Jan 24 2013

Reflections on Five Years Living in Costa Rica

by Connie Sandlin

After visiting Costa Rica several times since 2006, Connie and Dick Sandlin made the move to try living here for 2 ½ months in mid-May 2008…and they never looked back. The March before their move, they wrote an email to family and friends to share their big news. Now, nearly 5 years later, they’ve revisited this email to examine how reality stacks up to their expectations at the time. Thanks to them both for allowing us to reprint this in our newsletter. Their 2008 email contents are in normal text and the follow-up comments 5 years later in December 2012 are in bold italics.

Connie and Dick

Dick and I will be spending part of the summer in Costa Rica. This summer stay will be a ‘tryout’ in anticipation of a possible move. We’ve been asked: “So, why are you considering moving to Costa Rica?”

The cost of living and medical care have a lot to do with it. It’s much, much cheaper to live in Costa Rica, and in fact it’s possible to live well on income from Social Security alone (depending on one’s idea of living “well”.  The cost of everything is going up here, as it is pretty much everywhere.) Currently, private pay horrible health care insurance and prescription costs are eating us alive (Blue Cross Blue Shield-Texas Health Risk Pool and no dental). Dick’s not going to be old enough for Medicare for 2 1/2 more years and I’m several years behind him.  (Dick is now old enough for Medicare but we declined Part B, avoiding a chunk being taken out of his monthly check.)

We will apply for, and hopefully obtain, ‘pensionado‘ residency status. (This will not involve losing our US citizenship. Many are surprised to learn that you can now hold dual or triple citizenships while still being a US citizen.) When we get residency status, we’ll be eligible to apply for the national health insurance, which will cost us about $31 a month for BOTH of us, instead of $1500 a month. Even if we choose to pay privately in Costa Rica from time to time, it will cost us maybe 1/8 to 1/6 of what health care costs in the USA. Utilities in Costa Rica typically cost about $25 per month.  (Having done my homework/due diligence, I had all our paperwork duly notarized and in hand when we arrived in Puriscal on May 15, 2008.  We met with the residency attorney two weeks later and initiated the process.  Once we were notified that we were being approved, we applied for participation in the national health care system (nicknamed the CAJA) and now pay monthly premiums of about $68 that cover both of us for virtually everything – doctor visits, prophylactic dentistry, prescriptions, lab work, emergency care, etc., etc., with NO co-pays and NO deductibles).
But there are many, many more reasons:

  • The Costa Rican people are kind and gentle. They look you in the eye and say ¡Buenas! or ¡Hola! I like that. If we behave that way in the city these days, we’re considered a little odd. There, if you don’t stop and socialize at little, you’d be a little odd, or considered ‘stand-offish’.   (Ticos are still friendly and extremely helpful.  I love that!)
  • Nature is abundant and generous. The Ticos (as Costa Ricans call themselves) cut branches off trees at the new moon and push them in the ground. Due to abundant rain, the sticks start growing into trees within 2 weeks. One papaya tree that was pointed out to us had come up on its own a year before and grew 40 feet in one year. Fresh fruit is plentiful and cheap, and the Tico diet is very healthy.  (Still true, but more American fast food chains are encroaching here.)
  • The country is 92% Christian (75% Roman Catholic).  (Still true and very suited to our beliefs. Attending Mass in our community has really helped us be assimilated.)
  • The longevity rate is one of the highest in the world.  (Still true.)
  • Ticos are relaxed in their lives and dislike confrontation. I want some of that to rub off on us, especially me. (Dick’s much nicer than I am.) Dick and I are still very much in love after 36 [40] years, but we bicker too much, even so. I want a chance to immerse myself in a culture that isn’t so anxious and rushed, and allow it to smooth out some of my rough edges, to make me kinder and gentler, and less afraid of people. (I have shyness and fear issues.)  (We bicker less and are more relaxed.  I think living here is improving my character and I am less shy and fearful than I used to be.  I have also been working on being more hospitable and usually, but not always, succeed in that, too.)
  • The literacy rate is one of the highest in the world.  (Still true. I find Ticos to be very well informed, but a big difference in cultures is that most Ticos are not avid readers in the way that many North Americans are.)

