Apr 23 2019

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – April 23, 2019

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 



Our March 2019 Costa Rica Cost of Living – $1,721.11

by Gloria

I was thinking recently about why we choose to track our spending in such detail and to share it with our readers every month. When we moved to Costa Rica back in April 2009, we had Paul’s Social Security of only $922.00 USD. We knew that we couldn’t live on just $922 per month but we were determined to find a way to make it work. Luckily, I was able to continue working part-time for my previous employer for the next year, so that supplemented our limited income. We knew that we would have to “retire for less” and we wanted to show others that it was possible too. That’s where the name of our website came from. Costa Rica isn’t a cheap place to live, but for us, it works and we have been able to afford living here for the last 10 years. In fact, we celebrated our 10 year anniversary of living in Costa Rica on April 1st (April Fool’s Day—do you think that means anything?) We believe that the cost of living shouldn’t be the only reason to choose Costa Rica or any country for that matter. It’s important, but there is more to making a happy life. Wouldn’t you agree?

Anyway, off my soapbox and on to our March 2019 cost of living report.

Transportation – $184.43

Living in town has definitely decreased our transportation expenses. Usually, that means only one fill-up of gasoline per month. That was the case in March as well. It cost $45.12 USD to fill the tank of our Toyota 4-Runner with premium gas. Other than that, we spent a tiny amount on tolls. The big expense was the payment of our car insurance for six months. We insure our car through INS, the national insurance company. We have full liability coverage but no collision coverage as our car is older (1996) and labor on car repairs is relatively inexpensive. Even though we both have a driver’s license, we only pay one car insurance as, in Costa Rica, the car is insured, not the individual drivers. Cost to insure our car for six months is $137.39.

Groceries – $433.89

The low $400s seems to be our new norm when it comes to our monthly grocery bill. About 93% of the total was for actual consumables; the other 7% was for non-food items like cleaning and laundry products, paper products, etc. We did go to PriceSmart once, spending about $80 on food. Since living in town, we go to the grocery store more often since it’s so convenient, usually spending $25-$30 each time. I think that leads to more frequent impulse purchases, especially since we have Super Mario just two doors away.  It’s a great place to buy the basics, but it’s surprising how many things they carry in such a small space. It’s always a pleasure to stop in on our way home, but the location does make it too easy to pick up a carton of ice cream to indulge a sweet tooth. Lately, they have been selling cartons of 30 fresh eggs for 1,900 colones (about $3.17) and after Paul bought two cartons within a few days, we now have a moratorium on buying 30 egg cartons!

This topic of impulse purchases reminded me of Rob Evan’s article, “The Best Way to Live for Less in Costa Rica (or Anywhere)” which we published a few years ago, but it’s just as relevant today. The convenience of shopping, whether it’s in the U.S. or in Costa Rica, can lead to spending more. When we had to drive into town to buy groceries instead of just walking across the street, we definitely spent less!

Meals Out – $86.93

For $86.93, we ate out seven times — coffee once, lunch five times, and dinner once. Most of the time, it was a meal at Filipos Mediterranean Restaurant on our way back home from the University of Costa Rica where we are taking a Spanish conversation class. We can always count on a great meal at Filipos, with their daily specials and great regular menu. 

Healthcare – $88.22

This has to be an all-time low for us for monthly healthcare. Our only expenses were for our monthly Caja payment, our pro-rated MediSmart payment (we pay for the whole year in advance and then show the expense on a monthly basis), some supplements, and sinus medication.

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $785.10

No real surprises here. We didn’t need to buy propane in March (a tank lasts us 2-3 months; we use it for cooking on our gas stove). The only expense that was higher in March than normal was for housecleaning. Flor comes once a week for four hours, so that was four times in March. However, it was our turn to pay for Caja coverage for her and her children, which cost $45.52. We set up a payment schedule with the five other couples for whom she cleans and we each pay her healthcare once every six months. That way, Flor and her family have healthcare, and we have fulfilled our responsibility as her employers to provide it, without any of us having to pay every month.

Personal Care and Clothing – $4.17

Paul got a haircut and we didn’t buy anything this month at one of the Ropa Americana stores! 

Pet Supplies – $69.49

We bought two bags of Science Diet cat food and some treats, plus a 40 lb. bag of Fresh Step litter.

