Jan 15 2016

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – January 15, 2016

Welcome to our Retire For Less In CostaRica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

 In This Issue:



Our December 2015 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses

Not too bad. That’s the best I can say about our spending in December. I would have been surprised if we came in under $2,000 so ending up at $2,181.76 wasn’t unexpected. After all, December is the month of “Christmas and the car.”

The Car

First, let’s talk about the car. December is the month in Costa Rica when the Marchamo (mandatory vehicle registration) is due. The Marchamo is a combination of yearly registration, taxes, and mandatory basic liability insurance. For our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner, our cost was $207.48 (109,134 colones). You can see from the graphic below, that our cost has gone up every year (though not dramatically), even though our car keeps getting older.


The deadline to pay was Dec. 31. As of January 1st, if one is caught driving without a valid 2016 permit on your windshield, the fine is about $90 (?49.000), plus the possible confiscation of your license plates. As of December 26th, Marchamo had been paid on only about half of the cars registered. After December 31st, payments will will accrue both interest and late payment penalties.

MarchamoThe annual permit also includes a small amount of liability insurance. To find our how much, click here to read our article on this topic.

Other than the normal gasoline, tolls, and parking costs, we had one other car-related expense in December. Paul had our mechanic replace a spark plug and brake fluid which cost us a total of $18.90.


Christmas means gift-giving and it’s the same in Costa Rica. For us, though, our pattern of giving has changed completely in several ways. First, Paul and I do not exchange gifts like we did when living in the U.S. A big reason is that we just don’t want stuff. There are no big thick Sunday newspapers with sales circulars tempting us, no television commercials since we primarily watch Netflix. And the little bit of U.S. television we watch on USTVNow features commercials for things we can’t buy anywhere locally in Costa Rica. More importantly, ever since we downsized to move here, we are enjoying living without owning a lot of stuff. And when we begin to accumulate extra things, we think about who we know who might make use of them.

The second reason our giving patterns have changed is that Costa Rica is not a tipping culture. That means that, during the year, we don’t tip our hair stylist, nor the waiters in most restaurants, nor most taxi drivers. But for Christmas, we make a point of giving a little something extra to the people who help make our experience here so special. We tip the women who do my hair and pedicures and Paul’s hair-cutter. We give extra tips to the guys who help us find parking spaces and watch our car while we’re gone. We buy small gifts or give plates of homemade cookies to some of our Tico friends.

ChristmasBonusOur housekeeper gets both a gift and her Aguinaldo (Christmas bonus).  Basically, the aguinaldo is an additional month of wages that employers are required by law to pay between December 1st and the 20th. The amount due is calculated by adding the total wages for the year (December 1st of the previous year through November 30th of the current year) and then dividing by 12. Our housekeeper’s Aguinaldo came to just under $60 and she has been working for us for about two year now, four hours per week.  We also gave her a raise on the first of the year, just as we did last year. Our total cost for housekeeping (included in the Rent/Phone/Utilities category) for the month was $110.16, which includes her Aguinaldo and payment for cleaning four times.

Groceries – A Whopping $546.62

Wow! Our grocery bill, at $546.62, was much higher than normal in December. Of that total, food items totaled $499.60 and non-food items totaled $47.02 (8.6%). Last year in December, we only spent $359.59. In looking over our spending in this category, I saw that we did not have a visit to PriceSmart to blame. We just made lots of purchases, right here in San Ramón. I’m not even sure exactly how we spent so much on groceries, but I have some ideas.

biscottiFor me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without holiday baking. Last year, I made lots of pumpkin bread (an unusual delicacy here) to give to friends and neighbors. This year, instead, I ended up doing more work by baking lots of Christmas cookies, for us and to give as gifts. When we were back in Baltimore and my mother was alive, I would get together at our house with her, my sister, and my niece to bake traditional Italian cookies. I have continued the tradition every year, though without my family, though some of the types of cookies have changed because of the unavailability of ingredients. Holiday baking definitely adds to one’s grocery budget. Nuts, cocoa, dried fruits, extra flours, sugars, and eggs can get to be expensive, as every home baker knows.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Another reason our food budget was higher than normal is that a new grocery store opened in December (at least, that’s my excuse). Walmart-owned Mas x Menos opened its doors with some great sales and we took advantage of many of them — my favorite brand of coffee (buy 2 and get 1 free) and about half-price off on paper towels and toilet paper. Plus, I was able to find some products at Mas x Menos that I haven’t been able to find at other local stores.

And the final reason for an expensive December in our grocery category is that we celebrated Christmas with dinner at our house for 8 people. I cooked an Italian-themed dinner and we celebrated with friends who each brought something to contribute to the meal. Christmas2015-2It was a wonderful time and we had lots of great conversation. Before we knew it, it was 10:30 pm and everyone headed home. And it was worth every penny.

There wasn’t anything else of note in terms of our spending in December. I’ll be working on our 2015 cost of living summary soon and it will be interesting to compare it to prior years. In the meantime, here’s hoping for a less expensive January!

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:


Featured Property: San Ramon-Quiet Renovated 3 BR House in Central San Ramon: $90,000

San Ramon Real EstateProperty: Ref # SR8134

Bedrooms: 3

Bathrooms: 1.5


This small craftsman’s house is well built with beautiful lines, a wall of natural light, and architectural details that are unusual for many homes in Costa Rica.  Made almost entirely of beautiful local hardwoods on the inside, the home is divided into 2 1/2 floors.

The house is located in a quiet tico neighborhood at the end of a short cul de sac, is very private yet is walking distance from the town of San Ramon.  The street is well maintained and once outside the community entrance, leads directly to the main highway in about a km.  Head the other direction and you are in town in just a few blocks.  It is very quiet and private despite its central location.


The top floor has 3 nice sized Bedrooms and a shared bathroom.  The main floor has an open concept living area that maximizes in the unique space including a small kitchen with breakfast bar, nice sized living room, and rays of gorgeous natural light pouring in through the french windowed wall.


There is also a nicely appointed entry and small outside deck leading into this main living area.  The 1/2 floor is a car port and a garage that also enters into the home, a wash room with mop sinks and a laundry room complete with new W/D.


To be brought up to American standards, there is some work that could be done – from finishing some of the renovation, to updating wiring through the home and adding a hot water tank.  Very simple and quick updates that all in all, would cost maybe $5000 to complete.  The lot next door is also available for purchase if someone wanted to expand, possibly adding a large outdoor living area with a nice backyard, or enclosing it all just for a private compound.  This house is priced to sell – is listed at tico prices, and will NOT last long.

The home is financed through one of the public banks here in Costa Rica with the option to take over the loan.  For expats, however, this can be difficult and time consuming.

Click here for more photos and information 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 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 six and a half 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!


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.

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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