May 22 2018

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – May 22, 2018

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 


Our April 2018 Costa Rica Cost of Living

April was a busy month for us. We did several relocation tours for clients, mostly in the western Central Valley towns of San Ramon, Grecia, and Atenas, and one of our healthcare tours. Plus, my (Gloria’s) sister came for a visit from Maryland. The month was interesting and fun, and it went by quickly as oftens happens when you are busy. We are pleased that we came in under our goal of $2,000 for the month.

Here’s a look at what we spent in April:

Transportation – $166.45

Other than an oil change ($52.49) and a car wash ($12.32) so our Toyota 4-Runner looked nice for my sister’s visit, the rest of our transportation expenses were for gas, tolls, and parking ($101.63). Because we did some sightseeing, we spent more for gas than on a normal month when our car stays in the garage most of the time. More about where we went below in the “entertainment” section.

Groceries – $384.22

Our grocery bill remains closer to $400 than to $350. We did pay a visit to PriceSmart in Alajuela just before picking my sister up at the airport, spending about $82 on food. We bought a large block of feta cheese in brine, a bag of shredded parmesan, a wedge of asiago cheese, two large bottles of extra virgin olive oil, a bottle of balsamic vinegar,  a large bag of walnuts and a gallon bottle of white vinegar.

We also shopped at “La Pescaderia” Distribuidora Fernandez  seafood distributor in San Ramon to buy frozen wild caught salmon and corvina (a local mild white fish), spending about $28. Salmon is expensive here but not much more so than in the States. For .64 kg, we spent 7,873 colones (about $14) and for .72 kg of individually wrapped corvina, we spent 6,120 colones (about $11). I also usually buy frozen wild caught shrimp there but didn’t need any this time.

Meals Out – $203.13

We spent more on meals out in April than our normal $50-$100. Here are a few of more memorable meals we had.

After picking up my sister at the airport around noon, we took our hungry selves over to expat favorite Jalapenos Central in Alajuela. Norman and crew did not disappoint with  their tasty Tex-Mex food. For two, we spent 11,220 ($19.96).

My sandwich at Kula

During my sister’s visit, we spent the day in San Jose to visit the Jade Museum and the Namu Gallery.  We wanted something a bit different for lunch so we tried Kula, a restaurant I had found on TripAdvisor. The salads, sandwiches, and arepas at reasonable prices lived up to all the praise. Give it a try next time you are in San Jose. For two, we spent 12,200 colones ($21.69).

My sister, Toni, Addie, and me

In April, we had another great meal with my sister at Savory A La Thai Tailandesa. It was a nice afternoon at their new location in their home. They are normally open from 11am to about 9pm, Thursdays to Sundays. But on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, if you call ahead (like we did) and let them know you want to come, they will be happy to serve you if they will be home. They are still finishing up the dining room construction but the kitchen is open, the view is lovely, the peace and quiet is so nice, and Addie and Gerardo are as gracious hosts as ever! If you want to call ahead, their number is 6012 7722. They are located in Piedades Nortes. Just put the restaurant in WAZE or Google Maps and let the app direct you there. It’s definitely worth the drive! We shared an order of fresh spring rolls, Paul had the yellow curry chicken and I had the pad thai, for 11,200 colones (about $20.00).

We also stopped by San Ramon’s Crispy Wings for dinner one night. I’m not usually a wings fan but friends raved about the new ice cream parlor there. So, after a day at the beach, we headed to Crispy Wings for dinner and dessert. In addition to chicken wings, they also offer trocitos de pollo (pieces of chicken breast deep fried like wings) and wraps. The food was delicious, though not a bit healthy. After dinner, we headed to Ice Crispy, the ice cream parlor in the front of the restaurant. I remember hearing about ice cream parlors like this in the States, but this was my first experience. It was good, and again, not a bit healthy unless you count the strawberries in my ice cream!

Healthcare – $227.70

In addition to our monthly Caja payment ($44.69) and the pro-rated monthly expense for our MediSmart membership ($15), we had a couple of doctors visits in April. Paul saw an orthopedic traumatologist (for a lump on his shoulder which turned out to be benign) through MediSmart. Cost for the 1 hour appointment was 20,000 colones ($35.56). I had a follow-up visit with my gynecologist for 9,000 colones ($16). We each had prescriptions — bioidentical hormones for me ($50.53) and a collagen supplement for Paul ($21.92). The rest of our spending in April was for our normal supplements at the macrobiotica (health food store).

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $762.34

There were no surprises in this category. We paid rent, utilities were normal, and we paid our housekeeper for four times (10,000 colones or $17.61 for four hours of work each week).

Other Hardware/Household – $61.06

Living in an apartment in town means no more line drying clothes in the fresh air like we did at our last rental. It also means using the dryer all the time, which can get expensive. So we bought a clothes drying rack to help save on dryer time and the subsequent higher electricy bills. We also bought a new set of queen size sheets, both at Walmart. It used to be that higher thread count sheets were not to be found in Costa Rica. For the most part, those days are gone. However, we elected for 300 thread count sheets and are happy with them. Total cost was $61.06.

