Mar 21 2017

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – March 21, 2017

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 



Our February 2017 Costa Rica Cost of Living

Yea! A month under $2,000. With all of the spending to outfit our new apartment, I expected to spend more in February. But even with buying a table and chairs for our kitchen, we came in at $1,932.80. If you take out the cost of the table and chairs, our February living expenses are down to $1,498.41.

Here’s the breakdown:

Transportation – $99.20

One of the most immediate benefits of living in town is the change in our transportation expenses. We just don’t need to use the car as much so it stays parked and we save money. Mostly, we walk and take buses, though occasionally we will take a cab if we are in a hurry or have packages.

In February, we spent about $4.00 on public transportation, about $50.00 on gas, tolls, and parking, and the rest (about $45.00 for an oil change) on car maintenance.

Groceries – $268.47

In January, after our move, we stocked our cupboards so when February rolled around, we only needed to buy perishables. One interesting thing to note is that our shopping patterns have changed with our move into town. Whereas we used to buy groceries a couple of times a week, we now “pick up a few things” more frequently. Of the 28 days in February, we purchased groceries of some type on 17 of them. We have so many options here. Every Friday morning, we walk to the organic market, just 2 blocks away and in the afternoon, we go to the feria (farmers’ market). When we run out of things or need something specific to make dinner or offer guests, we stop by Super Mario on the corner, Supermercado La Molina, 2 blocks away, or David’s produce stand just a block up the street. I don’t have to keep as much in the freezer, nor do I have to plan meals so far in advance. I’m liking it!

I am still separating out food items from non-food items on my spreadsheet. In February, we spent 9% ($21.88) of our total grocery spending on non-food items, so 91% ($246.59) of our grocery dollars went to food purchases.

Meals Out – $75.88

Chifrijo at The Corner Pub

Though I still cook dinner at home most nights, I can tell already that we will be eating meals out more often. It’s so easy to walk down to The Corner Pub for Paul’s favorite Chifrijo and to watch music videos from the 80s, especially after a day at the beach or writing all afternoon.

We’re enjoying the freedom to walk out our front door, stroll down to the park, maybe stop and have a coffee or ice cream at a little cafe.

A casado from Pa’ Que Lleve

Lunch is usually leftovers or something quick and easy, but we also eat lunch out several times a month. One of our favorite places for lunch these days is Pa’ Que Lleve, located on the same street as the San Ramón Correo (post office). They have great casados (a casado is a plate of rice, beans, salad, a vegetable, and a choice of meat) for only 2,000 colones, including a refresco (fruit drink), and pastas with salad for 2,500 colones.

Healthcare – $192.90

Other than our regular healthcare expenses — monthly Caja payment, vitamins and supplements, and our monthly MediSmart payment — we only had one other expense. I went to see Dr. Victor Ramirez, a local doctor who works in the Caja during the day and sees patients privately starting at 4:00 pm. Normally, I would see our Caja doctor, but with moving into town, our local Caja clinic has changed. We hadn’t yet transferred our medical records there, and frankly, I was feeling so bad I didn’t want to have to explain things, in Spanish, to a new doctor.

So, off we went to visit Dr. Ramirez, who we have seen in the past. He speaks English and when you are sick, that can be a blessing. He diagnosed my stomach pain as acute colitis and prescribed medication for pain, probiotics (Multiflora Plus), an antifungal, and an antibiotic. We were able to get two of the medications through the Caja and the other two we purchased at a local pharmacy. Here is the breakdown of costs:

  • Doctor visit: 25,000 colones ($45.54)
  • Prescriptions: 24,290 colones ($44.24)

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $784.89

Last month, our expenses in this category included a couple of final expenses (electricity and water) from our last rental for the previous month. This month, all the expenses relate to our current rental in town. Here’s the breakdown:

Water is now included in our rent, so we will no longer have that expense. Our Internet service, now through Tigo, will normally cost 21,000 colones (about $38), but this month’s bill included an additional 1,050 colones late charge. We hadn’t received bills for the two previous months since they had an incorrect email address, so weren’t sure when or how to pay. I called Tigo customer service and they corrected our email addresses, resent the bills, and agreed to waive the late charge. But when the bill came, the late charge was still there; I just didn’t want to deal with it again over $2, so I paid the bill as-is.

