Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter
In This Issue:
- What’s Up with the Yeatmans
- Our November and December 2016 Costa Rica Cost of Living
- In the Mailbag – Medismart
- Our Ultimate CR Healthcare Tour
It’s been over a month since you’ve heard from us. That’s so not normal! But we’ve had a lot going on.
Last newsletter we told you all about our month-long trip to Mexico and our, therefore, low October spending in Costa Rica. We made up for that in November and December as we prepared to move to our new digs in downtown San Ramón de Alajuela, Costa Rica. But more about that in our cost of living article below.
After eight years of living in the country, we decided to try on city living for a while. While we were in Mexico, we got word that the apartment we’d had our eye on for over a year was going to become available. The one hitch is that the apartment was completely unfurnished. We would, for the first time, need to buy furniture, appliances, and all the little things needed to equip a new home. One of the great things about the new apartment is that it has lots of built-in storage, including a great walk-in closet in the master bedroom. And take a look at the beautiful hardwood floors:
December was spent shopping and spending money, trying to find just the right appliances and furniture, but doing it the “retire for less way!”
And then there was the packing. It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulated in the eight years we’ve been living in Costa Rica. Even though we only had a few small pieces of furniture — rocking chairs, a computer desk, and office chair — we had lots of boxes. As we packed boxes, we’d put them in the car and Paul would take them to the garage at our new apartment. On New Year’s Day, with two friends to help us, we moved everything from the 1st floor garage into our apartment on the 2nd and 3rd floors.
Now, three weeks later, we’ve unpacked all but two or three boxes and are getting settled. We have a functional kitchen and laundry rooms, a comfortable master bedroom and even a fully outfitted guest room. We are still shopping for some furniture, though — mainly living room furniture and a table and chairs for our dining room.
One of the biggest hurdles for us was getting our two cats acclimated to their new home, especially with workmen coming in and out and all of the new, unfamiliar sounds. For the first few days, they both stayed in hiding. They didn’t eat and barely drank. On the fourth day, Tori started eating, drinking, and using the litter box, little Laura was still MIA. I got worried since I hadn’t seen her since early in the morning. Then, late in the day, we heard some scratching. Turns out Laura spent the day behind a drawer that was partially pulled out. When she finally tried to get out, she couldn’t. We pulled the drawer out and she popped out! She ate a bit and seemed fine. As each day went on, they both seemed less afraid and got more into a normal routine.
A normal routine is good, not just for our kitties but for us as well. We’ve had a busy January with giving tours and doing some planning with clients for future tours. I’ve gotten back into preparing home-cooked meals every night instead of all the eating out we did the week before and after our move. And we’re figuring out where we’ve put things in the many cabinets and closets we now have, so it’s not taking us quite as long to get things done. Little by little, we’re getting settled.
In the midst of the move to our new apartment, a friend asked me on Facebook, “Does it feel like home yet?” “No,” I said, “no, it doesn’t.” It’s so totally different, living in an apartment in town. I knew it would LOOK different, without all the green around us, and views of the sunset and mountains. But I didn’t realize how different the SOUNDS would be. I found I missed all the jungle sounds. I missed being able to lay on our hammock after dark and listen to the night-time insects and birds, to the river flowing below, and to the silence. I missed the peace and tranquility.
Living in town, the sounds are so different. It’s noisier than we expected, mostly because of all the motorcycles riding through without mufflers. I think Ticos believe it’s macho to make a lot of noise — the more noise their motorcycles make, the manlier they are. And then there are the other noises — shopkeepers opening and closing the pull-down gates on their stores, buses driving by, people walking with their children, talking and laughing, neighborhood dogs and sometimes cats, the occasional ambulance heading to the hospital emergency room down the street. But when I listened carefully, I also heard birds singing, the rooster who crows every morning, and the breezes blowing, and sometimes, a few drops of rain falling onto our roof. All my old friends, these sounds. But even better, I also hear the sound of Paul’s voice speaking to me from the other room. I hear the sounds of our cats, rustling in their closet hiding places or letting us know they are ready to be fed. Some sounds are constant, and for that, I am grateful.
