Note: the following Letter to the Editor originally appeared in A.M. Costa Rica on April 29, 2014. We reprint it with the permission of both A.M. Costa Rica and the writer of the letter. The letter is a response to Garland Baker’s article entitled, “Can Costa Rica make a turnaround for its expats?” which was published by A.M. Costa Rica on April 28th. A link to the original article is provided.
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Upon reading today’s A. M. Costa Rica article titled “Can Costa Rica make a turnaround for its expats?” I feel compelled to offer a more moderate and representative point of view. All things considered, Costa Rica is still the best destination for expatriate retirement in the world today even though Panamá may offer higher real estate commissions and more sales action and so garner higher ratings from some quarters. Consider the source.
Surely it would be better for Costa Rica’s new regime to avoid taxing the expat population any more than natives. It would be better to not tax or control the people, in general, any more than can be reasonably justified. Times are getting tougher all around, internationally. Our government is feeling the squeeze. It’s not easy to walk this fence.
The new regime needs to carefully apply good business planning and attract more foreign interests rather than lose more of them. Yet the contributions made by tourism and the more lasting, large retired population need to be valued and sustained. Too much pressure on these folks may result in seeing them return home, which is the usual pattern when a retiree gets fed up. Very few go to Panamá with good reason.
Barriers to open bank accounts result from U.S. government restrictions on personal financial freedom. Uncle Sam swings a big club throughout the Americas. We are told this intervention is meant to control financial activity and cash flow associated with drug dealing and terrorism. Some factions consider this a general assault on everyone’s personal freedom supposedly excused as “security measures.” The many innocent are restricted in order to control the guilty few. These same rules apply in Panamá and everywhere U.S. influence has sway. This lazy form of policing is bigger picture stuff.
According to Charles Zeller of Ship to Costa Rica, “Panamá is no heaven to move to. Importing to Panama is not cheap. Just obtaining the tax exemption costs hundreds of dollars and the customs clearance process is expensive. Except for importing a car and household goods to Panama, the costs are similar to Costa Rica, including paying the duties in Costa Rica. ”
“With regard to the exemption on cars in Panama, they are not totally exempt either. The exemption is for up to $10,000. Anything above that pays taxes. Cheaper cars over 3 years old pay a fine of $1,500.00. If you import a new car, taxes are lower than Costa Rica. If you import an older car, it might be not so.” The net result is Panamá digs into your pockets whether your car is newer and more expensive or older and cheaper.”
Costa Rica offers many more good places to live than Panamá. Panama City is expensive and too hectic for most retirees. Besides, the climate is extremely hot and humid. Your air conditioning bills will be high. Coronado is like a retirement community two hours away from Panama City. It’s just living with other Americans.
As Mr. Zeller states, “Some people I moved to that location ended moving away because they hated it.” Boquete is far away from Panama City and downright boring. The only nearby town is David, and there is not much to do there. Bocas is the armpit of the world. I have moved many people there and most of them moved out again. Very expensive and isolated. Hot and foul weather most of the time. People have little education and live in the middle of the drug corridor.”
Panama’s crime rate is higher than Costa Rica’s. For example, Panama’s homicide rate is 17.2 per 100,000 while Costa Rica’s is half of that — 8 per 100,000, according to a recent United Nations report.
No matter what happens in the world, Costa Rica will become cheaper because the colón will take a dive. If a government has a big deficit, like Costa Rica has, there is no way it can keep their currency from devaluing. This is good for expats that receive foreign currency (dollars or euros.) Imported goods will remain expensive but local products will be cheaper when you receive dollars and pay in colons.
You can’t find better weather or friendlier Ticos and expats than in Costa Rica.
We do not have racial tensions like those in any other country in Latin America. Even the more developed countries are not exempt — Argentina and Chile. All of the countries where the Spanish subjugated large indigenous populations are still plagued by social injustice and cultural rifts.
Examples of this are México with its drug war; Colombia with its decades-long guerrilla movement; Venezuela with its failed socialist experiment; and Guatemala, el Salvador and Honduras, which are the most violent countries in the world according to statistics. If not Costa Rica, and considering Panamá is so blah, where do you retire abroad and feel safe?
We have a large, educated middle class. Many of them speak English. There is nothing worse than dealing with the ignorance that you encounter in some other Latin American countries.
Costa Rica is still the best place to retire if you do not have to make a living here. If you need supplemental income, an Internet based business in the U.S. will help.
Christopher Howard, Heredia