Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter
In This Issue:
- Our May 2019 Costa Rica Cost of Living
- In the Mailbag: New Taxes, VPNs, and MediSmart
- Featured Property in Lake Arenal: Sweet 3 BR 2 BA Home with Lake View-REDUCED to $85,000
- Cooking in Costa Rica: An Expat’s Guide to Buying Groceries, Cooking and Eating in Costa Rica
- Our Ultimate CR Healthcare Tour
May was not a typical month for us in any way. Our cat, Tori, became ill and our lives became centered around her for much of the month. That’s one of the reasons our expenses were so much higher than normal. Another reason is that Paul had some dental work done. Here’s the breakdown:
Transportation – $184.75
Usually, our transportation expenses are limited to one fill-up per month at the tank, some parking and tolls, and maybe some minor car maintenance. In May, we filled up the tank of our Toyota 4-Runner three times due to a lot of trips to Alajuela and Escazu (45 minutes to one hour from our home in San Ramón). Of the total amount we spent in this category, $165.35 was for gasoline and the remaining amount ($19.40) was for tolls and parking. Thankfully, we had no additional transportation-related expenses in May.
Groceries – $344.17
With all the traveling back and forth, we ate out more often, so our cost for groceries in May wasn’t as high as it has been in some recent months. Of the total spent, 87.6% was for food ($301.60) and 12.4% was for non-food items ($42.52).
Meals Out – $170.53
In May, we spent about three times the normal for meals out. We ate lunch or dinner out in restaurants ten times in May. Of course, a few of those times were at our favorites — Savory a la Thai and Filipos — but we also ate lunch one afternoon at Jalapeños Central Tex Mex in Alajuela, a long-time expat favorite. The cost of lunch for Paul and I was $12.92.
We also ate at a couple of restaurants in Escazu. The first was The Breakfast Club, located near the Multiplaza on Centro Comercial Boulevard. We were looking for a restaurant serving breakfast on a Sunday morning that had bagels on the menu. The Breakfast Club fit the bill and turned out to be a very popular place. In case you are wondering how the bagels were — the search for a good bagel in Costa Rica can be intense — they had so many yummy dishes on their menu that none of us ordered a bagel! The food was very good, though a bit expensive for our budget (the cost for 3 people for breakfast was $26.74). The second Escazu restaurant we visited was Sisso-Sabores de Jerusalem, located on Route 310 in a shopping center. We were in the mood for pizza, it was late, we didn’t know the area, and we decided to try Sisso’s. The pizza was small and not to our taste but my guess is that, had we ordered differently, we would have been more pleased as the restaurant gets good reviews. We split a pizza and a salad and the cost was $20.33 for the two of us.
Healthcare – $449.38
In May, we had a significant expense in addition to our regular Caja payment, pro-rated monthly MediSmart membership fee, and supplements. Paul had a crown replaced by our dentist whose office is conveniently located downstairs from our apartment (she also happens to be our landlady). He had three office visits over the course of about three weeks and he left with a brand new crown, costing a total of $308.00. I remember the last time I had a crown done in the States, my co-pay was $400, so we were delighted with the price.
Rent/Phone/Utilities – $769.18
No real surprises here. The only item of note concerns house cleaning — because there were five Wednesdays in May, Flor cleaned our apartment five times instead of four. We pay her 10,500 colones for four hours of work each week, totaling just under $90 for the month of May.
Our total phone expenses include cell phone service ($34.09) for both Paul and me, as well as our Vonage VOIP line ($18.98) which allows us to keep a U.S. phone number. 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.
Personal Care and Clothing – $71.19
Every time I walk past a shoe store I peek in to see if they carry women’s walking sandals. The only brand I typically see in Costa Rica is Hi-Tec, though usually the stores only carry men’s sizes. In May, however, I finally saw women’s Hi-Tec sandals in one of San Ramon’s many shoe stores (this one was near the bus station). They had my size so I bought a pair right away. I have learned over the years that if you see something you want or need, buy it then because it may be a long time before you see it again! I also bought a pair of comfortable shoes at another store that would be comfortable to walk in. We do a lot of walking, both in Costa Rica and Oaxaca, Mexico (where we don’t have a car), so comfortable shoes are a must!
