Oct 28 2018

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – October 28, 2018

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 


Our September 2018 Costa Rica Cost of Living

Our plan was to spend September in Oaxaca, Mexico as we do most years, but Paul’s surgery to remove his right kidney in August caused us to delay our plans. We spent the month in Costa Rica as Paul recuperated and began to get his strength back.

Transportation – $389.36

Our expenses for gasoline and tolls for September were minimal ($85.15) as we mostly stayed close to home. However, September is always an expensive month for transportation overall.

Every March and September we pay our car insurance for six months. We have full liability coverage but no collision coverage as body work is very reasonable in Costa Rica and our car is old. Our insurance for six months comes to $143.79. In Costa Rica, one insures the car, not the individual drivers, so that is all we pay for either of us to drive our car. Also, this amount also provides coverage for anyone else who drives our car, as well as additional liability coverage for anyone riding in our car.

September is also the month for our annual visit to Riteve, Costa Rica’s mandatory car inspection program. Prior to our appointment, which we make online, Paul takes our car to Gilberto, our mechanic, to check it over and make any necessary repairs. This year, he had to replace the rear brake shoes at a total cost of $95.37 for parts and labor. Later in the month, it was time for an oil change, costing $41.77 for our Toyota 4-Runner.

We go to the location in Puntarenas which is about 45 minutes away from our home in San Ramon as there is rarely much of a wait there. The cost for the Riteve inspection went up this year, from less than 10,000 colones to 13,405 colones ($23.29 USD).

All this comes to a total of $304.22 for car repair and maintenance, including the Riteve inspection and car insurance for six months.

Groceries – $436.14

Our September grocery bill came in about $85 higher than normal. We had a couple of house guests during the month, one for the entire month and the other for one week. Though they contributed to the groceries and we ate out a few times, our grocery expenses were still higher than if it had been just Paul and me. As mentioned above, we stayed pretty close to home as Paul was recovering so we ate most meals en casa.

Another out-of-the-ordinary expense in September was the purchase of some specialty products — almond flour, coconut flour, and erythritol (a low carb sugar replacement) — which we were able to buy from an expat who was moving back to the U.S. I have been looking at various anti-cancer diets and the keto/low carb diet is one we have been considering.

Our total grocery spending for September, 93% ($405.78) was for food and only 7% ($30.36) was for non-food items.

Meals Out – $85.57

For $85.57, we were able to eat dinner out three times, lunch once, and snacks once.

Paul’s birthday was on September 19th so we went with friends to Rancho Mirador Restaurant for a lovely meal. Rancho Mirador is also a hotel and casino in the hills above Naranjo. You can even see it from the PanAmerican Highway. The food was very good and the surroundings were pleasant as we sat outside on the patio. Total cost for Paul and me was $31.34.

Healthcare – $391.65

Of the total above, we spent $119.30 on supplements and medications, including a supplement order from Vitacost online. Though they don’t deliver to Costa Rica, we order from them when a friend can bring our items to Costa Rica in their luggage. 

The remaining $272.52 went towards doctor visits and health coverage, including our monthly Caja payment and the monthly pro-rated amount for our MediSmart plan. In September, Paul also had some tests done as a follow-up to his surgery. He had a kidney function test at J&M labs for 10,000 colones ($17.83), a 4G ultrasound for 35,000 colones ($63.73), and additional blood work for 10,000 colones ($17.42). He received all of the results within 24 hours of the tests. A few days later, he had an appointment with his urologist as a follow-up to his surgery. We wanted to make sure everything was okay before getting on a plane to Mexico the following week. Since we could not get a follow-up appointment in the public system with the surgeon before we left the country, we decided to make an appointment with his urologist, who happens to be the head of urology at the public hospital where the surgery was performed. We saw her privately through MediSmart and the discounted rate for the visit cost cost us 18,000 colones ($31.30). She reviewed Paul’s test results and gave us the all-clear for our trip, though she wants to do some follow-up tests when we return to Costa Rica in December.

We also both had dental visits to have our teeth cleaned in December (22,000 colones or $39.22 for the cleaning), plus I had two massages to treat some back pain. I found a great massage therapist who does deep tissue massage and a bit of chiropractic adjustment. The massages cost 12,000 colones ($21.39) each. I am looking forward to getting another one when we get back in December!

