Apr 16 2017

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – April 16, 2017

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 



Our March 2017 Costa Rica Cost of Living

In March, we made what will, hopefully, be the last of the big purchases for our new apartment — our couch and love seat. We still have a few things to buy but we’re almost done!  Here’s the breakdown of what we spent. Without the purchase of the couches, our spending for the month of March would have been $2,012.78.

Transportation – $260.06

The main reason our transportation expenses were higher again in March is that it’s when we pay our car insurance for six months. Even though we are using the car less since our move into town, insurance is one of those expenses that doesn’t go away.

Groceries – $492.95

What the heck happened to our grocery budget in March? Ouch! This has to be one of our highest months ever. And, for once, I don’t have an explanation. I know that our freezer is full, so that’s good. But even our non-food expenses were higher than normal. In March, we spent $449.48 on groceries and an additional $43.47 on non-food items (about 9%). Yes, we are buying more organic produce. And yes, we started entertaining again, now that we’re more settled in our new apartment. But almost $500 on groceries! That’s a lot for us. Hopefully April will be lower.

Meals Out – $136.79

Our expenses in this category covered three dinners out, and quite a few lunches. Again, this is higher than normal spending for us.

Healthcare – $241.63


In addition to our normal healthcare expenses (monthly payments for Caja and MediSmart), I also started seeing an acupuncturist in March: Franco Lin, at the Centro de Medicina Alternative Traditional de China (Center for Alternative and Traditional Chinese Medicine) in San Ramon. The office is located 75 meters east of the Tremedal church. The first visit cost 20,000 colones (about $36) and included a consultation; the three follow-up visits cost 10,000 colones each (about $18).

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $796.07

Here’s the March breakdown:

As I mentioned in last month’s cost of living article, water is now included in our rent, so we will no longer have that expense.

Electricity continues to run around $60/month. We were hoping that would go down but so far it hasn’t. It’s most likely due to running the dryer every week. We really miss being able to hang clothes outside on the line to dry.

Our housekeeping expense was a bit higher in March since Flor cleans for us on Wednesday mornings and there were five Wednesdays in March. But, it’s well worth it to us. Just cleaning all the tile floors would take us hours.

On the 26th of March, we finally had to refill our propane tank. Of course, the tank ran out while I had a quiche in the oven in preparation for brunch with guests. Luckily, Dr. Gas in San Ramón delivers seven days a week, 7 am to 7 pm. We called them and they were able to bring us a new bottle of gas in about an hour. Brunch turned into lunch, but the quiche survived! The propane refill, delivered, cost us 7,000 colones ($12.70). We are planning to buy a 2nd tank so that we can have a refill ready to go at all times, but it’s nice to know we can get refills just about whenever we need them.

Furniture for New Apartment – $658.94

By far, the majority of the expense in the category went towards buying a couch and love seat for our living room. We had shopped for months and finally, on March 9th, we got tired of shopping and decided to buy something that day. We had narrowed it down to Muebles Mucarú as their couches seemed more reasonably priced and comfortable. Plus, friends also bought couches there and were very pleased with the quality and price. Our two big criteria, in addition to price, were that it needed to be long enough for Paul (who is 6’2″) to nap comfortably, and high enough for me to rest my head on the back cushions. Muebles Mucarú has three showrooms, two in Palmares and one on Rt. 1 between Palmares and Naranjo. We had been to two of their showrooms in the past, so we headed to their third showroom, just off Rt. 1 at the entrance to Palmares.

Not only did they have several couches we liked, the price was right and their delivery guys were right there. While I paid the bill, they were already starting to load our couch and love seat into the delivery truck. They met us back at our apartment and then the adventure began! We live in a 2nd floor apartment with a winding staircase up from the front door. They were able to bring the love seat up the staircase but the couch was just too long. The guys took it in stride and, with good humor, they brought it up over the balcony from their truck below:

We still need a few things like tables and maybe a television and stand, but having a functional living room has added to our enjoyment of the apartment.

The couch and love seat cost 345,000 colones ($621.15). Since we bought it off the floor instead of having it custom made, we got a better price than the normal 425,000 colones. Since the furniture we chose had only been on display in the showroom for 3 days, we got the best of both worlds — just what we wanted, when we wanted it, and at a better price.

