Feb 09 2013

Newsletter – February 9, 2013

Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:

  • So, What’s Up with the Yeatmans? Our monthly update to answer the #1 question people ask us, “What do you DO all day?”
  • Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Rent a Post Office Box
  • Paul’s Monthly Weather Report
  • Five Good Reasons to Consider Retiring Abroad
  • Money vs. Time (reprint)
  • Healthcare in Costa Rica — Our Recent Experiences (January 2013)
  • Waiting to See the Doctor, by Jo Stuart
  • Seven Compelling Reasons to Invest in Coopenae


So, What’s Up with the Yeatmans?

Meeting you, face-to-face

In January, we had several opportunities to meet and talk with folks who read our website regularly and it really hit me that we write here makes a difference in people’s lives. So I wanted to start off this month by saying a big “Thank you!” Thank you for reading, thank you for trusting us, thank you for interacting with us, thank you for using our services!

We met some of you during George Lundquist’s two January tours. Not only is George still visiting the cabinas where we lived for almost four years, he has now added our new rental to his tour. Of the 26 people on his Retire in Costa Rica on Social Security Tours last month, many of the tour guests read our website, and some told us they took George’s tour because we recommended it. Again, thank you for trusting us.

We met other folks who hired us to do in-depth tours of “our” San Ramon, Grecia, and Atenas. Another couple met us in San Ramon and took us to lunch. And still others booked Paul to pick them up from the airport. I even met another couple while at the feria (farmers market) who stopped me and asked, “Are you the one with the blog? We’re staying at the cabinas because you recommended it!

I want you to know that we don’t take your trust lightly. We promise to continue to truthfully write about our experiences living in Costa Rica, what we spend, what we do, what we think. We also promise to recommend only those services, accommodations, and products with which we are familiar and in which we believe. Thank you again…it means so much to us and keeps us inspired to keep doing what we’re doing.

Here’s a short note one of our tour couples posted on facebook:

Paul, thanks for the wonderful and informative tour of San Ramon and surrounding area. You and Gloria went out of your way to make us feel welcome and at ease. We learned a great deal from you. Sally, the retired Air Force, surgical nurse, and one time head of infection control at one of our large military hospitals in Germany, who was travelling with us was very impressed with the medical facilities. Thanks again for the tour and the opportunity to meet other ex-pats and Ticos in the San Ramon area. I would highly recommend your tour to anyone who has a serious interest in living in Costa Rica, or anyone who just wants a better understanding of local culture.” Howard and Margaret

Just enjoying life

We spent a lot of time at home in January, just enjoying our new rental home, especially the porch. I admit, I had some concerns in the beginning. I even asked Paul, “Can we still write about living simply, now that we’re living in a bigger house?” But whether here or at the cabinas – or anywhere else for that matter — we love the simple things. Someone on of the tours asked us, “But what do you REALLY do all day?” So to recap, here are some of the things we love to do and do regularly, really.

  • Just sitting out on the porch, watching the clouds sail across the sky.
  • Looking up at the stars shining in the massive, clear sky at night.
  • Listening to the birds and monkeys in the trees.

    Paul Studying Spanish With Laura

  • Watching the birds, squirrels, and now, even the first monkey, eating the bananas beginning to ripen around the house.
  • Reading or studying Spanish, then falling asleep during the warm afternoons with a cat or two snoozing next to us.
  • Looking out at the Gulf of Nicoya and Puntarenas, checking to see if there is a cruise ship at the dock, or container ships at port of Caldera.
  • Playing with our cats, Tori & “Laura Chinchilla”
  • Laying in our hammock and just “chill”
  • Watching our team win the Superbowl — Go Ravens!!

Even doing the laundry is an enjoyable experience. One of Paul’s favorite things about our new house is the pulley system clothes line that extends from one corner of the porch to a tree across the yard. To save electricity (and the expense of running the clothes dryer), he does two loads in the morning, then he leisurely hangs things out on the line. Now that’s a simple pleasure! Some people might think it sounds boring…maybe even a little crazy…but to us, it’s paradise. (Then again, we’re easily pleased; it doesn’t take much to make us happy.)