Entertainment  $55.53

In addition to our monthly NetFlix bill ($11.68, but about to go up to $12.99 starting in May) and Paul’s subscription to the Baltimore Sun online ($2.00), I bought a Kindle book for $1.99 and we had a couple of fun outings. First, when friends visited us from Maine, we had a beach day at Playa Doña Ana. We used to go all the time but have gotten out of the habit. It’s hard to believe it had been a year since our last visit! Cost for parking and entrance fees for four people: $6.68.

We also went to another event at Vientos Bajos in El Enpalme de San Ramon. This time it was a lunch of three different soups and a talent show, complete with music, skits, storytelling, and poetry. There was a lot of talent showcased, a bit of intentional overacting, and lots of fun. Cost for lunch and the show for both of us came to $33.39.

Lovely music

A great story

A little drama

Services – $6.68

We have the luxury of having our clothing ironed, as needed, for less than $1 USD per piece. In March, we had 6 of Paul’s shirts ironed by a lady in our neighborhood for a total of $5.01 (3,000 colones). We also took our floor lamp to have the switch repaired. Our cost was less than $2.00. As we have noted many times, services are a bargain here, whether it’s having the house cleaned, clothing ironed, or shoes, lamps, and watches repaired.

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


Related Articles:


In the Mailbag: Getting Mail, Buying a Car, and Retiring for Less?

by Gloria

We always get lots of responses and questions from readers, both newsletter subscribers and on Facebook.

Hi Gloria,

I was wondering if you have or use a stateside PO box or address?  I was thinking about when the banks send new cards. I’ve seen some advice for those moving to get a PO box or mail forwarding service. Do you know anything about that?
Teri G.”

Hi Teri,

We do not have a PO box in the States but we do have one here in Costa Rica. “Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live For Less: Rent a Post Office Box” explains what we do.  

There are several mail/package forwarding services, the most commonly used of which is Aerocasilles (Aeropost): https://aeropost.com/site/en.

Hope this helps!


Hola Gloria! Quick question. We are intending to buy a used car as soon as we can in CR, have been looking in the websites like CRautos. I’m sure we can get a better deal with cash, but have hit a roadblock about bringing up that much ($10000) into the country without a bank account. Once we are here, I love your strategy of “paying yourselves” from US bank accounts. The FB group sites seem to suggest “muling” in that amount in a money belt, but that sounds dangerous and maybe a customs problem. Any ideas – traveler’s checks, cashier check to deposit into an account we open in CR?

Thanks so much, and Pura Vida.

Hi Cristina,

Regarding money to buy a car, it’s correct that you can’t bring in more than 10,000 USD cash. What we did is used a car buying service and wired the money directly to them from our bank. The other option is if you arrived on different flights, you could each bring in 10,000 legally. You definitely don’t want to be caught bringing a higher amount of undeclared cash — they will think it’s drug money. I would stay away from travelers’ checks as they can be viewed as somewhat suspicious here. Any checks from outside the country, even cashiers checks, would take about 30 days to clear so that may not be a good solution.

Hope this helps!


Jonathan G. wrote to us:

Maybe you should change the name of your Newsletter to ‘Retire for More in Costa Rica’. After 3 years living in Costa Rica and buying my produce and fruits every week at the feria, I determined that I could no longer live in Costa Rica on my one Social Security check. The only think less expensive than the USA was housing and rents – everything else was the same and even more – such as gas for your car. So, I moved to beautiful Cuernavaca, Mexico and I’m living on 48% less than Costa Rica. 

Stop painting a picture that you can live in Costa Rica for less? It is not an accurate picture.
We are actually happy to share emails such as this one. It gives us the opportunity to clarify our position on the topic. One needs to read beyond the title of our website to understand the cost of living in Costa Rica. Here is our response:

Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for getting in touch. We agree that Costa Rica isn’t inexpensive. However, for us, living is much less expensive than it was in Baltimore, Maryland. Here’s an article we wrote about it: https://retireforlessincostarica.com/so-what-would-it-cost-me-to-live-in-costa-rica/. Housing and utilities are much less for us. Food and gas for our car, not so much. But car repairs are less expensive, as is car insurance. 

I’m sorry that Costa Rica didn’t work out for you. Hopefully, Mexico will be a better fit. We love Mexico and spend part of every year there so we know it’s less expensive. 

