Aug 17 2019

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – August 17, 2019

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 


Our June 2019 Costa Rica Cost of Living – $2018.10

by Gloria

In June, we came close to our goal of spending $2000 for the month. Transportation, Healthcare, Personal Care/Clothing, and Pet Care came in higher than normal. Here’s the breakdown:

Transportation – $272.23

Though we only had one fill-up at the tank in June ($59.38) we had some car repairs on our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner which totaled $101.20:

  • $51.46 – replace refurbished front disc stabilizer bar and clutch adjust
  • $35.16 – oil change & lube 
  • $10.29 – balance tires
  • $4.29 – get a new ignition key made

We also had an expensive day of Uber rides totaling $29.84 when we needed to go into San Jose on a Friday. There are driving restrictions during the week, with the day varying based on the last digit of one’s license plate number and our day is Friday. (Ivo Henfling of GoDutch Realty wrote an informative article about how this works in this article: “Costa Rica vehicle restriction or tag day.”) We had been in Alajuela in the morning for Paul’s doctor’s appointment. We left our car parked and took Uber from there to our destination in San Jose and back, costing us about $15 each way, including tip.

Groceries – $236.51

Our grocery bill in June was lower than normal as we were gone for about a week. We were in Escazu to speak at the International Living Conference and then do three days of Post-Conference Tours. Of the total spent on groceries in June, 90% was for food ($212.99) and 10% was for non-food items ($23.52).

Meals Out – $67.32

During the week we were in Escazu, our meals out were either paid by International Living (during the three-day conference) or business expenses (during our post-conference tours). For the remainder of the month, we spent $67.32 on meals out.

We had a couple of quick breakfasts on the run after doctor appointments. We had a great lunch at our go-to restaurant in Grecia, Mas Q’Sabor ($20.33 for Paul and me) where we love the fish tacos and appetizer soups. We also enjoyed two dinners out, the first at our long-time favorite in San Ramón, Filipos ($22.06) and one at Restaurante El Kiosko in Sarchi where we head when we get a craving for Chinese food ($13.84) and don’t want to drive to San Jose.

Healthcare – $318.96

This month’s healthcare expenses were a little high for a few reasons. First off, we stocked up on some supplements prior to our trip to Mexico. Also, Paul came down with a bad chest cold and cough later in the month and we kept going back to the pharmacy for cough medicine and other medications. 

Also, I had an appointment with our dentist for teeth cleaning (20,000 colones, or $34.31 USD). The cleaning is done by our dentist, not a hygienist, and she spends one hour to do a thorough exam and cleaning. 

By the end of the month, Paul was still fighting his chest cold so we decided it would be smart to be proactive, knowing that we would soon be traveling. We both wanted to build up our resistance prior to getting on the airplane. So, we went to Clinica MediPlus Grecia (NOT to be confused with “MediSmart” as they are not related) for IV Vitamin C therapy.  We each received 25,000 mg of Vitamin C. It took about 30 minutes and we did it together! Cost was 30,000 colones each ($103.14 total USD). IV C, though controversial, is good for so many things, including fighting cancer, so we thought we would give it a try.

Of course, the total in this category also includes our monthly Caja payment as well as the pro-rated monthly amount we paid for our annual Medismart plan

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $778.45

While most expenses in this category were normal, our phone expense was higher for the month of June. Cell phone service for both of us came to a whopping $51.39 which is about $20 higher than normal. We had a busy June, with lots of tours scheduled, so we used our phones more for both calls and data. Our cell phone service is pre-paid which means we don’t have a regular plan. We pay as we go and only add money to our accounts when the balance runs low. In addition to our cell phones, we also paid $18.98 for our Vonage VOIP line which allows us to keep a U.S. phone number.

Personal Care and Clothing – $182.18

Our spending on clothing is usually minimal. We both like to shop at Ropa Americanas which carry used and sometimes new clothing at low prices. However, some things we always buy new, like shoes. In June, we bought three pairs of shoes from Payless, one pair for me and two pairs for Paul. Payless is one of the only stores in Costa Rica that carries shoes in Paul’s larger size.

And since he is also taller than most Ticos, he has been having pants tailor-made at the local sastrería (tailor shop). Willy does a great job and uses high-quality fabrics. He charges Paul 23,000 colones per pair ($39.12 USD). After 10 years in Costa Rica, Paul is having to replace most of his pants so he had one more pair made in June. Plus, Paul likes to visit Willy and the other locals at the sastrería several times during the week, just to chat and be part of our local community.

