Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!
In This Issue:
- Retire for Less Went to Mexico!
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Vacation the Retire for Less Way!
- Our May 2013 Cost of Living
- Downsizing: It’s All “Stuff” by Tom Bunker
- Paul’s & Lance’s Monthly Weather Report for San Ramon & Atenas – May 2013
- A Different Form of “Due Diligence” by Diana Miskell Turlock
- Canada Day Festivities – June 30, 2013
- Schedule for Mandatory New Costa Rican License Plates (reprinted from The Tico Times, June 20, 2013)
- June 30, 2013 Deadline for Some US Citizens Investing Overseas (reprinted from A.M. Costa Rica, May 30, 2013)
We’re back and we had a GREAT time! It was, without a doubt, the best vacation of our lives. We walked and walked, seeing all the sights up close, then we walked some more. We talked with Mexicans in the parks, on the street, in restaurants, and at the indigenous markets. We shopped, bargained, and came home with lots of treasures. Gloria and I had previously been to Mexico together for 16 days in December 2003 for our honeymoon. This trip was a second honeymoon of sorts.
You could divide our recent trip to Mexico into four parts:
- The International Living Ultimate Conference in Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya (May 21-25), where we did a well-received presentation on “Living the Good Life in Costa Rica” and talked to a lot of nice people about our favorite topic.
- Mexico City & Coyoacán (May 20 & May 26-29)
- Oaxaca, Oaxaca (May 29-June 2)
- Cholula, Puebla (June 2-5)
Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, we though we’d start by giving you the equivalent of 75,000 words in a short video.
I (Paul) lived in Mexico for almost three years, back in the 70’s. This was after returning from Vietnam. Eventually, I graduated from the University of the Americas, Puebla in 1977. This trip, we were able to spend some time with my old college friend, Michelle, who lives just outside of Oaxaca.
Each time I go to Mexico, it looks better and better to me. It’s cleaner and more prosperous. As a country, Mexico is really on the move. It’s now the 13th largest economy in the world. Despite the on-going drug war, the economy is exploding. Last year, it grew at 4% which, during tough economic times, is pretty good.
Could we ever live there? We don’t know. For now, we have no plans to leave Costa Rica, but Mexico’s a great place to vacation. We felt perfectly safe there. There were lots of people enjoying the parks and zocolos (parque centrales) in the historic districts, the vast majority of them locals. We don’t plan to spend any time in the near future anywhere near the borders, where most of the drug violence seems to be occurring.
We’ll be writing more in upcoming newsletters about other aspects of our trip:
- Does it cost less than Costa Rica?
- Gloria’s cooking class in Oaxaca
- The Frida Kahlo museum
- My university UDLAP
- The largest pyramid in the world & lots of boom, boom, boom!
- Mexicans are proud of their pre-Columbian past & the culture
- La D.F. (Mexico City) – the neighborhoods
- The Zocolos & Centros Historicos
- Grinding poverty – 110 million – burgeoning middle class
- The indigenous & the Indian markets
- The culture
- The weather
- And, of course, the food (including móles)!
Our cats did great while we were gone and we couldn’t have had better house and cat sitters, thanks to Julie and Jamie, the owners of our house! We missed Tori and Laura, but we were worry-free. And they didn’t “shun” us when we got home as cats can do at times.
We may be thrifty but, mostly, we like to get a good bang for a buck. But we also love to have a great time, and this vacation was no exception.
Other than our expenses in Playa del Carmen (May 21-25) and the bulk of our airfare, we spent just $1650. International Living reimbursed us for most of our airfare and expenses while at the conference. Here’s the breakdown:
Getting around was easy. Our transportation expenses included:
- Buses (both local and three 1st class buses between cities)
- Subway (in Mexico City)
- Collectivos (shared shuttle service)
- Partial airfare not covered by International Living: $57.62
The 1st class buses were great. Clean, comfortable, and complete with bathrooms, movies, and snacks. Our bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca took 6 ½ hours and cost only $75 for both of us. The trip from Oaxaca to Puebla was 4 ½ hours and cost $47 for both of us. The final bus took us from Puebla directly to the airport in Mexico City, took 2 hours, and cost $35 for both of us. It was a terrific way to travel and very economical.
