Sep 24 2017

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – September 24, 2017

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 



End of life Issues – Burial and Cremation in Costa Rica

It’s never easy to talk about death, but it is a fact of life that we will all die. In our home countries, we probably know the basics about what to do and choices that must be made when the time comes to bury our loved ones, or when planning in advance for our own burial. However, as an immigrant to Costa Rica, this is uncharted territory for most of us.

We met with a small group of expats and a representative of Jardines del Recuerdo to learn about how burial and cremation works in Costa Rica. Our thanks go to Joe and Debra Hammen who sponsored this event in their home and invited us to attend.

Following are the answers to the many questions that were raised, as well as a breakdown of services offered and corresponding prices:

What’s the process when a loved one dies in Costa Rica?

In cases of sudden death, such as death at home, a doctor must write the death certificate; otherwise, the investigative police (Organismo de Investigación Judicial or “OIJ”) must be called. The funeral home will not come to pick up the body without a death certificate.

Procedure: Call the police (911). OIJ will transport the body to San Joaquin de Flores for forensics. If an autopsy is needed, it will take two days. After the autopsy results are finalized, a death certificate will be issued. The funeral home will need the original document to give to the health department.

If death comes from a known illness, an autopsy is usually not required, though OIJ must make this determination. In this case, the death certificate is issued quickly.

Certified copies of the death certificate can be obtained through your Embassy. Usually 10-20 copies will be needed.

Can I donate my organs after death?

Organ donation – this is only possible if the person dies in an automobile accident or possibly in the case of sudden death. The individual can designate their desire to donate their organs on their Costa Rica drivers license. There is no other method to signify this intent. If the person dies from an illness, organ donation is not allowed.

For information about donating your body to science, please see our article, “End of Life Issues – Body Donation in Costa Rica.”

Is cremation possible?

Yes, cremation is an option in Costa Rica. If cremation is desired, the health department must authorize it. The death certificate must indicate, “Body to be cremated.” This is required by the health department.

If there is no autopsy done, the funeral home must have one done before cremation can be carried out in order to present the necessary documentation to the health department.

The body can be dressed and put into a corrugated coffin prior to cremation for viewing by the family. Relatives are allowed to be present at the time of cremation.

Approximately 24 hours after cremation, the ashes will be ready to give to the family.

With cremation, you can state in the paperwork how you plan to dispose of the ashes. No additional paperwork is needed to authorize burial on your property or at sea.

How Does Autopsy and Embalming Work?

The autopsy is an anatomical examination of a body. It is always required before a cremation or at the request of the judicial authorities.

Though embalming is not a standard procedure in Costa Rica, it is available if needed. The embalming is a process to slow the process of decomposition of a body to preserve it for longer. It is recommended for repatriations, when the deceased was suffering from serious illness, or when it will take more than 12 hours before the burial or cremation. As this is an extra process, there is an additional charge.

How Can We Repatriate the Body or Ashes to Our Home Country?

Jardines del Recuerdo offers the service of repatriation of bodies or ashes. They are experienced in such transfers, and comply with all international health and customs regulations. In addition, they offer prompt coordination with customs offices and airports according to your needs. It takes about one week to get the documents needed for transportation to another country.

Their services consist of:

  • Moving bodies: Includes metal enclosure and preparation service and makeup. In addition, their pathologists embalming the body, to ensure that it arrives in perfect condition at their destination.
  • Moving ashes: Includes special urn for the transfer of the ashes and shipping.

Options to send ashes back to your home country:

  • Eco urns: can be used for burial at sea or in fresh water
  • Metal urn: can be put inside a wooden box for transport
  • Plastic box: can be used for transport

The U.S. Embassy will issue paperwork needed for transport at no charge. Embassies of other countries may charge a fee.

What Will These Services Cost?

