Aug 17 2015

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – August 17, 2015

Welcome to our Retire For Less In CostaRica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:


Our July 2015 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses


July was another big spending month for us. Though some of the categories were higher than normal, the biggest reason for the increase in spending was the costs involved in our legal residency process.

Residency – $246.00

Last September, we started the process to change our legal residency in Costa Rica from “temporary” status to “permanent.” At the time, it required an outlay of $400 USD ($200 per person) to get the process started. In July, we paid an additional $123 USD per person to finish up the process (2 payments of $98 and 2 payments of $25). Other expenses related to this included $13.99 postage to have our cédulas mailed to the correo (post office) in San Ramón, parking and tolls (about $20) for our two visits to Migración, and lunch both days (about $34), all of which have been included in their respective categories.

Groceries – $434.41

Our grocery budget was higher than our average for two reasons. The first is that we traveled the entire month of June, so when we came home in July, we needed to buy more than normal just to stock our kitchen. The other reason is that we made one of our infrequent trips to PriceSmart for things like big bags of chocolate chips and nuts, olive oil, and feta cheese. We also buy Fresh Step kitty litter there in 42 lb. bags, though that expense is included under “Pet Care.”

Health Care – $300.53

DentalInstruments2Dental care was the big reason for higher than normal health care expenses. Both Paul and I had dental cleanings and exams, and Paul also had bite-wing x-rays done. Here is the breakdown.

  • $75.61 – (2) Dental cleanings and exams: 20,000 colones each ($37.81 each)
  • $18.90 – Bite-wing x-rays: 10,000 colones

We also ordered some CoQ10 online which a friend brought us from the States. Two bottles cost us $32.88 total.

The other expenses in this category are our monthly Caja payment and prescription medications not available through the Caja.

Other Household – $24.57

One thing we’ve noticed about small appliances we’ve purchased here, in general, they don’t seem to last. (The exception is the food processor I bought at PriceSmart a couple of years ago.) But the toast won’t stay down in the toaster, the light that tells you if the coffee pot is on or off doesn’t work and its warming plate hangs down at an awkward angle.microwave

Those things, we just work around. But when the microwave “start button” stopped working, there was no work-around. Luckily, in Costa Rica, at least in our town of San Ramón, there are repairmen who fix small appliances. I was never a big fan of “just throw it away and get a new one,” so we have used this shop several times over the years. Paul brought the microwave in one morning and was able to pick it up that afternoon. Total price, including a replacement part, was 13,000 colones ($24.57).

Miscellaneous – $124.41ipadcase

Ah, miscellaneous, that catch-all category for things that don’t fit elsewhere! In July, we went to a fundraiser for our local orphanage, so included in this category are the tickets to the benefit and money we bid on one of the auction items: two months of Spanish classes for two people from a local language school. Also included in this category is a new case for my iPad which I ordered online as well.

As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months. If you want more information about a particular month, just click on the graphic for that month below:


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So What Would It Cost ME to Live in Costa Rica?

Updated 08/17/2015

So, what would it cost YOU to live in Costa Rica? Well, the realistic and safe answer is, “it all depends on you, on your lifestyle and how you want to live.” People have asked us the question, “Can we live on $3,000-$4,000 per month?” In response, Gloria and I look at each other, chuckle, and say, “Of course you can.”

Again, it all depends on how you choose to live. We manage to save over 30% of our U.S. monthly budget and we think we live pretty well. If we followed more of our own tips, we could possibly further reduce our expenditures. Our goal is to live on less than $2,000 per month, and that has been achievable, though we admit, it’s getting harder. It’s partly because we’ve relaxed a little on the purse strings as our financial position improved. Plenty of people live for more than $2000/month and many live for even less.

But if you want to live in an expensive home (either a rental or to purchase) and shop exclusively in the “American” stores (Auto Mercado and PriceSmart), it can actually cost you more than in the U.S. If you purchase an expensive car and are looking to live in luxury, then that $3,000 target may not be achievable.

