Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!
In This Issue:
- Why are people leaving Costa Rica?
- Trying Out Costa Rica
- 17 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Move to Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Café Chorreado
- In the Mailbag
- Monthly Weather Report for San Ramón, Atenas, & Nuevo Arenal – October 2013
“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
by Valencia Stevens
We were looking for a new adventure in our lives, so, after retiring in December 2012 for me and February this year for my husband, we decided to check out Costa Rica. We researched and visited in the fall of 2012 and as of June 11, 2013, Jimmy and I arrived in Costa Rica. We stayed at the Cabinas for two months and are now in an incredibly beautiful house in San Pedro, just outside of San Ramón. While at the Cabinas, we walked a lot, up and down steep hills or steps, getting lots of exercise which is a very good thing.
We have enjoyed the San Ramón/Central Valley area. The Ticos and Gringos are most personable and we have made many friends very quickly. I can remember walking in San Ramón, making eye contact with every person, young and old, saying “Hola” and getting an equal eye contact with a smile and an equal response of “buenas” or “adios.” I still do the greeting and smile, just not as often. Everything is not as fresh as when we first arrived. My perspective is somewhat different.
Jimmy and I have traveled all over this country, just to see if this is where we are retiring, looking for the “just right” place for us. And in doing so, we have a knowledge of the country — the people, the legal system, infrastructure, housing, language — which all can become complicated as we have found. We had no problem with our purchase of an automobile. We asked a local Tico to help (which I highly recommend). We have been most fortunate in finding rentals, and there is a multitude of purchasing possibilities for houses available of every kind and/or price, which we have discovered.
We have decided to move back to the States. We are “purchasers” of property. Renting just doesn’t seem to be in our future. We tend to change the place where we live to fit our likes and dislikes. Since I don’t have a strong desire to learn the language, buying a property here in Costa Rica is not an option. And…I think I’m just ready to be back in the States.
This has been an incredible adventure and I am thankful to have had this opportunity. We will probably come back to visit. We know many people to visit, and will be welcome to come back.”
Reprint. Originally published April 2, 2013.
Recently, after one of our 5-hour San Ramón tours, our client, Steve F. said that we were not balanced enough, that we tried to sell Costa Rica and San Ramón. Granted, it wasn’t our usual tour since the only time they had available was a Sunday, so almost everything was closed. But still we had an opportunity to hook up with George Lundquist’s Costa Rica Retire on Social Security tour group for three stops. At one stop, we listened to a presentation by Mike Styles of the Community Action Alliance regarding volunteering, integration, and community involvement. At the time, it seemed like a good tour to me. And I thought that, over time, we had written about many negatives of Costa Rica – crime, inflation, etc. It isn’t our fault we love it here and want to spread the joy. But these folks were referred to us and they weren’t readers of our website, they didn’t know us. So, his comments got me to thinking. What are the negatives for some people about Costa Rica and San Ramón? Here are a few I’ve come up with:
- Costa Rica is expensive – certainly, it’s the most expensive country in Central American and one of the most expensive in Latin America (though we still save 30% over our U.S. cost of living).
- Crime Rate – It’s true, the law is weak and they often let lawbreakers off the hook (however the murder rate has been dropping, only 8.7% per 100,000 in 2012). Costa Rica is the #1 country in the Western Hemisphere, per capita, for robberies (at least they’re number one in something).
- The roads aren’t as good as other countries, including Nicaragua and Panama. True, but the infrastructure, roads included, has improved a lot during the 4 years we’ve been here.
- The towns aren’t cobble-stoned or Colonial looking.
- It’s not different enough, with little indigenous influence like Mexico and Ecuador.
- It’s not paradise (gosh, I hate that word).
- They speak another language, and I might have to learn some. It’s not like Belize which is English-speaking.
- Gas is over $5 per gallon and rising.
- Less is not more – no matter how you sugar-coat it.
- The bureaucracy will drive you crazy. They do things differently down here.
- The people here can’t think out of the box – no wonder Costa Rica is a third world country.
- Everything is substandard compared to the U.S. Can’t they do anything right?
- It’s too cool in San Ramón – this isn’t “spring-like weather” where I come from.
- There are too many Ticos in San Ramón and not enough expats.