To give you an idea of contract terms and pricing, here is the information provided by Jardines del Recuerdo:

Contract Terms and General Information:

  • You can make burial arrangements in advance for a specific person.
  • The fund is transferable. (It can be used with any person that the service owner decides on the time you want.)
  • You can also name a person as beneficiary in the event the named person does not make use of the contract.
  • All contracts are authorized by the Ministry of Economy, Industry, and Commerce.
  • Guarantee of service without having to make any additional investment.
  • There is no refund if the services are not used.
  • If the person dies in a neighboring country, the body can be transported back to Costa Rica for normal burial or cremation.

Method of payment:

  • You can purchase the contract in a single payment or 18 months without interest.
  • If the deceased belongs to the Caja, the Caja will pay $200 towards the burial or cremation.

Burial Services

The burial service contract includes:

  • transportation of the body
  • wood coffin
  • luxury chapel
  • cafeteria service
  • religious ceremony
  • chorus
  • floral arrangements
  • mortuary
  • death notice
  • make-up and clothing service
  • administrative procedures with the Ministry of Health of Costa Rica

Burial Service Prices:


@ 575 colones/$

Serenidad  ¢  1.325.000 $2,304.35
Aurora  ¢  1.825.000 $3,173.91
Armonia  ¢  2.365.000 $4,113.04
Clásico  ¢  2.685.000 $4,710.53
Supremo  ¢  3.505.000 $6,149.12
Celestial  ¢  3.955.000 $6,878.26
Oasis  ¢  4.795.000 $8,412.28
Memorial  ¢  5.575.000 $9,780.70
Diplomático  ¢  6.195.000 $10,868.42
Presidencial  ¢  7.275.000 $12,652.17
Plenitud  ¢  8.925.000 $15,657.89
Del Recuerdo ¢ 11.825.000 $20,745.61

Cremation Services

Cremation & Ash Keeper contract includes:

  • transportation of the body
  • biodegradable casket
  • autopsy
  • metal urn
  • administrative procedures with the Ministry of Health of Costa Rica

Jardines del Recuerdo offers ecological, biodegradable urns, which preserve the environment:

  • “Geos” is made of organic substrate in order to bury the ashes or plant a tree
  • “Samsara” is made of sand in order to return the ashes into nature
  • “Nu” is a water-soluble urn made from saline and natural components designed to scatter ash in the sea

Cremation & Ash Keeper Prices:


@ 575 colones/$

Cremation ¢     935.000 $1,626.09
Ash Keeper* ¢ 1.385.000 $2,408.70
Ash Keeper Templo Votivo* ¢ 1.385.000 $2,408.70

* Ashes are kept at the cemetary

Purchasing Cemetary Property

Cemetary Property contract includes:

  • public deed
  • construction of the niche and maintenance service in perpetuity

Cemetary Property Prices:


@ 575 colones/$

Property with 2 niches
Azul ¢ 2.600.000 to ¢ 3.390.000 $4,521.74 to $5,895.65
Amarillo ¢ 3.900.000 $6,782.61
Property with 4 niches
Azul ¢ 4.850.000 to ¢ 5.305.000 $8,434.78 to $9,226.09
Amarillo ¢ 6.565.000 $11,417.39

Contact info for more information:

Ana Isabel Rodriguez Soto
Jardines del Recuerdo
(506) 2442-2829 – phone
(506) 8747-6284 – cell

Final Note

This article in intended for informational purposes only. Our main goal is to help demystify some of the end of life issues we face as immigrants to Costa Rica. We do not necessarily endorse Jardines del Recuerdo nor have we personally contracted with them for end of life services. There are other funeral homes in Costa Rica with experience shipping remains back to the person’s country of origin, some of which have cremation facilities. You can obtain more information on the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica’s “Death of a U.S. Citizen” webpage.


End of Life Issues – Body Donation in Costa Rica

by Judy Kerr

End of life issues are not a popular topic of cocktail conversation. Since losing many loved ones over the past decades and being in my mid 60’s, I am very cognizant my life will eventually end also. It is my desire to donate my body in Costa Rica to the University de Ciencias Medicasb(UCIMED), founded in 1976. This school is known for teaching medicine and recognized as one of the best medical schools in Latin America.

