Mar 09 2016

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – March 9, 2016

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 


Header photo credit: Thanks to our neighbor, Jim Johansen, who took the original photo above of a white-faced monkey in one of the abundant poró trees in bloom at this time of the year.


Our February 2016 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses

Yea us! We came in under $2000 again in February, despite some out-of-the-ordinary expenses.

Passport Renewal – $124.72

First off, we spent a total of $124.72 to renew my U.S. passport. The renewal fee was $120 and the balance was to have a new passport photo taken at a place across the street from the U.S. Embassy.

passportIt was a surprisingly simple process. I started the process by making an appointment online  with the U.S. Citizen Services office at the U.S. Consulate in San Jose (Location: At the intersection of Calle 98 Vía 104 in the Pavas Section of San José, Costa Rica). The second step was to download and fill out Form #DS-82. On the day of my appointment, we showed up at the Citizen Services office and barely had time to sit before I was called to the window to be helped. I paid the fee, gave her the form and my passport photo, and was told that I would receive an email in about two weeks letting me know that my new passport was ready to be picked up any weekday between the hours of 8am and 11am. In fact, the email came in only 3 days, and when we returned to pick up my passport, it was just as quick. It took us more time to get through Security than to actually conduct our business. Well done, U.S. Citizen Services!

Groceries – $427.34

If you guessed that we took a trip to PriceSmart in February, you would be correct! In fact, we went twice, because the first time they were out of Fresh Step kitty litter (though that expense falls under our “Pets” category). A trip or two to PriceSmart always adds to our grocery bill for the month. What do we buy? Usually just items we can’t find in San Ramon, like large bags of nuts and chocolate chips, blocks of feta and Parmesan cheese, our favorite herbal shampoo, a large bottle of McCormick’s vanilla extract, and, of course, kitty litter! On this visit, we also purchased a professional quality non-stick 12″ frying pan for  just over $27; it’s included in the “Household” expenses category.

Transportation – $356.44

In addition to gas, tolls, parking, and any public transportation, we had a couple of car maintenance expenses in February. Since Costa Rica is not known for it’s smooth roads, Paul regularly gets our car’s wheels balanced & aligned, for which he paid the mechanic a whopping $15.00! The other expense was to replace the car battery which was weak. Paul bought a two-year battery right here in San Ramon for $85.00 installed.

I should also elaborate a bit on our expenses for parking. About 95% of the time, we are not paying to park in public lots. We are actually parking on the street and paying the local guachiman. Our friend, Ivo Henfling at Godutch Realty writes the following in his article, “Parking Your Car in Costa Rica:”

When you want to leave, a guy will walk up to you, help you get out of your parking spot and will hold up his hand. You didn’t know it, but he was there watching your car while you were away, so it didn’t get stolen or broken into. We call them a guachiman, watchiman or cuidacarros. In Costa Rica, a guachiman is an informal security guard and I’m sure the word was invented by a Tico who didn’t know how to pronounce the English word watchman…They each work a section of a city block, a certain restaurant, a bar, a beach or even the parking lot of a strip mall. They are either totally independent or hired by the business where you will be parking, but without a salary or social security, they depend on your tips.”

Pablo, one of our favorite "guachimanes"

Pablo, one of our favorite “guachimanes”

So, what should you tip your guachiman? We started out tipping them 200-300 colones, but now, seven years later, Paul tips 500 colones (less than $1 USD) unless he is parking for a very short period of time. We have gotten to know a couple of the guachiman personally and find them to be honest, helpful, and friendly.

Personal Care & Clothing – $42.83

Here’s the breakdown of this category:

  • Haircut & color: Gloria – $22.64 (12,000 colones)
  • Haircut: Paul – $3.77 (2,000 colones)
  • New blouse for Gloria (2,200 colones) and brand new shirt for Paul (2,400 colones) from Ropa Americana – $8.87
  • Shoe repair (repair the soles on Paul’s hiking boots) – $5.66 (3,000 colones)
  • Belt repair (sew belt loop back on one of Paul’s leather belts) –  $1.89 (1,000 colones)