Our hotels were budget to mid-range and averaged $47.37/night, including all taxes. Some rooms were better than others, but all were clean and well-maintained. Our favorite hotel was Hotel Las Mariposas in Oaxaca and we look forward to staying there again sometime in the future.
- A tour of the famous black pottery of Doña Rosa in San Bartolo Coyotepec
- A weavers’ tour to Santo Tomas Jalieza
- A visit to the Indian market in Ocotlan which has been in the same location every week for over 1000 years
All in all, we had a terrific vacation on a budget, the Retire for Less way!
Of course, when you go away on vacation, you still have all of your major expenses back at home – rent, utilities, health insurance, and your other normal expenses before and after your trip. For May, we thought we’d show the portion of our monthly expenses that went towards the vacation, and the portion that went to our expenses back home in Costa Rica (19 out of 31 days). Take a look at the breakdown on the right to see how it shakes out for May.
Groceries and Transportation (our consumables) were, naturally, lower as they covered only 2/3 of the month. Utilities didn’t go down as we had people living in the house during our absence. And Miscellaneous was a bit higher as we had a few business expenses.
Because our vacation spanned portions of both May and June, the “Mexico Trip” expenses include only those incurred in May. We’ll show the rest in next month’s budget, though the entire vacation breakdown is in our article, “Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Vacation the Retire for Less Way!”
As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months:
By Tom Bunker
To ship or not to ship. That is the question. There are many differing opinions on this subject. Here’s a perspective on the joy of downsizing. Marcia and I have gone through this process twice and we can give you a few tips and things to consider. If you get nothing else out of this, remember the words of the philosopher George Carlin who said, “Did you ever notice that your stuff is stuff and other people’s stuff is crap?”
The first time we downsized was when we were in our mid 30’s. We had moved to southern California with everything we owned after more than 10 years of accumulating “stuff.” One of my goals was to become a sailor, having caught the bug after just one test sail. I took lessons, joined a club I could rent from, and became a very active sailor. After gaining experience, extensive reading, and visiting many boat shows, we bought a 37 ft. sailboat and decided to move aboard. Marcia was an avid sailor, but not totally sold on the move. Our compromise was to keep paying our rent for the apartment until we were sure we had done the right thing. So we paid to have all of our “stuff” live in our apartment while we moved aboard our boat.
First we got rid of the apartment. We held a couple yard sales to part with some of our “stuff,” entrusted some of it to friends, and put the rest in a large storage unit. After about 2 years of writing checks and not even seeing our “stuff” we decide to get rid of most of it. I don’t remember exactly what we sold and what we gave away. I do know that we didn’t get enough to cover the storage charges. We did keep some “stuff” that would fit into a much smaller storage locker at our marina.
A few years later, we decided to move up the coast to a different marina in Ventura County. At that time we got rid most of the “stuff” in our small storage locker. Life continued in Ventura County. In 1995, a number of factors led to us moving ashore. We rented an apartment, bought two lawn chairs, and borrowed an air mattress. We were now renters with an empty 3 bedroom apartment who also owned a large sailboat. We quickly started accumulating more “stuff.” Years of frugal living built the savings up, so we didn’t have a problem buying furniture to fill the place. After a year of renting, we bought a house and moved our “stuff” into it. Now we had a mortgage and a boat.
1995 was a busy, stressful year for us. I spent much of it working on a project on a ship off the coast of Norway and Marcia divided her time between working in California and traveling to Wisconsin where her mother was having more and more health problems. During that year, I continued writing checks to keep the boat in its slip. I managed to see it a couple times to make sure it was still floating, but hardly ever stepped aboard.
It wasn’t long before we decided to move mom in with us. Her son was living in her house in Wisconsin and her car was in the garage. We knew that she would never be able to return to that house, but it still took time for Marcia to come to terms with having to sell the house. With me at home with mom, she would have to do this without my help. Her mother’s house was full of what I have to admit was some really nice “stuff.” Marcia’s family had lived all over the world while her father was a career Army officer. She also liked antiques and had a lot of collectibles. I avoided that stress, and mom and I got along fine. Much of the higher quality “stuff” and family heirlooms were shipped to California while Marcia sold, donated, or tossed the rest. Most was sold for very little.
The years went by, mom was no longer with us, the boat was gone, and we retired early in California. I’ll skip the decision-making process on why and where we moved. That’s been covered before. The decision on “stuff” was to convert all but the “can’t-live-without stuff” into cash and take as little with us to Costa Rica as possible. That way, we would have maximum flexibility to move on if we had to.
