Nov 22 2018

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – November 23, 2018

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 



Costa Rica’s Current Economic  Situation

We have lived in Costa Rica for almost 10 years and we have seen the value of the colon both rise and fall against the U.S. dollar. When we first started investing in certificates of deposit in colones (the national currency of Costa Rica), the rate of exchange was about 500 colones to the dollar. Over the years, we had seen the rate of exchange rise as high as about 585 colones to the dollar, which was great for us as our income is U.S. dollars. Now, after holding around 560 for a couple of years, the value of the colon is falling again. Currently, it is at about 602, with the high so far in November 2018 at almost 624 colones to the dollar and a low of 579 for the month.

As you can see in the chart below, this is the first time in 10 years that the colon has risen above 600 colones to the US dollar.

We have had money invested in colones CDs for about 8 years now and have been extremely pleased with the rates of return we have received. However, we couldn’t help being concerned about the falling value of the colon and realized we needed to think through our options: stay invested in colones, move our money into dollar CDs, or divest completely and find another investment vehicle. We are not qualified to give investment advice to you, our readers, but we did want to give you some information about the current economic situation in Costa Rica so that you can make the best decision for you.

Costa Rica’s Current Economic Outlook

So, what exactly is Costa Rica’s Current Economic Outlook? According to Focus Economics: Economic Forecasts from the World’s Leading Economists (November 6, 2018),

“The economy likely had a mixed performance in the third quarter of 2018, after year-on-year growth accelerated in the second quarter. In August, economic activity increased at the fastest pace in nearly two years, boosted by a resurgent construction sector. However, union strikes against the landmark fiscal reform bill, which began in early September and continued through October, will have taken a toll on the economy. The fiscal bill passed a crucial vote in the Legislative Assembly in early October but was later rejected in its current state by the Supreme Court for containing changes that could affect the independence of the judiciary. The bill should wind up for a final vote in the Legislative Assembly in the coming weeks and, if approved, would come into effect next year and should help to bring down the deficit. However, the lack of definitive approval is fraying investors’ nerves; the colón has tanked over the last month, and credit rating agency Moody’s recently put Costa Rica on review for a downgrade, citing worsening fiscal metrics.

On the “CD Investments in Costa Rica” Facebook page, Asdrubal Zamora reports some recent data concerning C. R. economy:

  • “Inflation was only 2.21% in the last 12 months according to I.N.E.C. (National Institute of Statistics and Census) and this indicator keeps within the goal range of B.C.C.R. (Central Bank of C.R.).
  • The World Bank (BM) estimated that C.R. economy will grow 2.7% this year, below estimated of 3.2% presented by the B.C.C.R. in its most recent review.
  • During first semester of 2018 arrivals of tourists towards C.R. continued, it increased as follows: European arrivals grew 8.9% and arrivals of north american tourists 4.7% compared to same period previous year.
  • Dollar exchange rate expectation: by the end of 2018 a larger market supply of dollars is expected because the transnational corporations in Costa Rica exchange dollars to colones for the payment of taxes and bonuses.
  • Fiscal plan looks like it will get second round approval at Congress. Constitutional Court (Sala IV) is still checking this new Law deeply before going back to Congress for 2nd and 3rd round approval, which are next steps to go so it becomes a C R Law.

Source: Inec, B.C.C.R., La Nación, El Financiero

Costa Rica’s Fiscal Reform Bill

What does Costa Rica’s new fiscal reform bill cover? An October 15th post by the international auditing firm, KPMG, explains,

“A tax reform bill is pending consideration. The draft law was approved in the first debate on 5 October 2018.

The bill is composed of four chapters (intended to address the country’s fiscal situation) that would amend the: (1) value added tax (VAT); (2) income tax law; (3) public employment measures; and (4) fiscal procedures.

The next steps include a constitutional inquiry, approval in the second debate, executive branch approval, and official publication. With the approval of the constitutional court, the legislation would proceed to the second debate stage. Assuming it is approved during the second debate, the bill then will be sent to the executive branch for approval and then for publication in the official gazette.”

You can download and read the entire October 2018 report (Spanish and English) prepared by the KPMG member firm in Costa Rica at the link provided below.

An October 6, 2018 article by Q Costa Rica reported on the highlights of the bill in the following categories:

  • Taxes On Consumption Of Goods And Services
  • Tax On Income
  • Other Changes

You can read the entire article by clicking the link provided below.

What about the Strike?