Welcome to our home…

We had our first overnight guests – two friends from Lake Arenal – and we had other friends over for dinner a couple of times. The first dinner was done totally in Spanish as our guests spoke no English. I was really proud of myself! Not only was I able to participate in the conversation, I was relaxed while I was doing it. I’ve come a long way in learning Spanish, and God knows, it’s an on-going process, but I’m not sure I could have done it without the lessons we’ve been taking at CPI.

The second dinner was just as special, though for completely different reasons. Our friends, Mike and Mary Peace, were in town visiting and came over for dinner. We met them five years ago when all four of us took the same “George tour.” We’ve stayed in touch ever since by Skype, email, and visits when possible. Mike is a musician and he serenaded us with his guitar, harmonica, and bluesy voice. Our favorite was an original song he wrote about “living large in Costa Rica” that we hope to one day have on our website as our theme song. Hurry and get that baby published, Mike!

Being busy

After a month’s break, we resumed our weekly Spanish lessons, studying direct and indirect objects. Let me just tell you, there’s a part of me that still whispers, “You’re never going to learn this!” This is a particularly difficult topic for both of us. But I keep “shushing” that voice and pushing through because I really want to learn, to speak Spanish easier and more naturally. It’s a process though. Our lessons at CPI include a lot of conversation, and while it can be challenging, it’s been a big help in not only learning Spanish but in upping my confidence level!

Escuela Scholarship Winners

We attended three events in January, two of which were sponsored by the Community Action Alliance. The first was a presentation by CPA and financial planner Nick Hodges and attorney, Roger Petersen about the FATCA, the new U.S. regarding oversees investment accounts. If you are interested in the PowerPoint presentation and handout from the seminar, you can access them here.

The second event warmed my heart. It was a presentation of scholarship awards to eight escuela (elementary school) students to cover beginning-of-semester expenses which come to about $200 per student. The money was raised by the Action Alliance through fundraisers and the English language “Conversation Clubs” which the Alliance sponsors to help Ticos learn English. In addition to the scholarships, there was also an acknowledgement of the Alliance’s recent gift to SINEM, the local music school, which allowed them to buy much-needed dehumidifiers for their pianos.

And speaking of pianos, we thoroughly enjoyed a piano concert by Manuel Obregón, Costa Rica’s Minister of Culture, held at San Ramon’s Jose Figueres Ferrer Cultural Center.

January was the second month in a row without a beach day (GASP!) but we have one scheduled in a couple days and are looking forward to the sun, sand, waves, and seeing our friends – though not necessarily in that order!

It’s Summertime!

Poró trees in the valley

Poró tree and “fringed” banana plants

It’s verano (summer) in Costa Rica so, while the snow may be falling up north, we’ve been enjoying warm, breezy days and star-filled nights. And even though it’s the “dry” season in our part of the country, there are still many flowering plants and trees, most noticeably, the Poró tree, with its bright orange blooms. They seem to be everywhere you look. As we stand on our 2nd floor porch and look around us, we can see more than a dozen of them blooming across the valley and around our house. And since the beginning of verano is also an especially breezy time of year, you can see in this photo that the leaves of the banana plants become shredded from the wind. Maybe it’s the old hippie in me, but I prefer to think of them as “fringed.”

Another sign of summer is the harvesting of the sugar cane. We see a lot of sugar cane fields along the Pan American Highway, especially near Grecia and here are some photos we recently took. In Costa Rica, sugar cane fields are burned just before harvesting in order to remove sharp leaves from the plants and to get rid of poisonous snakes. The burning of the fields may make the harvest easier for the farmers, but it’s not good for the environment, not for the health of the people living in the surrounding areas. It is, however, common practice in Costa Rica. 

Download (PDF, 577KB)

There is a lot of new life around us as well. Our Tica neighbor and friend, Alexa, pointed out this newly-emerging butterfly on our front door. Its wings were still wet and it wasn’t able to fly until they dried, so it just hung on.

Hummingbird eggs in nest

Alexa also pointed out a hummingbird nest in the coffee plants near our house. There were two, tiny, delicate eggs inside. A few days later, I went back to check the nest and found that the eggs had hatched. Now there were two tiny hummingbirds resting inside.