First, let’s look at our previous “big three” monthly expenses:

  • Healthcare was over $1,000, now $150/month
  • Rent or mortgage was $1260, now $500/month
  • Heat and air-conditioning was $250, now $0/month, with an electric bill of $60/month

Other areas of savings for us include:

  • Groceries
  • Eating out
  • Telephone
  • Car insurance
  • Transportation
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Pet care

Look at our budget totals for three recent months. You can see that our car expenses are a big chunk of our monthly living expenses. If you choose not to buy a car, and take public transportation instead, think about how much you could save.


Often people will say they wouldn’t want to do that, you HAVE to have a car. It’s just not true. I know more than a few people who don’t have cars. It simplifies their lives greatly and saves them money. They walk, take buses and taxis. It’s the one thing you can do to easily simplify your life and cut expenses. But remember, without a car, you’ll do less, ergo spend less.  You can always try going without a car for six months and buy a car later if you so desire.

Another way to keep your budget down is to rent a house or apartment for $300-$700 per month. An expat couple we know moved into in a small two bedroom apartment in town. It’s unfurnished, clean but cute, and they are paying $300/month rent, plus utilities. Since they live right in the town of San Ramon, and don’t own a car, their transportation costs are about $20/month. They walk a lot, take buses and taxis. Living in town, they are also immersed in the culture, have a lot of Tico friends, and speak a lot of Spanish which helps them to learn the language. They may not have that big view that we expats like, but everything’s a trade-off.

It’s not just about saving money. It’s that fact that when you own less, and need less, life is more simple and stress free. It’s all about your choices.

Related Articles:

When, How, and What They Spend in the U.S.A.

I recently saw this graphic when I logged on to my Bank of America account online and thought it would be interesting when comparing the typical U.S. household cost of living to our COL in Costa Rica, and maybe yours as well. We’d love your feedback on how your Costa Rica or USA cost of living compares:


There were additional categories included in the graphic, including:

  • Monthly Education Budget
  • Monthly Entertainment Budget
  • Monthly Pension and Personal Insurance Budget

To see the graphic in it’s entirety, visit this link. The stated source is the 2013 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.


In the Mailbag – Healthcare in Costa Rica

emaildelivery-200pxOur newsletters and posts generate lots of discussion, on our website, in emails, and on facebook. Here’s a glimpse into our mailbag about our recent issue concerning healthcare in Costa Rica.

From paddicakes:

Just to let your readers know there are private medical options in Canada. This includes shoulder replacement surgery. However I personally canada_leafdo not know anyone who has used it. I know Americans often hear of people on long waiting lists in Canada, but sometimes there are reasons for the delay. For example a co-worker waited a while to have knee replacement surgery. She also was a diabetic, and did not follow her doctors orders. She was told her diabetes had to be stable before they would operate. I myself have never experienced any delay in surgery unless you consider twelve weeks for an elective surgery is long. Even for test such as a MRI, I have always gotten in, within a reasonable time. You may get an odd time for the appointment, they run 24 hours a day. The items that make it to the media are exceptions and often like media everywhere they leave out information that takes away from the drama of the article.

From Diego:

From Bob and Linda Beavis’s story regarding their experiences with the CAJA-

“In essence they told Linda (after 12 days), “You’re a Gringo. You should go to a private hospital or you may be waiting 2 months here for this surgery.” We were appalled and immediately moved to get her into a private hospital yesterday.

The fault totally lies with the CAJA doctors who are apparently very arrogant and could care less about Gringo patients. The other hospital staff at the CAJA hospital were generally good service, but a patient is expected to tend to themselves far more than the North American standard.
Much as we are very much not the “Rich Gringos” the doctor implied, we immediately took my wife to Hospital Metropolitano where we received immediate & excellent treatment.”

First, I want to be very clear that I am very happy for Linda’s outcome and wish her continued good health. Without having met them, they seem like very nice people that would not have behaved in a way to evoke harsh feelings from anyone. I very much appreciate them sharing their experience.

Why might they have been treated the way they were for Linda’s injury by the physicians? How much are expats paying for CAJA? Less than $1,000 per year? What is the value of the treatments received? Often, considerably more. Who is paying for the difference? Costa Ricans.

