Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!
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?”
- Our August 2013 Cost of Living
- Rent, Phone, & Utilities: A Budget Breakdown
- Live in Costa Rica? Save up to 25% on Spanish Lessons at CPI
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Save Thousands on Private Medical Care
- An Easy Way to Meet People in Your Community, by Tom Bunker
- Paul’s & Lance’s Monthly Weather Report for San Ramon & Atenas – August 2013
- How to Get Health Care if You Retire Abroad, by Sandra Block for Kiplinger
Our monthly update to answer the #1 question we get…“What do you DO all day?”
It’s been a little over a month since our last update and we haven’t stopped going. We’ve visited with neighbors, met and shared meals with lots of folks who have contacted us through our website or as a result of our speaking at International Living conferences, and even had a long phone conversation with a man in Hawaii who is considering relocating to Costa Rica. Paul has done tours with some of these folks, as well as airport runs. We’ve hosted dinners at our house for some new friends and some old friends.
But more than anything, these past 30 days or so have been defined by being a busy festival time here in San Ramón and we’ve tried to take part in as much of it as possible. The celebrations began in mid-August with the annual Festejos Patronales which last over two weeks but the preparations begin over a month prior. In the heart of town, food booths, called ranchos, are built surrounding the central park and around the church, along with tents selling arts and crafts, plants, and face painting for the kids.
The highlight of the parade is the Entrada de los Santos parade through the town, led by our town’s patron saint,San Ramón Nonato. Here’s a video we made of the Entrada de los Santos in 2012:
This year, we paid special attention to the patron saint for our “new-home-town” of Magallenas, carried in the parade by our neighbors from Magallenas and Calle León, including friends Oscar and Alexa (right).
The next big event was the Desfile de Boyeros (Oxcart Parade), just two days later. This year we were both able to get up-close-and-personal with the boyes (oxen) as you will see from a couple of photos in this year’s video (starting at the 2:32 point…yes, that’s me looking silly wearing the farmer’s hat…his idea, not mine).
It seemed that the fiesta of the patron saints was no sooner over, that it was time to celebrate Costa Rica’s Independence Day on September 15th.
Wherever we went in Costa Rica the whole month of September, homes and businesses were flying the colors – blue, white, and red – of the Costa Rican flag. This is a photo (right) from the balcony of CPI, our language school. The festivities began the evening prior with a parade of faroles (lanterns) to symbolize the messengers and the singing of national songs.
More recently, both Paul and I had to take some mandatory time off due to health concerns. Nothing terrible though. Paul aggravated an old knee injury when he was on one of his morning walks in our hilly neighborhood. So for him, it was RICE – rest, ice packs, compression, and elevation. My turn came a bit later with a stomach virus on of all days, Paul’s birthday. So our plans for celebration were put on hold for a bit and for me it was “FIA” – fasting, ice packs (to get the fever down) and acetaminophen. But we’re both on the mend and looking forward to…
Our next adventure…a trip to Las Vegas! It will be Paul’s first time back to the U.S. — not that Las Vegas will give us any idea of real life back in the States…but at least it has a Trader Joe’s! International Living is flying us out for their Fast-Track Your Retirement Overseas Conference at the beautiful Red Rock Resort. While we won’t be speaking this time, we will be available to talk to the 830 attendees in the exhibit hall, many of whom are interested in Costa Rica as a retirement destination. We’ll tell you all about it next newsletter.
August was pretty much on target, as our living expenses were $1976.24. Though we still had family visiting for the first week of August, we stayed pretty close to home and they chipped in with meals and even a tank of gas. But we did spend a bit more on “meals out” than during more normal months and groceries were a tiny bit higher.
There were two other noteworthy items last month. The first was for some minor car maintenance — new brake pads, a tune up, and an oil change — which cost a total of $107.51. (Did I mention, we have a really good mechanic?)
The second item was higher overall spending in the healthcare catetegory. This was due to Paul’s knee injury which required an ultrasound ($75) and a new. one-time prescription ($45) in addition to our normal Caja payment and other prescriptions not covered by the Caja.
I have to say that it is getting harder and harder to live on less than $2,000. It will be interesting to see what our monthly average for 2013 will be. So far, for the first eight months of the year, we are averaging $1,991.91 per month, however that does include our vacation to Mexico.
As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months:
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Save on Car Repairs
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Vacation the Retire for Less Way!
Many people have asked us about our rent/phone/utilities category and how it breaks down. We are, on average, spending about $150 more per month in this category than we did while living at the cabinas. We may include expenses in this category that you normally wouldn’t but it works for us. So here is how it shakes out:
Rent and water are pretty self-explanatory. Our electricity bill varies with the seasons. We pay more in the rainy season because we run the ceiling fans to keep the air flow up and the mildew down. We also use the clothes dryer, albeit in the evenings and early mornings when the rates are lower (though Paul is always trying to time laundry days with hopefully sunny mornings so he can hang things out instead of using the dryer).