There is a thriving business in Costa Rica of repair shops — for clothing, shoes, luggage, leather goods, and both small and large appliances. When things break or need to be altered, it’s easily possible to get the work done here. People tend to reuse and repair much more frequently in Costa Rica because there are services readily available and inexpensive. toasterWe were never ones to throw out serviceable items but, in the States, it was harder to find places to fix them. It was much easier and cheaper to just toss the old and buy the new. There is an ongoing joke in our household about our toaster. It’s a simple, 2-slice toaster that we bought about three years ago for less than $20. And it toasts great, but the lever won’t stay down. So, to make toast, we put a folded piece of cardboard in the slot to keep the lever down. The tricky thing is that, since it doesn’t pop up when the toast is done, we have to remember to pull out the cardboard and pop it manually. Did we take it to the small appliance repair shop, you may ask? No, that would have made too much sense. My sister even offered to buy us a new one when she visited recently. We said “no thanks” because the cardboard’s working, so we’re happy! Simple pleasures abound in our household!

That’s it for February. 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:


Livin’ Large in Costa Rica (Song by Mike Peace)


Mike Peace

We met Mike and Mary Peace in January of 2008, over 8 years ago, when we all took George Lundquist’s “Retire on Social Security Tour.” Since then, Mike and Mary have visited us several times on their trips to Costa Rica.

On the last visit, Mike performed his new song, “Livin’ Large in Costa Rica,” for us on our porch. And he promised that once it was recorded, he would allow us to share it with our readers. We are delighted to do that today. In the song, Mike sings about many of the things they love about this beautiful country that we call our home. Enjoy!



In the Mailbag

emaildelivery-200pxOur newsletters and posts generate lots of discussion, on our website, in emails, and on facebook. Here’s a glimpse into our mailbag.

Andrea writes us about Steve Johnson’s article on Gardening for Wildlife:

Hello Paul and Gloria! Thank you for your blog. I try to read it most months. It has a great deal of useful information on helping one decide to move and what it would entail. We are just starting the process of traveling in our retirement, and thank you for helping with some of those decisions. I wanted to say I especially enjoyed Steve Johnson’s post in January regarding gardening. It was very helpful to me as I am a gardener and would want to attract native birds/animals if I were to live in the tropics. And the photos were also very fun to see. Thank yous to all of you for doing your work there! Take care, Andrea

Katie H. also enjoyed Steve’s articles and wanted to share her experiences of gardening on the beach:

Skip and I moved to Costa Rica from Colorado Springs in Oct 2015 to realize Skip’s dream of retiring in Central America, and in November 2015 we moved to a nice beach house in Playa Zancudo, a small beach town on the South pacific coast of Costa Rica, fairly close to the Panama border. We both have a love of growing our own food. Skip has been an organic farmer selling to local restaurants in Colorado for years, and I have been a small garden hobby gardener for many years.  We were told both by locals as well as everything we read about gardening in C.R. that you can’t grow a garden at the coast, with many challenges listed as to the why. And then we heard if you want to garden you can’t grow if it is on the beachside of the road and for sure whatever you do don’t bother trying facing the beach. Well, since we have a lovely large deck overlooking the beach we decided to test this legend.

We have had mixed results, but have discovered it is not impossible but you have to change what you expect from your garden and plants. So first thing we did was list all the many reasons we had been told were obstacles. Here are some of them:

  • Iguanas
  • Salt in the air killing the plants
  • Poor dirt quality (salty sand) to work with
  • High humidity and heat

Katie1There are more but those were some of the main points. I think some people tried a little bit, got frustrated and gave up too quickly. We have had mixed results so far, but overall have been pleased with our successes and have learned from our experiments. We decided half our challenges could be solved by doing a pottery garden on the 2nd floor deck rather then at ground level. That has so far eliminated the iguanas getting into our garden. It is just too much effort for them to climb the stairs and get past 2 dogs looking for a snack; also the roof overhangs enough to keep them from dropping off the roof to the deck. The pottery garden also meant for our first round that we buy good quality of organic compost mix. We bought two 100 kilo bags from Perez region (San Isidro de El General) to kick start until we had good home mixed compost to work with. We still have noticed that the plants grow quickly but with very small root systems especially at first so we have been adding ash, coffee grounds, and eggs shells to our soil for future plantings. The local soil is indeed to poor of quality to use. When we got to Zancudo on November 1st, we brought two baby tomato plant starts from a friend of ours from the la Cima area, a ruda plant (for insect control) and starts from thyme and rosemary as well as some seeds we brought with us. Our first round of gardening I planted in paper coffee cups and started 3 kinds of basil, nasturtium, two types of beans, hot paper lantern habeñeros, borage, lettuces, squash and mexican tarragon. Also some other flowers such as marigolds and calendula.