Our housecleaning expenses were higher than normal in February because it was our month to pay our housekeeper’s Caja. We have an arrangement with the four other couples she cleans for. We each pay for her Caja once every five months. Paul collects the money, pays the bill, and gives the receipt to Flor, our housekeeper, each month. She works for us once a week for four hours and we pay her 9,000 colones. Her monthly Caja costs $38.66 and covers her and her two children. It’s an expense we are happy to pay.

Our first electricity bill (for the month of January) in the new apartment came to 30,285 colones (less than $55). Both our hot water and clothes dryer are electric, so we are very pleased that our bill was so low. It may even be less for the month of February (which will be paid in March) as we now turn off the hot water heater once we’ve both showered, then turn it back on to wash dinner dishes.

We use propane only for our gas stove and we are still on the original propane tank we purchased and had installed a few days before moving in on January 1st. We expected it to last three months, so will probably need to buy a refill in March or early April.

Furniture for New Apartment – $435.39

The entire amount in this category for February was for a table and chairs for our eat-in kitchen. We shopped and shopped, saw lots of lovely sets, but never found just the right one for us. We didn’t want to spend too much so we even looked at used furniture via various Facebook groups, Craigslist, and Encuentra 24.  We also wanted something different, something suitable for an eat-in kitchen instead of a formal dining room. After seeing dining tables at The Corner Pub which were made out of doors, adorned with beer bottle caps, and topped with glass, we were inspired. We contact the same furniture builder and had him build one for us (but without the beer bottle caps!) This was the result:

The design was based on farm tables I’d seen on Pinterest, along with the tables at The Corner Pub. I picked the colors for the chairs as well as the stair for the tabletop and chair seats. I bought the little glass stones to decorate the table at Aliss (5 bags @ 390 colones, about 70 cents/bag). Luis, the builder, made the table to order so that it would fit perfectly in our kitchen, and delivered it to our 2nd floor apartment. He made the “door” part himself so we weren’t restricted to available sizes of manufactured doors. The cost to have the table and chairs built, stained, painted, and delivered was about $432, including the glass top. The decorative stones were an additional $3.50, and the chair pads (which we bought at Ekono in March and are not included in February expenses) added on another $38. We are delighted with the result!

Hardware & Other Household Expenses – $50.95

Other than miscellaneous items like light bulbs, there were only two purchases of note in this category. First was a new coffee/spice grinder for $23.66. I had brought an old one with me from the States, eight years ago, and after having it repaired twice, it was finally time to replace it with a new one. I found a reasonably priced one at our local La Molina grocery store. I use it mainly for grinding spices and seeds for cooking.

The second item was an oven thermometer for our new stove. Since I bake and roast a lot, knowing the temperature of the oven is important to me, but finding an oven thermometer in Costa Rica is no easy task. After checking every store in our town that sells kitchen stuff, we moved on to Cemaco, a large housewares store in the new Alajuela City Mall. A friend said he thought he saw one there. But no, they had every other type of cooking thermometer, but not an oven thermometer. About a week later, another friend posted that she visited a Tips store in San Jose and they had everything. Tips carries products for both professional and home cooks. We went to the Tips store in Alajuela. They not only knew what I was talking about, they had two in stock to choose from. The cost was less than $13 but the benefit to me was priceless.

Everything Else

We stayed pretty close to home in February, though we did have a beach day at Playa Dona Ana which cost next to nothing.

Paul and I each got our hair cut, and mine was colored as well. The cost for mine was 10,000 colones (about $18) and I love my new stylist—Yohanna at Shine, about a half-block from where we live. Paul paid 2,500 colones (about $4.50) at his regular barber shop in the Central Market.

In anticipation of traveling with our cats later in the year, we bought a used, soft-sided pet carrier that will fit under an airplane seat for $25. Since we paid close to $50 for a new one, eight years ago, we were pleased with the price.