Our Internet is a fixed monthly fee for about $62/month, with the exact amount depending on the exchange rate. We have a standard wireless package through CR WiFi, which offers 2M down and 1M up. We’ve been pretty pleased and consider this a necessary expense because of our website.
We use propane gas for both cooking and hot water. I’d say we average about one and a half tanks per month at about $16/tank. We do laundry in cold water, so that keeps the expense down somewhat. In August, we bought two tanks.
Our home alarm service has two costs — the monthly monitoring fee of 15,000 colones (about $30) and, since we don’t have a land line, an additional “phone chip” to contact the alarm company in the event of the alarm being set off. The “chip” costs just under $7/month.
Our one splurge, and one for which we are extremely grateful, is having our house cleaned. Our housekeeper comes for four hour every week and cleans the floors, bathrooms, kitchen, and any any odd jobs we might have for her. She’s wonderful and well worth the 1,500 colones/$3.00 per hour which is the going rate where we live. But you may wonder why we include housekeeping in this category. It’s because where we lived before at the cabinas, weekly housekeeping was included in the “all-inclusive” monthly rent. It makes it easier to compare by keeping this expense in this category.
The last item in this category is our phone service. It actually includes three things: Paul’s monthly phone plan which rises or falls based on the number of minutes he talks, my “pay as you go” sim card which costs about 1,000 colones/month (about $2), and our Vonage VOIP phone line which costs about $29/month.
We hope that clears up how we are tracking our household expenses. I’d be curious to know what you pay for these same expenses where you live. Drop us a line and let us know.
- Our Costa Rica Food Budget Breakdown
- Our April 2013 Cost of Living and Our Transportation Budget Breakdown
- Meals Out – A Budget Breakdown
If you’ve been reading our newsletters, you know we’ve been taking Spanish lessons for a while now at CPI Immersion Spanish School in Heredia. After living in Costa Rica for four and a half years, we are still working at learning the Spanish language, poco a poco. And yes, sometimes I feel frustrated. And yes, I still struggle to conjugate verbs. But continuing to take classes has helped me immeasurably in both my confidence and my ability to speak and understand conversations with Ticos. Can I say everything I want to say? Not always. I still have to look up words or ask Paul, but I am so much better at communicating what I want, need, and feel, and it has added to my enjoyment of living here.
That being said, we have good news for those of you who are living in Costa Rica and want to improve your Spanish or even begin your study of the language. CPI offers a 25% discount to for residents of Costa Rica. So, if you are a legal resident, or are in the process of becoming a resident, you qualify for this discount. For more information, go to this link and fill out the contact form and someone from admissions will contact you.
If you are not living in Costa Rica and want lessons when you are visiting or even online, never fear. You qualify for the special 10% discount that CPI offers our readers. Again, just fill out the form at this link to contact the admissions department.
Esperamos que usted tome ventaja de esta oportunidad de hablar español y ahorrar dinero. (We hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity to speak Spanish and save money.)
- CPI Immersion Spanish School – Choose the Best!
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Speak Spanish-Save Money
- CPI, For a Great “Spanish” Vacation
- CPI’s New Online Spanish Classes
A great way to save thousands of dollars on a trip to Costa Rica is to come for some medical tourism, but you don’t need to go to San Jose or Escazu for care. In our town, San Ramon, we have medical tourism too, but we don’t call it that. We just call it a good deal. Here in San Ramon we have GM Medical Center. Staffed by a team of highly professional doctors, dentists, and surgeons, GM Medical offers excellent care at great prices.
Our readers, the Bakers, went to GM Medical for some tests that would have been prohibitively expensive back in the States. Here’s what they experienced:
Now as for the medical side of things, we were very impressed. We had absolutely no qualms about seeing doctors in a foreign country, and we totally trusted Paul and Gloria’s recommendations. Living on Social Security, we can no longer afford health care in the US. We first saw Dra. Maria Hernandez, general practitioner at Grupo Medal, and met her husband Johann who runs the business end. Dra. Hernandez was very accommodating. She made it a point to see us at 7:00 a.m. due to a medical commitment in San Jose where she spent the rest of the day. She examined both of us and spent an hour of her time discussing our issues and charged us a mere $60.00 with three FREE follow-up visits – unheard of back in the US! She changed my husband’s sleep medicine which has made quite an improvement, and she also referred him to a local gastroenterologist for further evaluation of stomach problems. When we left, she gave us a reassuring hug and kiss on the cheek and we reciprocated.