There are some wonderful benefits to living in town that we didn’t have living in the country. Here, I can walk out the house to the corner store to pick up some last-minute things for dinner. We can walk to the park and watch the children play, to a concert at the Jose Figueres Cultural Center, or to a street fair. We can take advantage of easier meet-ups with friends. And when Paul is gone all day on a tour, I am free to explore the town and walk or take a cab or bus wherever I want to go.
It’s a different life, for sure. Paul is totally loving it, and it’s growing on me. Soon, I predict, it WILL feel like home.
November and December were busy months for us as we prepared for our move to an apartment in town. We may not have sent out regular cost of living reports, but we managed to still track every thing we spent. Because we wanted to show our purchases for the new apartment as part of January’s expenses, we are NOT including them in this report. That way, all of the expenses for our new home will be shown in 2017, not 2016.
In November, we returned from our Mexico trip on the 3rd, then left again on 9th. We traveled to Las Vegas to exhibit at International Living’s Retire Overseas Bootcamp Conference, returning to Costa Rica on the 14th.
Groceries – $538.32
You would think that spending only 3 weeks of the month in Costa Rica would cut down on our grocery budget, but that wasn’t the case. Why? Trader Joes! There was a Trader Joes down the street from the conference hotel in Las Vegas. We took the opportunity to stock up on all kinds of wonderful things, from nuts and seeds to vitamins and supplements, to cheese, canned pumpkin, and mushroom soup, spending $156.94. We also bought some non-food items like Tom’s of Maine toothpaste and then at the pharmacy, some razors, aspirin, and other miscellaneous things that can be bought cheaper in the States, spending an additional $56.24.
Transportation – $273.75
We didn’t use our car for about 8 days of the month, so our gas expenses were lower. We did have some repairs done later in the month though, which cost $104.18. Here’s what we had done:
- Tune up
- Check brakes
- Oil change
- New wiper blades
- Replacement of a screw
Health Care – $292.60
You will see in the “Unusual Purchases” section below, we purchased some vitamins and supplements online which fall into this category. Our normal spending was, well, normal — the cost of our monthly Caja ($50.02) and our MediSmart fee ($12.50 pro-rated), two prescriptions we get that are not available through the Caja ($78.59) and some allergy eye cream ($5.15). The only other medical expense was Paul’s appointment with the dentist for his every-four-months cleaning. She spends a hour with him each time and the cost is only $32.73 (18,000 colones).
Rent/Phone/Utilities – $819.44
Our spending in this category was normal except for one item, “housecleaning.” Though not officially due until later in December, we paid our housekeeper’s aguinaldo early, on November 29th. 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 $62.09. Our total cost for housekeeping for the month was $127.55, which includes her aguinaldo and payment for cleaning our house four times for four hours each time.
Also in November, a friend returned to Costa Rica and brought with him some vitamins and supplements we had ordered from Vitacost ($86.06) and some non-toxic cleaning supplies from Grove Collaborative ($21.33). Those expenses also show up in our November cost of living in the categories of “healthcare” and “other household.”
And in preparation for my sister’s visit the first week of December, we also ordered some things from Amazon ($55.73) that had been on our wish list so that she could “mule them down” for us. Thanks Toni!
The one other unusual purchase was a beautiful bracelet and earrings we purchased ($48.83) from Global Hands Artisans while at the International Living Conference. The owner, Judy Miranda, markets folk art from countries all over the world.
Transportation – $402.85
December is the month when everyone who owns a car must pay the Marchamo. The Marchamo is a combination of yearly registration, taxes, and mandatory basic liability insurance. For our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner, our cost was $187.34 (102,194 colones), actually going down for the first time in a couple of years as you can see in the graphic below.
The deadline to pay the marchamo, as well as any unpaid parking tickets, was Dec. 31st. The Tico Times reported that drivers who neglected to pay the marchamo on time have “had their license plates confiscated and been handed fines. Each fine for not having the marchamo sticker posted on your car’s windshield costs ?51,000 (just under $100).” Additionally, after December 31st, payments accrue both interest and late payment penalties. Take-away? Pay your marchamo on time!