- Hey, where are the zip lines and waterfalls?
- Where are all the expat hangouts?
- There’s no beach here, and where’s the air conditioning?
There you have it, many of the reasons you should consider elsewhere. I sincerely hope this clarifies your point Steve F. You’re right. I’ll be more balanced from now on…but I still love it here.
by Gayle Sommers
Coffee is an interesting thing here in Costa Rica. Like apples in WA State, the best coffee is exported, but there’s still a lot available, from many locations around the area…I’ve experimented with a number of different brands, probably trying out at least 15 different kinds, but still barely scratching the surface. Our local coffee processor, Café Altura, probably has close to that number of brands itself. Unlike my husband, Paul, who only drinks decaffeinated coffee (and prefers the extremely expensive coffee from Starbucks, thank you very much), I like my coffee leaded, and have a cup or two in the morning.
Early on, I bought one of those drip coffeemakers, the kind where the coffee goes into a disposable paper filter and the water into a well, and then the water, after it gets hot, begins dripping through the coffee grounds and into the glass carafe below. It makes perfectly fine coffee and has been great when we have had neighbors over for coffee, though with a “5 cup” capacity, if there are more than three people or (horrors!) if anyone actually wants a second cup, it has to be refilled (and refilled again), while we wait for the coffee to brew.
Here in coffee country, I wanted something better. Costa Rica has a contraption that is unique to CR, a chorreador which consists of a stand with a metal wire and a loop on top, into which a fabric sock fits (not to be confused with a chorreada, which is something else entirely!) The fabric sock also has a wire built in so only the fabric sock goes through the chorreador’s ring and hangs down. The coffee grounds go into the sock, the cup (already filled with sugar and hot milk to taste) is placed below, and the hot water is slowly poured through the grounds and coffee trickles out below…
Once the coffee is ready, the sock is rinsed out — never allow soap to touch it! — and allowed to air dry. I like coffee made from my chorreador and think it’s better than from the drip coffeemaker. It seems a bit richer and smoother.
Note: a chorreada is a pancake made from pureed fresh corn and maybe a little milk…and fried in a skillet until golden. Not a bit like a chorreador!
We got a lot of feedback about last month’s Special Integration Issue. We though we’d share a couple of them with you:
Just wanted to let ya’ll know that I really enjoyed month’s newsletter. Especially the ideas on integration and the article by Ana on the funeral proceedings for her neighbor. When I lived in San Jose last year for 3 months, my Tica “mom” had her mother pass away and she did much of this although they did the 9 day novema inside a church. I went to the final novena.
It is always great to read your gentle encouragement for Gringos to begin to learn the language and customs since they are now presumably living here and truthfully, although I don’t know the numbers, I don’t think that many of them are in Gringo “enclaves” like Escazu. Therefore, their lives – as you said – would be greatly enhanced by learning a bit on how to integrate in the Tico culture.
Keep up the good work.
See ya soon,
Hi Paul & Gloria,
I follow your website from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Natalie and I just returned from a Panama Canal cruise and we spent a wonderful day in Costa Rica. We deliberately chose an eight hour day excursion called “Discover Costa Rica.” We had a wonderful guide who spoke excellent English and had great knowledge and insight into the country and it’s culture. We passed by San Ramon on our way to a coffee plantation and travelled the newer highway that joins San Jose to Puntarenas.
You live in a beautiful country and I admire the decision you have made to relocate and integrate. I don’t see us relocating but I would love to snowbird at least one winter.
A note to Paul the meteorologist. Our guide said it would start raining at 2:00 pm. Sure enough, it poured and we were the only ones with rain coats. Your blog prepared us well. I will be following how the soccer team does at World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
In the spirit of including the not-so-positive mail as well, we also received am email that pointed out that we misspelled the country of Colombia not one, but three times, in our article “Integration 101: Being Bien Educado.” We have corrected our typos and hope that we did not cause anyone to visit Columbia, Maryland instead of the country of Colombia.
You’ll notice that we are now showing rainfall and temperatures for three towns in Costa Rica and in a format that makes it easier to compare the data. Do you track the weather data for your town in Costa Rica? If so, we’d like to talk to you about including it in our monthly report.