Dr. Sergio, the gastroenterologist, performed a gastroscopy and colonoscopy with three biopsies for a grand total of $560.00 including a FREE follow-up consultation – again unheard of in the US! It would have cost us at least four times as much here. Dr. Sergio’s office is new and immaculate with the latest state-of-the-art equipment. I watched both procedures on a flat screen TV, no different than here in the US. The biggest and most important difference is that these doctors have a genuine concern for their patients and will take time to listen. Dr. Sergio reassured us several times to go back home and not worry. Everything has been taken care of. That is peace of mind! We will not hesitate to use either one of these doctors again. Oh yes, Dr. Sergio and I both have family in Toronto and he is a big Bluejays fan. Our nephew is a pitcher for the team. That just raised the comfort level up a notch.”
Diane & Kyle Baker
One of the reasons people have a high comfort factor at GM Medical is that several of the staff speak English. So it’s a great place to go for medical care for those English-speaking expats who live in the area and either aren’t yet in the Caja, who don’t know enough Spanish to feel comfortable with a Spanish-speaking doctor, or who just want a second opinion. Our neighbors, the Gawenkas, have gone to GM Medical on several occasions:
Dra. Maria Hernandez is wonderful. There is at most a half hour wait to see her (the same day!) and her diagnoses have been right on. She provides meds from her trial supplies at no charge on the first visit, and the follow up visit is free as well. (The initial visit is only $50.) We have used her for our housekeeper who had advanced liver cancer, when Paul had a monkey bite (she inquired about the “poor monkey” and we all laughed), and when I bent over wrong and pulled out my back. She is a surgeon as well as a general practitioner. Her English is very good, and we love knowing she is always there.”
Michele and Paul Gawenka
So, if you’re coming for vacation and need a dentist or doctor, or are planning some medical tourism, consider contacting GM Medical Center at the following numbers: 2456-1212 / 2456-1213 . Their office hours are Monday through Friday from 9 am to 6 pm and Saturdays from 8 am to 12 noon.
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Visiting the Dentist
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Visiting the Dentist, Part 2
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Join the Caja, Costa Rica’s National Medical System
by Tom Bunker
Moving anywhere can be a huge undertaking. Moving to a different country with a different language and culture can make it just that much harder to get your bearings and put down new roots. Marcia and I found that the best way to meet a lot of people and get involved was to join the local “Grupo Adulto Mayor.” This is a program sponsored by the government to encourage seniors to remain active and healthy and participate in group events. The government site can be found at http://www.conapam.go.cr/. If you are retired, this could be right for you. If you are 30-somethings, it’s probably not for you.
Our group meets every Wednesday afternoon. We usually have about 25 people in at our meetings. Sometimes we have a speaker from the CAJA or CONAPAM, but usually we have our own agenda. Greetings are a major event, of course. You don’t just walk into a group and say, “Hola!” You must go to each individual and kiss the cheeks of the women and shake the hands of the men and ask them how they are.
Our meetings used to be very loosely structured, but in the last year they have followed a set routine. When the meeting comes to order, a prayer is given. That’s the only mention of religion in our group and none of the events are church-sponsored. Next we have a period of light exercise, a little moving around and stretching. Sometimes we will also play some silly game. At first these seemed a bit weird, but now I can’t stop laughing because they never go right. Everyone seems to be playing by a different set of rules and it’s like herding kittens.
Then we discuss upcoming events and plan outings. We have gone on several outings in the past 3 years. Our last one was to Cartago, where we had lunch and visited the Basilica and a huge rose grower. We often go to dances where one group will host one or more other groups. We sometimes take a day trip to a hotel or nature reserve.
We have always received a warm welcome from our group and find the same when we attend larger events. Everyone is always very friendly and happy to see us joining in fun. Don’t let any fear of your Spanish skills keep you away. If you ask around your community, I’m sure you will find a local group.
See if you can spot us in any of the photos.
After the veranillo (“little summer”) in July, the rainy season really kicked in for August in a big way, with almost 20 inches here on our mountain in San Ramón. On two days we received 4 inches and 3.25 inches respectively , which accounts for over 1/3 of the total. Plus two other days had over two inches of rain. We’ve come to realize that the Magallanes valley where we live at 3,000 ft. elevation really gets it. It may be a little warmer here but it’s definitely cloudy, foggy and/or rainy most afternoons in the rainy season. It’s still beautiful though. Most mornings are sunny and clear with spectacular views to the coast. From our house, we look down to the Gulf of Nicoya and Puntarenas and can see all the lights of Puntarenas at night.