Groceries – $401.86
In December, my sister came for a visit, plus we had friends over to celebrate Christmas at our house, so our grocery budget was up a bit higher than normal. A trip to PriceSmart always inflates our monthly grocery bill with purchases of nuts, cheeses, olives, and other goodies.
Even though we were in the middle of packing for our move, we managed to decorate our little Christmas tree and cobble together a tasty meal of chicken mole over rice and pumpkin crumble, our new favorite dessert. It was our 5th and last Christmas celebration on our porch at the rental house in Magallanes and we made it special, as always.
Entertainment/Travel – $34.68
During my sister’s visit, we had a beach day with friends at Playa Doña Ana, our go-to beach. It has secure parking (1,000 colones per car), picnic tables, BBQ grills available, bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms, lots of shady trees with monkeys in them (most of the time), a beautiful view, warm waters, and even a restaurant (though it’s not always open during the week). Entrance fees are 1,500 colones/person and only 750 colones/adult 65 and over. You can check out the location and get directions on Google Maps by searching for “Playa Doña Ana.” There’s a Maxi Pali grocery store two miles before the beach (coming from Rt. 1) which is a great place to buy food and/or drinks. You can cook on the grills or bring something ready to eat. Everyone brings their own food though there is a lot of sharing going on!
We also went to Zoo Ave, a 35 acre nature park located in La Garita. Zoo Ave has the largest collection of bird species in Latin America, along with many other animals. One of the main attractions is “Grecia,” the toucan whose beak was broken when attacked by a group of teens, and who was later fitted with a 3D printed prosthetic beak. Zoo Ave uses Grecia’s story to educate against animal cruelty.
Another highlight for me is seeing the peacocks roaming around the grounds. If you are lucky, you can see the males display their plumes and strut their stuff.
Entrance fees for Zoo Ave were 5900 colones for me and 4000 colones for Paul with his Ciudadanos de Oro (golden citizens) card, a total of about $18 USD.
Meals Out – $120.54
Since we were on the go during so much of the month, we ate a lot more lunches out that we normally would. We also had dinner one night at the new Thai restaurant in San Ramón, Savory A La Thai Tailandesa. The food is delicious and reasonably priced. And the young couple who own it are delightful. Check it out if you get to San Ramón.
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:
We always get lots of responses and questions from readers, both newsletter subscribers and on facebook. Here’s a note we received in our mailbag in response to the information we posted a while back about Hospital Metropolitano’s MediSmart program:
Hi Gloria & Paul
I broke my right hip end of June and had to go to Grecia Hospital. I broke this hip going out the kitchen door where the sidewalk is about 2″ higher & my foot did not clear it. When I finally landed on the cement sidewalk, my right hip was broken. The pain was unimaginable. The Red Cross ambulance came for me but getting into it was a nightmare. I broke the neck of the hip joint. Had to stay in a 6-bed ward for 7 days to get it fixed which was only temporary. 7 days later, surgery put 3 screws in to hold the bones that were left together. Would never walk again with this setup (the Doc did not tell me that.) I put up with that for 3 months.
We had joined Medismart some months before that & gives access to Hospital Metropolitano. We pay by the year for the discount. Went to see the Orthopod who speaks English very well and was extremely nice. He said everyone over 65 gets a hip replacement. He sent me for a hip x-ray plus knee as it was bothering me (coming from the hip).
He looked at the x-ray which showed the screws had backed out about 1/4″ plus were in the wrong place. The whole thing would have come apart over time & I would have been bedridden.
We talked about a hip replacement & the cost: $10,000 which included everything start to finish except the 2nd night in the hospital which added $162 to the bill.
Dr. Sequeira was my doctor. He went to school in Costa Rica but also in the US and goes back about every 6 months for a refresher. Whenever I called him with questions, he always answered the phone & gave me the answers. I told him I really admired that about him.
To get ready for surgery he sent a list of pre-op results he needed to make sure I was up to the surgery. I had those done in Grecia except for the EKG which a Cardiologist had to do.