Hummingbirds just hatched

The following week the nest was empty. The birds were too small to have flown away. We realized that they had most likely been eaten by a snake or other animal. It was a sad reminder that death is a part of life and none of us can count on tomorrow.

Another reminder of the fragility of life is “Hershey,” a baby howler monkey rescued by our friends at Spider Monkey R&R. She was only about five days old when they got her, with her umbilical cord still attached. I was thrilled to get a chance to hold her. Unfortunately, despite their care, Hershey died a few days later. It was so sad, and seemed so unfair. But where there is life all around us, there is also death. I didn’t notice it as much back in Baltimore, but here, we get to see nature up close. Sometimes it is breathtakingly beautiful, and sometimes it makes us cry.

Related Articles:


Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Rent a Post Office Box

San Ramon Post Office

A great way to save hundreds of dollars a year is to have a post office box in Costa Rica, versus using a delivery service like Aerocasillas. I would say Aerocasillas is more efficient, and certainly faster than the post office, but you pay for that service. Our P.O. Box, #187, is located in the San Ramon post office and costs 10,000 colones/$20 per year while Aerocasillas can be that much and more, per month. We seem to be getting our mail okay, although magazines may get ripped off en route. But letters and cards pass through just fine.

Since we left Baltimore, four years ago, we no longer get junk mail. Here’s how it works for us. Our mail, and what little junk mail we get, goes to Gloria’s brother in Florida. He scans everything that may be important and emails the scans to us.

If you want to test how long it takes to get something to Costa Rica, send us a note or a postcard with your email address. (Feel free to include a note, a photo of yourself… or even money 🙄 ) We’ll let you know when we get it. Here’s our mailing address: PO Box 187-4250, San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica, 20201.

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Paul’s Monthly Weather Report – January 2013

Micro-climates in Costa Rica are due to altitude and topography. The micro-climate you choose depends on what you like or what you get used to. This became especially apparent to us two months ago when we moved 1,000 feet lower and about 1 mile away.  January was our first full month of living at our new rental house in Magallanes de San Ramon.

It’s been extremely windy, with gusts as high as 50 mph since October 25th. And since October 25th, we’ve had less than 2 inches of rain. The weather has been characterized by cool fronts and instability, and pressure differences between two large bodies of water, the Pacific and the Caribbean. The isthmus (Costa Rican land bridge) represents the narrowest place between the two seas in the western hemisphere. Four things cause wind: centrifugal force, the Coriolis effect, friction, and pressure gradient force. Pressure gradient force is basically the difference between the highs and the lows. The air flows from the high to the low to fill the vacuum. The greater the difference between the two, the higher the winds. Costa Rica is a pretty breezy country for all of the above reasons, but especially beginning in November, when the “Christmas Winds” start, and then continue through January. The winds let us know that the transition is beginning between the rainy season and the dry season.

We’re getting used to living lower, with it’s warmer daytime temps, and really starting to enjoy it. We have many friends who could not live down here…it’s just too warm for them (low 80s). Most Ramonenses couldn’t exist down here. They like it cool (less than 75°f). Here are some elevations in our immediate area:

  • The cabinas where we lived are at 3,950 ft.
  • The city of San Ramon is at 3,445 ft.
  • We currently live at 3,000 ft. elevation in (lower) Magallanes. This is the only place close to San Ramon at that elevation.

As usual, we took the temperature at 6am, mid-day, and 6pm daily, as well as rainfall totals for the previous 24 hours, measured at 6am. All temperature readings are taken in the shade (just like official meteorologists do). If taken in the sunshine, the temps are usually 8-10 degrees higher. You also have to take into account the altitude — the higher the elevation, the cooler the temps. It gets warmer by about 4-5 degrees per 1000 feet as you descend in elevation.

Following is our rain and temperature date for the month of January 2013:

Rain Data from January 1st to January 31th (31 days)

  • 0 inches of total rainfall
  • 1 day measured trace amounts of rain
  • 30 days with zero rainfall

Temperature data from January 1st to January 31th (31 days)

  • 6am average: 62.75°f (lowest reading was 60°f on 1 day)
  • Mid-day average: 82.6.°f (high of 86°f on 1 day & the lowest high of 78°f on 2 days)
  • 6pm average: 69.0°f (lowest reading was 67°f on 2 days and highest was 74°f  on 1 day)

We’ll continue the weather info next month.