You can still click on the map to the right to enlarge it and check out the average rainfall for the towns you are interested in. Remember that the areas shaded in darker blue tend to be higher and also the places most expats choose to live.
Paul’s San Ramón Observations, Facts, & Tidbits:
- “This is the first month since we’ve been in Costa Rica (over 4 1/2 years) that it has rained every day! We had a total of 31.6 inches of rain in October, and that makes last month our rainiest month ever.
- We’re coming into our coolest time of the year (November and December) as the sun goes south toward the Tropic of Capricorn, at 21.5 degrees on December 21st, before heading north again.
- Interestingly, our winter (May to November) ends when the rainy season, sometimes called the “green season,” ends. Rainy season mornings have been mostly clear and beautiful this October. We could easily see Puntarenas, the Gulf of Nicoya, and the Nicoya Peninsula (over 25 miles away) from our house.”
Lance’s Atenas Observations, Facts, & Tidbits:
- “Over half the total rainfall occurred on six separate days. The remainder was spread out over the month with many days of little or no rain.
- The sun appeared for a period of time on all or almost all days with rain. This is in contrast to the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. (e.g. Seattle) or the West Coast of Canada (e.g. Vancouver) where, when it begins to rain at any time in October, November to March or April, the sun may not shine for several days (with or without rain). The autumn/winter Northwest-West Coast rains are often a boring drizzle – but better than sub-zero temperatures in the minds of many – including ourselves. In Vancouver, we never had a problem with the autumn/winter rainy climate. But, some of our friends did. They found the continuous cloudiness and rain during the winter to be depressing.
- Being from the West Coast, we are conditioned to rain. We like the rain which occurs during the rainy or “green” season in Costa Rica because it is not as overbearing as the West Coast. Also, it is a break from the boring “dry” season which occurs in Costa Rica. The occasional downpours which happen over a an hour or so during the “green” season are fun to experience.”
- Population of the Canton de Tilarán: 20,000
- Population of the Distrito de (Nuevo) Arenal: 4,000
- Driving time from Nuevo Arenal to Tilarán: 30 minutes
- Lake Arenal is 20 miles long.
- Normal rainfall for the Nuevo Arenal area (the north side of the lake): between 160-200 inches per year
- My wife, Cathy, and I have lived at Lake Arenal for over 22 years and we started our B & B, Chalet Nicholas, in 1992.
Meteorology has been Paul’s lifelong hobby. As a child, he devoured books about the weather and earth sciences vigorously. Later, he took a few college courses in meteorology, and still later, he served as a meteorologist for the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Now, Paul gets to practice his avocation in Costa Rica, albeit on a very small scale with just temperature and rainfall data, probably the two most important factors regarding the weather. He wanted to include weather info on our website to help people decide where to live, although weather is just one of many factors to consider in determining where to relocate. Current weather data is from our current home at about 3,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón. Weather data prior to December 2012 is from our previous home at about 4,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón.
Our Atenas Weatherman, Lance Turlock
Lance and his wife, Diana, moved to Costa Rica about 2 years ago after living 30+ years in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (Vancouver and environs). They live in the Central Valley near the town of Atenas and are at an elevation of about 2700 feet. They have no need for air conditioning or heating. Overnight low temperatures are comfortably cool (low 60’s). Daytime highs can be relatively hot (high 80’s, low 90’s), but rarely uncomfortably hot.Lance started to keep track of daily temperatures and rainfall in order to have factual ammunition to help disabuse friends, relatives and acquaintances of any misconception that the weather must be like that of a tropical jungle.
After many visits to Costa Rica, John and Cathy Nicholas moved from New York to Costa Rica in 1991. They chose Arenal for its sacred, majestic beauty, its lush wildlife, its relaxing lifestyle, and its proximity to activities and sites such as the Volcano Arenal and the beaches. They own the B&B, Chalet Nicholas, which has been in operation since 1992. Temperatures and rainfall are measured at Chalet Nicholas which is located at approximately 2,200 ft. elevation and 1 mile west of the town of Nuevo Arenal.
We will 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
- 15 Days
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Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- Integration – The Path to New Adventures
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- Integration 101: Being Bien Educado
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- Questions and Answers: Converting Money Into Colones
- An Easy Way to Integrate and Meet People in Your Community
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Save Thousands on Private Medical Care
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