Best wishes,


Note: when choosing to live in another country, the cost of living is just ONE thing to consider for a happy life. On our website, we try to address the other important factors as well. And we’ve never said that it’s cheap to live in Costa Rica. It isn’t. But for us, and our lifestyle, it’s less expensive than where we came from. For more info, read another of our past articles, “Why the Higher Cost of Living in Costa Rica Is Worth It.” 


Costa Rica’s Successful Reforestation Efforts in a Graphic

To celebrate Earth Day, we thought we would share this graphic with you which shows Costa Rica’s success in reforestation. The graphic was prepared by Costa Rica’s Fondo Nacional de Financiamiento Forestal (Fonafifo). The goal of the National Forestry Financing Fund is to finance “small and medium producers of forest goods and services, managing and managing financial resources of national and international origin to support the development of the forestry sector.” 

Costa Rica had lost a lot of its forested land due to cattle ranching, logging, and banana plantations, decreasing from 75% coverage in 1940 to as low as 21% in 1987. In the 1990s, the country made some positive changes, including legislation that supported the conservation and protection of natural resources, the creation of public institutions to reach these goals, and public education to change the way society perceives conservation and sustainable development of natural resources. 


The reforestation efforts are ongoing, and we look forward to seeing even more improvement in the coming years.

Related Articles:


Featured Property in Grecia: Modern 2BR Home in Secure Gated Community with Pool Access-$140,000 

Property ID #83607

Price: $140,000

Location: Grecia
Neighborhood: Condominio Montezuma
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 2
Half Bathrooms: 1
Year Built: 2016
Acre-Lot size: 2500 square feet
Construction Area: 1800 (sq.ft.)

Property Description:

Newer Modern 2 BR Montezuma Grecia Home with views for sale. This newer home is located in the trending Montezuma community.  The two-story home has an open concept living and dining area that opens up to the kitchen.  The spacious downstairs also has a half bath and huge sliding glass doors that lead out to the back patio.  There is a large laundry room that also leads to the outside area.

The stairs area is made of local Costa Rica hardwood and adds a modern feel to the home.  Upstairs is a full guest bath and a spacious 2nd bedroom.  There is also a conveniently located office nook that is perfect for work, or as a tv area for upstairs.

The master bedroom is huge and has a balcony with sliding glass doors.  The views are gorgeous, they are to the southwest and won’t ever be obstructed.  The master bathroom has an en suite bathroom as well as a walk-in closet.

There is a covered parking area for 2 cars.  The outside area is really lovely and the perfect place for a BBQ or for your pets to hang out outside safely.

The gated community of Montezuma is centrally located just minutes from Downtown Grecia, the Pan Am highway and two new grocery stores.  The community offers amenities such as swimming pools, a gym, a dog park, a basketball court, squash court, Soccer 5 court, a clubhouse, and BBQ kiosks.  There is also very strict 24/7 security.

Community Features:

  • Swimming pool
  • Tennis courts
  • Bike Paths
  • Gym – fitness center
  • Clubhouse
  • Condominium
  • Gated Community
  • Gazebo (rancho for bbq)
  • Guard at gate
  • Playground/Park
  • Racquetball-squash court
  • Sports Complex

Property ID #83607

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

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


Cooking in Costa Rica: An Expat’s Guide to Buying Groceries, Cooking, and Eating in Costa Rica


I’m so excited to announce that my new book, Cooking in Costa Rica: An Expat’s Guide to Buying Groceries, Cooking, and Eating in Costa Rica is now available on Amazon.com! Here are a couple of my 5 star reviews:

“Outstanding. I have been looking for a book that would tell me where to buy certain items that are not available in the local Costa Rica stores and I found all of that and more. Information such as translation from English to Spanish and of course Spanish to English. This is helpful so when I am shopping I can find what I am looking for using the translation. There is a break down of measurements and substitutions that was helpful. I like the few recipes that are included, and can’t wait to try them. This is a great book with so much information to help you learn about cooking in Costa Rica. I love the layout of the book and the clear explanations, and its easy to locate what I am looking for without going through an entire book. Also the resources in the back have been super helpful. Thanks so much for the book.”