The only other expense in this category was for the chair pads we bought for our kitchen chairs. Cost for six chair pads was $37.79 at Ekono.

Pets – $58.92

Out cats needed furniture too! When we were shopping for our couches, we specifically looked for fabric that they would be less likely to scratch. But our cats, being cats, had to investigate the new furniture with their claws. We tried spraying the couches with citrus-infused water, and even tried spraying them (with plain water) to break them of the habit. But the best thing to do was get them something they could scratch. The scratching posts we found were poorly made, yet expensive, so I looked on Pinterest for ideas and decided to build one myself.

It took a bit of creativity to find suitable materials in San Ramón, but after wandering the town, finding a place that would cut wood planks to order for me, and lots of visits to hardware stores, second-hand stores, and places that sold rugs, I had everything I needed. I borrowed a drill from our neighbor, plugged in my newly-purchased hot glue gun, and got to work one Saturday. About five hours and $52 later, it was finished:

Since this picture was taken, I’ve added some hanging toys and bells and the kitties are loving it, especially Tori! And, of course, we praise them every time they use it.

Tori sitting pretty

Entertainment – $72.04

One of the highlights of March for us was a trip to two organic farms in Zarcero. It was organized by a local expat through La Paquereña, a local produce market which receives weekly deliveries from these two organic farms as well as other organic (and conventional) products from local merchants. Here’s a peek at the tour:

We visited Finca Organica Guadalupe, which is a certified organic farm in Zarcero. We also visited Finca Organica Tierra de Sueños. which, though no longer certified organic, still maintains its organic practices and values. We also had a wonderful organic lunch at Finca Organica Tierra de Sueños.  The tour, including bus transportation, tours of both organic farms, a presentation at Finca Organica Guadalupe, lunch, and even samples to bring home from both farms, cost 12,000 each, or a total of about $43.00.

Lunch at Finca Tierra de Sueños

Miscellaneous – $91.19

In March, we spent about $80 to get both of our drivers licenses renewed. You can read all about it in our article, “Renewing Our Costa Rica Drivers Licenses: A Time-Saving Tip,” below.

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:

Related Articles:


Renewing Our Costa Rica Drivers Licenses: A Time-Saving Tip

We just renewed our Costa Rica drivers licenses for six more years. We’ve been in Costa Rica for eight years. It cost us 22,000 colones each for the renewal: 5,000 for the dictamen médico and 17,000 colones for the license renewal fee.

Our drivers licenses were due to expire on May 5, 2017. We were told we should start the process 90 days before expiration but we had been putting it off. On March 28th, we decided to at least start the process.

The Dictamen Médico we went to in San Ramón.

We live just a few blocks from a dictamen médico examiner, as well as from the department of motor vehicles (MPOT) in San Ramon. There are lots of dictamen médico offices close to MPOT, but there is a guy who directs traffic and tries to usher people into “his” dictamen doctor or local driving instructor (escuela de manejo). It’s his job. He’s been so helpful to us over the years that I promised him we would use his doctor when the time came, so we did.

The exam is required by law, every time you renew your license, so it’s once every six years. You have to present your cédula and current drivers license. The exam is quick, quick, quick. One might say it’s kind of, sort of, a farce. It takes about 10 minutes. They weigh you, get your height, take your blood pressure, check your eyesight, ask a few health-related questions, and verify personal information like your age, marital status, date of birth, and occupation. They will also ask whether or not you want to be an organ donor.

Paul getting his vision checked

Familiar eye chart

We paid the fees for both the dictamen médico and the license renewal and were given comprobantes (vouchers) for both. We started the exam at 2:30 pm and, 10 minutes later, we walked down the street to MPOT with our vouchers. We got there about 2:45 pm and we were dumbfounded. No one was there. The staff was there but there were no clients in the waiting area—very different from the first time we renewed our licenses, when it was packed with long lines.

This is what MPOT looks like on a normal day!

At first, we thought they were closed. But there was a reason no one was waiting in line. Watch our quick video tip on how to save time renewing your drivers license.

