Jul 28 2016

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – July 28, 2016

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 


Our May 2016 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses-$1931.75

2016-MayIn May, Paul and I started making some changes in our diet. We had recently watched a couple of online “summits” that changed our outlook on health, healthcare, diet, and supplementation. The first of the summits was Ty Bollinger’s 9-part documentary, “The Truth About Cancer: A Quest for the Cure.” I’m not sure why I was so driven to watch this; neither Paul nor I have cancer in our immediate families. But I think the fear of cancer affects everyone. So I watched, and about half-way in, Paul started watching with me. We learned that there are a lot of natural ways to boost our immune systems in order to both prevent cancer and to help eliminate cancer from our bodies should it occur. We also watched That Vitamin Summit which was very informative and opened our eyes even further to vitamin therapy. What does this have to do with our expenses? It’s an explanation of why there is (and will probably continue to be) an increase to both our “Groceries” and “Healthcare” budget.

Though organic produce is hard to come by in San Ramón, it’s getting a bit easier with two stores now carrying a limited supply of some organic vegetables: Frutas La Paquereña and Bio Mercado Costa Rica. And at our weekly feria (farmers’ market), we can buy organic extra virgin olive oil, Himalayan sea salt, and other items from Pura Comida. We buy organic when we can, and the rest of the time, when we buy conventional produce, I use a homemade wash of vinegar in water to get off any surface dirt and pesticides. It takes a bit longer, but I think the extra step is worth it. There is also one store in town which carries free-range chickens without hormones. Hopefully the range of our choices will grow as people frequent these stores.

I am also buying more nuts, seeds, and coconut. I make homemade granola with all three, add some whole grain rolled oats, dried fruit, coconut oil, and sweeten it with just a bit of pure maple syrup. We eat that now instead of store-bought granola and other cereals. I also make coconut milk in the blender with dried unsweetened coconut, readily available here, and filtered water. We use it in smoothies, soups, and anything else that calls for canned coconut milk. Plus, it doesn’t have any preservatives!

One thing that we’re not buying anymore is Coca Cola! Paul never drank a lot of it but now, with our new health focus, he has stopped completely. And I never liked it. Instead, I make homemade green iced tea, hibiscus tea, ginger lemonade, and we drink lots of filtered water.

Healthcare – $343.06

We still have the same general healthcare expenses — our monthly Caja payment, an occasional visit to a private doctor or dentist, a couple of prescription medications, and some supplements. But one thing we have started doing is increasing our purchase and intake of vitamins, and I have to say, we are noticing a difference. We both have more energy and Paul is even noticing a difference in his skin. But the best part is that we are protecting ourselves from illness. We are taking significantly more than the RDA of Vitamin C, B-Complex, CoQ10, a multivitamin, Omega 3 oil, and magnesium. I also buy magnesium chloride crystals and make my own magnesium oil, which Paul uses every night at bedtime. It has helped him sleep better and get up less frequently during the night. And, we’ve added another type of magnesium as a foot soak— Epsom salts, called Sal Inglaterra in Costa Rica. All of these supplements add to our healthcare budget but we consider it a great investment in our health.

Other Household – $24.06

pequenomundoThough this is a small amount, it’s worth mentioning. Most of this expense was to replace some of our plastic pitchers and storage containers with new ones made of glass. Though I never microwaved in plastic, I thought it was smart to take the next step and get rid of as much of the plastic as possible. My favorite place to buy household stuff is Pequeño Mundo.

Everything Else – $1,118.44

Rent, phone, and utilities were all normal in May. That accounts for $759.79 of this amount. Only real items of note were the few books we purchased to read more in-depth about vitamin therapy. And, even though we consider Costa Rica a “no-ironing zone,” Paul found a sestreria (tailor shop) in town to press some of his dress shirts and pants. This added about $5 to our monthly spending.

That’s it for May. 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:



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Our June 2016 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses-$1,986.64

2016-JuneAnother month under $2,000…that’s always a good thing. As we mentioned last month, we have started taking more vitamins and eating more organics, so these changes impact both our grocery and healthcare spending. Here’s the breakdown for the month of June.

Groceries – $254.11

Since we stocked up last month on expensive items like nuts, seeds, and coconut, our total grocery spending for June was much lower than May’s. We continue to buy organic when we can. It would be great to grown our own organic produce. I wish I loved to garden like many of our friends, but unfortunately, I have trouble keeping my mint plant alive. Que lastima!

Transportation – $341.80

We had some minor repairs and maintenance done on our Toyota 4-Runner. Seems like it’s always something when you own a car. Luckily, we have a good mechanic who charges fair prices. Here’s the rundown:

  • New starter, installed: $83.96
  • New front shock absorber (part only, labor free): $74.63
  • Recharge the car’s air conditioning: $28.04

The rest of the spending in this category was the normal stuff — gas, tolls, parking, and car washes.

Healthcare – $251.05

VitaBiosaOne thing that has been hard to find in Costa Rica is a good probiotic. When I ask for it in the farmacias, I usually get a blank stare. But when we visited one of the holistic doctors for our healthcare tour focusing on cancer, she had a bottle on her desk of something called VitaBiosa, a fermented liquid probiotic which she told us is very good. She told us where we can buy it in San Jose — I have yet to find it anywhere else. So off we went and bought two big bottles at about $30/bottle. The doc told me to take one cap full, twice a day, though the directions on the bottle say to take more. At first taste, I have to say that it tastes like rotten fruit, but it seems to be helping my digestion, so I’m going to stay with it. Plus, I’m not going to waste $60!

Another new expense in this category is our monthly MediSmart plan which we joined in June. Our cost was $150 for the whole year for both of us. We are showing it in our budget as a monthly charge of $12.50. MediSmart is offered by Hospital Metropolitano in San Jose. It is a plan of pre-paid medicine that covers all services for a person or a family at very reasonable prices. It offers discounts on specialists and services, up to 80%. MediSmart is a great option for folks like us who have the Caja but want something to help cover private health care. It’s also a good for people who can’t join the Caja until their residency is approved, or aren’t able to get (or qualify for) expensive private health insurance.

To get all the details about MediSmart, read our article, “An Affordable Alternative to Private Health Insurance in Costa Rica,” below.

Other expenses in this category were the normal—our Caja payment, prescriptions for medications not offered by the Caja, and supplements.

Other Household Expenses – $142.55

By far, the biggest expense in this category was a new blender. We use our blender at least once a day — Paul for his breakfast smoothie and me for making coconut milk, salad dressings, and lots of other things. We’ve been buying inexpensive blenders for years now and they never last. It was time for a hardier blender but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy a VitaMix or Blendtec, which each cost upwards of $400.

LaMolinaSo we decided to go middle of the road, purchasing a reconditioned KitchenAid blender for ¢70,000 ($130 USD) at a local store (Supermercado La Molina in San Ramon, in their 2nd floor housewares department). Though the KitchenAid warranty was only for 3 months, the store  extended a 1 year warranty. Warranties are kind of a new thing in Costa Rica, barely heard of when we arrived more than seven years ago, but things are improving. After using the blender for 2 weeks, the wheel, which fits in the base and makes the blender go round, started to shred. Darn! So we returned it and found out that they would first try to repair it. When it turned out that the part needed couldn’t be obtained, they took back the blender and let us choose another.

blenderThis time around, we went with the Black & Decker 72 oz XL Blast Drink Machine, for ¢64,370 colones ($119 USD). To put it in perspective, if we were in the States and bought the same blender, it would have cost us only $60. But we got it right away and didn’t have to wait for someone to bring it to us from the U.S., or pay shipping and customs duty to have it sent to us here. We have accepted that paying higher prices for electronics and household appliances is just part of living in Costa Rica. And by buying the blender here, it is covered under warranty which, as we’ve seen, is important. So far, the blender is working great. It’s made for making smoothies and frozen mixed drinks so we think this is the perfect blender for us…at least until we decide to splurge for the VitaMix!

That’s it for June. 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:


An Affordable Alternative to Private Health Insurance in Costa Rica

Hospital Metropolitano San Jose

Hospital Metropolitano San Jose

Like many expats in Costa Rica, we don’t have private health insurance. It is next to impossible to find private coverage that does not exclude preexisting conditions. And affordability is another factor for us with annual plans in the thousands for the two of us. We rely mostly on the Caja for our healthcare needs and, when necessary, see private doctors as well. But what if something big happened? We liked the idea of having something else to keep private healthcare affordable.

Several months back, one of our readers told us about a new program, called MediSmart, which he had just joined. Turns out it is offered through Hospital Metropolitano in San Jose, one of the hospitals on our healthcare tour. We knew from visiting there on our tour that Hospital Metropolitano has much lower prices for many procedures than most of the other private hospitals. They are a smaller hospital, just 8 hospital rooms, so they can focus on personalized service. Plus, our friend recently had inpatient surgery there and had a wonderful experience. So we decided to check out their Medismart plan to see if it would work for us.

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. The best thing is the cost. For a single person, the cost is $10 per month. For a couple, the second person adds $5 for a total of $15 per month. And if you pay for a year in advance, like we did, you get 2 months free. So, for two people, that’s $150 per year to participate in the plan. Pro-rated, that comes to just $12.50 for the both of us to be enrolled in the plan. Our first visit will be with a dermatologist, at 60% off the normal fee, so paying ¢18,000 colones (about $33 USD) instead of ¢45,000 colones, a savings of about $50 USD.

You can sign up for MediSmart right in the lobby of Hospital Metropolitano. More details about the plan are in the graphic below (click to enlarge). If you speak Spanish, you can also call Kerly Ramirez, the MediSmart Sales Executive, at +1 506 8718-3305 with any questions. You can also visit their website (Spanish only) for more details.




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In the Mailbag – Consumer Spending, Healthcare, & Pet Transport

After our big annual cost of living issue (Our Annual Cost of Living in Costa Rica Issue for 2015), we got lots of responses and questions from readers. Here are a few:

Marc D. wrote:

YOUR BEST NEWSLETTER WORK YET! Thank you Paul and Gloria … keep it coming!

So much empathy with this consumer spending “disease,” at least here in the U.S. Every click of the mouse, every open tab, every search, everywhere, all of the time, survey this, survey that, coupon this and that, big savings, on-and-on, spying, lurking on your every moves like a spider awaits his prey (“Web” is so appropriate in that case).

I cannot agree more with Rob Evans’ article on spending (The Best Way to Live for Less in Costa Rica (or Anywhere).

I am retiring to Cuenca, Ecuador (Sorry guys!) in August this year and have been downsizing for a year now. Although not a pack-rat by far, I am ashamed by the senseless purchases I have made through the years and all that money wasted away. Think…most people cannot even park their cars in their garage because of so many accumulations. I now, sadly and regrettably, understand the meaning of riches — “less is more.”

Let’s face it, one cannot and doesn’t want to retire with this “spending” mindset anywhere in the world, let alone in South America and particularly on a restricted, fixed income.

Those that have not yet come to this realization and continue to live their lives on that path will continue to be miserable and blame anything or anyone but themselves, no matter where they are. Tragically, they will bring those bad habits with them thus spoiling the broth for everyone else.

Learning to live a healthy life, frugally, and because money isn’t everything, brings one great satisfaction and happiness and is worth all the gold in the world.

Enjoy your “Pura Vida” Paul and Gloria. You have been a great inspiration to me and the source of astounding information. I hope to come and visit once I am established in Cuenca.

Chef Marc

Congratulations, Chef Marc, on making the decision about where to retire! We don’t mind that you didn’t pick Costa Rica. Our only goal is to help folks make the best decision for them. We wish you every happiness! And we would love to meet you when you visit Costa Rica. Now…about that gourmet dinner you are going to cook us…

Vikki R. wrote:

Hey y’all.  Love the big issue of the newsletter.  Even though we have sadly had to give up our aspirations of moving to Costa Rica, I still secretly harbor the thought that something might change that.  Healthcare is one of the issues affecting our decision.

For those of us with pre-existing health conditions, it’s not a pretty picture. For me, my diabetes products would cost about $2,000 a month if I had no health insurance.  They might be slightly less in CR,  but probably not by much.  Caja won’t provide the items I use (I checked it out) and the national insurance still doesn’t cover pre-existing.  After learning that I can’t use Medicare in CR (or anywhere else outside of the U.S.), it leaves me with the option of self pay or trying to get payment from my Blue Cross medicare supplement policy.  That means file a claim with Medicare first, wait for the rejection, refile with Blue Cross, and hope they pay something.  My husband takes a medicine that costs $1385 a month, so same issues.  There’s no way we can afford this on our retirement income.

QUESTION: So how do retirees with health issues pay for care in CR?  Have we overlooked something?

Pet transport is our other insurmountable issue.  We have 10 dogs.  Two them are too big to fly on a commercial flight.  The weight limit for crate and dog is 100 lbs. Our dogs weigh 90 and 105; the crate they would need is at least 40 lbs.  We also have a pit-bull who can’t fly commercially.  The cost of transporting these dogs winds up being around $3000 EACH at a minimum. Each of our other dogs require a ticket of several hundred dollars each, probably running around $500 each.  Add in the vet certificate and the Costa Rican requirement for an agent to receive them and it comes to more than $20,000 just to get our dogs there. We considered renting a van to drive them down from the States, but were concerned about all the border crossings and what we could run into (customs, fees/bribes, impoundment, rogues and bandits.)

QUESTION:  Has anybody figured out how to do this?  I see LOTS of questions on the internet but very little solid information.  Even the cost of paying for the receiving agent is variable.  It’s $1000 to pay an agent but I can’t find out if that’s per arrival en mass or per dog.

It’s just a shame that we feel hopeless about being able to get there. Of course, if we were to win the Lottery…….yeah, we’ll be there with bells on!

So glad y’all are still happy and healthy, Paul and Gloria, and loving your life there.


Vikki, take a look at the MediSmart information above. It includes a discount on pharmaceuticals, but I’m not sure it is enough to be a significant savings. Perhaps some of our readers have suggestions.

Regarding pet transport, one resource you might want to check out is a company we became familiar with at last year’s International Living conference in Costa Rica. Pet Lounge CR offers transport for pets within Costa Rica and internationally, with both import and export services. They also offer veterinary health certificates, kennels and accessories, as well as pickup and delivery of your pets within Costa Rica. There’s no doubt about it, transporting 10 dogs will be expensive. But maybe these folks can help. Again, if any of our readers have suggestions, please let us know.

And Joe A. wrote to us about his recent Caja experience:

Hi you Guys. Since health care here in CR is always a topic for expats and would-be expats, I wanted to tell you about my experience. I recently had hernia surgery here in San Ramon.

Of course, there is usually a lot of negative commentary. So, first the negative. I waited a long time to get this surgery, close to two years. When I was first examined, I was told to expect a six month wait, with the admonition, if it hurts at all or grows go immediately to the emergency room. For most of the time I was waiting, it had receded and seemed like it was gone altogether. Well, about 4 or 5 months ago it showed up again and began to bother me a little, right about that time I received a call from the hospital to come in within a few days for the surgery.

Once I got past the admissions bureaucracy — you know, “please come in at ten” and sit until 12, then a ten minute paper check in, and then, “please come back at 2.” Arrive at 2. And at 3:30, actually check in.

From that point on, nothing but very kind, professional treatment by the staff. The surgery area rooms are modern and immaculate! The operating salon is state-of-the-art. Overall, an experience that has reinforced my confidence in the Caja.


Thanks, Joe, for telling us both the positive and negative. We want our readers to consider Costa Rica with their eyes open to reality. We think it’s important to show both the good and the bad.

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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 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.

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.

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Featured Property – San Ramon: Charming 3BR 2BA Home with Separate Apartment $120,000

SR5135Exterior-5Property ID: SR8135


Bedrooms: 3

Bathrooms: 2

Lot Size: 144 sq mt

House: 2000 sq ft




This nice tico 2-story home is located close to the downtown area of San Ramon. It is the perfect size house for simple living that’s close to all of the local amenities.

The lower unit consists of 1,550 square feet of space and contains three bedrooms, an office space, a bathroom with granite counter-tops and hot water to the shower, a nice sized kitchen with a breakfast bar, a small dining area, and a separate laundry-room in the back with plenty of additional storage space. The third bedroom, or a maids room, is located off of the laundry area.




The upper unit has 1 BR, a small kitchen area, living room, and extra storage space.



There is a one-car attached garage and the property is fully fenced.


This house also has great rental potential, as a live-in with a tenant, or simply to rent out as two units.

Property ID: SR8135

Click here for more photos 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.


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What’s New on the Website

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