Personal Care/Clothing – $48.42

The bulk of the expense in this category was for a new pair of pants for Paul. Since he’s 6’2″, it’s hard for him to find pants long enough for him in the stores. Since moving into town, we’ve gotten to know Sr. Willy, a local sastre (tailor). He has made Paul four pairs of pants now, all of them beautifully done. The latest was a pair of olive green khaki’s for 25,000 colones ($44.01). It’s less expensive than ordering from Lands End and no worries about shipping or customs duties!

Vet/Pet Supplies – $29.77

On our recent trip to PriceSmart, we bought more Fresh Step litter for our kitties. Fresh Step is the only clumping scoopable litter we’ve found here. They recently changed their packaging to four smaller bags inside of one big package (instead of the previous big 40 lb. bag) and are charging more for less. Cost is now 10,195 colones ($18.27).

The rest of the expense in this category is for cat food and treats. We wish we could find a cat food that both kitties continued to like. We tried a different brand this month and neither Tori nor Laura were fans. We will just keep trying to find something that they enjoy and is healthy for them.

Entertainment – $19.78

We did a lot for very little money in this category.

During my sister’s visit, we spent a day in San Jose, visiting the Jade Museum. While my sister paid her $15 entrance fee for tourists, Paul and I were able to get in for free as we are both permanent residents and over 60 years of age. It was our first visit to the Jade Museum in its new location and it was wonderful. There are lots of English translations now, which helped. We learned a lot about the indigenous culture of Costa Rica. There is much more than jade here, though the displays and videos about how the jade figures were carved are fascinating.

Of course, we had a beach day at Playa Dona Ana.On the way, we stopped at the grocery store and bought the fixings for burgers on the grill and snacks. More than 20 friends joined us that day. The water was warm, the day was sunny and breezy, and there were lots of monkeys in the trees. It’s an inexpensive day, costing about $7.00 for three of us, including parking: 

We also spent a day at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This is probably our favorite place to bring visitors to Costa Rica. Even though my sister had been there before, she asked that we go again. It has everything — waterfalls, lots of green, hummingbirds, toucans, butterflies, monkeys, jaguars, oxen, orchids, hiking trails, a “traditional Tico house” and restaurants. We always arrive around 9:00am so we are in time for the hummingbird feeding, one of the highlights for us and our guests. The staff cover up the hummingbird feeders and give visitors hand-held feeders which you can see in the photo below.

Feeding the hummingbirds at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Paul, me, Toni, and our toucan friend

Entrance fees are $44 per person. Lunch in their restaurant is extra. However, since Paul and I do tours and bring guests there regularly, we did not have to pay the entrance fee.

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 Yearly Visit from the Abuelitas

Tonight, at around 6:00pm, a few visitors stopped by while I was in the kitchen mixing up a batch of banana bread. The Ticos call them abuelitas (little grandmothers) and they come every year after the start of the rainy season. They don’t stay long, but their presence can be felt for weeks. In fact, when they come, we usually go out to dinner and leave them behind. It may sound rude, but it’s just survival on our part.

So, who are the abuelitas? They are flying termites that swarm up from the ground, usually once a year, just before dusk (which is also the time I am preparing dinner). During our four years of living at the Cabinas, hundreds of thousands of them swarmed outside every year, with hundreds coming in through the cracks in the wood ceiling, windows, and under the door. Here is a video from that time.

Now that we are living in town, very few abuelitas come to visit. But we learned from our time living in the country that, when they come, there is nothing to do but stop cooking dinner, stop watching that movie, stop trying to swat them because we are sorely outnumbered, and just leave. When we return a couple of hours later, tens of thousands of them have entered, died, and shed their wings and it is as if it has snowed tiny black wings all over everything. (I can hear you saying, “Ewwww, yuk!” But we are in the tropics, after all!) Here’s a photo of our printer, covered with the abuelitas, to give you an idea of what we’re talking about.

When we come back home, the work begins – sweeping and vacuuming — and continues for days as their gossamer wings continue to float down from the beams and catch on the rough plaster walls. They are a constant reminder that nature cannot be contained and we are just puny humans who must adjust to its rhythms.

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10 Tips on How to Thrive as an Expat in Costa Rica

Starting a new life in a different country is certainly challenging, initially it may all seem exciting and romantic, like a long vacation, but as time goes by you start falling into the realization that this is your new reality, and adapting to it might not be simple, even if you speak the language and you already have your job and a few friends, adapting to a new culture and different way of doing things, can be both frustrating and scary, and more so for those expats that are perhaps are not as outgoing.

For those expats living in Costa Rica, the good news is that Costa Rica is considered among the most welcoming and friendly countries to move to, the easy going temperament of “ticos” and their good attitude towards foreigners certainly makes things a lot easier, but there are other things that are important to consider if you want to thrive as an expat in Costa Rica here is our is of the top ten tips.