Good weather is one of the big factors that expats desire. We compare San Ramón and Atenas every month so you can see the differences. Atenas is the more popular town of the two and purportedly has one of the best climates in the world. It’s definitely warmer and sunnier and gets less rain. We chose San Ramón for it’s cooler climate (and many other reasons).
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 August 2013:
- 19.3 inches of total rainfall on 18 days
- 1 day with 4 inches and 1 day with 3.25 inches
- 13 days measured trace amounts of rain or 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
- June – 14.9 inches
- July – 8.0 inches
- August – 19.3 inches
Total rainfall year-to-date: 57.4 inches
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.
- 6am average: 65.1°f (lowest reading was 62°f on 1 day)
- Mid-day average: 74.0°f (high of 78°f on 3 days & the lowest high of 72°f on 1 day)
- 6pm average: 68.1°f (lowest reading was 65.0°f on 1 day and highest was 70°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 August 2012 when we were living at 3,950 feet elevation, about 1,000 feet higher than we’re living now:
- 6am average: 62.4°f (lowest reading was 61°f on 6 days)
- Mid-day average: 73.7°f (high of 79°f on 1 day & the lowest high of 70°f on 1 day)
- 6pm average: 65.6°f (lowest reading was 64°f on 6 days and highest was 68°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 2760 feet:
Atenas Temperature data from August 1st to August 31st (31 days)
- Overnight lows (about 6am) Average: 65.7°f (lowest reading was 65.7°f & highest reading was 70.7°f)
- Daytime highs (about noon) Average: 82.1°f (highest reading was 87.8°f & lowest reading was 76.5°f)
- 13.5 inches of total rainfall over 16 days
- 15 days with no measurable rainfall
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
- 15 Days
by Sandra Block, September 12, 2013
A couple of months ago, we were interviewed by Sandra Block, a writer from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for an article she was writing on retiring overseas. We were quoted in that article, and since then, she’s written a follow-up piece on getting healthcare overseas which appeared originally in the Sun Sentinal (September 12, 2013 and was reprinted in Tropical Daily (September 21, 2013). We are reprinting the original article below. [Editor’s note: Monthly Caja payments are now based on 10-13% of the family’s guaranteed income as declared in their residency application, so they are usually a minimum of $110 to $130.]
Most expatriates say health care in other countries is cheaper, and often better, than it is in the United States. That’s a good thing, too, because Medicare doesn’t cover health care outside of the U.S.
You may be able to pay out of pocket for most of your medical care. In many countries, even a hospital stay costs a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S. Beaty Fomby, who lives in Costa Rica with her husband, Ed, recently spent two nights in a San Jose hospital for abdominal pains, and had a sonogram, x-rays and a CAT scan. Total cost: $3,500 — probably less than the cost of an emergency-room visit in the U.S., Ed says.
Some insurers, such as Aetna and Bupa International, provide health insurance policies for expats. An insurance broker who has experience with such policies can help you find one that will suit your needs. Once you’ve established residency, you may be eligible for the public health program in your adopted country.
Premiums tend to be low: Paul and Gloria Yeatman pay about $55 a month in premiums for Costa Rica’s government-run health insurance program.
The drawback to government-run programs is that you may have to wait a long time to get an appointment. Many expats get around this problem by using a combination of private and public insurance.
In Costa Rica, for example, you can get private insurance through the government-affiliated Instituto Nacional de Seguros. Annual premiums run about $2,000 for policyholders age 55 to 65.
In Spain, comprehensive private insurance for retirees from 55 to 60 ranges from $860 to $2,000 a year, according to International Living. For older retirees, premiums range from $1,560 to $3,000 a year.
Don’t ignore Medicare, because you’ll need it if you return to the U.S. If you sign up for Social Security benefits before you’re 65, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B when you become eligible. But should you decide to postpone claiming Social Security benefits past age 65, you still need to sign up for Medicare during the initial enrollment period, which covers the three months before you turn 65, the month you turn 65, and three months after that.
If you miss that window and enroll later, you’ll pay an additional 10 percent for premiums. The penalty applies for twice the number of years you were eligible but failed to sign up. (Look at our 10 Things You Must Know About Medicare slide show to learn more.)
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What’s New on the Website
Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- Our July 2013 Cost of Living
- Highlights of Costa Rica’s Residency Requirements AND a Discount on Residency Services
- Costa Rica in 1947
- Our June 2013 Cost of Living
- Costa Rica Climate: Incredibly Diverse and Tropical
- Cooking Class in Oaxaca Mexico – Muy Sabroso!
- CPI, For a Great “Spanish” Vacation
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Vacation the Retire for Less Way!
- Schedule for Mandatory New Costa Rican License Plates
- 9 Tips to Find Your “Perfect Place” in Costa Rica
- Why You Shouldn’t Move to Costa Rica