Pet Care & Supplies – $443.06
So now we come to the category that is hard for me to write about. Our dear cat, Tori, who has been part of our family for 10 years, became ill. We looked at her one day and she just didn’t look like her usual alert self. It was something in the eyes. We took her right away to our local vet who said that she was running a fever. Tori was given injections for pain and to fight the presumed infection and we were sent home. Cost for the two injections and a bag of Science Diet cat food for senior cats came to $36.64.
Two days later, we were back at the vet’s. Tori wasn’t eating and barely drinking. Our vet gave her two more injections and said that if she didn’t improve in a few days, she would run a blood panel. Cost for the injections was 4,500 colones ($7.65). The weekend passed with Tori again not eating and drinking a tiny bit. We were getting concerned about dehydration and I started to research giving subcutaneous fluids. First thing Monday morning, we took Tori back to our vet who told us to leave her for several hours and she would take a blood sample to analyze. The next day, we went back to the vet for results. It was very serious, she said. The blood tests indicated feline ehrlichiosis and the treatment itself was dangerous, consisting of three injections spaced every week or so. We allowed her to give the first treatment injection and took Tori home. Cost for the blood tests, injection, and some soft food to try to get Tori to eat came to $78.53.
We were concerned about a couple of things, over and above Tori being sick. First, our vet didn’t seem to be concerned about dehydration and didn’t want to try subcutaneous fluids or IV fluids. The second thing is that the blood test results came from J&M labs which is a lab for human blood tests; additionally, the test results were labeled “canine” instead of “feline.” So we researched alternatives for veterinary care beyond what was available in our town of San Ramón.
I discovered that Hospital Veterinario Agromédica in Escazu had a 24-hour emergency, full-service veterinary hospital and that it was part of MediSmart’s “PetSmart” plan. I called Medi-Smart and explained the situation; they added Tori to our plan ($2/month for the remaining 6 months of our current year’s plan) and authorized it for use right away instead of the usual 24-hour waiting period). Thank you MediSmart! We took Tori to Hospital Veterinario Agromédica that same night. They examined her, started her on IV fluids, and began a series of blood tests. Their initial tests showed that the blood counts which were abnormal in her first lab work (indicating ehrlichiosis) showed up as completely normal. They needed to wait until the other bloodwork results were ready before they could make a diagnosis and they encouraged us to leave her for a few days. Based on the anticipated treatment plan, we paid a deposit of $170.70 and left our dear kitty in Escazu.
Over the next few days, additional blood tests and an ultrasound confirmed that Tori had advanced liver and kidney disease. I shared the test results with a friend who is an emergency vet in the States for a second opinion and everyone was in agreement. There was little that could be done for Tori, short of putting in a feeding tube to extend her life. She ate a little food while in the veterinary ER and two bags of IV fluids had her hydrated. We decided to take her home and hope for the best. We didn’t want her to suffer, but we didn’t want to end her life prematurely either. As long as she wasn’t in pain, we wanted her with us as long as possible. We left the vet hospital paying our balance due of $92.53, which included three nights in the hospital, all the tests, some medications, vitamins, and kidney formula cat food.
I can’t say enough positive things about the vets and staff at Hospital Veterinario Agromédica. They were wonderful, caring, and more-than-willing to confer with our friend, the emergency vet from the States. That gave us a sense of trust in the diagnosis, as difficult as it was. Their lab is in-house and much more accurate for animal care than a “human lab.” Plus, they could perform other tests like the ultrasound and, if needed, surgeries.
Postscript: Tori was with us 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.
Since our month was dedicated to Tori, we didn’t do much socially. Our only entertainment expenses were our monthly NetFlix bill (now $13.81) and Paul’s subscription to the Baltimore Sun online ($2.00).