    The driveway to Connie & Dick's house

  • Costa Rica is politically neutral, like Switzerland, and has no standing army. Instead of spending money on military, money is put into health care and education. (Still true but some money gets wasted either through inefficiencies or, sometimes, corruption. But nobody’s aiming terrorist threats at Costa Rica, THANK GOD.)
  • The gringos/expatriates who already live there are very welcoming to others coming to try the Costa Rican life. I’ve already been offered good advice and referrals for great physicians. And a lot of the gringos seem to come from Dallas/the Metroplex. (By the way, ‘gringos’ is not a pejorative term in Costa Rica.)  (Well, some Ticos have told me that “gringos” is less polite than “norteamericanos” (North Americans).  Also, we have both Gringo and Tico friends here.)
  • The country is the approximate size of West Virginia, with much of it being mountainous.  (Still true – not flat like Dallas!)
  • Even though it’s close to the equator (between 9 to 11 degrees north of the equator), it’s possible to find microclimates to almost anyone’s taste – just go higher or lower on the mountainside. Much of the country experiences perpetual spring temperatures in the 70s. If you like it hot, just go to the beach – Pacific or Caribbean.  (Our temperatures are usually in the 60s-70s, occasionally up into the 80s briefly.  We neither have nor need air conditioning nor heating.)
  • 25% of the country is set aside for national parks/nature preserves. (Still true.)
  • Birds, birds, birds, birds, birds, butterflies, orchids, birds, flowering trees, bromeliads, birds, frogs, interesting insects, birds, rainbows, clear springs, volcanoes, mountains, rain forest, birds, birds, and did I mention birds?  (Birding and being members of the Birding Club of Costa Rica has taken us to parts of Costa Rica we might not otherwise have visited.)
  • I studied Spanish for 3 years in high school and I minored in Spanish at UT Arlington. I planned to live in Guanajuato, Mexico for the summer of 1972 to become very fluent, but instead I married Dick that summer. Now, I can really get intensive Spanish experience! (I think learning Spanish will be very easy for Dick because of his linguistic aptitude. Ask him about the Air Force sending him to Russian language school in the 60s, if you don’t already know about his languages.) I found on our last trip that the Ticos like to speak English (and learn from me) and were gracious in helping me with my Spanish. They’d speak English, and I’d speak Spanish. It was win-win.  (My Spanish is improving to the point where sometimes I’d rather speak Spanish than English to express myself and Dick’s Spanish continues to come along. I’m finally getting my ‘foreign exchange’ experience!)
  • I think all the new things we’ll learn, people we’ll meet, and the challenges we’ll encounter will stimulate our minds.  (Yes, our minds and souls are being stimulated, which is good exercise for older brains!)

    Preparing for feast day of Santiago

  • Our kids are grown and married, we don’t have any grandchildren yet (and don’t expect any for a couple of years or so), we have very little debt, and we still have some savings that haven’t hemorrhaged completely away due to medical costs quite yet. (Some changes here, but we made the move at the right time.)

The downsides:

  • Missing our relatives, friends, and St. Francis family – HUGE. (Still true.)
  • Culture shock. (Has mostly been overcome for us.)
  • Driving can be hazardous.  (Still true, but we’ve adapted.)
  • You can’t drive very fast due to low speed limits and winding roads (a downside for Dick, just great with me.)  (Still true and I love it.)
  • Starting virtually from scratch.  (Actually, this was an upside – leaving our “baggage” behind, mostly.)
  • The work to just get it all together, if we actually move.  (We did it.)

Connie and Dick's rental house

After our tryout, if we decide to live in Costa Rica, at least for a while, our plan is to have a rental agent handle the leasing of our home, providing us income and a place to come back to. We don’t anticipate selling our home here, but that is a future possibility.  (We would like to sell our home on Bowman Blvd if we can get the price we need and buy this house here, hopefully in 2013.) And we plan to find a place big enough to have guests!  (And we do have a place that’s big enough for guests – 2 guest rooms!)

So, there it is. That’s why we did it and how it’s turned out up to now.   Pulling up stakes suddenly and moving to another country is not for everyone, even if it is to Costa Rica, but it’s worked out GREAT for us!

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