Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!
In This Issue:
- Happy Holidays!
- Our “Stop” on the 12 Days of Costa Rica Blog Tour
- What Does It Cost You NOT to Move to Costa Rica? by Rob Evans
- Why We Are Leaving Costa Rica, by Janet Bradshaw
- Why Are People Leaving Costa Rica?
- Our Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica
Paul and I want to wish you a happy and healthy holiday season. Our present to you is Costa Rica’s new tourism video, featuring some of our favorite “friends and neighbors!”
Last newsletter we announced that we were asked to participate in the 12 Days of Costa Rica Blog Tour, hosted by the Family Freedom Project and featuring some of their favorite Costa Rica bloggers, authors and photographers, including us!
You can still visit the Blog Tour website to check out the great Costa Rica content. The Blog Tour continues through December 22nd, however all of the content will be available on the same webpage afterwards, so be sure to check it out. Here’s our post which appeared on December 14th:
Sam & Yeison of My Tan Feet ask Paul & Gloria of Retire for Less in Costa Rica:
What are some common misconceptions people have when they hear you are retired in Costa Rica?
We’ve been living in Costa Rica for almost six years and have to admit, there are a few misconceptions some folks have about our lives here. Here are a few:
One of the most basic misconceptions of many is where Costa Rica is located geographically. Some people get it confused with Puerto Rico, which is an island. First of all, Costa Rica is not an island. It is located in Central America, about 9 degrees — a distance of less than 900 miles —north of the equator. It is due north of Panama and south of Nicaragua. Costa Rica has over 800 miles of coastline, with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. The entire country is about the size of West Virginia. We live in San Ramón de Alajuela, in the western Central Valley of Costa Rica.
Wow, what’s it like living at the beach?
Travel writers will have you think that beach living is perfect. You spend your day in a hammock, under a palm tree, with a Piña Colada in your hand and a cool ocean breeze blowing through your hair, while you are gazing at aqua-blue waters. If living at the beach is what you dream of, you can do that here. But the reality is that it’s hot, humid, and sometimes buggy on that beach, with temperatures sometimes approaching 100 degrees. Not only will the temperatures be hot, the cost of living will be greater, even for pantry staples like coffee, milk, and bread. And you will most likely need air conditioning for at least part of that day – which translates into higher electricity bills.
Costa Rica does market the beach, but living at the beach is just one of many options in Costa Rica. This small, mountainous country has many micro-climates (which you can read more about in our monthly weather report of temperatures and rainfall in four – soon to be five – towns in Costa Rica). These micro-climates are determined by elevation as well as “the lay of the land” – the undulations of mountains and valleys, ridge to ridge, and then down to the coastal lowlands.
Like many expats, we live in the mountains at an elevation of about 3,000 ft. above sea level. Our temperatures are generally in the 60s and 70s year-round, with occasional dips into the high 50’s, and daily highs in the mid-80s during the hottest part of the year. We never need heat or air-conditioning, just like in most of Costa Rica’s Central Valley where about 66% of the population lives. And, even though we don’t have sand at our feet, we can still enjoy lying in our hammock and sipping an occasional Piña Colada!
Isn’t it a 3rd world country? Do they even have Internet there?
Instead of thinking of it as a 3rd world country, think more “developing country.” There is access to high quality medical care and you can even drink the water right out of the tap in most places. While the infrastructure may not be as good as in much of North America, it is constantly improving. The roads have gotten much better in the almost six years we’ve been here. High-speed Internet is available in most places, though folks in some of the more remote locations must rely on the slower 3-G service.
Probably the biggest difference between the expats of today and the expats of 20 or more years ago is this access to the world. The Internet has opened up the ability to communicate with friends and family back home. You can still watch your favorite programs on satellite television, video chat with loved ones on Skype, and even work on-line. Without this technology, we would venture to say that most of today’s expats wouldn’t move to Costa Rica.
It must be real cheap to live there. It’s more like Mexico, right, inexpensive?