That was a very liberating experience and it also was very eye-opening. Remember the Carlin principle. When people look at your “stuff”, they see crap! It doesn’t matter what you paid for something, it doesn’t matter what the internet or some expert says your crap is worth. The only thing that matters is what someone is willing to pay for it. Once you come to terms with that, you can sell most of your furniture and appliances and household goods. When it comes to the rest, get used to parting with it. Now is a good time to give gifts to friends and family. If you want your children, grand-children, or friends to have something after you die, why wait? You’ll get the chance to see how much it means to them. Donate to local Red Cross, Salvation Army, or other organization. All that “stuff” can be a real help to someone.
We got down to leaving some artwork with friends and a few boxes of family albums and small items with Marcia’s brother. What a feeling it is to step onto the plane with six suitcases and two cats. After three years, I miss some friends, but I don’t miss my “stuff.” It turns out that they have “stuff” in Costa Rica! Sometimes it’s different “stuff”, but there’s plenty of it.
If you are an artist who needs special supplies, or a master carpenter who need his tools, by all means bring them with you. Before you load your bed, furniture, pots and pans, dishes, and other used “stuff” into a container and ship it to wherever you are going, think about this. You are buying your own used “stuff” at a premium price, a price that no one else would pay.
One thing we’ve learned here is from the philosophers The Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want. But, if you try, sometimes you’ll get what you need.”
- The Bunkers’ Road to Costa Rica, by Tom Bunker
- On Integration: Living in Costa Rica, by Tom Bunker
- 10 Ways to Fit In When You Retire in Costa Rica, by Tom Bunker
(Reprinted from June 4, 2012)
15 Days get 70% of the rainfall in Costa Rica. I find this statistic to be incredible. Let’s put it into perspective. The rainy season is approximately 200 days long, and here on our mountain at 3950 feet elevation, we get about 100 inches during those 200 days. But 70 inches of it fall on only 15 days. The other 185 days receive but 30 inches — days with just light rain, drizzle, or just threatening conditions, with no rain at all.
Take a look at the weather map to the right. You’ll notice that the Central Valley from San Jose to San Ramon gets about the same amount of rain: 60-80 inches over the course of the rainy season. Typically, April is considered a dry month, with a few inches of rain, but this year we had almost 12 inches! One might say, the rainy season started a month early and will exceed 200 days this year. Usually the rainy season doesn’t start until mid-May. This May was different — 16 inches — which is more than we typically get in our rainiest months, September and October.
To give you an idea of what one of our heavy rains is like, take a look at this brief video:
We had 14.85 inches of rain in May, probably 20% of our yearly total and five more months to go. The sad fact is that total rainfall was 20% down last year, so we can use a good 80 inches in San Ramon by November 1st to replenish our reservoirs and aquifers.
Remember, just 15 days get 70% of the rainfall. One such day was May 25th, with 3.7 inches. On top of the mountain, at the cabinas, where we used to live, no more than a mile from our present location, they tell me they had two consecutive days of six and five inches respectively, and no flooding. Amazing!
The rains really didn’t get going until May 20th, the day we left for Mexico. May 20th through the 31st, we got 11.7 inches of the monthly total…and we missed it all. (Thanks to Jamie Rae — our “guest meteorologist” — for measuring the weather data in my absence.) Normally May receives 8-9 inches total, so we were more than 50% above our monthly average.
Mexico’s rainy season has similar dates (May to November), with less than half the rainfall of Costa Rica. Much of Mexico, including the areas we were in — Oaxaca, Puebla, and Mexico City, — are semi-arid. These towns are at 5,000 ft., 7050 ft., and 7500 ft. elevation respectively.
