Welcome to the June 2011 issue of our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Monthly Newsletter!
- In this month’s 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: Taking the Bus
- Feature Article: Investing in Colones Certificates of Deposit
So, what’s up with the Yeatmans?
Paul and I have been having fun lately visiting with new arrivals to Costa Rica and showing them San Ramon. One couple we have been spending time with this week is a pair of retired Army Colonels who are planning to live, at least part time, in San Ramon. They have been staying at one of the Cabinas, where we live, for the last two weeks as they get to know the town, some of the people, and the Community Action Alliance. (If you missed last month’s newsletter where we talked about our involvement in the Community Action Alliance, you can read about it here.) These folks are really excited about being part of our community and are really interested in getting involved…and we’re excited to have them settle here. Welcome to San Ramon!!
We also spent a day with another couple who just sold their house in the U.S. and moved to Costa Rica two weeks ago. They spent their first two weeks in Grecia, then plan on traveling around the country for the next 2 ½ months, spending a couple of weeks in each location. I have been in contact with them for more than a year through our website and it was great to finally meet them in-person. Paul and I showed them around San Ramon, as well as our Cabina, and just talked a lot about what we have learned living in Costa Rica for the past two years. We feel as if we have two new friends and we look forward to finding out – after they do, of course – where they will end up on a more long-term basis.
The one thing I want to point out about both couples is that they are taking it slow by renting first, checking out the lay of the land, and finding out how they like living here before rushing into buying a house or piece of land. There are so many things to take into account. First of all, there’s living in another culture. Ticos may look like us but there are definitely cultural differences.
There are a lot of microclimates in Costa Rica. There are differences in temperature, rain, wind, fog, sunshine and more, even in the same general area, not to mention the differences between the weather on the Caribbean slope and that on the Pacific slope. There are differences in language, and here in Costa Rica, everything is in Spanish…groceries, billboards, shop signs, bus fares, utilities, on-hold messages…everything! The money is different and so are the banking regulations. And there are lifestyle and community differences between living at the beach, in San Jose, a rural coffee town like San Ramon, at Lake Arenal, or off by yourself in the rain forest.
It takes time to adjust. If you decide to come to live in Costa Rica, it’s important to give yourself time to adjust by not rushing into things. This is a wonderful country to live in, but remember, it’s just not the U.S., and when you are here, you are a guest so you must play by their rules.
Day to Day Living
We are still going to the beach at least twice a month. While usually we have about 10 people going, the last time there were 22. As not everyone can make it on the same day of the week, we are starting to vary the day and, by popular demand, scheduling beach days three times a month. It’s always a relaxing day, with good friends, their dogs, and a chance to feed the monkeys in the trees. Our next beach day will be on Monday, July 4th, to celebrate our home country’s Independence Day. Even though we now live in Costa Rica, we are still proud Americans!
I am still baking bread and, at the moment, have two loaves of banana bread in the oven and a double batch of No-Knead bread starting its 18-hour rise on my kitchen counter. My friend Arden and I have been planning our food blog which we hope to start in a few months and are getting excited as only two foodies can get! Differences in moisture, elevation, ingredients, and equipment make cooking and baking in Costa Rica challenging, to say the least. We’ll keep you posted about the inauguration of 2 Gringas Cook in Costa Rica!
The rainy season has officially begun, though we don’t yet have rain every day. Some days it’s just a sprinkle, and other days, like today, it’s a veritable downpour. It’s 2:00 pm as I write this and the downpour has just begun. While some days it’s not a problem, on other days it affects our Sky TV and wireless Internet. But as it’s a fact of life in the tropics, we just shift our plans and take a nap or read a book. If we’re lucky, the rain will slow down by 5:00 pm when we have plans to join friends at a local restaurant for dinner. But if not, we’ll just wear our rain gear and bring umbrellas…we don’t usually let the rain stop us.
Take the bus! Well, there it is, my money saving tip of the month. Okay, okay, I’ll explain the savings and the side benefits, but first, you’ve got to leave the car at home. It should be easy, with regular gas currently over $5.00 per gallon.
You probably won’t believe this, but some people live in Costa Rica and never, never take the bus. Why? Because they’ve got a car. If you have a car, it’s certainly more convenient and efficient. You can do more, buy more, and go more places more quickly. Almost by definition, you complicate your life, while taking a bus has the effect of uncomplicating your life because you just can’t do as much. Your life becomes more about the bus schedule, going to town, and getting the basics.