Surgery was on October 27, 2016 (4 mos after the break). I went in Thursday morning; the nurses got me ready (they spoke English but the aides only a little). Surgery at 12:30; I came out with 24 staples about 2 hrs later. It was cold in the surgical suite so they put a hose under my blanket which blew nice warm air before and after surgery.
I was in the recovery room with a nurse sitting at the foot of the bed until they needed the space. Then back to my private room right off the surgical area; nurses station on the left side. My room had a TV on the wall; a hospital bed like US; a monitor for all the vitals plus a phone next to it. When I pushed the call button they were right there & got me what I needed.
Meals: 7am/noon/7pm. The dietician came in each time to ask what I wanted to eat. Thurs dinner was soup and fruit. Pancakes for breakfast; Tilapia, with either rice or mashed potatoes, sauteed veggy and fruit cup for lunch; about the same for supper. The tilapia was delicious. I don’t know how it was cooked but it was so good. I ate what was on my plate & for supper I did not eat the rice as it was too much food.
Friday: The physical therapist came in (wonderful English) showed me how to get out of & into bed so my bad leg was not dangling in thin air. I sat on the edge of the bed a few moments to stop the woozies, then with a walker, her, and a nurse (Stephanie) helped me walk around the foot of the bed to get in on the other side. No more walking that day. Did go through the exercises which I was shown.
Saturday: The physical therapist (Irena) helped me out of bed & with the walker walked out in the waiting room, circled around & back in my room. I did this twice. Stephanie brought me a chair so I sat in it until time to lay down. She came back & helped me.
The Doc came in both Friday and Saturday to see how I was doing. Nurse changed the bandage both days & sent me home with one more days change (we had to buy bandages for the next 4 days).
Also, the Doctor who is the hospital administrator paid me a visit. I told him what a great hospital this was. They now have 9 beds.
I came home with a bunch of meds they thought I might need. It took awhile to check out. Anticoagulant is now in a pill form at the hospital.
It is a very busy hospital. A lot of Ticos go there. It is on both sides of the road so traffic had to stop to cross. The Hospital is on one side and doctors offices are on the other.
This is a wonderful hospital. There is a deli on the same floor as the doctors offices. The male attendants pushed me in a wheelchair wherever I needed to go; they would not let friends do it.
My doctors office visit was 18,000 colones; labs were extra. MediSmart’s website lists what the office visit costs for each type of doctor.
It was great. I highly recommend it. Every care was taken care of. Patients do have to have money to go there or are shipped back to the CCSS hospital. No thanks.
Staples come out the 19th in the doctors office. I am walking very well with the walker. My knee is still sore on the medial side.
Ex-pats should know what a great place it is.
- MediSmart: An Affordable Alternative to Private Health Insurance in Costa Rica
- Read our other In The Mailbag columns at this link.
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.”
We’ve lived in Costa Rica for over seven 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.
- 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
- 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!
- 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.
- Paul Gets a CAT Scan Through the Caja
- Integration 102 – Speaking Up at the Hospital
- Waiting to See the Doctor, by Jo Stuart
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Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- Our October 2016 Costa Rica Cost of Living
- What it Cost Us to Spend a Month Traveling in Mexico-Part 1: Transportation
- What it Cost Us to Spend a Month Traveling in Mexico-Part 2: Hotels
- What it Cost Us to Spend a Month Traveling in Mexico-Part 3: Food, Marvelous Food
- What it Cost Us to Spend a Month Traveling in Mexico-Part 4: Entertainment & Tours
- What it Cost Us to Spend a Month Traveling in Mexico-Part 5: Everything Else
- What’s Up with the Yeatmans-November 2016
- In the Mailbag: What Folks Gave Up to Move to CR, Why Retire Abroad, and Crime in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica – A Small Country with Big Ideas
- In the Mailbag: Bringing Pets, Getting Residency, and INS Insurance
- Getting Married (Again) in Costa Rica
- Our 2015 Annual Cost of Living in Costa Rica Summary