As an American I do not appreciate knowing that my tax dollars often go to people who misuse social services. No matter who they are or where they are from. Why would Costa Ricans feel any differently? Many expats move here when they are older and retired. All of us will require more medical care as we age. I do not feel it is responsible to have the expectation that we will utilize a system that we have contributed very little towards.

tax1I view CAJA as an additional tax of which there are many. It can be avoided by being a perpetual tourist and making a border run every 90 days and staying out of the country for 3 days or you can just pay it. All expats should have private insurance. It’s expensive compared to the CAJA, but now the risk is shifted to a company and away from the Ticos. The CAJA system is already struggling, so we should not add to the problem. Physicians are the most aware of this which may explain the harsh feelings towards Gringos by some of them.

The fact that the quality of healthcare in Costa Rica is relatively high is important. How we access the system is also very important.

Tico’s have a very unflattering slang expression, “Pinche Gringo.” It basically translates to “Cheap Gringo”. It is not specific to healthcare, but a general characterization. I hate it…

BigMacThe Big Mac index was invented by The Economist in 1986 as a lighthearted guide to compare purchasing-power in different countries. The cost of a Big Mac in Costa Rica is very close to that of the United States which means the cost of living is also very close. If you choose to live frugally in Costa Rica or the United States it is a personal choice which I support. Take a look at the large number of drivers of Porches, BMWs and Land Rovers flying down Ruta 27 and you will see that they are nearly all Ticos. They are chasing, “The American Dream” which is why there is close parity with the US in the cost of living.

I realize I may be offending many people who have a different view. I do not feel I have the right to tell anyone how they should live. All I ask is that people try to see it from the other side and fight to perpetuate the negative stereotype that exists. I realize generosity can be expressed in many ways and not just financially. It is important to me to be considered a generous expat and I still have a lot of room to improve.


From David F:

Love how the posts here are never sugar-coated. We always get to hear the good and the bad!

Thanks David. We try to paint a balanced picture. It’s hard sometimes since we love it here so much. But as we always say “we want people to come here with their eyes wide open.”

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Our Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica

Our newest tour is the Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica. When asked what he liked best about our healthcare tour, one of our guests wrote, “the wide variety of places we saw, the experts that Paul HCTOUR_030arranged for us to meet and talk with, and an emphasis on all aspects of health, not just doctors and hospitals. Mental health is just as important as physical, if not more so.” HCTOUR_008

We’ve lived in Costa Rica for over five years and have used the Caja, Costa Rica’s public healthcare system extensively, as well as the private system, when needed. We’ve learned the system and have been referred up the ladder to see specialists in the maze that is the Caja system. Gloria’s even had surgery here.

Our blend of personal insights and on-the-ground experience combines to answer your questions about whether or not Costa Rica’s healthcare system could meet your individual needs.


But, while it is focused on healthcare, you will learn a lot more about living and retiring in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Most of the second day of the tour takes place in the town of San Ramón where we live and use the services. And you will come to our home for lunch that day to listen to two of our featured speakers. Our tour is designed to save you both time and money, packing a lot of information into a short period of time. Our goal is to show you the possibilities and to try to demystify Costa Rica’s healthcare system. Our tour lasts two days and 1 night and includes lodging, transportation, meals and non-alcoholic beverages.

Sample Itinerary

You’ll visit:

  • At least two private hospitals in San Jose area
  • Hospital Mexico, the largest and best public hospital (they even do open heart surgeries there)HospitalMexico
  • An insurance broker for a presentation on the various supplemental health insurance options, including public, private, and international plans
  • A senior living retirement community
  • CPI language school for a presentation about how learning Spanish increases your options for healthcare and some basic medical Spanish.
  • Our local hospital here in San Ramón
  • A local EBAIS (community clinic)
  • A local private medical and dental clinic
  • A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
  • A pharmacy
  • A health food store (macrobiotica), and more!

EBAISStaffYou’ll learn:

  • If the Costa Rican healthcare system could meet your needsand put your mind to rest, once and for all, about this sensitive subject.
  • About the public system and how it works, about the private healthcare system, and how you can use a combination of both to your advantage.
  • About the EBAIS – where healthcare starts in Costa Rica.
  • Approximately how much you would pay for Caja.
  • About medical tourism in Costa Rica.
  • About home health care in Costa Rica.

Introductory prices: $550 for a couple, $450 for a single.

Please contact us if you are interested in booking this tour. Space is limited.

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