity to redefine and recreate their lives.” The Alliance has volunteer opportunities available in many areas. So what do you do all day? It’s easy, with the Community Action Alliance.
To read about what’s been happening with the Community Action Alliance, click on the graphic below. You will be able to read the latest newsletter, subscribe to receive future newsletters, as well as read past issues.
You’ll notice that we are now showing rainfall and temperatures for four towns in Costa Rica. This isn’t weather forecasting. We report after the fact to give you a much better picture of the weather in each of these areas.
You can still click on the map to the right to enlarge it and check out the average rainfall for the towns you are interested in. Remember that the areas shaded in darker blue tend to be higher and also the places most expats choose to live.
Paul’s San Ramón Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for July:
- Normal July rainfall is over 10 inches. Last year we had 8 inches. This was a very dry July at only 2.9 inches.
- We spoke at the International Living Costa Rica conference in July. You can watch some of the highlights of one of our presentations here.
- We had 8 people (four couples) take our July healthcare tour.
- We’re seeing more monkeys lately around our house as our bananas ripen. We currently have about 8 bunches in various stages of growth on the plants on the property.
- Total rainfall in 2013 was 110.95 inches in our area of San Ramón.
Lance T’s Atenas Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for July:
- In July, the total measured rainfall in Atenas was 3.8 inches – down 40% from July 2013. On two days (July 2 and July 14), there were downpours totaling 3.1 inches. Typically, these days began with clear or mainly clear skies, followed dark clouds and torrential rains for 1 or 2 hours in the early afternoons — not to mention severe thunder and lightning. Afterwards, it cleared up as if nothing** had happened.
- The highest recorded temperature (91.3°F) was up 4°F from July 2013. For many, this temperature might seem to push the envelope of comfort. But, unlike the Eastern USA and Canada, the humidity was low — nice for sleeping without air conditioning.
- It appears that the effects of El Niño predicted in April for the Central Valley (namely drought) are upon us. See, for example, this April 11th article in AM Costa Rica.
- Total rainfall in 2013 was 63.84 inches in our area of Atenas.
- We broke the rainfall record, making July 2014 the wettest month since I started keeping records in 2011.
- Since the northwest part of the country is suffering from drought, we are fortunate to have rain and cooler temperatures.
- Total rainfall in 2013 was 164.75 inches in our area of Nuevo Arenal.
- We are finally in our new house located just outside the city of Quepos. Unpacking and trying to find where things should go is always an adventure but we are making progress. Quepos is located about 32 kilometers north of Matapalo, still on the the coast but we have moved inland about 3 kilometers. Our home is located on 40 acres just inside the Palm Groves. Our Landlord also lives on the property. The trees we see are imported African Palms that produce clusters of palm nuts which are harvested and then processed to retrieve the oil which is used in the making of cosmetics.
- Quepos is connected to Manual Antonio which is a tourist area with miles of beach front. Quepos is the largest town between Jaco to the north and Playa Norte to the south. Quepos also has a very well staffed hospital, and a Maxi Pali grocery store. If you are looking for American products there is even a mini-PriceSmart in town.
- The “real feel” of the highest daily high in July (99.0° F) was 114.0° F!
- The Quepos area of the Central Pacific receives approximately 140 inches of rain per year.
Meteorology has been Paul’s lifelong hobby. As a child, he devoured books about the weather and earth sciences vigorously. Later, he took a few college courses in meteorology, and still later, he served as a meteorologist for the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Now, Paul gets to practice his avocation in Costa Rica, albeit on a very small scale with just temperature and rainfall data, probably the two most important factors regarding the weather. He wanted to include weather info on our website to help people decide where to live, although weather is just one of many factors to consider in determining where to relocate. Current weather data is from our current home at about 3,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón. Weather data prior to December 2012 is from our previous home at about 4,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón.
Our Atenas Weatherman, Lance Turlock
Lance and his wife, Diana, moved to Costa Rica about 2 years ago after living 30+ years in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (Vancouver and environs). They live in the Central Valley near the town of Atenas and are at an elevation of about 2700 feet. They have no need for air conditioning or heating. Overnight low temperatures are comfortably cool (low 60’s). Daytime highs can be relatively hot (high 80’s, low 90’s), but rarely uncomfortably hot.Lance started to keep track of daily temperatures and rainfall in order to have factual ammunition to help disabuse friends, relatives and acquaintances of any misconception that the weather must be like that of a tropical jungle.
After many visits to Costa Rica, John and Cathy Nicholas moved from New York to Costa Rica in 1991. They chose Arenal for its sacred, majestic beauty, its lush wildlife, its relaxing lifestyle, and its proximity to activities and sites such as the Volcano Arenal and the beaches. They own the B&B, Chalet Nicholas, which has been in operation since 1992. Temperatures and rainfall are measured at Chalet Nicholas which is located at approximately 2,200 ft. elevation and 1 mile west of the town of Nuevo Arenal.
Our Playa Mantapalo Weatherman, Lance Miller
I was born in a very small town in northwest Iowa and raised on a farm. When I was 18, I joined the service, in which I spent 22 years before retiring in 1990. For the next twenty three years my family and I lived in south central Pa. After having a stroke in 2012, I was unable to work and that is when my wife and I began talking about retiring. Thanks to your newsletter and a website we found about San Isidro, we began looking at Costa Rica. We came down in March 2013 and looked around for a week. Went home, packed up, and moved here in April. We settled in a small village called Playa Matapalo. which is located between Quepos and Dominical. The word Playa means beach. It is so nice to lie in bed and listen to the ocean. Pura Vida.
We will continue the weather info next month.
- What’s Ahead Weatherwise? El Niño!
- Our Weather in San Ramón & Atenas Costa Rica – 2013
- Our Weather in San Ramón de Alajuela, Costa Rica – 2012
- Our Weather in San Ramón de Alajuela, Costa Rica – 2011
- 15 Days
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What’s New on the Website
Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- Were Costa Ricans Always Pura Vida? — Where History Meets the Movies
- Our June 2014 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses
- What’s Ahead Weatherwise? El Niño!
- Adventures in Shipping: Transporting 13 Boxes to Costa Rica (AKA: Our Big Move – Part IV)
- Paul Gets a CAT Scan Through the Caja
- Integration 102 – Speaking Up at the Hospital
- Bank Interest Rates for Term Deposits in Costa Rica
- Our New Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica
- Adventures of a Monkey Mama in Costa Rica