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 data, at our home in San Ramón at 3,000 ft. elevation, for the month of May 2013:
- 14.85 inches of total rainfall over 16 days
- 1 day measured 3.7 inches of rain and another day measured 2.1 inches
- 2 days measured trace amounts of rain
- 13 days with zero rainfall
Here’s the rainfall trend since the first of the year 2013:
- January – 0 inches
- February – .05 inches
- March – .15 inches
- April – .15 inches
- May – 14.85 inches
Total rainfall year-to-date: 15.20 inches
- 6am average: 65.45°f (lowest reading was 61°f on 1 day)
- Mid-day average: 77.3°f (high of 83°f on 2 days & the lowest high of 72°f on 2 days)
- 6pm average: 69.4°f (lowest reading was 66°f on 1 day and highest was 73°f on 1 day)
To give you an idea of the difference that elevation has on temperatures, here is the breakdown of temperature data from May 2012 when we were living at 3,950 feet elevation, about 1,000 feet higher than we’re living now:
- 6am average: 63.85°f (lowest reading was 62°f on 4 days)
- Mid-day average: 74.7°f (high of 77°f on 7 days & low of 71°f on 1 day)
- 6pm average: 66.5°f (lowest reading was 63°f on 1 day and highest was 69°f on 1 day)
Our friend, Lance Turlock , recorded day-to-day overnight low temperatures and daytime high temperatures at their home in Vista Atenas at an elevation of about 2700 feet. The temperatures may differ from the town of Atenas itself where the elevation is lower, or other nearby places where the elevation is even lower or higher. A few hundred feet can make a significant difference.
- Overnight lows (about 6am) Average: 68.3°f (lowest reading was 62.4°f & highest reading was 70.9°f)
- Daytime highs (about noon) Average: 87.2°f (highest reading was 90.7°f & lowest reading was 79.9°f)
Some observations from Lance:
- Note: On most if not all websites, it seems that the weather information for Atenas will be same as for Juan Santamaria Airport. This is inaccurate because Costa Rica has microclimates and Juan Santamaria is at a different elevation.
- I now have a rain gauge – but May recordings cover only the last part of the month. Total rainfall from May 23 to May 31 was just under 4″.
We’ll continue the weather info next month.
- Our Weather in San Ramón de Alajuela, Costa Rica – 2011
- Our Weather in San Ramón de Alajuela, Costa Rica – 2012
- Our Weather in San Ramón & Atenas Costa Rica – 2013
By Diana Miskell Turlock
It was about 15 years ago that my husband Lance started investigating Costa Rica online. A client/friend of ours had visited and had only good things to say.
The more we thought about it, the clearer it became that we wanted to give it a try. We have always loved travelling. I have always wanted to live a lifestyle that involved wearing nothing more than shorts, shirt and sandals all year around. We wanted to experience a new culture, new language, new foods.
We did not leave Canada because it is not a good place to live. We left because there was nothing more for us to experience there which was of any real interest. We had driven every highway and bi-way and two-bit country lane around and about Vancouver, B.C., Vancouver Island, the B.C. Interior, and northwest Washington State. We had driven across Canada several times. I have seen the Maritimes, Prince Edward Island and lived two years in Labrador/Newfoundland. We both had seen a good part of Ontario. Likewise, Alberta is very familiar to us.
We have driven down to the California-Mexican border countless times. In addition to Washington State, we have thoroughly explored Oregon, California, and parts of Idaho, Montana, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. We’ve been to Las Vegas and Reno numerous times. All our road and flying trips were great fun and I’m very glad we did all of them, but enough is enough. Did we want to spend the rest of our lives doing and seeing the same things over and over again? No.
We had never been to Costa Rica. For us, there did not seem to be any point in making several trips there to scope things out. Albeit from afar, we had carefully looked at many different aspects of Costa Rica over a period of several years: government stability, safety, availability of high quality medical and dental services, transportation, communications, infrastructure, weather, etc. etc.). In most cases, we were favorably impressed.
Misconceptions about Canadian Medicare aside, the quality of medical and dental appeared to be as good as anything you might find in Canada or the US (and at less cost). Safety could be criticized a bit – but it appeared that there were many locales in Canada and the US (including Metropolitan Vancouver, Chicago, Detroit, some areas of Toronto, etc.) where crime rates were at least as bad and in many cases worse than Costa Rica. Infrastructure (e.g. roads) could be criticized a bit. But, there are many examples in Canada and the US where the quality of infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. The weather (some like it hot, some like it cool) – in Costa Rica, you can take your pick. We picked the Atenas region (not too hot; not too cool, near San Jose, near the Pacific beaches, and near the international airport (Juan Santamaria).
