Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter
In This Issue:
- 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?
- Featured Property in Lake Arenal: Rustic Chalet with Lake View and Pool-$150,000
- Cooking in Costa Rica: An Expat’s Guide to Buying Groceries, Cooking, and Eating in Costa Rica
- Our Ultimate CR Healthcare Tour
I was plesantly surprised with how low our monthly spending was for February. In fact, I checked my spreadsheet several times just to be sure I didn’t miss anything!
Transportation – $57.24
In February, we didn’t have any car repair or maintenance, though we did buy new car mats for $11.08. Over the years, we’ve found the best prices for these at Pequeño Mundo. Otherwise, our only expenses were for gasoline and a couple of small tolls. When we head towards Grecia, Alajuela, the airport, or San Jose, we go through a toll which charges 150 colones (about 25 cents) in that direction only. There is no toll when we return to San Ramón.
Groceries – $435.91
Once again, our grocery expenses totaled over $400 for the month, and February is a short month. We had house guests for the last week of the month so that accounts for part of it. Of the total $435.91, 88% was for edibles and the other 12% was for non-food items.
I am trying to do a review of what we’ve spent for various items over the years to get a better idea of how much prices have changed for items we purchase regularly, so stay tuned for that. We went to PriceSmart during the month to stock up on goodies for our friends’ visit. We also went to Super Asia, an asian grocery store in Tibás, San Jose, where I bought two packages of wonton wrappers, one bag of 20 gyoza dumplings, some fish sauce, soy sauce, and a bunch of Chinese veggies, spending $25.16.
Meals Out – $108.04
We ate 5 meals out in restaurants in February, hitting all of our favorites. In our town of San Ramon, we ate at both Filipos and Savory a la Thai, our two favorite restaurants. Filipos is located right in town, just outside the entrance to the Feria de Agricultura and very close to the Univesity of Costa Rica campus. Filipo’s mediterranean cuisine never disappoints. The menu varies every few months or so with new dishes added to the standard favorites. There is also a daily special and a featured dessert. My favorite is the gyro sandwich with either chicken or falafel, though you can order it with pork or beef as well. Our meal at Filipos came to less than $18 for two.
When we’re in Grecia, we love to eat at Johnny Lara’s Mas Q Sabor. They offer the best Mexican food we’ve had in Costa Rica, with everything from mole to incredible fish tacos (some of the best I’ve had anywhere) to traditional Tex-Mex favorites and fresh salads with a Mexican flair. For the three of us, our dinner cost $32.85, including one beer and a shared dessert.
Evidently, February was our month for ethnic food. One Sunday, we also visited Wong’s in San Jose for authentic dim sum with four friends.
Wong’s is located near the Jade Museum so it’s easy to make a day of it and combine it with a visit to the museum or any of the parks. It’s great to go for dim sum with a group so that you can try more items. Dim sum, if you’ve never tried it, is a selection of small bite-sized portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on a small plate, including various types of dumplings, pork buns, soups, and other appetizers. We mostly ordered off of the dim sum cart but also ordered a couple of items from the regular menu to share. Our friend, Annie, is Chinese so she helped us choose from the many selections available. Everything was delicious and no one went away hungry! Our meal for two came to $23.68.
Healthcare – $71.38
No big expenses in February when it comes to healthcare. The two expenses we always have are our monthly Caja (Costa Rica’s public medical system) payment of 26,772 colones ($44.25) and our monthly pro-rated expense for the MediSmart plan. If you aren’t familiar with MediSmart (a discount plan offered by Hospital Metropolitano), you can read more about it at this link. Other than these two expenses, our only other healthcare expense in February was for some supplements we bought at one of the local macrobioticas (health food stores).
Rent/Phone/Utilities – $763.81
We purchased a tank of propane in February which we use just for cooking with our gas stove. One tank lasts us about 3-4 months and costs less than $12.00. Electricity was about average, coming in at about $54.00 USD. Our rent of $550 is paid in US dollars so always stays the same, whereas our internet service through Tigo is paid in colones; though the billed amount is the same each month (22,775 colones), the dollar conversion varies with the exchange rate.
Personal Care and Clothing – $67.83
The hairdresser I had been using for the last couple of years moved out of the area so I had to find someone new to cut and color my hair. A new salon had opened in our block several months before so I thought I would give them a try. For the cut and all-over color, I paid less than $20 USD (12,000 colones), and I was very pleased with the results.
The rest of the spending in this category went to clothes purchases for Paul. First off, he bought two beautiful like-new, long-sleeved shirts at Mega Ropa for $9.26 total (2800 colones per shirt). And later in the month, Paul picked up his tailor-made black khaki pants which he had ordered from William, el sastre (the tailor) down the street. He paid less for them (23,000 colones or $38.02 USD) than he would have for a similar pair from Lands End.