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $734.71

Our expenses in this category were back to normal in September:

We didn’t need to buy propane (for cooking on our gas stove) in September. A tank usually lasts us about 3 months, so this expense is minimal.

Our one indulgence continues to be having our house cleaned every week. Since we both hate to clean, and since it employs our long-time housekeeper, Flor, we gladly pay this expense every month.

Personal Care and Clothing – $26.02

In anticipation of our trip to Mexico the end of the month (and also in the name of normal self-maintenance) we both had hair appoinements — a haircut for Paul (2500 colones or $4.46) and a cut and color for me (10,000 colones or $17.83). I also bought a pair of pants, like new, at MegaRopa for 2,800 colones ($4.99).

Vet/Pet Supplies – $121.30

September was an expensive month for pet care. We brought both our kitties, Tori and Laura, to the vet for their annual checkup and shots. The cost for the exams and shots (rabies and anti-parasites) for both kitties came to 19,000 colones ($33.87) a big difference than what we were used to paying in the States. Seems I never left the vet office for less than $100, and that was with only one cat.

We found out that Laura had a urinary tract infection so we switched their food to Science Diet Urinary Care Formula at 13,000 colones ($23.17) per bag. We also stocked up on Fresh Step kitty litter at PriceSmart, buying two 42 lb. bags for a total of $34.29. I was glad to see that Fresh Step did away with the extra packaging of four separate bags within the large bag and went back to giving us more litter instead of more packaging.

Entertainment – $18.00

September was a relatively quiet month for us as Paul recuperated. We watched a lot of Netflix ($11.65 for our monthly subscription) and Paul read the Baltimore Sun online ($1 for his monthly subscription). I also bought a paperback book about storytelling for $5.35. A quick note about Netflix — though we subscribed to Netflix while in the States, while in Latin America we only have access to Netflix out of Mexico. Not all of the programming available in the States is available in Costa Rica or Mexico. It used to be that we could access U.S. Netflix with a VPN connection but after continued problems with the VPN, we discontinued it and just watch Mexican Netflix. It’s more than enough for us as we are extremely out of touch with current movies and television coming from the States.

Services – $14.26

Generally, services in Costa Rica are inexpensive. In September, we had three shirts and a pair of pants ironed for Paul and two blouses ironed for me, at a total cost of 3,000 colones ($5.35). I also had our tailor hem the new pants I bought at MegaRopa for 1,000 colones ($1.78). Paul also had the batteries replace for three watches at 4,000 colones ($7.13).

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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Caja Payment Exemptions for Snowbirds, Rainbirds, and Other Part-time Residents

In anticipation of our planned three-month visit to Mexico this year, we asked a friend to explain to us, and to our readers, how a part-time legal resident of Costa Rica can avoid having to pay for the Caja during the months one is out of the country. Most of these folks are “snowbirds,” as they come to Costa Rica every winter to escape the cold winters up north. Paul and I are what I call “rainbirds,” as we usually leave Costa Rica during the rainiest months of the year in Costa Rica. Others may find that they need to leave the country for months at a time, yet continue to pay their monthly Caja payment while they are gone.

So, what are the requirements to stop paying the Caja while we are living out of the country for a period of time? First off, one has to be out of the country of Costa Rica for a minimum of 90 consecutive days to be exempt from paying the Caja for those months. Here is the process which our friend outlined from his experience:

Getting Started

Upon returning to Costa Rica after your 90+ day absence from the country, go to your local Caja office as soon as possible. Explain to them that you have been out of the country for X months, and that you would like a print-out of what is required from Migración to secure the document that the Caja needs to cancel your Caja obligation for those months. If you do not speak Spanish fluently, I recommend bringing someone who does. They can print out two documents to help guide you: (1) A listing of what you must bring to Migración for them to authenticate that you have been out of the country for the months you claim, and (2) a printout of those months for which the Caja has received no payment from you.

Important:  Upon your return to Costa Rica, do not pay anything into the Caja before you square things away with them. I made the mistake of paying the Caja in the month I returned, thinking that I was paying for that month, when in fact the system would only credit me for the first month for which I was in arrears.  This causes you to lose credit for one of the months that you were out of the country.

What You’ll Need

If the guidance document remains the same as mine, you will be asked to bring your passport, your cédula (residency card/DIMEX). You must also bring two photocopies of your passport information page and two copies of your cédula (showing both front and back). This is what will be necessary for Migration to produce a Documento de Salida e Ida.

