Nov 27 2013

Newsletter – November 28, 2013

Welcome to our Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:

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“To all of our readers who celebrate Thanksgiving  — or as it is called in Spanish, Día de Acción de Gracias — we wish you a day full of love, gratitude, joy, and, of course, great food. Though Thanksgiving Day isn’t observed in Costa Rica, we will be celebrating the day with about 35 others, both Ticos and Gringos, sharing a meal that we have all taken part in preparing. We wish you blessings for the coming holiday season.” 

Paul & Gloria



Our October 2013 Cost of Living

We had a great month in October, coming in significantly below our $2,000 monthly budget. Just about everything was in line with or below our averages. A low month like October makes up for those months we spend more than our budget.

We spent more in groceries for some reason. Looking back, we didn’t have a big shopping trip to AutoMercado or PriceSmart. It looks like we just bought groceries more frequently. Did we entertain more in October? I don’t think so. Maybe we were just hungrier than usual? Who knows? And, in the same month, we spent more on meals out as well. We did go to an Octoberfest celebration, but that wasn’t expensive. Once again, maybe we were just hungry.

Our transportation expenses were actually lower than usual, with no extra fees — no insurance payments or car repairs — just gas, parking, and tolls for the most part.

As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months:














Related Articles:

Healthcare Expenses: A Budget Breakdown

In the month of October 2013, we spent $149.83 on healthcare. This is below our 2012 monthly average for healthcare of $173.22. Naturally, a large part of this amount is our monthly CCSS (Caja) health insurance. Here’s how our October healthcare expenses break down:

  • Caja: $52.05 for both of us (see note below)
  • Supplements: $35.78 (vitamins & minerals, Chanca Piedra (for Paul’s kidney stones), and CoQ10 (to prevent Gloria’s migraines). By the way, a “macrobiotica” is what we would refer to as a health food store.
  • Monthly prescriptions not available in the Caja: $62.00

While our monthly Caja payment is low, new expats joining the Caja can expect their monthly payments to be based on 9-13% of their declared income for residency purposes. Because we moved here before the new immigration law of March 2010 was passed, we entered the country when only $600 per month per couple was required through Social Security, a pension, or other source of guaranteed income. At the time, my Social Security was $922 and it’s still under $1,000 today. We encourage people who have more than one pension or social security check to declare the lowest one that’s at least $1,000. This will keep your monthly Caja payment as low as possible.

What also would be included in this category would be dental expenses, and other medications and tests not covered under the Caja. You can read some of the related articles below for specific prices we’ve paid for various medical procedures and tests over the last couple of years. Like many Costa Ricans, we use a combination of both the private and public medical systems, although the Caja is always our first option for healthcare. We see a doctor at our local EBAIS (community medical clinic), Gloria had surgery in the Caja; she has had physical therapy in the Caja (for sciatica); and we’ve used the emergency room a total of four times over the years. Additionally, we have had Ultrasounds, mammograms and other X-Rays, and lab work, all through the Caja and at no charge. However we would not hesitate to use the private system if it would speed the process up or we want a second opinion. Sometimes a $74 out of pocket ultrasound can save you months of waiting, since private testing can often secure results in one day and give you the documentation you may need to see a specialist within the Caja.

In the past months, we’ve also broken down the following:

Coming up next: a breakdown of our pet-related expenses.

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Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: How to Save on Your Electric Bill

Click to enlarge.

As you can see from our most recent electric bill, we paid ¢25,597 colones (about $51.60 USD) for electricity for the period of September 26th to October 26th, 2013 (30 days). This was one of the rainiest periods of this year’s rainy season. When you look closer at the graph on our ICE bill, you will see that, in both April and May, we used under 200 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month, and during the months of the rainy season (June through October), we used over 200 kWh per month.

Our electricity bill has been as low as $26 and as high as $62 (August 2013). One thing I want to be sure to mention is that we use propane for both cooking and hot water. That’s a big reason our electricity bill is lower than some of our neighbors who have electric hot water heaters and/or stoves. But, of course, that means that we have the added expense of propane, which costs us about $21/month. If we used gas for just cooking and not hot water, propane for cooking would cost us about $7 per month.

In researching this article at ICE, we learned that the price break for residential electric usage is at 200 kWh per month. The first 200 kWh per month are charged at a rate of 76 colones per kWh. Any usage over 200 kWh per month is charged at a rate of 137 colones per kWh, plus taxes. By using less than 200 kWh, you not only save per kWh, you also don’t pay taxes which are waived. For us, this is a savings of about $3.