Miscellaneous – $63.20
This category includes a little bit of this and a little bit of that — earbuds, passport photos, watch batteries, and the only expense of significance, a renewal of our PriceSmart membership ($35.31) for 12 months. PriceSmart is like a Costco or Sam’s Club; in fact, they even carry some of the Kirkland products. It’s a great place to buy things we can’t get locally, like blocks of feta and other cheeses, good olive oil, big bags of nuts and chocolate chips, big jars of coconut oil, and even some supplements like fish oil and vitamin B complex. We tend to buy as much as possible from local businesses in San Ramón as we have found the cost savings for many items not to be that great. We also like to support our local vendors. But, for us, PriceSmart is great for things that we can’t find in San Ramón.
We have the luxury of having our clothing ironed, as needed, for less than $1 USD per piece. We spent $8.50 for the month of May 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:
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Visiting the Veterinarian
- MediSmart: An Affordable Alternative to Private Health Insurance in Costa Rica
We always get lots of responses and questions from readers, both newsletter subscribers and on Facebook.
Hi Paul & Gloria,
Thanks so much for your trust in us. We don’t take it lightly.
You’re right, there is confusion, along with a lot of hassle, both for buyers and sellers of goods and services. When we pay our rent, for instance, we used to get a hand-written receipt which was just fine. Now we have to wait to receive an electronic receipt and when we don’t receive it, we have to follow-up and wait again.
We also have been concerned about the financial condition of the country. But, we think the new taxes are needed for Costa Rica to continue providing needed services — especially in the areas of healthcare and education — to its people, and that includes us as legal residents. We do not mind paying the additional taxes. Costa Rica certainly isn’t perfect but they do an awful lot right for a small country with limited means. We would much rather that taxes go to support services instead of bombs.
Last year, there was a lot of talk about the devaluation of the colon, the national currency. We had money invested in certificates of deposit in colones since 2011 and have always been delighted by the rate of return we’ve received. We couldn’t have done anywhere near that in the U.S. But when they were talking about the colon maybe going to 700/$1 USD, we decided to cash in our colones CDs and move them to a USD CD. It turns out that the devaluation never happened and the colon has been between about 580-605/$. When it comes time to renew our CDs again, we will most likely put the money back into colones. We don’t know what the future will bring, of course, but we have no intention of bailing on Costa Rica. That being said, we do spend part of the year in Mexico because we love it there as well. But Mexico has its own problems…
The cost of living has increased in the 10 years we have lived in CR. But we are still finding it affordable, as evidenced in our monthly cost of living reports. It all depends on the choices you make. For us, renting an affordable place has been a better option than buying or building, especially in light of the new taxes.
The residency process IS long and can be expensive. Our rationale is that if you don’t apply for legal residency, then you have to leave the country every three months, and that costs something. We have never regretted getting legal residency here, especially after Paul’s cancer experience last year and the great care he received, and is still receiving, from the Caja.
Overall, our view is that the good far outweighs the bad. No place is perfect so I think that if you can say that, it’s saying a lot. Others might not view life here or the current circumstances in the same way as we do, however. So much of how you perceive reality is, as Paul says, “between the ears.” Costa Rica has been a great home for us for more than 10 years now, and we are grateful.
Hope this helps,
Hi, You said you gave up on your American Netflix because of unreliable VPN. Can you tell me which services you’ve tried? I have US Netflix, Prime video and Pandora that I would like to keep moving to CR. Thanks.
Thanks for getting in touch. Most recently, we used Pure VPN which I was very dissatisfied with. In the past, we used Wytopia which we liked but began having a problem accessing US Netflix. Right now, we’re not using a VPN as we are happy with what we get from Latin America Netflix and don’t feel the need.
My suggestion, if you are on Facebook, is to post on one of the expat sites asking for recommendations. I suggest Expatriates in Costa Rica. Also, if you let me know what you find out, I will include it in the newsletter for the information of others.
Thank you for the always enjoyable newsletter. I find it helpful and it reminds me that living on a budget and being retired are not all that bad and that although there are always things I have a hard time getting used to, it’s sometimes better and more affordable to live here if for nothing else but for affordable and quality healthcare.