Bottom line: we were prepared to give Costa Rica “a try” without throwing all our eggs into one basket. We ventured to Costa Rica treating it as if it was a sabbatical. We came with little more than clothing, computers, and other communication equipment – and last but not least – Genny, our cat. Our attitude was that after a month if we didn’t like it, we could seamlessly return to Canada. If after 6 months we didn’t like it, we could seamlessly return to Canada. Two years later, we are still in Costa Rica. We are still in a position to seamlessly return to Canada.
While in Costa Rica, we have not acquired any serious possessions like a house and furniture (we rent furnished houses) or a car (we use taxis, buses and occasionally choose to rent a car). All of this maintains our flexibility. We have not cut our bridges. In the unlikely event that we choose to do so, we can still return seamlessly to Canada or, we can seamlessly move on to some other country (Chile, Ecuador, for example – both of which we find to be intriguing).
- The Rat Race, by Diana Miskell Turlock
(Reprinted from The Tico Times, June 20, 2013)
Starting that day, all vehicles with license plates ending in 1 will be required to have new plates. Vehicle owners in that group will have until October to make the change.
Plates ending with other numbers will be exchanged following a schedule (see schedule below, based on a license plate’s last digit).
The National Registry began implementing a voluntary program to switch out old license plates in January 2012, but starting next month, those changes are mandatory. Drivers who obtained new plates after January 2012 are not required to change them again.
The new license plates have a total of six security features including the seal, a map and the national flag of Costa Rica, as well as a unique hologram, a laser engraving and a special backlit symbol.
The security features are intended to decrease counterfeiting, Sibaja said.
To obtain new plates, vehicle owners must present the old ones, fill out a form and pay 15,000 ($30), which includes two metal plates and a sticker for the windshield.
New plates for motorcycles cost 8,000 ($16) for one metal plate and one sticker.
New vehicles registering for the first time may apply for alphanumeric license plates at a cost of 20,000 ($40).
Exchanges can be made at the National Registry’s main facilities in the southeastern district of Zapote, at local branches in Limón, Puntarenas, Guanacaste, Alajuela, San Carlos, Pérez Zeledón and Paseo Colón, and at Bank of Costa Rica and Correos de Costa Rica branches throughout the country.
Starting July 15, applications will be available online at the National Registry website, www.rnpdigital.com. Vehicle owners may authorize third parties to exchange plates, as long as they present documents certified by a lawyer.
Schedule according to the last digit of license plates:
1: July-October 2013
2: November 2013-January 2014
3: February-April 2014
4: May-July 2014
5: August-October 2014
6: November 2014-January 2015
7: February-April 2015
8: May-July 2015
9: August-October 2015
0: November 2015-January 2016
- Info About New License Plates in Costa Rica
- Link to the original Tico Times article, “New license plates will be mandatory for first group starting July 15”
The U.S. government has changed the form that some taxpayers must use to report their overseas bank account. But the agency has put the form online.
That is the news from the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, an expat advocacy organization.
The association noted that Americans overseas and U.S. green card holders are required to file the Foreign Bank Account Report if the aggregate value of all their overseas bank accounts abroad exceeded for even one day $10,000 in the 2012 tax year.
“The penalties for not filing are very high and we all know that banks are talking to each other more and more, so it’s just not worth ignoring this obligation, which has nothing to do with income taxes,” said the association. “The form is not filed with your tax form or sent to the IRS.”
The U.S. Treasury Department must receive the form by June 30, the association noted. The downloaded .pdf file can be filled out with Adobe Reader. The form, known as FBAR, can be found HERE!
Although the form is available electronically, it must be delivered by mail or express service to the Treasury Department in Detroit, Michigan.
Details are given in the .pdf file.
- Five Things You Need To Know Before You Move Abroad
- Link to the original A.M. Costa Rica article, “There is yet another deadline for some U.S. citizens”
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What’s New on the Website
Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- Retire for Less Goes to Mexico!
- Our April 2013 Cost of Living and Our Transportation Budget Breakdown
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: See the “Doctor” at Clinica de Ropa
- Have a Reserve Fund for a Rainy Day
- Reinventing Yourself in Retirement
- In The Mailbag – April 2013
- 9 Tips to Find Your “Perfect Place” in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica Scores High on Social Progress Index
- Our Costa Rica Food Budget Breakdown
- Why You Shouldn’t Move to Costa Rica
- When is the Best Time to Visit Costa Rica?
- MythBusters: What’s it REALLY Like to Live in Costa Rica??
- Our 2012 Cost of Living Summary