In the past, we have tried to do what we can to minimize our electricity expenses by running our clothes washer early in the morning or after dinner, and being even more conscientious about when we would run the dryer, only doing so when we were sure it was a off-peak hour. But after speaking with two different ICE representatives, we have learned that the time of day you use energy has no bearing on the cost unless you have a “smart meter.” Unfortunately, they are not available in most residential areas and are primarily used by businesses. But, where you live can impact your bill significantly, as different areas are charged different rates. We are lucky to live in an area that seems to have a fairly low rate per kWh.

I guess the lesson here is to try to use less than 200 kWh/month. How can you keep your kWh usage under 200? It’s simple. Use clothes dryers, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers as little as possible. The main reason our electricity bill goes up in the rainy season is that we use the clothes dryer when doing laundry instead of trying to hang clothes outside on the line. Since I’m the low-tech guy, I do many household chores like the laundry. It’s my responsibility to use the dryer as little as possible. Besides, hanging the clothes from December on is kind of a Zen thing that I really enjoy. Another of my rainy season habits also adds to our electric bill – we run our ceiling fans much of the time to keep the air circulating and mildew at bay. But, because we chose to live at a higher elevation (about 3,000 ft.), we never need air conditioning. Plus, we always wanted to live with our windows and doors open as much as possible, so dehumidifiers and air conditioners were out of the question for us.

One of the biggest reasons we came to Costa Rica was to “live outside.” This meant no need for air-conditioning or heat. We lived in Baltimore, Maryland before moving here and had high heating and air conditioning bills (over $300 per month during the winters). But it wasn’t just the expense – Gloria wanted to enjoy the outdoors. Back in Baltimore, we could rarely open our windows. Those days and nights when we could were a delight, but they were few and far between. We could go outside, but the mosquitoes and too-hot or too-cold temperatures prevented us from truly living in the fresh air. Read more…

Another tip, especially if you own your house, is to be sure that the electricity is properly grounded. We know folks whose house was built with the current improperly grounded, so much of the energy usage was wasted and their bill was higher than it needed to be.

Generally, I pay my electricity bill without challenging it. But because of preparing this money-saving tip, I took a hard look at the current bill and I noticed that the costs were not adding up. The bill appeared to be 470 colones off, a little less than $1. I already paid the bill a few days ago, in person, as we pay all of our bills, even though we could pay most of them online. It gets us out there in the community, interacting with people and using our Spanish.

So, I did what we all do. I called our local customer service number (which is printed on the face of the bill) and spoke with a wonderful representative, very patient and kind, I thought. When I told her it was only a 470 colones discrepancy, she said, “It may be a small amount, but you want to know the reason, right? She said she’ll call the main ICE office in San Jose and get back to me later in the day or tomorrow.

Interestingly, I did it all in Spanish, successfully no less. It was like getting a free Spanish lesson. Early on, I told the representative that my Spanish was so-so, especially on the telephone. She told me, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through it together.” How’s that for customer service? This is just one more impromptu interaction that keeps the adventure going for Gloria and me. We may have been here five years, but it’s a good example of why things are still new to us, and it happens almost every day.

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Donate to a Cause for Paws – Spay/Neuter Street Dogs In San Ramon, Costa Rica

We invite you to join us in donating to a good cause. Animal Welfare San Ramon, a committee of the Community Action Alliance, is creating a spay and neuter program for the homeless dog population of San Ramon, and will also provide preventive veterinary care and treat existing illness while the dogs are with us. Although this program is geared towards both male and female dogs, the main objective is to spay females in order to control the population growth. The program will also be geared toward getting females with litters off the streets; first into foster homes, and then into permanent homes.

We have been accepted into the Global Giving program on a trial basis. Global Giving is a charitable organization which provides fundraising help to non-profit groups throughout the world who are working to improve their communities. We are participating in a fundraising challenge starting November 25th and ending on December 31st. We have to raise $5,000 from 40 different people. If we meet that goal, then the Community Action Alliance will be accepted as a permanent partner of Global Giving, and will be able to create other projects of benefit to the San Ramon community.

For more information and to make a donation, see the flyer below. You can go directly to the project’s page on the Global Giving website by clicking on the “Donate” button or the URL at the bottom of the flyer. You can also download the flyer by clicking the “Download” link below.