I too have the Caja but I recently needed to use Medismart for a knee injury which required outpatient surgery. I retired from the Healthcare industry so I am very familiar with that world in the US. I just wanted to share with you that my surgical experience from diagnosis to post-op has been phenomenal. I am recovering now but it has all gone well and one very important fact is that the private healthcare here in Costa Rica is very affordable. It’s even more affordable with a plan like Medismart. I know I could not have afforded to pay this out of pocket back in the US. Even a good expensive self-pay plan and the deductibles back in the US would have been three times more than what I paid for this procedure here. As I said I’m not always crazy about living here sometimes and it’s hard at times but clearly, there are advantages here for Expats versus living in the USA. We get this with all the beautiful nature. I am a homeowner and we do not plan to leave so it’s positive experiences like this knee surgery that make life better for those of us living on a budget.
I hope your health continues to improve! Pura Vida!
Listing ID# RS1500442
- Location: San Luis, Tilarán, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
- Listing Type: Residential Sale
- Bed/Baths: 3/2
- Location Type: Countryside
- View Type: Lake View
- Total Lot Size: 300.19 m² (3,231.21 sq ft)
REDUCED to $85,000
The owner took great strides to provide a North American standard home that is practical, easy to maintain and situated in a quiet location with views of Lake Arenal and Volcano Tenorio.
This 3 bedroom, 2 bath home has some unique features such as walk-in showers,no steps to trip over, on-demand hot water throughout, one level, easy access to all rooms and a spacious patio for entertaining or just enjoying the birds as they check out the various fruit trees that are planted on the property. Plenty of storage space. A must see!
103 meters or 1,100 square ft – Move in ready, new, 3 bedroom 2 bath home. Spacious master bedroom with bath.
High ceilings, ample storage, raised deck and includes new full size appliances. Samsung 25cu’ side by side refrigerator with water and ice in door Frigidaire 30″ gas range with broiler Whirlpool stack-able washer / gas dryer unit Eco Smart on-demand tankless water heater.
The 300 mts. lot is nicely landscaped and has some mature fruit trees. The adjoining lot of similar size is vacant and could possibly be acquired if more property is desired.
Listing ID# RS1500442
Click here to check out our other properties under $150,000 and read about what to do before you buy.
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 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:
- Meat & Poultry
- Fish & Seafood
- Grains, Nuts, Seeds, & Baking Ingredients
- Dairy & Eggs, Refrigerated & Frozen Foods
- Beans, Canned & Prepared Foods
- Herbs, Spices, & Seasonings
- 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.
- 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.
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
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.
- 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!
- 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
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 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 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:
What’s New on the Website
Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- Our April 2019 Costa Rica Cost of Living
- Our Moving to Costa Rica Timeline: All the Steps Along the Way, by Rob Evans
- Our March 2019 Costa Rica Cost of Living
- Costa Rica’s Successful Reforestation Efforts in a Graphic
- In the Mailbag: Getting Mail, Buying a Car, and Retiring for Less?
- Our February 2019 Costa Rica Cost of Living
- In the Mailbag: Banking Your Social Security Payment, and Tourist Visas
- Does Costa Rica Have the Highest Electricity Rates in the World?
- Our January 2019 Costa Rica Cost of Living
- Costa Rica: One of the World’s Happiest Countries
- Healthcare Bang-for-Your-Buck
- Increasing Grocery Prices in Costa Rica: Fact or Fiction?
- What’s Up With the Yeatmans? CT Scan, Cancer, and the Caja-Part 3
- Costa Rica Caja Health Insurance Payment Scale
- Costa Rica’s Current Economic Situation
- Caja Payment Exemptions for Snowbirds, Rainbirds, and Other Part-time Residents
- What’s Up With the Yeatmans? CT Scan, Cancer, and the Caja-Part 2
- A Walk Around Our Neighborhood (Video)
- 10 Tips on How to Thrive as an Expat in Costa Rica