Katie2So far what has performed the best for us during the hot season has been beans and all 3 of the basil varieties as well as garlic, and beans have really performed well. The borage is looking great too. The tomatoes have had mixed results. We have huge plants but so far only one of the tomato plants has produced, and they are smaller than when growing in a cooler climate, but I think they taste fine and they should make great sun dried tomatoes.. And while the rosemary is thriving, the thyme did not make it. We have had many salads from the lettuce, endive, and arugula so far; it had indeed bolted a bit but it has not been bitter. And also, plants that are viney like nasturtiums, beans and squash that don’t rely as heavily on deep root structures really love the climate here.

So far we have noticed that sea salt air has not really affected the plants at all and we are indeed right on the beach and gardening facing the beach. We have now another batch of seeds starting in seeds trays, we think though that the seeds start better in the rainy season to gain strength to withstand the sticky hot dry season days but we keep experimenting to continue to observe the results both good and bad. So our conclusions: good soil, regular watering, and a safe (from iguanas) grow zone can lead to success while gardening at the beach.

Thanks for the tips Katie!

And on facebook, Lory S. wrote:

My husband and myself would like to take the time to thank both of you for putting out great information and staying grounded. We have been following a couple of people for information on Costa Rica and recently have been turned off by the others. Like the others you have many followers because of the quality of the information that you put out. Unlike the others you two haven’t decided that you are “stars” and suddenly started acting as if you need security where ever you go. Thank you for leaving the Brad and Angie out of your articles and leaving all the amazing amounts of top quality information people need. I really love that you give so much of your own personal experiences and information. It really makes it easy for us to see what it will take for us to move there. Quality people put out quality work.

Aww, thanks Lory!


Lake Arenal: Huge Discount on 2BR 2BA Home Filled with Antiques Plus Car $150,000 US

REF-192 IMG_3157Property ID: Ref # 192

Location: Nuevo Arenal, Lake Arenal

Original price: $325,000 USD

Sale price: $150,000 USD (due to a death in the family)

Beds: 2
Baths: 2
Ft2: 1,800
Lot Acres: 1/3



This is an exceptional situation where you not only gain a lovely home with views of Lake Arenal, Volcano Arenal and the Continental Divide mountain range, but you could start your own upscale auction house with the valuable furnishings which the owners spent a lifetime collecting. Each piece is special and unusual.

REF-192 G_1090

The house is full of light and comes completely furnished. The owners want to leave everything behind, including a local use Geo Tracker automobile as a bonus for your convenience. I have never seen an offer like this in our location so some lucky people will have the opportunity to assume everything. The house itself has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms,. a very secure storage area for every garden tool needed for maintenance of the lovely gardens, and even air conditioning throughout the house. The glassed in artist’s room with a separate entrance is full of light and could also be used as a nursery for plants and orchids or whatever other hobby you may have.

REF-192 IMG_3161

REF-192 74f61f57-2a32-4989-840e-f2a4ec93f9dd

This home and its contents have to be seen to be appreciated. The antiques themselves are worth high returns…auction quality.

REF-192 IMG_1107

REF-192 IMG_1067

REF-192 4a560fb8-a511-4b59-a01d-b5be16a33739


Property ID: Ref # 192

Click here for lots 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 Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica

Our newest tour is 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 six and a half 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 of our featured speakers.

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)
  • A local private medical and dental clinic
  • A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
  • A pharmacy
  • 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.

Introductory prices: $550 for a couple, $450 for a single.
Please contact us if you are interested in booking this tour. Space is limited.

Related Articles:


Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube

You can now follow us on Facebook and Twitter, so please “like” us on Facebook“follow” us on Twitter, and watch and share our videos on YouTube.

What’s New on the Website

Check out our newest posts on

Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.