Learn the language: This is the first and most important – must do. A lot of Ticos speak English, but don’t let this put you in a comfort zone, learning the language is going to become more and more important the more time you spend in the country, understanding the language will not only help you with every day things but also with cultural aspects. If you already speak Spanish then you are a step ahead of the game, but make sure you use it as much as possible, learn the slang, the expressions, the intonation, etc. From the Pura Vida to the tuanis, make it your goal to communicate like a Tico.

Oxcart Parade at Patronal in Zarcero

Embrace the culture and the locals: Many expats tend to surround themselves with other expats living in the country and this is O.K., however, it is also important to embrace the local culture and make friends with Costa Ricans that can help you through the process. Culture shock is said to be one of the hardest things about living abroad, but If you keep an open mind and learn to appreciate the Costa Rican culture it will make it easier for you to see the good things about living in a different place, plus, it will gain you the respect of the locals.

Be a tourist, travel and explore:
 Going to the beaches in Guanacaste is just one of the things that can be done in Costa Rica, in order to learn about the country and appreciate everything it has to offer, make it your personal goal to travel to different areas and explore the country, there are so many different and beautiful places to visit just a short drive away; knowing your new home is the best way to fall in love with it and learn all about it firsthand.

Enjoy Costa Rican cuisine: Habits are tough to leave behind, you’ll certainly find plenty of restaurants that serve American dishes and you can find most ingredients at the supermarket to cook your own meals for when you are feeling a little homesick, but trying traditional Costa Rican cuisine and drinks will help you discover new flavors and tastes; you can find fresh fruit and vegetables year round in Costa Rica; delicious and healthy (as well as unhealthy) dishes, pick your favorites, give them your own twist and prepare them for your family and friends.

Don’t be naïve: This isn’t the United States, Canada or Europe; although you will find all your basic needs covered in Costa Rica, and when it comes to access to education, technology and health you won’t have any problems, there are certain things in Costa Rica that will be frustrating and sometimes absurd, things that you are not used to experiencing back in your home country; our advice, don’t let frustration win, accept and understand that this is your new home, things work different here, perhaps at a different rate, perhaps they don’t make sense to you, but it’s also part of the country’s history and charm; after all, living in Costa Rica also has many advantages, some which you won’t find back in your native country, there is more good than bad when you put things into perspective.

Make a good network of friends: Having a support network is necessary, even if you are not the outgoing type, make an effort to make friends, both Costa Ricans and other expats, it’s important that you have local friends that can help guide you through life in this country, while is also necessary to have other expat acquaintances that can relate to your situation.

Volunteer for a cause that you’re passionate about: 
When you find something that you are passionate about, you find a strong motivator, there are many different volunteer programs in Costa Rica, from sea turtle conservation, single mothers’ education, dog shelters, wildlife conservation programs, beach and river cleaning programs, the list goes on. Helping others is a great way of becoming involved with your community and making friends who you share interests with.

Be careful driving: 
You may be a great driver in your native country, but driving in Costa Rica is a challenge that you’ll have to get familiar with, it requires a different set of skills, patience is one of them. The heavy traffic in most areas of the country makes driving here very very very stressful. It is said that Costa Rica is a peaceful country, except when it comes to its roads, and it’s quite true, get familiar with the transit laws, and watch out for potholes, irresponsible drivers, horrible directions etc. Carry your passport with you always if you don’t have your Costa Rican license.

Have a trustworthy lawyer:
 When you first relocate to Costa Rica your real estate agent will become the first person to help you with all questions that arise, ask them to recommend a good lawyer, or get recommendations from your local friends. Remember that laws in every country vary, a trustworthy lawyer can walk you through the legal process necessary to purchase real estate, to pay your taxes, to form a corporation or get your residency.

Love where you live: Take your time and choose an experienced real estate agent…so they can help you find the right area for you to live in, a house that fits your needs which falls within your budget and is well constructed. When you are getting ready to buy your house, take into account location, maintenance, proximity of services, etc. If you love your house and the area you live in, you will be comfortable, at ease and happy living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica.

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Featured Property in San Ramon: Casa for Sale in Empalme $150,000 USD


Property ID: JM001

Asking Price: $150,000

Bedrooms: 2

Bathrooms: 2

Home: 280 m2


This is an amazing house with amazing views in El Empalme, west of the town of San Ramon.

Brand new, custom design concrete construction, every room has ocean views.


Split floor plan with bedroom & bath on each end of the house. American style, large spacious rooms, hot/cold water thoughout. Lots of outlets, lights.


Master suite is 40 m2 with large bathroom and 2 closets.


LARGE kitchen, room for several cooks, Guanacaste wood kitchen cabinets, granite counter tops.


LED lights throughout, no a/c needed in this beautiful mountaintop climate, for low electric bills.

Located on a paved road, 500m from highway, 7km west of San Ramon. Close to hospital, university, & shopping. 45 minutes from both the airport and the beach.

Quiet and secure.

Wheelchair accessible.


Property ID: JM001

Click here for more photos and to contact the realtor for 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 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_008David and Donna H. recently too 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 over nine 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 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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