“Practical as well as scholarly, this is a must-have guide for any man or woman who commands a kitchen in Costa Rica. Wonderfully readable and quickly useable for whatever and whenever you may need to know all things culinary in Costa Rica. And if that were not enough, what an amazing tour guide for English-speaking lovers of food in a Spanish-speaking culture, where the recipes you know and have always loved can come alive in new and exciting ways. I just feel smarter having read it!”

When you move to a Spanish-speaking country, it can be daunting to stock your kitchen and cook meals when you don’t know what your ingredients are called in Spanish. And even when you know the Spanish translation, it can be a challenge at times to find what you are looking for.

You can download this practical, comprehenive guide and on-going reference tool on your smart phone or iPad so you have it with you whenever you shop. The table of contents is interactive, so you can easily click through to the meat section when you are at the butcher shop (carnicería) or to the dairy section when you are standing in front of the dairy case. Here’s what you will find inside:

  • A little bit about me, our life in Costa Rica, how and where we shop for groceries, what we spend, and some insights about grocery shopping in Costa Rica.
  • An English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English food dictionary, broken down into the following sections:
    • Fruits
    • Vegetables
    • Meat & Poultry
    • Fish & Seafood
    • Grains, Nuts, Seeds, & Baking Ingredients
    • Dairy & Eggs, Refrigerated & Frozen Foods
    • Beans, Canned & Prepared Foods
    • Herbs, Spices, & Seasonings
    • Condiments
    • Beverages
    • An English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English food dictionary in alphabetical order.
    • An English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English dictionary of things you find in the kitchen.

  • A Glossary of cooking terms and helpful adjectives to use when buying and cooking food, ordering in a restaurant, and reading recipes in Spanish.
  • Recipe substitutions for when you can’t find familiar ingredients here in Costa Rica.
  • Chipotle Beef Chili

    Recipes which I have adapted to use with ingredients found in Costa Rica, plus some favorite recipes of other expat cooks in Costa Rica.
  • A U.S. Measure to Metric Conversion Guide for temperature, volume, weight, and length.
  • A resource section with links to expat cooking blogs, Facebook groups and pages, specialty products, and other food-related things.

Buy the print edition on Amazon.com

Buy the Kindle edition on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app for your iPad or computer at this link.

I hope you enjoy my book and find it useful!


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 arranged 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.”


David and Donna H. recently took our healthcare tour and had this to say on one of the expat Facebook groups: Donna and I just finished the medical tour that Paul and Gloria (Retire For Less in Costa Rica) offer. It was excellent! Two days of information and tours around hospitals and clinics as well as educational and cultural centers and even information on some of the banking. The tour is designed to introduce a new arrival to the Costa Rican system of health care that includes, not just the body but the whole person. I highly recommend this tour to anyone that is new, or relatively new in country, especially to the people that live in and around the central valley. Paul taylors the two days to the groups needs as far as their ability, including any and all physical limitations, and his own experience and contacts with the people at the various institutions makes this tour extremely personable and pleasurable. It is a really great opportunity to learn more about the health care and how you can tailor it to your own needs, and learn more about what is available to enhance your experience while living in Costa Rica.”

We’ve lived in Costa Rica for almost 10 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 had out-patient surgery through the Caja and Paul was in a Caja hospital for 14 days to have his kidney removed after a cancer diagnosis.

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 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)
  • An insurance broker for a presentation on the various supplemental health insurance options, including public, private, and international plans
  • A senior living retirement community (optional)
  • An in-patient drug-rehab facility (optional)
  • 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 dental office 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:


What About Oaxaca?

If you have been reading our website for a while, you know that we have been traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico, for the past six years during part of Costa Rica’s rainy season. Paul went to University in Mexico and the country and it’s culture has always been an interest of his. I have come to love it as well. Spending several months in Oaxaca each year has given us the best of both worlds — the beauty, tranquility, and kind people of Costa Rica and the culture, arts, and great food of Mexico. 

Our plan is to continue to live part of the year in Costa Rica and part of the year in Oaxaca. In 2019, we will be in Costa Rica from January through June and in Oaxaca for the months of July through December. If you are interested in learning more about why we spend part of the year in Oaxaca, visit our website, Retire in Oaxaca Mexico:

and our Facebook page of the same name:


Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube

You can now follow us on Facebook and Twitter, so please “like” us on Facebook“follow” us on Twitter, and watch and share our videos on YouTube.


What’s New on the Website

Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:


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