Again, North Americans often assume that it’s going to be less, a lot less, even “dirt-cheap” to live in Costa Rica. I guess if you haven’t done your homework, you might think that. Generally speaking, many North Americans are shocked at just how expensive Costa Rica can be. Compared to its neighbors, Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is more expensive. A recent poll showed Costa Rica as the most expensive country in Central America, and the 5th most expensive in Latin America. So, it’s not so cheap. Because of the higher cost of living in Costa Rica, quite a few expats, after just a few years, return to the U.S. thinking that they’re “not really saving money after all.”
Interestingly, we at RetireforlessinCostaRica.com, save about 30% over our U.S. monthly budget. As always, it depends on how one lives. The problem lies when most North Americans want to live exactly as they did before, but they just want to do it for less. We came to Costa Rica to live a simpler, different, and less expensive life. We’re not minimalists, though we do live within our means. For the last 5 and ½ years, we’ve been able to live a good life for $2,000 or less and we publish our monthly cost of living each month in our newsletters, as well as a yearly summary. We also published a series of money saving tips that you can use here in Costa Rica or anywhere for that matter. Could YOU live for less in Costa Rica? It’s all about your choices.
Aren’t you afraid? Isn’t there a lot of crime there?
Many North Americans automatically think that the crime rate is very high here, including homicides. They envision a lawless society where people are running around the streets, brandishing weapons, and engaging in shoot-outs over drugs and territory. They automatically lump Costa Rica in with Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the murder capital of the world. All of these countries have tremendous problems with crime and their governments’ inability to stem it. Latin America generally has had a reputation for instability, coups, high-level corruption, drug-cartels, and lawlessness. All they see on U.S. television is violence, violence, violence and, for many, that is reality. As they say, good news is not news, so people back home only hear the negatives.
Costa Rica, however, is a relatively safe country, with a homicide rate of approximately 8.7 per 100,000, most of which involves drugs or domestic violence. Quite often, the victims and perpetrators know each other. But this is not the reality of most expats retiring in Costa Rica. We have always felt safe here. The most common crimes here are crimes of opportunity – houses left empty are broken into, luggage left visible in cars is stolen, and cameras carried by tourists walking in remote locations are taken.
Living in Costa Rica is paradise, right?
Costa Rica IS a country with great physical beauty. There are beaches with palm trees swaying in the breezes. There are lush, green forests with incredible bio-diversity. And the temperatures are spring-like, all year round – no snow to shovel or ice to melt. So yes, there are definitely elements of “paradise” here. But it’s not perfect. The lush green that we see all around us doesn’t come without a six-month-long rainy season, with anywhere from 40 to over 240 inches of rain annually. Where we live, near the town of San Ramon de Alajuela, we get about 120 inches each year. That’s a lot of rain!
But over and above the weather, we are living in Costa Rica, not vacationing here. So, all the challenges people normally face in life, we face here – what to cook for dinner, how to live on a budget, how to stay healthy, how to deal with government bureaucracy, and even what to do all day. It’s almost impossible here to accomplish one-stop-shopping. There aren’t super-stores on every corner, so we normally have to go to several places to find everything we want. And then there’s the language barrier. This is a country where Spanish is the official language and many Ticos don’t speak any English. While we can both speak enough Spanish to communicate, this can be a big challenge for folks who speak little to no Spanish. Bottom line – paradise, and life, is what you make it – whether you live in Costa Rica or anywhere else.
We invite you to visit our website and sign up for our free monthly newsletter. We would like to show you how you, too, can retire in Costa Rica for much less than you may be spending in the U.S. or Canada. In addition to accurate, down to earth information — the good, the bad, and the ugly — our website offers products and services that we believe will help you, both as you consider Costa Rica for retirement, and after you move here. We also search for good values on housing, entertainment, tours, vacations and more, and pass them on to our readers. We offer many tips that can be used wherever you live in the world.
Paul and Gloria Yeatman
by Rob Evans
As a former financial analyst, I have been intrigued for several years by Paul and Gloria’s monthly budget. I love the simplicity and precision with which they address one of their most frequently asked questions about the cost of living in Costa Rica – what does it cost you to live in Costa Rica.