Pet Care & Supplies – $81.75

In addition to buying Science Diet cat food ($23.47) for our kitty, Laura, and stocking up on Fresh Step kitty litter at PriceSmart ($20.46 for a 42 lb. bag) our out-of-the-ordinary expense was for our much-loved cat, Tori.

We told you last month about our losing Tori. As we mentioned in the postscript, after being very ill for most of May, Tori lived for another three weeks, into June. We spent as much time close to her as possible. There were moments when she seemed like her old curious self. But she had stopped grooming, hardly purred, and every day we could see the increasing weight loss and lethargy.

Finally, we decided that the time had come to say goodbye. We arranged for our local vet to come to our house to euthanize Tori. She was surrounded by people who loved her. The only pain she felt was the initial injection of a sedative. Our vet friend from the States was there and he confirmed that the procedure was done well and humanely. We wrapped Tori in a blanket with one of her favorite toys and the next day we buried her on our friends’ beautiful finca, with the sound of the nearby river, flowers, and birds in the trees. We will be forever grateful that we had those last three weeks with her. Tori was a force, a loving animal, with a strong purr and playful spirit. We will miss her greatly. 

The cost of the vet’s home visit to euthanize Tori was 20,000 colones ($33.78).

Entertainment  $46.10

Though the first part of June was dedicated to being with our kitty, Tori, and the middle of the month was busy with our relocation tour and healthcare tour clients as well as the International Living Conference, we ended the month with a bit of fun by attending the Little Theatre Group’s presentation of “Sunday in the Park” at Vientos Bajos in San Ramón. There were three skits, interspersed with music from the San
Ramon Recorder Ensemble. It was a lovely afternoon of entertainment, followed by a reception with the performers after the show. The cost was 10,000 colones ($17.30 USD) for Paul and me to attend.

Our only other entertainment expenses were our monthly Netflix bill (now $13.81/month), Paul’s subscription to the Baltimore Sun online ($2.00), and the purchase of a Kindle book ($12.99).

Miscellaneous/Household – $16.63

Light bulbs, our monthly donation to our local Cruz Roja, and a few tips here and there came to $16.63.

Services – $14.58

We have the luxury of having our clothing ironed, as needed, for less than $1 USD per piece. We spent $14.58 for the month of June to have Paul’s shirts (and an occasional blouse of mine) ironed by a local lady.

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:


Time, Happiness, and Seizing the Day

by Gloria

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about time. How we spend it, how much we have left, and whether or not we appreciate the moments as we live them. There is nothing like a brush with cancer to teach you, had you not already learned this lesson, to appreciate every day, every moment.

Paulo Coelho wrote, “One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”

Over ten years ago, we moved to Costa Rica with 10 suitcases, a laptop computer, and our Siamese cat, Cleo. As we were packing and preparing to move, I remember wondering whether this was the right decision. We had left the “back door” open, so to speak, by not selling our house in Baltimore and not shipping everything we owned to our new home country. We were pretty sure that we would love it, but we weren’t ready to cut all our ties to our previous lives. What convinced us that we should take this chance was what was happening to some of our friends in Baltimore at the time. Within a few months’ time, four of our friends had heart attacks and needed open-heart surgery — in one instance, first the husband, then two weeks later, the wife. And all were younger than us. For us, it was confirmation that we should do this thing we wanted to do — to live in another country, another culture — while we were healthy enough to enjoy the experience fully. We’ve never looked back.

Costa Rica has been good to us. We were able to start our business, Retire for Less in Costa Rica, and through that, we have been able to interact with people all over the world. It has given me great satisfaction knowing that we have helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years decide whether or not they and Costa Rica are right for each other. We have built relationships, learned about the people and the culture of Costa Rica, and we have enjoyed the immense natural beauty that this country offers. It is a place of peace, family, and national pride.

For the past few years, we have been spending more time in Oaxaca de Juarez (Oaxaca City), Mexico. I first visited Oaxaca during our honeymoon in late 2003, while Paul had spent some time there back in the 70s while attending University in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. Now, as it was then, Oaxaca is a magical place. This year, 2019, we are spending 6 months in Oaxaca. In fact, I am writing this while sitting at the dining room table in our little one-bedroom bungalow in Oaxaca, Mexico. Many of the things I have loved about living in Costa Rica, I am now appreciating in Oaxaca. The sky is blue, the mountains are in the distance, hummingbirds are flitting around between the pine tree and the palms. At night, I can lay in bed and listen to the night sounds, as I learned to love doing when we lived in the country just outside of San Ramón in Costa Rica’s western Central Valley.

