Jan 26 2018

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – January 25, 2018

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 



Our December 2017 Costa Rica Cost of Living

Seems like I say this every December, but…wow! Our normal monthly expenses are well under $2,000, but December is always higher, for a number of reasons we will explain. This December was no exception and, in fact, it’s one of our highest months ever. So here we go…

Transportation – $868.70

Our expenses for gasoline, parking, and tolls were low, totaling $125.52. We had zero expense for public transportation in December. But we did have some big expenses in the transportation category.

December is the month when everyone who owns a car must pay the MarchamoThe Marchamo is a combination of yearly registration, taxes, and mandatory basic liability insurance. For our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner, our cost was $204.83 (115,488 colones), a 9% increase over last year. Our Marchamo also includes emergency road service. You can see our annual Marchamo costs in the graphic below.

In addition to Marchamo, we paid our car insurance for 6 months and had some car repairs done. Here is the breakdown:

  • 6 months of car insurance: $147.74 (82,589 colones)
  • Catalytic Converter: $89.45 (50,000 colones)
  • Clean Exhaust System: $35.78 (20,000 colones)
  • 2 New tires: $196.78 (110,000 colones)
  • New rear brake shoes & minor repairs: $98.39 (55,000 colones)
  • Welding of parts on rear end of car :$35.78 (20,000 colones)

Groceries – $452.70

Our normal monthly grocery budget is about $350, so December’s spending was higher than normal, for two main reasons. December was our first full month back in Costa Rica after spending several months in Mexico, so that meant restocking the kitchen. Plus, for me, the Christmas holidays wouldn’t be the same without baking Christmas cookies, so lots of butter, nuts, chocolate chips, and other yummy (& expensive) ingredients were in my shopping basket. I’ve been baking Italian biscotti and chocolate chip cookies every Christmas since I can remember, and years when I’ve had more time, I’ve added other varieties.

We spent 93% ($419.80) of our grocery total on food items and only 7% ($33.48) on non-food items. We shopped at local grocery stores, AutoMercado in Alajuela for a few imported items we can’t find locally and Asiago cheese, and PriceSmart for big bags of nuts, chocolate chips, coconut oil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and blocks of cheddar and feta cheeses. We buy our fruits and vegetables at the local organic market on Friday mornings when they get their weekly shipment, and at the produce stand down the street in order to support neighborhood business. And I’ve been buying free range chickens from a Tico friend of a friend for 3,000 colones (about $5.40).

Meals Out – $113.13

Normally, we eat most of our meals at home. But with holiday events going on, we ate dinner out more often than normal in December. The total of $113.13 was for 5 dinners at about $20 each for two people and a couple of snacks.

Health Care – $265.63

The bulk of our spending in this category was for supplements which a friend “muled in” for us from the States. Since we can’t buy most of these items in Costa Rica, we take advantage of opportunities to order from Amazon.com or Vitacost.com. I actually split the cost over two months, so January will also reflect part of this expense.

We also renewed our MediSmart membership. For those who aren’t familiar with the plan, Hospital Metropolitano’s MediSmart is basically a discount plan, offering 40% to 80% off of everything from appointments with specialists like dermatologists and gynecologists to X-Rays, lab work, and even hospital rooms and operating room time. There are no exclusions for age or pre-existing conditions. The price went up a bit. Last year we paid $150 for the year for the two of us. This year, the price was $180. Though we paid for the year in advance, I pro-rate the expense monthly, so our December expenses only include $15 for the month. You can read all about MediSmart at this link.

Our monthly Caja remains much lower than what many other couples pay. We pay only 25,385 colones (about $45.40) for the two of us. The reason that it’s so low is that Paul’s Social Security, which our residency is based on, was so low when we arrived, only $922 per month. Over the last nine years, it’s only increased by about $100. The amount of monthly Caja payments is based on your monthly guaranteed income.

Rent, Phone, and Utilities – $1,311.63

Normally, our expenses in this category come in under $800, but we had greater than normal spending in two areas, and lower than normal spending in one area. Here’s the breakdown:

Rent and Internet spending was consistent with previous months, but electricity was lower. Our December payment actually reflects November usage. Since we were in Mexico for most of the month of November and our friend who was living in our apartment used less than we use for two people, the cost was lower.

Our phone expenses were much higher than normal due to the purchase of a new cell phone for me (Gloria). My older Samsung Galaxy Prime worked fine but I had very limited internal storage. And Paul wanted me to have a phone with a better camera so that I could stop carrying my Nikon everywhere. So, as a combination Christmas/birthday present, we chose the Huawei P10 Plus with its Leica camera and 64 GB internal storage. We bought it online and had a friend bring it from the States. The cost was $519.95, with an additional $6.99 for a spare charger. The negative to buying a phone in the States is that the warranty is only valid in the U.S. If there is a problem, I would have to ship the camera back to the U.S. for service. But so far, so good; I haven’t had any problems with the new phone and it takes great pics and videos. Our only other phone expense for the month was $17.98 for our Vonage VOIP service.