Body donation is a well known but poorly understood concept that few know how to go about. I had enrolled for whole body donation with the local medical school in my home state of Michigan and still maintain the same sentiments in Costa Rica which prompted me to do so in the United States. Please note that protocols change and I am relaying information current as of March 8, 2017.

Recently, my husband and I went to UCIMED and signed the formal documents to complete the donation process. One first schedules an appointment to meet with the UCIMED attorney on the 5th floor of the UCIMED building. The current administrator is not fluent in English, nor are we fluent in Spanish. It is highly recommended that you are accompanied by a trusted and competent Spanish speaker, whom you may also wish to schedule the appointment. It is important that you completely understand the process as explained by the attorney and have any questions answered to your satisfaction. Prior to our appointment, we had sent our personal information such as marital status, type of work, address, passport and/or cedula numbers. A photo was also required for our files. Our paperwork was witnessed by 3 trusted staff members of UCIMED.

Upon our death in a hospital or at home, we are to telephone the administrator or one of the contact numbers we received with our donation card and copy of the document agreement. This donation document is valid only in the country of Costa Rica. At either hospital or home, a physician must issue a death certificate so UCIMED can have your body transported. Without a death certificate, UCIMED cannot and will not retrieve the body. In case of accident, the body will remain in Judicial control until the investigation is complete.

We have shared our decision with family and friends which is of utmost importance to avoid any confusion about our remains. Note that if you have not personally enrolled in this program, your remains cannot be donated. It is your decision and yours alone and must be done by signing the consent form in person. Should you change your mind at any future date, you may come to the office to revoke the agreement. If any organs are usable, they will be harvested for transplant. Hopefully, I may help the blind to see or save the life of a child. After that, the body will be transported to the medical school where it may be used for anatomical examination, education and training, or research.

This entire process is entirely free of cost. According to the US Embassy Bureau of Consular Affairs in Costa Rica, burial without embalming (common in CR) is approximately $800 and with embalming $1,800.  Gravesite cost can be $2-4,000.  Cremation may cost $1,000, with shipping of the ashes to the US $600.  Embalming and airfreight shipment to the US can cost from $2,600-4,000. Please note these figures are estimates.

Since the medical school relies on supply and demand, there is no way to determine how long a body will be in usage. When the time comes that your remains are no longer needed, the body will be buried in a cemetery within a communal burial site. Remains will not be returned to family. There will be no marker, nor are there annual memorials held in memory of the deceased.

If your culture or religion does not prevent you from whole body donation, body donation alleviates the anxiety of loved ones about procedures should you die abroad. Even if you are not a permanent resident but spend many months of the year in Costa Rica, it is possible for you to donate should a catastrophic event occur. Beyond economy, this type of humanitarian gift will be my last act. When my body ceases to serve me, I hope it may serve others to advance scientific knowledge and offer life to those who otherwise may be denied.

Contact for more information:

Lic. Esteban Gil Giron Carvajal, Asesor Legal
Tel: 2549-000 ext. 1170
Cell:  7013-8314


Searching the World for the Best Place to Retire: One Couple’s Criteria

Last year, while shopping in our local organic produce market, I met Joan and Dan who were visiting Costa Rica for a few months and had recently moved to San Ramón. We struck up a conversation and the four of us became fast friends. Dan and Joan have since returned to their home in Ohio but are still investigating places they might like to retire at some point in the future. In the meantime, they are enjoying their trips to many countries including Costa Rica, Ecuador, Portugul, Thailand, and India, trying to find the best fit for them.

Paul recently had a conversation with Dan about their criteria for determining the right place for them to retire overseas. Following are the things that are important to Dan and Joan about their future home:

Here is my list of what we are looking for, knowing that no where would have them all.  But it keeps our heads on straight. San Ramón has a lot of the assets I mentioned.