Pet Supplies – $22.75
Since we were stocked with kitty litter, our only expense in February was for cat food. We upgraded their food about 6 months back to Science Diet Urinary Care formula which is much more expensive in Costa Rica than in the States.
In addition to our usually monthly costs of $11.68 for Netflix and $2.00 for Paul’s online subscription to the Baltimore Sun, we only had one other expense in this category. We went to a dinner theater presentation by Costa Rica’s own Little Theater Group. The event was held at Vientos Bajos in San Ramon in conjunction with their “A Taste of Spain” tapas dinner. It reminded us of how much we loved going to local and regional theater productions when we lived in Baltimore. It was a fun event and a great time shared by friends old and new.
FYI, Vientos Bajos Activities Center, near San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica, is a state-of-
the-art sports and activities complex combining recreation, fitness, sports, and social
and cultural activities at one convenient location. The 10,000 square foot center
features two gymnasiums for pickleball, basketball, volleyball, and badminton; two
catering kitchens; a fitness area; ping pong area; and activities for cards, puzzles, board
games, or just relaxation. The focus of the center is on retired expats in the San Ramon
area. You can get more information by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Services – $12.40
We have the luxury of having our clothing ironed, as needed, for less than $1 USD per piece. In February, we had a total of 15 shirts/slacks/blouses ironed by a lady in our neighborhool for a total of $12.40. As we have noted many times, services are a bargain here, whether it’s having the house cleaned, clothing ironed, or shoes and watches repaired.
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 Money Saving Tip: Find Reasonably Priced Housing
- A Walk Around Our Neighborhood (Video)
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Shop at Ropa Americana
- MediSmart: An Affordable Alternative to Private Health Insurance in Costa Rica
“Can I utilize ATM cards in Costa Rica? If I apply for resident status do I have to have my SS checks deposited in Costa Rica bank?
I thought that Daniel’s simple question required a more complicated answer:
Thanks for getting in touch. Yes, you can use ATMs in Costa Rica, however you need to be aware of a couple of things. First, ATMs here charge fees, as will your home bank. In recent years, many banks here have imposed lower daily limits which means more frequent withdrawls and, therefore, more bank fees. Before your visit, you should check with your home bank regarding the following:
- Do they have an affiliate banks in Costa Rica where you would not incur an ATM fee?
- If not, what is the fee your bank charges per ATM transaction?
- Do they also charge a foreign transaction fee?
- Do you need to notify anyone at your bank that you will be traveling to Costa Rica for a specified amount of time?
You may want to consider opening an account with one of the banks that don’t charge foreign ATM fees or foreign transaction fees, which can definitely add up. Check out Charles Schwab and Capital One 360. There is more info in this article: https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/debit-card-foreign-transaction-international-atm-fees/
If you apply for residency, you can either have your Social Security deposited into one of the banks here in CR, or you can have it deposited into a U.S. bank. Since Paul’s Social Security check is deposited in our U.S. bank account at Bank of America, we wanted to find a less expensive way of getting cash here in Costa Rica. For foreign ATMs, Bank of America charges $5 for each transaction, then the local banks charge about $3 per transaction. That got to be expensive!
So, here’s what we do: We opened up savings accounts at Coopenae, both in dollars and colones. Whenever we need to replenish our cash, we write a check for several thousand dollars to Coopenae from our U.S. bank. It takes at least 30 days to clear, so we make sure we have enough cash on-hand to cover our expenses during that period. When the cash arrives into my dollar account, we transfer about $1,000 at a time into our colones account. That way, we are getting the current rate of exchange instead of converting the entire amount into colones. The only limitation is that you need to be a legal resident before you can open a regular savings account in Costa Rica, though you can open a CD investment account with just your passport.
Hope this helps.
“Thanks for your newsletter. I am planning to move to CR this summer. The rules of engagement seemed to have changed as far as visitors traveling without visas. How long can I visit/stay before I have to apply for residency? Do you have any recommendations for attorneys who can help me apply?
Hi Alma! We’re glad you are finding our newsletter helpful.
The rules about tourist visas themselves haven’t changed. With a valid passport from most countries, including the U.S. and Canada, you can usually stay for 90 days. What has changed is the enforcement. We know people who live here as “perpetual tourists,” who for one reason or another have never applied for legal residency. They leave the country every 90 days and then return to revalidate their stay as tourists for another 90 days. Immigration is enforcing the 90 day rule more stringently in efforts to crack down on perpetual tourists. However, it depends on who you get at immigration when you arrive. We know one couple who were given less than 90 days — in fact, he was given 90 days and she was only given 60 days. So, there are no guarantees when you arrive as a tourist.