The other expense that was higher than a normal month was housecleaning. As you may know, employees in Costa Rica get a 13th month Christmas bonus called the aguinaldo.  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 $67.08. Our total cost for housekeeping for the month was $171.98, which includes her aguinaldo, payment for cleaning our house four times for four hours each time, and her Caja payment of $40.50 which covers her and her two children. We only pay her Caja every five months. Our housekeeper cleans for four other couples and we each take turns paying her Caja. That way, she and her family are covered and we keep our costs down. Paul and I coordinate the payment schedule, and when it’s their turn, the other couples pay Paul and he makes the payment each month.

Personal Care & Clothing – $46.12

When you are 6’2″, like Paul, and live in a country where men tend to be shorter, it’s hard to find pants that are long enough. But in Costa Rica, it’s affordable to have a tailor make a new pair. Paul brought his favorite pair of khaki pants to the tailor whose shop is in the same block where we live, picked out the fabric he wanted, and a week later, had a brand new pair of pants for less money ($41.11 or 23,000 colones) than it would have cost to buy a comparable pair from Land’s End.

Entertainment – $26.95

In addition to our NetFlix payment of $11.65, we had a couple of entertainment expenses.

First, we enjoyed a jazz concert by the Joe Anello Quartet at a local restaurant. Lunch was a la carte, with a 2,500 colones per person cover charge added on. We always enjoy these jazz concerts and like supporting local musicians.

We also went to our local movie theater to see Disney’s movie, “Coco.” Ticket cost for both of us was $6.43 (1800 colones per ticket). We went on a Wednesday when our local theater offers discounted ticket prices. It was actually the second time we saw “Coco,” the first being during our time in Oaxaca. The movie is special to us because it’s about the Mexican celebration of Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) which is based on a 5,000 year old Zapotec  tradition from the Oaxaca area. Here’s a look at the movie trailer:

Other Expenses

Of our other expenses for the month, there wasn’t much of note. We bought some new lights for our Christmas tree ($10.47), a new case for my iPad ($15.99), cat food and kitty litter, and gave our monthly donation to the Cruz Roja (Red Cross).

All in all, December was an expensive month and we look forward to getting back to more moderate spending in the coming months.

Related Articles:


Why Are People Leaving Costa Rica?

“What do you think it means?” they asked us. “I just heard that another couple is moving back to the States. How many does that make now?” Of course, implied in that question is the fear that Costa Rica is no longer a good place to retire.
…and that’s a reasonable concern, especially if you are investigating Costa Rica as a retirement location, or even more so, if you are in the process of moving here. None of us wants our hopes and dreams shattered. But better to find out sooner rather than later, right?

Let me first tell you what I don’t think it means. I don’t think it means that people are moving back because Costa Rica isn’t a good place to retire. For us, and for countless others, Costa Rica has become our new home and we love living here. Has the cost of living risen over the last five years? Yes, of course, but where hasn’t the cost of living increased? Though, in all honesty, if you are choosing a place to retire solely based on the cost of living, Costa Rica probably isn’t the place for you. Does the country have problems – crime, bad roads, under-employment? Yes, but where is there a place in this world that doesn’t have those same problems? It’s all a matter of degree.

I think the real reason that people move back to the States is much more personal. Perhaps Costa Rica was right for them, but only for a time. Things change and people’s needs and desires change. I remember very clearly how I felt when I heard that our friends, Arden and David, were going to move back. They had lived here for five years and were two of our earliest friends. They were the last people I ever thought would leave Costa Rica, but when the first grandchild was born, and Arden held her in her arms, that was all it took. The pull of family became stronger than the desire to stay in Costa Rica. Other couples we know are leaving for family reasons of a different type. Aging parents, and the desire to spend time with them and care for them, becomes another strong pull for Baby Boomer retirees.

Others leave because leaving was part of the plan from the beginning. They decided to come for a specified period of time, be it 6 months or 5 years. Then it’s time to move on to another adventure in another place, or it’s time to go back home. For them, it’s just like changing jobs or moving to another state or province. Though moving to another country may seem to be a bigger decision, for these folks, it’s not. It’s just another move.

Sometimes, when the newness of living in another country wears off, and the inconveniences and differences become more irritants than adventures, people desire to go back to a more familiar place. Often, these are folks who sold everything they own, bought land and built a house right away, and that took up all of their time and energy. But once the house was built, they may have realized that they neglected to build a life at the same time. After all, how many gringo pot-lucks can you go to?

Others leave because of health care. Though they may have come here, in part, because health care is more affordable here and Costa Rica has a national health care system, they never quite trusted it or learned to use it. So, once they turn 65 years of age, they choose to return to the U.S. where they are eligible for Medicare. We know folks who have either made this choice or are considering it.