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Five Good Reasons to Consider Retiring Abroad

(Originally published by The Costa Rica News, January 13, 2013)

Even in the best of times saving for retirement is often a monumental and difficult task, now with middle class opportunity shrinking, economic “cliffs” and austerity measures, it can be not just daunting but scary. Many Americans are starting to look at options to make their finances for retirement more assured. Here are five hard facts on retirement and how living abroad can provide viable solutions.

  1. Americans live for approximately 19 more years after retirement. This represents 20-25% of your entire life and further, approximately half the population will live longer than average life expectancy. Many Americans (especially baby boomers) have realized that apart from declining middle class opportunities, a potential bankrupt social security system and other economic disasters and woes, their savings are simple not going to last. Many have discovered that living aboard can significantly increase their odds of having sufficient money in their Golden Years.
  2. Real estate values. Many retirees are expecting to cash in on their number one asset, their home/property. The survey conducted by the Professional Risk Managers’ International Association for FICO found that home prices in the united Sates are unlikely to recover before 2020 and mortgage defaults will persist for years, says a survey of bank risk managers. The report, Emerging Trends in Real Estate from the Urban Land Institute, predict above-average growth for Latin America, well ahead of that for the United States and Europe, and other survey’s from across the global predict Latina America and specifically Central America, will see significant growth in real estate value, as more and more investors jump into the largest emerging market on the planet.If you are looking at improving your asset value, living abroad on your own real estate is increasing attractive.
  3. Medical costs will continue to rise, as well as your need for medical attention. It is a well known fact that US medical costs will continue to rise as will insurance costs. The aging population in US will also require more medical treatments as they age. It is also a fact that medical and dental treatments and procedures in places like Costa Rica will save you from 30% to 85% compared to the USA.
  4. Currently, the average Social Security retirement payment is just $1,220 a month. How far does $1220 go? Not far in North America. There are several areas in Central America, like Costa Rica where $1200 covers your monthly cost of living expenses, rent utilities, food and even leaves a little extra. For example in Costa Rica, outside of the densely populate urban centers or tourist traps, a nice 2 or 3 bedroom house is around $400/month, utilities including cable and internet will run you around $150/month, food is$450/month approximately.  
  5. The average cost of an assisted living facility is approximately $40,000 a year in the U.S. Projections estimate that about 3 million US expats will join the million+ already in Mexico and Central America within the next 10 years. Other estimates place the number closer to 10 million by 2025. That, added to the shortage of affordable assisted living facilities in the US, creates a huge opportunity for investors and developers. When you search the news online you can find numerous investors, developers and existing assisted living facility businesses already moving south of the border, to take advantage of cheaper development costs, lower cost of living, less expensive but still highly skilled labor, and the growing number of baby boomer expats moving to Central America.Living abroad for retirement has become a reality for many Americas and is projected to become a major consideration for the baby boomers population which are now hitting retirement age at a rate of 10,000 per day in the US.

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Money vs. Time

I always tell people that time is more valuable than money at our age, realizing, of course, that we need enough money to live. It seems to me, when you are 60+, the creating of wealth becomes secondary to the time we have left on this earth. In Costa Rica, most expats pay cash for their homes and it often represents a significant percentage of their financial nest egg, be it $100,000 or $250,000. My advice is always the same: to rent before buying anything. But if you must buy, we recommend purchasing properties under $150,000 because they are both easier to buy and easier to sell.

My general philosophy is this: your time is worth something, especially if you are over 60 years of age. If you are lucky, you may have 20 years left, since the average life-span is slightly less than 80 years. Quite often, people own houses in Costa Rica and become disillusioned, for whatever reason, and want out. It’s estimated that 50% of expats leave within 5-7 years, with most of them returning to their home countries. Initially, they didn’t think they would be in the 50% who leave (and there is certainly nothing wrong with trying it out to see if it is for you). And it’s not just Costa Rica; it could be Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, Mexico, or even somewhere in Europe. For whatever reason, they are unhappy, they’ve changed their minds, and want out. But they’ve got to sell their house first, since so much cash is tied up in it.