We applied for residency even before we moved to CR. We figured that the money we saved not having to leave the country every 90 days more than made up for what it cost us to get legal residency. We used “Residency in Costa Rica” and were so pleased that we recommend them on our website. Javier will even give a discount to folks who come through our website. He is based in LA and his sister is based in San Jose, CR. You can contact him through the above link and ask any questions you may have about residency and the costs involved.
Hope this helps.
Interestingly, we just received the following note from Lynn regarding her experience with Residency in Costa Rica so we thought we’d share it as well:
“We hired Javier to represent us in our residency application. He has his main office in Los Angeles, CA and has a sister here who is married to a Supreme Court judge and who works with a law firm here, and she’s a powerhouse. When we went to get our finger printing done a clerk told me that my papers were not in order, so I went outside and got her, and she read the clerk the riot act. All 6 other clerks in the office were laughing so hard they had to hide under their desks! Ten minutes later I was cleared. I very highly recommend them.”
(Reprinted from The Costa Rica Star. Used with Permission.)
One grumbling commonly expressed by North American expats residing in Costa Rica is related to their monthly electricity bills. Not only do they assert that they pay more in Costa Rica than they used to pay…(back home); they also assume that their new monthly bill has to be the most expensive in the world.
The dubious reasoning that accompanies this expat nagging usually goes along the lines of “Why should I pay so much in a Third World country that mostly gets its electricity from renewable sources?” In extreme cases, some expats believe they fall victim to “gringo pricing” in Costa Rica, whereby they believe that the local utility knows that they are foreigners and therefore are being charged more than their neighbors. Such complaints often come from expats who also believe that Costa Rica is the most expensive country in the world.
A 2014 survey of international electricity rates compiled by World Atlas does not list Costa Rica as the most expensive in terms of electricity costs. That would be Italy, which is probably why you never hear Italian expats complain about their monthly energy bills in Costa Rica; in fact, they barely complain about anything else. Interestingly, Costa Rica and Italy share a couple of electricity production aspects in common: no nuclear plants due to high seismicity and lots of hydroelectric generation thanks to abundant rivers.
It is estimated that the average electricity rate in Italy, the highest in the world, is about 21 cents (of the United States dollar) per kilowatt hour (kWh). Italy is followed by Germany, a nation known to take substantial advantage of residential solar energy panels, at 19 cents per kWh. Portugal is a little higher than Spain at 13.85 cents per kWh, and the list continues with Belgium, Slovakia, France, and other European nations until we come up with the U.S. at position 13 with an average 10 cents per kWh. Cheaper rates than the U.S. are found in Australia, South Africa, Finland, Canada, and Sweden.
The World Atlas list does not include Costa Rica, perhaps because it did not touch upon Third World countries. Still, we have the current electricity fees listed by the National Power and Light Company (Spanish initials: CNFL), which handles billing for a good portion of the Greater San Jose Metropolitan Area (Spanish initials: GAM).
As of July 2016, CNFL subscribers who consume between 0 and 300 kWh per month are charged three rates: assuming an exchange rate of 545 colones per $1, from 8:00 pm to 06:00 am, they pay 27.47 colones per kWh, which is about $0.05. From 06:00 am to 10:00 am and from 12:30 pm to 05:30 pm, they pay $0.12 per kWh. From 10:00 am to 12:30 pm and from 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm, when many expats in Costa Rica watch primetime programming from the U.S. on cable and satellite TV systems, they pay $0.29 per kWh.
Once monthly consumption exceeds 501 kWh for CNFL subscribers in Costa Rica, they could pay as much as $0.39 per kWh during the peak primetime periods mentioned above.
CNFL lists average consumption for a family of four in Costa Rica to be around 200 kWh per month.
In the end, depending on the monthly consumption and the period of use, electricity rates in Costa Rica could be as high as the average in Italy or as low as the average in the U.S. To the aforementioned expats, however, they will always be the most expensive in the world.
- “Does Costa Rica Have the Highest Electricity Rates in the World?”, by Jaime Lopez. The Costa Rica Star, Friday, March 22, 2019.
- Current electricity fees listed by the National Power and Light Company (CNFL)
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: How to Save on Your Electric Bill
Location: Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica
1000 square feet
Lot size: .3 acres (1214m2)
Price: $150,000 USD
This unusual open area chalet has two small bedrooms (one upstairs) and a bathroom with a large bathtub creatively finished in stone. Thru the large glass windows you view only Lake Arenal and trees. It is very private. The yard has a small swimming pool and a gazebo.
From the property you can walk down to the lake to swim or fish. When the sky lights up with the colors from the sunset, you could be sitting on the veranda sipping your favorite drink and just enjoying the beautiful surroundings yet you are only 10 minutes from Nuevo Arenal’s town center.
This is a perfect vacation retreat home for anybody living full time who appreciates nature.
Property: Ref # 333
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 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:
- 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 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.
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!
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 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 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 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
Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- 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