Where To Go Next

You will need to go to Migración y Extranjería, San José, in La Uruca.  Be sure to use GPS if you are driving.  There are twists and turns exiting form the General Cañas Highway that will amaze most mortals. Paid parking lots are plentiful in the block approaching Migración and for the time you are there the rates are very reasonable. After going through Security, ask the attendant on the other side which window you should go to get the aforementioned Documento de Salida e Ida. For me, it was the last window at the end of the building cluster which is Migración. The window will have a number. However, the instructions you are given may not have a number, only the “last window.” All these windows have a grouping of chairs in front of them for people awaiting service. Go directly to the window and explain what you are seeking, armed with your originals and copies. The wait is usually not long. But again, if you do not speak Spanish fluently, I strongly suggest you bring someone along who can help you.

Returning to the Caja to Present your Documento de Salida e Ida

Just to be on the safe side, make two copies of this document. The Caja is not a perfect system. Ask the Caja to review your account and present the clerk with the original Documento de Salida e Ida. The months you were out of the country and the months documented in the Migración document should match.  Ask for a dated receipt of this document.

Making the Caja Payment for the Month You are Now In

One would like to think that this adjustment to your account would be entered into the system quickly. I can only relate that my experience one week after I gave the document to the Caja, the local Servimás still was not showing the adjustments for all the months I was out of the country. I returned to the Caja Office to ask them what had happened. It was explained to me that sometimes it takes more time. The clerk asked me to give it two more days, and suggested I might pay at the Caja Office, as, for some reason, their computer updates quicker than the outside system. This turned out to be true. Again, it is important to not pay the Caja until all your months out of the country have been adjusted — usually with the word “Ajuste” which recognizes that a month has been accounted for.

So is it worth it?

Like all things, once you get the hang of it, it is always easier the second time around. If you are out of the country for six months, or more, this might represent a savings of several hundred dollars, as a much as a round trip ticket, so yes it is worth it.


Our Oaxaca, Mexico Trip in Pictures

Many of you know that we travel to Mexico for several months every year to escape the worst of the rainy season in Costa Rica. If we are “friends” on Facebook, then you have been getting a steady diet of our pictures and we hope that you have been enjoying them. But for everyone else, here are some of our favorite pics from this year’s trip:

We spend most of our time in Oaxaca, Mexico, located about 7 1/2 hours south of Mexico City by bus. It’s easy and interesting to take day trips to the surrounding villages and attractions.

Spinning wool in Teotitlán del Valle

Weaving rugs in Teotitlán del Valle

Flower Vendor at the Ocotlán de Morelos Friday Market

Woven bags at the Ocotlán de Morelos Friday Market

Shopping at the Ocotlán de Morelos Friday Market

Celebration at El Árbol del Tule, the stoutest tree in the world

At the Mitla Zapotec archeological site

The view on a cloudy day at Hierve el Agua

The first step to Mezcal making – harvesting the agave

As we write this newsletter, Day of the Dead festivities are gearing up. Buildings are decorated, people are in costume, and even pets get in on the action with an annual pet costume contest.

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Featured Property in San Ramon: Furnished Studio Cabin for Sale or Rent

Listing ID #RR101

Furnished studio cabin for sale or rent, located 10 miles beyond San Ramon off the Pan American highway in the Butterfly Dance community.  Sleeps two, with kitchen and bath. View of the Gulf from the adjoining road. Carport (a 4-wheel drive or SUV is recommended). Nice patio with a forest view. Wi-fi modem for internet.

It is on 8,000 sq meters or about 2 acres. A second small house is currently under construction with a target date for completion about March/April, 2019. This house will have 2 floors with a view of the Gulf of Nicoya from the 2nd floor.  It will also be studio style with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a balcony on the 2nd floor, patio and a small pool.  Sale price of this brand new house with existing cabin is $150,000. This property should have high vacation rental income potential as it will consist of two furnished houses or the small house and cabin.

Sale Price: $150,000

Rental Price: $300 a month plus light and water, plus refundable deposits of $50 for the modem and $25 for the electronic gate remote key.

Listing ID #RR101

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 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:
        • 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 Amazon.com

Buy the Kindle edition on Amazon.com

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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What’s New on the Website

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