However, as I began planning my retirement, instead of simply considering what it would cost to move or how much I would save, I started wondering what it would it cost me NOT to move. Turning the question around gave me new insights.
At 55, I planned to retire at 65 and estimated I would live to 85. So then I wondered, if I have 30 years left, why am I marking time for the next 10 years before the adventure starts? I realized I was working for health insurance (while neglecting my health), which is depressing when you think about it. Given that people sometimes spend tens of thousands of dollars near the end of their lives to hold on one more year, how much were these next ten years worth to me?
So, what was it costing me NOT to move to Costa Rica in terms of mental and physical health? What was I losing in “opportunity cost” by not exploring the world while I was still physically able? And how many years of good health was I losing by not getting off the rat’s wheel and focusing on a healthy diet and exercise?
The more I considered what it was costing me to lose 1/3 of my remaining years by waiting for the adventure to begin, the more I realized that I needed to make the move sooner rather than later. I encourage others who are considering retiring in Costa Rica (or wherever) to turn the question around when considering the future and not to just compare the cost of rent or eggs.
Ask yourself, “Why shouldn’t I start the adventure NOW?”
By Janet Bradshaw
In August of 2012, I wrote the article “Why We Chose Nuevo Arenal” for the Retire for Less in Costa Rica Newsletter. After retiring from my work as a civil engineer in Canada in 2009, my husband, Scott, and I spent our first 3 years in Costa Rica renting and, then in 2012, built a beautiful home on a gorgeous 5-acre property in Nuevo Arenal. Our intent was to live here for many years. Fast forward two years since the completion of our house construction and we are packing up and preparing to leave.
Many people have asked what would ever possess us to give up this seemingly idyllic lifestyle and return to the frozen north (Newfoundland) especially during the winter. To answer that question, I need to start at the beginning….
The First Years in Costa Rica
When we arrived in Costa Rica in 2009 everything was new to us; the landscape, the culture, the customs, the language. It was all very foreign and exciting – not to mention challenging. Between learning to speak Spanish, ploughing through the red tape of the residency application process and simply learning to function in the completely foreign environment, we found ourselves totally exhausted many nights. Simple day-to-day life required work – nothing was routine but that was all very interesting and stimulating to both of us. We loved every minute of it and would laugh between ourselves each night about crazy things we had inadvertently said in Spanish or marvel at the difference in the attitude of the Ticos compared to most North Americans.
Setting Down Roots
We loved it all and we decided we would stay so we bought our land. The process of designing our house, acquiring necessary permits and finally constructing was so different than in Canada (and we had both had plenty of experience with that). Here we felt like amateurs, but honed our skills as we went along. Luckily we had a very competent, dependable and honest builder so all went well. The total process from initial concept drawings to move-in date took about another 12 months and it was a very busy time for us.
We were heavily involved in the design of the house and provided detailed sketches on many features so that everything would be just the way we wanted. We were on site for the build every day and had “homework” many nights to provide sketches or pictures of how we wanted certain aspects to be. Since almost everything here is handcrafted, you do not go for example into a kitchen cabinet store and select from standard layouts. You specify the height, width and depth of each cabinet and drawer which means that you need to plan for everything that you want to store. The process forces you to think in tremendous detail rather than simply selecting a standard 3 drawer 24” base cabinet.
We moved into our new home almost exactly 2 years ago.
I would not say that we have mastered Spanish by any means but we are quite functional in the language and not at all hesitant to converse with local Ticos. We obtained our residency on our own without assistance from a lawyer or ARCR four years ago, we have renewed our RITEVE (car inspection) on our own four times, so many of the big challenges are now second nature and we are able to relax much more. Therein lies the problem in a nutshell.