One of the Strike Posters in our Part of the Country

The national strike of public sector worker unions began on September 10, 2018 and ended in stages as the various labor unions returned to work after successful negotiations with the Government. As of today, only the teachers are still on strike, awaiting a court resolution. The strike was spurred on by the fiscal reform bill proposed by the administration of new president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada. The Costa Rica Guide explains,

“The union walkouts closed schools and curtailed public sector medical care, banking, social security and other services. The protest marches are intended to gain attention by blockading traffic on major highways, shipping ports, bridges and at fuel depots causing as much disruption as possible. Intimidation is also a tactic with protestors gathering in front of the homes of elected representatives.

The proposed tax and spending reform package increases taxes on food and other necessities while reducing bonuses, salary caps and severance pay for public workers.  The government maintains that it is fair and balanced and the only way to avoid Costa Rica going bankrupt and prevent the complete collapse of public services and the economy. The unions claim it steals their pensions, unfairly raises the taxes on the poor and will bankrupt the people.”

On October 6, 2018, Laura Alvarado of The Costa Rica Star reported in her article, “Strike At Costa Rican Public Hospitals Comes to an End,”

“The Labor Unions of the Social Security Service (CCSS) negotiated and reached an agreement with the authorities of the CCSS and the Government to return to their work this Monday, October 9, after a month of striking.

The negotiations involved close to ten hours of negotiations and will allow the public hospitals and health centers to resume normal operations.

The strike caused the suspension of 3,552 surgeries and over 111 thousand appointments, in addition to unplanned expenses to handle payments for workers that took on extra hours, and the outsourcing of services like laundry and food services.

Back on October 1st, the strike by workers at the CCSS was declared illegal by the labor court, the judge considered health services essential and therefore that employees are forbidden to join a movement that affects the general population…”

What’s Next for Costa Rica’s Economy?

According to a World Bank in Costa Rica statement dated October 4, 2018,

“In many aspects, Costa Rica is a success story in terms of development. It is considered an upper middle-income country, which has shown a steady economic growth over the past 25 years. This growth resulted from an outward- oriented strategy, based on the openness to foreign investment and gradual trade liberalization.

Costa Rica is also a global leader for its environmental policies and accomplishments, which have helped the country build its Green Trademark. The pioneering Payments for Environmental Services (PES) program has been successful in promoting forest and biodiversity conservation; making Costa Rica the only tropical country in the world that has reversed deforestation.

The combination of political stability, a social compact, and steady growth has resulted in one of the lowest poverty rates in Latin America and the Caribbean

The country’s success over the past decades is also reflected in its sound human development indicators, which have contributed to move the country up the global ranks, higher than the other countries in the region.

Costa Rica’s GDP per capita has tripled since 1960, reaching an average growth of 4.5 percent between 2000 and 2013, compared to the regional average of 3.8 percent for the same period… Notwithstanding, growth has slowed down in recent years and it is expected to continue dropping in 2018.

Two pressing development challenges stand out: the deteriorating fiscal situation and persistent inequality. These challenges affect the basic pillars of the Costa Rican development model: inclusion, growth, and sustainability.

The government has strived to address these problems and is committed to an inclusive society that guarantees the welfare of its people, supported by transparent and accountable public institutions.”

Yes, Costa Rica has challenges ahead. Yes, there are reasons to be concerned, especially if you have financial investments in the country. However, we still believe in Costa Rica and have confidence that the current administration will strive to meet the needs of its people. We have faith in the future of this country. If you have investments here, it is a good time to be aware of the current situation, examine your needs and risk tolerance, seek professional advice, and make the best decision for your situation.

Related Articles & Links


So, a Ham and a Clown are on a Bus…

When we are in Mexico, we don’t have a car. Buses and cabs are plentiful and inexpensive. You never know what you will see on a bus — indigenous women with native dress and braided hair, a guy with a guitar playing and singing for tips, an evangelist preaching the gospel, or even a clown. In this video, see if you can guess which one is the clown and which is the ham.


My 2018 Healthcare Update, by Rob Evans

OK, the day has finally arrived. I turned 60 – one of those magical ages when the insurance company computers take notice. The result of being one year older was a 40% increase in my expat insurance, WEA. My travel insurance, which I use for travel back to the US where my expat insurance does not cover me increased 20%. Given that it decreased so much last year for being a long-term customer, the cost puts me back to where I was 2 years ago, so I cannot complain. My Caja association (ARCR group membership) and my Medismart membership (think Costco) are unchanged.

So the bottom line is my total healthcare cost increased by 24% year to year.