I believe if you want out, you should sell your house quickly, take a small gain or loss if necessary, and move on with your life. Most people won’t do this because they want to make a profit on the house, even though it may be difficult to sell in the current economy. It may take months, maybe even years, to sell. But again, your time (I’m referring to the rest of your life-span) is worth more than money. Remember, if you are 60+, every year represents 5% of the rest of your life. So, if you don’t want to be here (there, or anywhere), what’s the point? How much is another $20K or $50K worth to you? To me, the time is much more valuable than any money you can make on a house. So I say, meet the market, sell quickly, and move on with your life.


Healthcare in Costa Rica — Our Recent Experiences (January 2013)

December was a busy month medically, but January slowed down quite a bit. In early January, we paid our monthly Caja premium. We always go to the Social Security office to pay it. I could pay it anywhere, even online, but old habits are hard to break, so I just go to the office between the 1st and the 8th every month to pay.

Early on, Gloria and I made a concerted effort to use the doctors and dentists of San Ramon since this is where we live. However, we would not hesitate to get a second opinion from a private doctor or go to one of the private hospitals in San Jose for tests or to see a specialist, if necessary. But our first course of action is our local EBAIS (local clinic).

Here’s a summary of our healthcare related experiences in January:

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Waiting to see the doctor at Hospital Mexico

by Jo Stuart

“A nice gentleman gave me his seat, telling me to ‘sit down’ in English. It turned out that he had seen my Trader Joe’s bag and knew I was from the States…He was there with his father-in-law, a handsome man of 84, waiting to have his pacemaker checked. The father-in-law was a Tico, born in the U.S. having returned to Costa Rica…We compared the health services in the U.S. and Costa Rica and agreed that one reason the waiting rooms were so crowded was that no Tico comes alone. They’re accompanied by at least one, and usually more, family members. And given the sympathetic doctors and nurses here, many people take advantage of it and come in with minor ailments. ‘We’re sissies,’ the older gentleman said. I pointed out that life expectancy in Costa Rica has surpassed that in the U.S. and maybe taking care of minor ailments was a form of preventative medicine.”

From Butterfly in the City, page 153-154. Used with permission.


Seven Compelling Reasons to Invest in Coopenae

We’ve been banking and investing at Coopenae for about 18 month now and have been extremely pleased with their customer service and investment CD rates. Here are some good reasons to consider investing with them:

  1. Rated by “Fitch Ratings” (international bank rating): Short term rating at: ‘F1 (cri)’ the best possible rating. Long-term rating at: ‘A + (cri)’ stable, high profitability, strong credit quality and strong capital position, high probability of maintaining its risk profile in the foreseeable future.
  2. It´s the largest Cooperative (similar to a credit union in the U.S.) in Costa Rica, the largest in Central America, with more than 85.000 members, the 5th largest in Latin America and has over 45 years in the domestic market.
  3. The “overall rating” by the State Supervisor SUGEF is 1.03, while the best rating possible for any public or private financial institution in Costa Rica is 1.00.
  4. Delinquency rate of 0.39% and Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) of 22.60% (Dec. 2012) which means your money is there when you need it.
  5. Recently we became the 1st Cooperative in Central America to receive a loan from the World Bank.
  6. Coopenae is the 4th most profitable private financial institution in Costa Rica.
  7. Expats all over the Country are already members of Coopenae. We provide personalized service and offer the best market interest rates for certificates of deposit. Today: 12.50% net interest rate for a 12 month colones CD.

Your first point of contact:
Asdrúbal Zamora, Investments Executive
Cell Phone (+506) 8811-1602
Off. Phone (+506) 2257-9060 ext.3721
Corporate Email: azamora@asesorcoopenae.fi.cr

View and download Coopenae’s corporate presentation here.

Disclaimer: The articles on this website are intended to provide general information only and have been prepared by RetireforLessinCostaRica.com without taking into account any particular person’s objectives, financial situation, needs or preferences. Our readers should, before acting on this information, consider the appropriateness of this information regarding their personal objectives, financial situation or needs. We recommend investors obtain financial, investment, or legal advice specific to their situation before making any financial investment or relocation decision.

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