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When in Rome, First Check Things Out

by Jo Stuart

Some people are under the impression that I am an authority on Costa Rica. Anyone who has to make eight visits to Immigration to renew a cédula is no expert. (When I use the word cédula, I actually am referring to the ID card we are given as residents and that is also called a carné.) When it comes to Costa Rica, I paraphrase that popular disclaimer, “I don’t know much about this country, but I know what I like.” I think that is what people who are considering coming here — especially to live — should think about. What do I like? What is important to me?

Like anywhere in the world, if you have lots of money, you can live here very comfortably, pretty much on your own terms. But you still have values, and a world view and an expectation of people, and it’s nice to be in an environment where these are compatible. Often it is the little things that make or unmake your contentment.

I knew there were certain things I wanted in order to be comfortable. I wanted to live where bougainvillea grew (a warm climate); I wanted to be able to drink the water and flush a toilet; I wanted access to some of the things I love — music and theater and good restaurants. I wanted good public transportation because I did not want to own a car — or anything, for that matter.

On a deeper level, I wanted to experience living in a country without an army; without the idea that war is a solution. (Fighting wars are what armies are for.) Not having an army affects the psyche of a people, just as having one does. I come from the United States, where “winning is everything” is a value…Here in Costa Rica, it is the morality of war that the people are concerned with, not winning. Except for soccer and politics, having a winner and a loser is not how Ticos think. They want win-win situations. That is one reason they are so careful to avoid confrontations.”

From Butterfly in the City, page 90-91. Used with permission.

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In the Mailbag


We got a lot of feedback about our last issue, especially about our article, “Why Are People Leaving Costa Rica?” We thought we’d share some of the comments with you:


Hi, Gloria,

VERY well done article about why folks move back! Balanced, thorough, just well done all around.

I, for instance, am DELIGHTED that we spent those years [in Costa Rica.]! BUT, I do think that what we’re seeing is that the idea that it will be “forever” is not actually all that likely to be true for many (probably even “most”, i.e. more than 50%) folks as the years go by.

Part of what I thought you did so well in your article was to acknowledge that we simply DON’T KNOW what the future will bring and that coming back does NOT mean it was a mistake to move there. When folks like us — who clearly really loved it there and weren’t “unhappy” at all — decide to come back, and SO many others who also seemed to “be happy there” do so as well, it’s clear that it’s simply impossible to “predict” how one will feel about it as the years go by.

And I think that’s JUST FINE — after all, I’m not sure why we all tend to imbue the move with this heavy “it’s forever” layer, and I think that folks *might* make some better decisions if they came with a more realistic idea that it *might* be forever, but it sure might well NOT, and that doesn’t discount the value of making the move, or invalidate the idea, or anything like that. ;-)”

Arden Brink

Note: Arden is working on a new book called, “Reality Check” about her family’s move to Costa Rica and the subsequent move back to the U.S. five years later. We’ll give you more information about it as soon as the book is published.

On why people leave Costa Rica is excellent; thorough, covering all the points I can think of and interesting. And the point about personal reasons….grandchildren…well taken.

Nicely done!

Culture shock can happen in the first months or years. I remember one time when I decided I hated everything…the Spanish language as spoken by Ticos, the long lines, the dirty streets (since then cleaned up considerably and the lines at the bank are shorter) and the noise, not to mention my apartment and landlord. A really nice lunch at Tin Jo’s with fresh vegetables calmed me down. But reverse culture shock is real and it can happen when you return to your home country. I went though that for years after returning to the States from Majorca!

Thanks for doing such a good job.”

Jo Stuart


Hi folks.

We are the Churchills that stayed at the cabinas for a month last winter. Some of the issues you addressed in your November newsletter are so true, we loved our stay in San Ramon and having rented a car for that month we were able to explore the country. We planned on returning this year for a longer stay, but my 88 year old mother broke her hip so our plans have changed and we are looking after her as we should be. Hopefully in the future we will be able to return. In the mean time we will live vicariously thorough your newsletters.

Our Best, Sue & Bruce.”

And the conversation continued on facebook:

Good comments, Gloria & Paul! I was one of the ones who has been shocked (SHOCKED, I say!) to hear that SO many of the great folks we met while we were in Costa Rica have been moving back to the States. After speaking with some of you other expats, plus reading the article, I have a better understanding of the situation(s). At this point in my life, I cannot wait to get there & relax a bit, get involved in animal welfare, and retire from the very stressful & hectic occupation of nursing (which I do love!)! But who knows what the future holds?”

Shirley Anderson

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