That means my monthly cost increased to $348/month or $4176/year, which is still less than the $1083/MONTH ($13,000/yr) I was spending in the US four years ago.

Note deductible applies to private insurance, not the Caja.

One change I made this year was not to file any more medical claims with WEA unless they exceeded my deductible. My insurance agent, Perfect Circle in Escazu makes filing claims a snap. All I needed was to take a picture of the paperwork with my phone or drop the receipts off at their office and they check and submit them for me. If something is missing, Perfect Circle calls the doctor and gets the additional information. This service is especially valuable if your Spanish is not good.

So I diligently filed each medical bill last year with little hope of reaching my $2500 deductible, and I realized I am giving WEA medical information (you have to submit the bill and the results) they don’t need to know and with no chance of getting reimbursed. Note: there is a risk with my strategy because the bills cannot be more than 90 days old to be processed, so I cannot submit them all at the end of the year. I can’t see a year’s worth of bills totaling more than $2500 deductible so I will take the risk.

A little-known benefit: WEA reimburses us $150/per person or $300 total for preventive care, independent of the deductible. Last year, we used this benefit for a colonoscopy and the year before for an annual physical. So to be accurate, my annual costs of $2592 should be reported as $300 (2x $150) less to account for the preventive care reimbursement.

Comparison to the USA

One of the biggest surprises I encountered when I retired was learning how much of my health insurance was paid by my employer. When I started with IBM in 1982, IBM paid everything. Overtime, IBM shifted more costs to me. It was not until I retired and did not get the company subsidy that I learned the real cost of unsubsidized insurance. According to recent reports, the average cost per US employee is about $28k per year of which the company pays $16k and the employee pays $12k. Talking about health insurance is so confusing because everyone is getting $28k of insurance, but depending on how much the employer subsidizes, the actual employee may pay from $0 to $28k a year.

As an IBM retiree, I am eligible to use IBM healthcare plans. The catch is that as a retiree, I no longer get the company subsidy that would eliminate much of the cost. Even worse, IBM puts retirees in a special high-risk group separate from current employees, which drives up the cost for retirees. So what I get in Costa Rica for $348 per month would cost me $1500 to $2500 PER MONTH through IBM. Bottom line, I am so grateful to be living in Costa Rica and paying $348 and not $2000 a month.

The study below compares the cost and results of healthcare in the US to other comparable countries, and it shows that the US is paying more but getting less than other countries, confirming my belief that the US needs to make major changes to be competitive again.

Getting ready for Medicare

It took much time and research for me to assemble the healthcare plan I have now in Costa Rica. I dread turning 65 and being confronted with Medicare. I hope not to take my Social Security until I am 70, so I will need to decide first if I am going to take Medicare and then how I am going to pay for it since it normally comes out of your Social Security at 65. Also, I am overwhelmed with all the Medicare parts, A-F, so there are many decisions I don’t look forward to. I probably will not sign up for Medicare if I remain in Costa Rica and will accept the penalty if I ever return to the US. At the end of the article, I have included a risk analysis of not taking Medicare at 65 that someone on the Mexico expat forum posted (see “Should you opt out of Medicare?”)

One concern I have about Medicare – budget projections show Social Security and Medicare consuming much of the ENTIRE federal budget in the future. I don’t think Congress will allow that to happen, so something will have to give which might include rapidly raising the premiums, reducing what is covered, or doing means-testing on income and wealth. Whatever happens, I don’t think it will end well, so I am glad to be in Costa Rica where healthcare is affordable if Medicare fails.

A Important Note on Health Insurance in Costa Rica

Here’s a plug for my friend Freddy who sells insurance in Costa Rica – he keeps reminding me that any expat insurance not registered in Costa Rica cannot be regulated or sued in Costa Rica. Life is full of risks and because of Freddy, I understand this now and I think it is important you do too – before you decide what to buy.

A Review of My Basic Plan

Many elderly people avoid going to the doctor because they fear finding a problem – they know too many people who have gone into the hospital for surgery and ended up in worse shape, who were prescribed medicines that made them feel worse or that they could not afford, or they will discover a pre-existing disease that will make them un-insurable. But avoiding the doctor will not keep me healthy! The best way to avoid healthcare headaches is not to get sick in the first place.