Soon after building completion I began to feel too idle. I did become more active, became a quilter, a gardener and took on numerous volunteer efforts. While all of this kept me busy, I still felt unfulfilled. Meanwhile, during our time in Costa Rica, I had returned to Canada each year for 3-4 months to work on various engineering projects and I really began to look forward to those stints. Eventually I came to the realization that, at 51, I had retired too early. I really valued my profession much more than I had realized and without it, I was stumbling around seeking an equally fulfilling purpose. This was a shocking discovery for me because I had felt so ready to abandon working life in 2009 and I really believed that I would be content with more “being” and less doing. I suppose we never really know until we try.
This year, Scott and I spent a fabulous summer in St. John’s, Newfoundland where we reconnected with family, long-time friends and that fabulous place that words cannot describe. Scott, a musician, was re-inspired by the world class calibre of musical offerings and opportunities there. In October, I was offered a great job there that enables me to combine so many of my professional and personal skills. We both feel that all of this makes it worth taking on winter in the North Atlantic.
Maybe we’re crazy. Maybe we’ll be back. But it feels right for us right now.
So was it a mistake to come to Costa Rica and what would we change? Definitely not, and nothing! Our time here has been so enlightening and enriching that we wouldn’t change a moment. The amazing things that we have seen and experienced here are the bases of memories and stories that we will share for decades. The genuine friendships that we have built here are like no others and we expect they will last a lifetime.
For us, Costa Rica has been a fabulous adventure, pure and simple. We would not hesitate to recommend that others give it a try – provided you are sure that you aren’t too young to retire!
(By Gloria, originally published November 16, 2013)
In light of Janet’s article above, we thought it was a good time to include a reprint of our article on the subject:
“What do you think it means?” they asked us. “I just heard that another couple is moving back to the States. How many does that make now?” Of course, implied in that question is the fear that Costa Rica is no longer a good place to retire.
…and that’s a reasonable concern, especially if you are investigating Costa Rica as a retirement location, or even more so, if you are in the process of moving here. None of us wants our hopes and dreams shattered. But better to find out sooner rather than later, right?
Let me first tell you what I don’t think it means. I don’t think it means that people are moving back because Costa Rica isn’t a good place to retire. For us, and for countless others, Costa Rica has become our new home and we love living here. Has the cost of living risen over the last five years? Yes, of course, but where hasn’t the cost of living increased? Though, in all honesty, if you are choosing a place to retire solely based on the cost of living, Costa Rica probably isn’t the place for you. Does the country have problems – crime, bad roads, under-employment? Yes, but where is there a place in this world that doesn’t have those same problems? It’s all a matter of degree.
I think the real reason that people move back to the States is much more personal. Perhaps Costa Rica was right for them, but only for a time. Things change and people’s needs and desires change. I remember very clearly how I felt when I heard that our friends, Arden and David, were going to move back. They had lived here for five years and were two of our earliest friends. They were the last people I ever thought would leave Costa Rica, but when the first grandchild was born, and Arden held her in her arms, that was all it took. The pull of family became stronger than the desire to stay in Costa Rica. Other couples we know are leaving for family reasons of a different type. Aging parents, and the desire to spend time with them and care for them, becomes another strong pull for Baby Boomer retirees.
Others leave because leaving was part of the plan from the beginning. They decided to come for a specified period of time, be it 6 months or 5 years. Then it’s time to move on to another adventure in another place, or it’s time to go back home. For them, it’s just like changing jobs or moving to another state or province. Though moving to another country may seem to be a bigger decision, for these folks, it’s not. It’s just another move.
Sometimes, when the newness of living in another country wears off, and the inconveniences and differences become more irritants than adventures, people desire to go back to a more familiar place. Often, these are folks who sold everything they own, bought land and built a house right away, and that took up all of their time and energy. But once the house was built, they may have realized that they neglected to build a life at the same time. After all, how many gringo pot-lucks can you go to?
Others leave because of health care. Though they may have come here, in part, because health care is more affordable here and Costa Rica has a national health care system, they never quite trusted it or learned to use it. So, once they turn 65 years of age, they choose to return to the U.S. where they are eligible for Medicare. We know folks who have either made this choice or are considering it.