For years, I fought my growing love for Oaxaca. I worried about the long-time readers of our website, What would they think? Would they think we are “betraying Costa Rica” (as one reader actually wrote to us) by splitting our time between Costa Rica and Mexico? Would they think we have been lying to them for 10 years about how much we love Costa Rica? Would we be letting people down, especially the people who wanted tours during the months we were out of the country?

And then, cancer happened. One year and two months ago, Paul was diagnosed with cancerous tumors in his kidney. One year ago, on August 9th, 2019, Paul had surgery in Costa Rica to remove his right kidney. It then took five months of anxious waiting before we received the results of the biopsy. During that time, we spent two months in Oaxaca, having delayed the trip by one month to allow for Paul’s recovery from surgery. Our goal during that visit was to fully enjoy ourselves, to fully live each moment, appreciating each other and this beautiful city. And we did just that. We ate the food, danced in the streets — especially Paul — participated in Day of the Dead celebrations, drank a little mezcal — especially me — and immersed ourselves in the local culture and arts scene. We didn’t know what news would await us when we returned to Costa Rica and got the biopsy results. So we chose to live and love fully during this trip and to enjoy every moment.

This was when I admitted the truth to myself. Oaxaca is my happy place. I finally let go of the guilt I had been feeling about “abandoning” Costa Rica and our readers, of not being all things to all people. After all, loving one place doesn’t mean you don’t love the other — just as loving your second child doesn’t mean you stop loving your first child. A Tica friend asked us a few months back whether we liked Costa Rica or Mexico better. “We like them differently,” we answered, and then we proceeded to tell her what we liked about each place. We have never regretted our move to Costa Rica more than 10 years ago. We still love the people we have met, the friends we have made, the experiences we have had, the beauty of the countryside and the beaches, the slow living and sense of peace. We still appreciate the healthcare system that found and treated Paul’s cancer and probably saved his life. And we still plan on continuing our lives in Costa Rica, just for less time.

Life is short. Too short. We don’t want to wake up one day and discover that we are out of time to do the things we love. So, we are doing them now. We will do what makes us happy and believe that everything will work out. And for now, that means spending six months or so every year in Oaxaca, Mexico. Living in two countries has its challenges, for sure.  Will we do this forever? We have learned not to talk about forever. We are seizing the day and choosing what makes us happy. Regardless of whether or not we can offer you a tour of Costa Rica when you come for a visit, or share with you our Costa Rica cost of living for the month, we can share this lesson with you: Don’t wait. Do it now. Do what makes you happy.


Featured Property in Sarchi: Private Mountain Cabin on Coffee Plantation-$75,000 REDUCED 

Property ID #8730

Price: $89,999 REDUCED TO $75,000
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 1
Year Built: 2012
Acre-Lot size: 1.25 acres
Meters Squared Hectares: 5000
Construction Area: 800 (sq.ft.)
Parking: 2
Location: Sarchi

Property Description:

This sweet house is nestled in a coffee plantation and has great views and lots of space for gardens and trails.

This is the kind of home that you can lock up and leave when you go on vacation or even for the weekend. There are a guard and lots of neighbors inside this small private community of like-minded people.

The house has two bedrooms, a bathroom, and an open design living and dining area.  The little deck is the perfect place to enjoy the flowers and the hummingbirds that visit the flowers.  Toucans and other exotic birds also visit this area regularly.

There is a lovely place downstairs for sitting and watching birds, enjoying the gorgeous weather and lounging.  There is also a storage area downstairs.

Gorgeous views from the upstairs as well as the house itself make this a special place.

The 1.25 acres are planted in new coffee plants as well as lots of fruit trees and other crops.  There is a river at the bottom of the property that brings even more birds and animals to the property.

Located off the main road this is a very quiet location.  You will feel like you are away from everyone but you are only minutes to downtown Sarchi.

Property Features

  • Appliances
  • Balcony
  • Cable TV
  • City water
  • Controlled-Access Community
  • Creek
  • Fruit Trees
  • Garden
  • Great Views
  • Hardwood Floors
  • Internet Connection
  • Living-Dining combined
  • Pantry
  • Patio
  • Paved Access
  • Survey
  • Terrace
  • Titled
  • Views (Mountain & Valley)

Property ID #8730

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! 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 it’s 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, comprehensive guide and on-going reference tool on your smartphone 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 that 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

Buy the Kindle edition on

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! Gloria


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 tailors 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 make 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 more than 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 the 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.

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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 seven years during part of Costa Rica’s rainy season. Paul went to University in Mexico and the country and its culture have 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 2020, 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:


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