Some who come to Costa Rica as couples, leave because they have become estranged. Moving to foreign country can be especially stressful on couples who either don’t arrive “on the same page” or come to separate conclusions about their lives here. To be more specific, we meet a lot of couples who are thinking about retiring in Costa Rica and, for many of them, one or the other person is leading the charge. They love the idea of retiring to Costa Rica and are trying to convince their partners to love it, too. Sometimes it works; other times it doesn’t. Some of the more reticent ones agree to try it out to make their partner or spouse happy, but they eventually come to the conclusion that Costa Rica just isn’t for them. If the relationship is strong enough, the couple decides together whether to stay or go. And for the rest, they choose to go their separate ways, one person in Costa Rica and the other person heading “back home.”

Others leave Costa Rica because they have become disillusioned. They have had bad experiences trying to navigate Costa Rica laws and bureaucracy, either in day-to-day life or when trying to build a business here. It’s certainly not for the faint-of-heart. They just don’t do things here they way we are used to. Additionally, we know people who, for some reason, were robbed multiple times and believe that they were targeted because they were “gringos.” Perhaps they were. We can’t say for sure. But we can offer some tips to avoid much of this:

  1. Don’t buy anything, at least at first. Not a house, not a business, not land to develop. Rent, rent, rent. And wait to ship down everything you own until you’re sure you like it here. It’s challenging enough just learning to live in and understand another culture.
  2. Live inconspicuously. Don’t wear your expensive jewelry on the streets. Live simply. Don’t advertise what you have that others don’t have.
  3. Learn Spanish. Get to know your neighbors, both Gringo and Tico. Know what’s going on around you.

I know we say this all the time, but by learning the language, you have more options – for health care, for shopping, for business, and for your safety and well-being. And learning Spanish is one great way to keep the adventure going. There’s always something new to learn, new challenges in trying to communicate. It can be frustrating and difficult at times, but you’ll never be bored!

We all come to Costa Rica with big dreams and hopes. And, as Paul always says, we’re all trying it out, whether we realize it or not. Our friend, Mike, who just left Costa Rica after living here for seven years, says, “There’s a misconception that when you come down here, that it’s going to be for the rest of your lives. But things can change, and they will. If it’s not a new grandchild, it will be something else. So don’t be surprised. Don’t overreact.”

People ask us if we would we ever leave Costa Rica, or are we here to stay? All I know for sure is that we have built great lives here and have no intention of leaving. But…never say never. If the political situation were ever to change here, or the economy get so bad that we couldn’t afford to live here, then yes, we would probably move. But at this point, I don’t see us returning to the States. We would most likely move on to another adventure in another country – probably Ecuador or Mexico. But just as we couldn’t look five years into the future before we moved to Costa Rica, we are just as limited today. All we can hope for is to live every day we are here, to be true to ourselves, try to be part of the community, and to be hopeful for the future.

If you could know ahead of time how you’d feel after 5 years here; if you could know all the changes that would occur in your life, would you still come? If you could do it all over again, would you take the leap and make the big move? For some, I’m sure, the answer would be “no.” But for others, like us, the answer would be a resounding “yes!” Because, after all, the goal was not just the destination, it was the adventure.

Related Articles:


Featured Property: Lovely Downtown Grecia 2BR 1 BA Home-$146,000

Property ID Number: 50014

Geographic Area: Grecia and Naranjo areas
Neighborhood: Grecia
Bedrooms: 2
Full Baths: 1
Year Built: 1995
Construction (sq. ft.): 1250
Property Size: 242.25 Meters Squared or Hectares
Price: $146,000 USD


Lovely downtown Grecia corner home in a nice neighborhood. This lovely recently remodeled home is located in a very nice area of Grecia.  Walking distance to downtown Grecia, yet quiet, the neighborhood of Calle Carmona is an older residential neighborhood of middle-class Costa Rican’s and some ex-pats.

The house has two bedrooms and one bathroom as well as an open design living, dining and kitchen area. The kitchen has plenty of work space and storage.  The master bedroom is large and has a walk-in closet as well as a balcony.  There is an air-conditioning unit in the master bedroom as well.

The guest room has a large closet and desk area.

There is a nice big area off of the living room that is covered and is another living space as well as the laundry room.

Outside are fruit and shade trees.  The entire property is fenced and has two gates to enter.  Once is a ramp, the other stairs. There is also a large garage area.  This is a lovely home in a really nice neighborhood.

This house is also available as a long term rental.

Property ID Number: 50014

Click here for more photos and to contact the realtor for 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

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.

The Kindle version is available now 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 am in the final stages of setting up the print version of the book and I will let you know as soon as it is published. In the meantime, you can buy the Kindle version through 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 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 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 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:


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:


Permanent link to this article: https://retireforlessincostarica.com/retire-for-less-in-costa-rica-january-25-2018/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.