The buses in Costa Rica go everywhere and they’re cheap. A bus ride from where we live (Money Saving Tip #1) to our local town, 4 miles away, costs 33 cents per person each way, runs into San Ramon eight times per day, and returns nine times. Our local bus runs between Rio Jesus and San Ramon. Every town in this country of 4.6 million people and slightly less than 1 million cars is connected by the national bus system. Our town has two bus stations, one for more local runs, and another that offers direct and indirect bus service to the airport, San Jose, and Puntarenas. It costs a little over $2 for the direct runs, while the local service costs less. Even the local one to La Fortuna (a three hour ride) costs only $1.70.
But what the buses really do is help you integrate into the culture — you mix with the locals, speak a little Spanish, walk some, save money, simplify (you automatically do less), and probably lower your blood pressure in the process.
As I said earlier, there are approximately 1 million cars in Costa Rica, and we have one of them. Even before coming to Costa Rica, we had planned on purchasing a car for our Retire for Less in Costa Rica Tours. Our tours focus on rentals, rural tourism, and living in the culture, in order to show others how to save money and simplify. We also do airport pickups and drop-offs.
It’s hard as “Norte Americanos” for us to give up the car. For over 100 years, it’s been a big part of America’s culture and economy. Our first two months in Costa Rica, we didn’t have a car and I took the bus every day along with occasional taxis from town when loaded down with groceries. I even had to walk about ¾ of a mile to get to the bus stop. What do you think happened? I lost 10 lbs. in 30 days. But then we bought a car and darn if I didn’t gain those 10 lbs. back. So…if you can, just leave the car home once in a while. I guess this is one of those “do as I say but not as I do” things…however, I’m really trying to take the bus more often! If you would like more information on bus travel in Costa Rica, here are a couple of links to the bus & ferry schedules:
While we pay our rent in U.S. dollars, we pay for everything else in colones. For the last two years, we’ve been using our debit card from our U.S. bank to withdrawal dollars for our living expenses, then walking into a local bank to exchange much of it into colones. The exchange rate has gone up and then down, from 493 colones to the dollar, to as high as 583. Right now it seems to have stabilized at around 500 colones to the dollar.
Bank of America, our U.S. bank, was charging us $5 for every ATM transaction, and the local Costa Rica bank charges an additional $1.50 to withdrawal up to $400. As our monthly budget is around $1,700 per month, we were paying way too much in bank fees. Paul talked our U.S. bank into waiving the ATM charges for a year, but the year is almost up and we’ve been considering ways to eliminate those ATM fees altogether.
Our solution is opening up a saving account with Coopenae, one of Costa Rica’s many credit unions. We chose Coopenae because it has been in business since 1966, is stable, growing, and has one of the lowest default rates (less than 1%) on loans in the country. Our plan is to move funds from our U.S. saving account to Coopenae, and then invest most of the funds in Certificates of Deposit.
There were two considerations on the minus side:
- the issue of changes in the exchange rate – if we convert our dollars into colones today, and the dollar goes up tomorrow, we wouldn’t get the most for our money;
- savings accounts here aren’t “insured by the FDIC” like in the U.S.
But on the plus side, and it’s a BIG plus, the interest rate on colones CDs is 11.75% for 12 months! And, no more ATM fees…woohoo! We can use our Coopenae debit card at any Costa Rican bank ATM without any fees.
We started the process of working with both Bank of America in the States and Coopenae on the wire transfer, but I have to say that it’s not been easy. Bank of American wouldn’t initiate the wire transfer without us going in person to the branch in Baltimore. But Coopenae has been great to work with. Instead of a wire transfer, we wrote a personal check for the CDs. The best part is that, even though it will take 3-4 weeks for our check to clear, they opened the CDs the day we wrote the check and we started getting interest right away. That’s just incredible (and it would never happen with a U.S. bank)!
Another plus is that Coopenae has an English-speaking financial advisor, Asdrúbal Zamora Corrales (email@example.com), and he has been a huge help in getting everything set up. We look forward to seeing our investment pay off over the next year. You can visit the Coopenae website at http://www.coopenae.fi.cr/. (Hint: Though the site is in Spanish, you can set up Google translate through your web browser and read most of it translated into English.)
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Gloria & Paul Yeatman
San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica