Mar 01 2019

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – March 1, 2019

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 


Our January 2019 Costa Rica Cost of Living – $1,702.19

by Gloria

In January, our spending was lower than our monthly average, with no big, out-of-the-ordinary expenses. Here’s the breakdown:

Transportation – $63.31

No big trips, no car repairs, just one fill-up, a few tolls and parking for a trip into San Jose, and one cab ride here in town. Grand total: $63.31. Living in town has drastically reduced our transportation spending as we can walk most places in town

Groceries – $444.06

While our January spending for groceries is much less than it was in December, it is still over $400 for the month. It will be interesting to see how the average for the year shakes out over past averages. In January, our spending on groceries came to 26% of our total spending for the month.

Generally, it seems to me that grocery prices have risen, though the statistics show otherwise. “Cost of food in Costa Rica decreased 0.69 percent in January of 2019 over the same month in the previous year. Food Inflation in Costa Rica averaged 5.91 percent from 2007 until 2019, reaching an all time high of 27.74 percent in September of 2008 and a record low of -2.30 percent in November of 2016.” Source: Trading Economics)


One thing to keep in mind is that, over the years, taxes on “luxury” products have increased — things like olive oil, aged cheeses, and wine. It’s not a coincidence that these products are also imported. We tend to buy groceries locally in our town, with occasional trips to PriceSmart (like Costco) and AutoMercado (an upscale grocery chain with more imported products) for items not available here. I still cook most of our meals from scratch and we eat lots of local fruits and vegetables with few processed foods. Yet our monthly food expenses continue to rise. So, not a scientific, provable fact, just more of an on-the-ground observation.

I recently read a 2013 USDA report about retail foods in Costa Rica and thought that some of the information it contained would be interesting to our readers. Here’s an excerpt. If anyone is interested in reading the whole report, send me an email and I will be happy to forward the pdf to you.

The Costa Rican retail food market landscape consists principally of five major grocery store chains contributing to over 350 supermarkets, and some 13,000 traditional mom-and- pop/neighborhood stores. In the middle are a few popular, new, and evolving convenience stores and gas marts…Known for its beach and mountain resorts, the country adds more than 2 million tourists and thousands of affluent retirees to its base of retail food consumers every year…The retail sector is one of the most versatile, since much depends on the economic situation of the country. During the recent economic crisis, consumption in independent grocery stores and small suppliers increased because people preferred to buy small quantities, while in times of recovery and economic boom revenues from large chains increase.”

Costa Ricans spend about 30% of their income on food products. The local food industry (comprised of about 20% large companies and 80% small and medium-sized enterprises) has been steadily growing and incorporating technological advances to increase exports and offers a wide variety of products for local consumption: fresh and processed tropical fruits and vegetables, bakery products (bread/cookies), pasta, sauces, snacks, juices, and of course, dairy products, red meat, poultry and fish/seafood

In 2012 total imports of U.S. consumer oriented products reached $183.8 million, a record year. Imports from neighboring countries (Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, and Nicaragua) include a large variety of products such as fresh fruit and vegetables, liquor, cereals and beans. Other major suppliers that seek to increase their exports to Costa Rica include Canada, Chile and, most recently, China.”


Meals Out – $54.12

One lunch and two dinners out for two people came to $54.12. One of the restaurants we went to was our favorite, Savory a la Thai, in Piedades Norte de San Ramon. Addie’s food is consistently good, fresh, and made from scratch. Her Thai red curry paste is so good I asked to buy some. Because of its out-of-the-way location, it’s a bit of a destination restaurant, but well worth the trip! We also had dinner with friends at Octubre 29 Gastrobar, at it’s new location overlooking the park. What a fun restaurant with really creative decor. Food was good too. 

Healthcare – $163.57

January’s spending was MUCH better than last month’s record-breaking total for healthcare! Our normal monthly expenses were our monthly Caja payment ($44.47) and our monthly MediSmart payment. Though we pay for the entire year in advance (in order to get the lowest price), we show the expense on a monthly basis, pro-rated over 12 months. Our monthly MediSmart fee is, therefore, $16.39.

We also bought some supplements from Amazon which a friend brought down for us from the States for a total of $52.46. Our only other healthcare expense for the month was a dental appointment for Paul. He had an old filling replaced for 30,000 colones ($50.25). Quality dental care in Costa Rica is a bargain. In fact, dental tourism is the #1 type of medical tourism in this country.

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $772.22

Our expenses in this category were normal for the month of January:

Because of the strength of the US dollar (about 603 colones/$1 USD), our Internet (22,775 per month through TIGO for 8 mps) went down a bit when converted to dollars.  We didn’t need to buy propane in January, nor do we pay for our water. Our phone expense includes both of our pay-as-you-go (“prepaid”) cell phones as well as our Vonage phone line ($18.13/month). The one expense that is a little higher than normal is our housecleaning since there were five Wednesdays in January (our regular cleaning day) instead of the usual four. 

Personal Care and Clothing – $83.62

Since we had a friend willing to “mule down” some purchases for us from the States, we ordered some personal care products from Amazon that we can’t buy in Costa Rica, things like replacement toothbrush heads for our Braun Oral B toothbrush, totaling $81.97.

For the remaining $1.65, Paul bought a beautiful “new” shirt at one of San Ramon’s many Ropa Americanas (used “American” clothing stores).

Pet Supplies – $62.58

While veterinary care is a bargain in Costa Rica, buying imported cat food and litter is certainly not. In January, we bought one bag of Science Diet’s Urinary Care formula at a cost of $23.99 for a 4 pound bag. We also bought two 42 lb. bags of Fresh Step kitty litter at a cost of just under $20 each. 

We can buy the Science Diet in pet stores locally, but we always buy the Fresh Step in the large bags at PriceSmart. Local stores have just started carrying smaller boxes of the clumping litter but the cost is way too expensive.

Entertainment – $14.67

January was a busy tour month for us so during our off-time, we stayed close to home. We watched a lot of Netflix ($11.65 for our monthly subscription) and Paul read the Baltimore Sun online ($2 for his monthly subscription). I also bought a Kindle Book for 99¢.

Miscellaneous – $19.97

The bulk of spending in this category was to renew our yearly membership in the Community Action Alliance of Costa Rica (CAA). The “CAA  is an organization of expats and Costa Ricans who work together to enrich our community and the individuals in it.” Based in our town of San Ramon de Alajuela, the “CAA has more than 100 members who contribute their talents to the community.” Dues for the whole year are only 5,000 colones per person ($16.61 USD for both of us). You can learn more about the CAA at their Facebook page.

Services – $9.23

Generally, services in Costa Rica are inexpensive. In January, Paul had three shirts ironed for $2.52 (500 colones each) and a pair of shoes repaired for $6.71 (4,000 colones). 

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:


Related Articles:


Costa Rica: One of the World’s Happiest Countries

by Gloria

Costa Rica has recently received more acknowledgement for what it’s doing right, this time from the World Economic Forum, in it’s January 31, 2019 article, “Costa Rica is one of the world’s happiest countries. Here’s what it does differently.” In the article, Costa Rica President, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, is quoted as saying, “Seventy years ago, Costa Rica did away with the army. This allows for many things. Eight percent of our GDP is invested in education because we don’t have to spend on the army. So our strength is human talent, human wellbeing.” Note that the world average expenditure on education is 4.8%.

The article also mentioned the country’s commitment to protect its natural resources and that Costa Rica generates more than 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, with the vast majority from hydroelectric dams. President Alvarado stated, “Many people say that to protect the environment goes against the economy. Whereas it’s the complete contrary. Our tourism has grown precisely because of this.”

Costa Rica’s high marks in the Happy Planet Index, as well as in a recent Gallup poll. “Professor Mariano Rojas, a Costa Rican economist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, attributes Costa Ricans’ high wellbeing to a culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods.

The reason Costa Rica tops the HPI time and again, however, is that it delivers all this while using a quarter of the resources typically used in the Western world.”

While Costa Rica is not the perfect paradise that some imagine it to be, it gets a lot right. And that leads to the well-being of its people, expat immigrants included. Take a look at the entire World Economic Forum article at the link below to learn even more reasons Costa Rica consistently ranks as one of the world’s happiest countries.

Related Article: 


Healthcare Bang-for-Your-Buck

by Paul

I found the health-efficiency index cited in Bloomberg’s article, “These Are the Economies With the Most (and Least) Efficient Health Care,” to be one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen in the last several years regarding healthcare in America versus the rest of the world.

Put simply, it’s a survey which measures bang-for-the-buck, and in it, the U.S. comes in a shockingly low 54th, tying for next to last with Bulgaria coming in last. The survey looks at the cost of healthcare and lifespan as compared to 55 other countries. Even though the lifespan in the USA is approximately 78.7, 25 other countries have greater longevity for much less cost. What’s important in this survey is to look at the cost in the U.S. relative to other countries.

For example, Costa Rica comes in at 25th on the list, with a lifespan of 79.8 years, more than a full year longer than the U.S.A., but costs almost 90% less than in the U.S.A. So in essence, the people of Costa Rica are getting a lot of bang-for-the-buck.

What really makes it all the more interesting is that, relative to the U.S.A., Costa Rica is a poor country, with a GDP of approximately $10,300 per capita (2016), compared to $59,500 for the U.S.A. (2017). Costa Rica was the highest rated Latin American country on the list. At Retire for Less in Costa Rica, we’ve had people swear up and down, inside and out, that the U.S. has the best healthcare in the world and nothing else compares. I’m not here to say that Costa Rica, Mexico, Canada, or Spain has great or superior healthcare than the U.S.A., but on a bang-for-the-buck basis, the stats don’t lie. But you be the judge. Of course, this is taking into account the general population. If you’ve got a lot of money, you can probably get good healthcare anywhere.

Please take a hard look at this most interesting survey and let us know what you think. Gloria’s summary of the article follows.


What Are the Countries With the Most (and Least) Efficient Health Care?

by Gloria

Bloomberg just published it’s article, “These Are the Economies With the Most (and Least) Efficient Health Care,” stating that “The U.S. will cost you the most for treatment, both in absolute terms and relative to average incomes, while life expectancy of Americans — about 79 years — was exceeded by more than 25 countries and territories, according to an annual Bloomberg analysis in almost 200 economies.”


Coming in as the three countries with the most efficient healthcare were Hong Kong, Singapore, and Spain, respectively.  Canada was rated at number 16, Mexico tied with China at number 20, and Costa Rica made the top 25 at number 25. The United Stated tied for 54th place with Azerbaijan.

The sources for this article included: World Bank, World Health Organization, UN Population Division, International Monetary Fund, Hong Kong Department of Health, Taiwan Ministry of Health and Welfare.

You can read the entire article and check out the ratings of 56 countries at the link below.

Related Article:


Featured Property in Sarchi: 2 Houses for Sale by Motivated Seller-REDUCED to $89K 


Property ID Number: AB2019

Price: $89,000 USD
Geographic Area: Sarchi
Property Size: 1 acre of land. Approximate total internal area (both houses) 1,600 ft2. Plus patio and laundry area 106 ft2.
Bedrooms/Bathrooms: Small house has 2 bedrooms 1 bathroom.  The big house is a shell on 2 levels which has the potential to have 3 good-sized bedrooms or 4 smaller ones.

Property includes two houses in an area where the locals are friendly and helpful. Live in one house while remodelling the bigger house to YOUR liking. Or you could rent the smaller house out or use it as a BnB.The large house measures approx. 1340 ft2. It must be seen to appreciate size of the large house and its potential. The lower level is half the length of the main level. Everything is above ground.

New metal fixings on the ceiling so you are ready to add your choice of tongue-and-groove. You can make the windows bigger, add windows, make large doors and deckings at the rear (astounding peaceful views!) on both levels of the large house. Choose where you want your internal walls…bedrooms or kitchen, etc. upstairs or downstairs.

The small house (approx. 749 ft2 + the patio and laundry area is basic with 2 bedrooms and bathroom. Choose your own tiling/ceramic. You may wish to extend/remodel.






Additional features include:

  • Hot water shower.
  • Fresh local water (NOT city AYA).
  • Road paved all the way (and maintained).
  • Solid sliding gate (with lockable door) and good fencing.Parking for several cars.
  • Fiber Optic installed on road. Claro TV (maybe others) can be installed. There used to be telephone connections.
  • All roofing over both houses was installed mid 2017.
  • Legal and Titled.
  • TAXES ALL PAID 2019 (both Municipality and Corporation).
  • Municipality tax only $80 per year including collection of trash twice a week!
  • 15 minutes drive to downtown Sarchí. Hospital in Sarchí. 2 local Doctors in Trojas area.
  • 45 mins from San Jose International airport and 1.5 hours to beach.

Property ID Number: AB2019

Click here for more photos and to contact the owner of 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: An Expat’s Guide to Buying Groceries, Cooking, and Eating 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! 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.

Buy the print edition on

Buy the Kindle edition on

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!


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 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 taylors 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 makes 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 almost 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 c


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)
  • 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!


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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What About Oaxaca?

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 it’s culture has 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 and want to read about our Oaxaca Relocation tour, visit our website, Retire in Oaxaca Mexico:

and our Facebook page of the same name:


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What’s New on the Website

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