Therefore, my healthcare plan includes being preventive and proactive by doing the following:

  • Exercising regularly and eating a healthier diet to improve my weight, strength, and immune system.
  • Eliminating and avoiding toxins (sugar, excess salt, fluorine, pesticides, pollution, mold, processed foods) to prevent disease.
  • Having regular examinations, including an annual physical, visits to specialists, and recommended tests for my age to identify potential health concerns as early as possible so they can be addressed.
  • Living where healthcare is affordable (can be paid out-of-pocket and/or insurance rates are reasonable).

Implementation of my plan:

Preventive care: Actively pursue a preventive lifestyle. Use the local clinic (EBAIS) and Medismart for regular check-ups and to discuss health concerns. Pay out-of-pocket for specialized preventive checkups with dermatologist, ophthalmologist, gastroenterologist, cardiologist, and lab tests.

Reactive care: Use pharmacies for minor cuts/burns, allergies, gastric ailments. Go to ER at the local public hospital (CAJA) for more serious problems – stitches, broken bones, stroke, etc.; or if unhappy with their care, speed, or ability, transfer to a private hospital using my insurance.

Travel: Keep a travel policy to cover my trips back to the US where WEA does not cover me.

Bottom line: taking care of my health is much more work than when I neglected it but should pay back dividends in a better quality of life later.

A Comment From a Reader

“Much thanks for the advice on WEA health/medical insurance… the pricing is very good. Our plan has come in at $1461.USD each with the $2500 USD deductible (we are 65 & 66). After reviewing 16 plans, I am done… we are signing up with WEA (our local hospital will accept direct payment from WEA). A huge thanks to you all!  Thanks, Roland”

Previous Articles with more Detail

In my previous articles, I went into great detail on my healthcare costs, choices, and decisions, which you can find here:

Should you opt out of Medicare?

Note: I make no guarantees about these calculations from the Expats in Mexico group, but I think they offer a good framework for analyzing the costs and benefits of using or opting out of Medicare.

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Oaxaca Day of the Dead Scenes 2018

Rollerblading Skeletons

Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto)

This is a small part of an ofrenda in a friend’s home, with offerings to welcome her parents: hot chocolate, mole, fruit, nuts, chapulines (fried grasshoppers), pan de muerto, beer, Coke, and a tamale.

Sprucing up at Panteon General Cemetery for Day of the Dead

Artist creating a “tapete” on a family member’s grave

Graveside at Panteon General Cemetery

A family of skeletons on display at an artisans fair during Muertos

Muertos is a time for communicating with loved ones on the other side

If you are interested in learning more about our time in Oaxaca, visit our website, Retire in Oaxaca Mexico:

and our Facebook page of the same name:

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Update to Our Article About the Jackson’s Care Plan

In June of last year, we shared an article called, “Jackson’s Care – A Cost Effective Option for Private Healthcare in Costa Rica.” We have been advised that the Jackson’s Care Plan is being discontinued due to issues between the parties involved. We understand that Centro Médico Jackson’s Memorial is working on the development of a new plan which will hopefully be available by January 2019.

For those of you who are already signed up for the Jackson’s Care Plan, you have two options:

  • Option 1 – Continue payment monthly to Redbridge and use other clinics in the area for treatment (they will provide the location). If you pre-paid for the year of services, we understand Redbridge will honor your payment at other clinics.
  • Option 2 – Continue to use Jackson Memorial, self pay but you do get a discount with the Jackson Care Plan card – call direct to Jackson Memorial for appointment.

We contacted Daniel Jackson for an update. He told us, “The Jackson Care plan is being improved, with more specialists, more coverages, better care network. We are redesigning it to be able to offer the whole population a better service and will include services that people have requested and which we have noticed that the clients need.” We will let you know more details as they become available.

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Relaxing with Odin

We recently visited Villa Loohvana B&B in San Agustín, Etla, located about 20 km from Oaxaca central. We spent the day with the owner, and our friend, Michelle Tommi. Paul became best buds with one of Michelle’s dogs, her Great Dane, Odin.


Featured Property in Lake Arenal: 3 Bedrooms 2 Baths Home on Corner Lot-$150,000

Property: Ref # 305

Location: Nuevo Arenal

3 Bedrooms

2 Bathrooms

1,685 square feet

Acreage: .72 acres (2913 square meters)

Price: $150,000 USD


This well maintained 3 bedroom, 2 bath concrete home is on a large corner lot in a residential area of Nuevo Arenal conveniently located within walking distance of all services. No need for car if you wish to take bus to Tilaran and San Jose which stops within 150 meters of the house. Furnishings negotiable.

This home with its decorative stone trim on a yellow background has a large attached 2 car garage and separate laundry room area.

Listing ID #305

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 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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