Some who come to Costa Rica as couples, leave because they have become estranged. Moving to foreign country can be especially stressful on couples who either don’t arrive “on the same page” or come to separate conclusions about their lives here. To be more specific, we meet a lot of couples who are thinking about retiring in Costa Rica and, for many of them, one or the other person is leading the charge. They love the idea of retiring to Costa Rica and are trying to convince their partners to love it, too. Sometimes it works; other times it doesn’t. Some of the more reticent ones agree to try it out to make their partner or spouse happy, but they eventually come to the conclusion that Costa Rica just isn’t for them. If the relationship is strong enough, the couple decides together whether to stay or go. And for the rest, they choose to go their separate ways, one person in Costa Rica and the other person heading “back home.”
Others leave Costa Rica because they have become disillusioned. They have had bad experiences trying to navigate Costa Rica laws and bureaucracy, either in day-to-day life or when trying to build a business here. It’s certainly not for the faint-of-heart. They just don’t do things here they way we are used to. Additionally, we know people who, for some reason, were robbed multiple times and believe that they were targeted because they were “gringos.” Perhaps they were. We can’t say for sure. But we can offer some tips to avoid much of this:
- Don’t buy anything, at least at first. Not a house, not a business, not land to develop. Rent, rent, rent. And wait to ship down everything you own until you’re sure you like it here. It’s challenging enough just learning to live in and understand another culture.
- Live inconspicuously. Don’t wear your expensive jewelry on the streets. Live simply. Don’t advertise what you have that others don’t have.
- Learn Spanish. Get to know your neighbors, both Gringo and Tico. Know what’s going on around you.
I know we say this all the time, but by learning the language, you have more options – for health care, for shopping, for business, and for your safety and well-being. And learning Spanish is one great way to keep the adventure going. There’s always something new to learn, new challenges in trying to communicate. It can be frustrating and difficult at times, but you’ll never be bored!
We all come to Costa Rica with big dreams and hopes. And, as Paul always says, we’re all trying it out, whether we realize it or not. Our friend, Mike, who just left Costa Rica after living here for seven years, says, “There’s a misconception that when you come down here, that it’s going to be for the rest of your lives. But things can change, and they will. If it’s not a new grandchild, it will be something else. So don’t be surprised. Don’t overreact.”
People ask us if we would we ever leave Costa Rica, or are we here to stay? All I know for sure is that we have built great lives here and have no intention of leaving. But…never say never. If the political situation were ever to change here, or the economy get so bad that we couldn’t afford to live here, then yes, we would probably move. But at this point, I don’t see us returning to the States. We would most likely move on to another adventure in another country – probably Ecuador or Mexico. But just as we couldn’t look five years into the future before we moved to Costa Rica, we are just as limited today. All we can hope for is to live every day we are here, to be true to ourselves, try to be part of the community, and to be hopeful for the future.
If you could know ahead of time how you’d feel after 5 years here; if you could know all the changes that would occur in your life, would you still come? If you could do it all over again, would you take the leap and make the big move? For some, I’m sure, the answer would be “no.” But for others, like us, the answer would be a resounding “yes!” Because, after all, the goal was not just the destination, it was the adventure.
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Speak Spanish-Save Money
- Integration – The Path to New Adventures
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
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What’s New on the Website
Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- In the Mailbag: Supporting the Work of the Community Action Alliance
- “And That’s the High”
- Costa Rica Says Goodbye to the Rainy Season
- Our November 2014 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses
- In the Mailbag – Shipping, Residency, Nicaragua, and More
- Estelí, Nicaragua: Whoa! (Video)
- Announcing the 12 Days of Costa Rica Blog Tour—and we’re part of it!
- Retire for Less Goes to Nicaragua – Granada Views Video
- In the Mailbag: Shipping, Civility, & Cost of Living-November 24, 2014
- Book Review: “Costa Rica Chica”
- Retire for Less Goes to Nicaragua
- Costa Rica’s Caja: How it Works
- Our Caja Experience, by Norman and Frankie Siegel
- In the Mailbag: Regarding Getting Residency in Costa Rica and Joining the Caja
- Applying for Permanent Residency in Costa Rica