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:

Related Articles:


A Day in the Park: San Ramon’s New Children’s Playground


In the Mailbag – Vonage, and Getting an Emergency U.S. Passport

emaildelivery-200pxWe always get lots of responses and questions from readers, both newsletter subscribers and on Facebook.

After she read our January 2017 Costa Rica Cost of Living report, a reader wrote us this question about our Vonage bill:

Hola Gloria & Paul,

Am reading with much interest your move to town.  Can imagine getting used to the noise is difficult after living in the country!

I was writing as I noticed your Vonage monthly bill was $18 and wondered why yours is so much cheaper than ours.  We pay $42/month.  Anyway we can reduce our monthly expenditures we are all for!

Love your monthly newsletters.

Pura Vida,

Joe & Linda S.

And here’s my response:

Our Vonage bill is lower because we contacted them about a year ago and told them that we had decided to switch to MagicJack since it was so much less expensive. They said that since we had been such good customers for so many years, they would cut our bill by 50% (though the taxes stayed the same). So, we decided to stay with them. Give them a call. It’s worth a try!

Shortly afterwards, we received this good news from Joe and Linda:

Hola Gloria,

Thanks so much for your very helpful advice.  We did call Vonage & got our bill reduced substantially.  We were on an international plan at the $42 rate & are now on a US plan at $9.95/month that allows us to call US, Canada & Puerto Rico.  Huge reduction.  Thanks again.  Would not have known to do this without following you!

It always pays to ask!

We recently met Joan and Dan, an expat couple staying in San Ramon. Joan told us about their experience getting an emergency passport for their house guest whose passport was stolen — the day before her return flight home to the States! They were kind enough to send us the details in the event it might be useful for our readers:

When our friend—who we affectionately call our “Almost Daughter”—had her passport stolen in Puntarenas area, we followed the following steps which we got from Nomadic Matt’s website, in the section about when he lost his passport:

  • Go fill out a police report for your lost passport.
  • Go to the State Department website, print out this form and this one.
  • Fill them out.
  • Take the forms to the US Embassy or Consulate during morning hours.
  • Wait in line.
  • Wait in line some more.
  • Show the official your police report, forms, proof of your upcoming travel plans, and a passport-sized photo.
  • Read every sign made by the US Department of State while you wait even more.
  • Pay the fee (about $120 USD).
  • Go home and eat lunch.
  • Come back in the afternoon.
  • Wait in line again.
  • Get your new temporary passport.
  • Try not to lose this one either

Our process to help our guest turned out shorter than his! We think because we printed out and filled out the forms the night before. Had her passport photos taken at a place about 1/2 block away from the Embassy that had opened at least by our arrival time of 7:30 am, AND the fact that we were among the 1st in line outside the Embassy at 8 AM . CONCLUSION: We got in and out of all the requirements in 45 minutes!!!! (Another difference was—it cost us $135 plus $5 at the passport photo place). Also at 8 AM the Security Guard had us phone in from the sidewalk for an appointment. We got in right after that—yet later in the day, maybe it would not have worked out that way.

It is also explained that the emergency passport is good for 3 months and, upon return to the U.S., she is to send it in with the receipt of payment, she can get a passport that will be good for 10 yrs (regular not emergency status) and there will be no more fees; today’s payment covers it.

TIP: Be sure the info you need is in your hand on paper; ie, they took our phones away from us in Security, locked them up, giving us the key, and then returned them to us when we were leaving the Embassy.

Thanks Joan! Once again, here are the forms you will need to obtain an emergency passport. The key is downloading them and filling them out before you arrive at the U.S. Embassy.

Related Articles:


Featured Property: Lake Arenal: Move-In-Ready Furnished Home in Arenal Center-Reduced to $63,000

Property: Ref # 189

2 Bedrooms

1 Bathroom


Great Deal on House close to Nuevo Arenal Center. Priced Low for quick sale.

House is located behind Banco Nacional near end of road in residential area.

Furnished & very secure.  Owner came and went many years.

Quiet neighborhood

2 Bedrooms

Great low price.

Easy to extend in big back yard if even necessary.






Property: Ref # 189

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.

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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