By 3:15 pm. we were finished, with our new Costa Rica drivers licenses in hand. The whole process, from start to finish, took 45 minutes. Glory hallelujah!


In the Mailbag

emaildelivery-200pxWe always get lots of responses and questions from readers, both newsletter subscribers and on Facebook. Today, we wanted to share with you some recent feedback we have received from tour clients:

Hi Gloria,

This is a very overdue THANK YOU for our Healthcare Tour last month. It’s hard to believe we’ve been home almost a month as we have been so busy!

Paul did such an amazing job showing us the many options for health care in Costa Rica. His inside knowledge of the workings of the public and private systems was invaluable to us, and gave us the confidence to begin planning our move to Costa Rica.

We also very much appreciate your organizing skills and communication leading up to our tour. The lunch in San Ramon was also very informative (and delicious) and we were happy to have met Steve and learned about the Community Action Alliance and all it is doing for the San Ramon area. We also appreciated the opportunity to go furniture shopping with you! A real-world lesson for the future.

Since returning home, our heads have been spinning with all of the information we learned from you both. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge with us, and for taking us on a great tour. We hope to see you again.

Cheryl & Mike C. (February 2017)


Hi Gloria,

The tour was excellent!!!!!!

Now I know who I want to be when I grow up,…..The bilingual dude with a thousand friends. Not kidding. Paul was amazing.

Hasta luego y Pura Vida.

Jeff W. (March 2017)

Related Articles:


Featured Property: Lake Arenal: Secure Comfortable Home in Town-Drastically Reduced to $75,000

Property Reference: Ref # 194

Location: Nuevo Arenal, Lake Arenal

Sale price: Drastically reduced to $75,000 cash or $90,000 with 50% down + owner financing

Beds: 4

Baths: 2 1/2

House size: 2,380 sq. ft.

Lot Size: 1/2 acre


This spacious, comfortable home in a quiet & friendly residential neighborhood of Nuevo Arenal has been renovated by a North American who is now selling it completely furnished and has made it very livable. It was built with concrete and steel for strength and has spacious rooms – 4 bedrooms, 2. baths, a large game room added in back which could be converted into separate apt.

This home has been kept in perfect condition by the American owners and has all the conveniences and extras expected for comfortable living including central air. There is a large back yard with many fruit trees. A very large screened porch with a built in fire place. The size of the interior is 2380 sq. ft. and is on a double lot with a carport. Plus, it is within walking distance of the town center, yet it is in a non-commercial area of updated residences far enough away to be quiet and private. Situated in a very quiet neighborhood.

You could easily live without a car here as the public transportation is very good, although a car gives you a lot of advantages time-wise.

The price is low for what you get, plus it is turn-key. All services are available here, including a new organic market, three grocery stores, and excellent restaurants. There could be partial owner financing if requested.

Come to live in this tranquil, friendly community small town of mixed Expats and Ticos with it’s many events and things to do. You will never be bored, will be surrounded by healthy, active friends, and be able to enjoy the fresh air and clean water from local town artesian wells. If staying healthy is your concern, this is a good place to retire.

Property Reference: Ref # 194

Click here for more photos and to contact the realtor for this property.

Though we recommend you rent, rent, rent when you move to Costa Rica, we realize that some folks will still choose to buy, either early on or after they’ve been here for a while. We recommend purchasing properties under $150,000 because they are both easier to buy and easier to sell. Though we are not realtors, we work with trusted realtors who have many other properties in this price range available. The homes we feature are just a sample of the properties the realtors we work with have, both above and below $150,000.

Click here to check out our other properties under $150,000 and read about what to do before you buy.

Our Ultimate CR Healthcare Tour

We are proud to offer 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 eight 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 presentations.

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)
  • The office of our dentist in San Ramón
  • A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
  • A pharmacy
  • A local feria (farmer’s market) where you will see the abundance of fresh food available.
  • The local Cruz Roja (Red Cross) to learn about their services and programs.
  • A health food store (macrobiotica), and more!


You’ll learn:

  • If the Costa Rican healthcare system could meet your needs and 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.

Prices: $650 for a couple, $550 for a single.
Please contact us if you are interested in booking a tour. Space is limited.

Related Articles:


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