Climate matters – I need weather to invite me to be outside instead of being miserable to be outside many months of the year.

Infrastructure – Be connected to nature and the elements. Are there areas we can walk that has green space, lakes, ocean or rivers that are close by…birds and other living things in nature

Shopping – Friendly and family-run businesses as well as a megastore, if possible, when needed.

Organic type culture – What we had in the USA before the mid 1950s. Healthy vegetables and food without pesticides, etc that are killing Americans from obesity and disease — or as reasonably close as we can come.

Transportation – Transportation systems that work for all classes of people, preferably NOT requiring a car, and allows safety & mobility for a fair price. Also, an airport that is within 1 hour or so.

Banking/Finance – It has to be functional, not perfect. ATMs are a must. Must have some safety of getting packages, etc. from delivery services; so a stabile government is required.

Health Care – We do mostly alternative but use dentists, MDs, DO’s and Rx medicine when it makes sense; health check ups, blood test, etc to see if we are on track. Family doctors are a dying breed in the USA but available in most other countries. Clinics are OK. An EXCELLENT rated hospital within an hour or so is very important. Eating healthy and moving our bodies, along with meditation and a spiritual practice is important. Volunteer opportunities or just be helpful to those around you. The belief that “The world revolves around me” is terrible for our own health, making friends, and the world!

Community – the people in the community matter. Signs are the type of organizations from all viewpoints, how much they value education and the willingness to pay for the future generation, even if they have no kids in school! Are people looking out for their family only, or the larger community? How clean is the area compared to the rest of the country or region? Do they have pride in their town, not just the sports team? Do they teach their children to participate in community events? Are the cultural traditions followed out of love or guilt? Is there music, theater, art? Is there a creative community within their community that is supported?

Senior Citizens – Are they valued and respected? Cared for and treated well? Joan and I are looking at where we can find quality care that affordable as we start losing our abilities. The hell my mother went through in a nursing home with Rx meds only, unhealthy food and mediocre care has moved me away from the system in the USA. They would not give or allow alternative treatment; so I snuck in what I could, but the ill effects of the Rx and food finally took over. Not pleasant and much suffering in her last year.

Social life – Can we make local friends?

We share Dan and Joan’s criteria to help you think about what’s important to you as you consider retirement overseas. As we reviewed their criteria, we recognized many things that were important to us as well when making the decision about where to retire.

How about you? What would be on your list? Let us know either in the comments section or via email. We would love to hear from you.

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Our August 2017 Costa Rica Cost of Living

If you’ve been following our newsletters, you know that we have been spending an extended period of time this year in Oaxaca, Mexico. In August, we returned to Costa Rica for three weeks to speak at the International Living Costa Rica conference and to tour with many of our clients.

Since a friend has been living in our apartment, paying the rent and utilities and even took care of our cats, we had minimal expenses for the month of August. Here is the breakdown:

Transportation – $65.11

For the three weeks we were in Costa Rica, we used one tank of gas, paid a few tolls, and the balance went to a minor repair to weld the bracket holding our car’s air filter (cost: 5,000 colones or $8.77).

Groceries & Meals Out – $121.93 and $50.57, respectively

I didn’t do a lot of cooking during our time in Costa Rica. Paul was on tour much of the time and I was with him on many of the days. Plus, we were at the conference hotel for three full days, during which our meals were taken care of. I did, however, grocery shop on a couple of occasions, preparing simple meals like a pot of homemade chicken soup or pasta.

The rest of the time, we ate out. Our first stop was Savory a la Thai, our favorite restaurant in San Ramón. On the Wednesday night before our flight back to Mexico, we took advantage of Texas Craft Pizza’s 2 for 1 burgers, which were delicious. I’m sorry to say that we did not get to enjoy any of the festival food that is always a draw during San Ramón’s annual Festejos Patronales (Festival of the Patron Saints) that is held every year at this time.

Healthcare – $151.08

The biggest expense in this category, by far, was our monthly Caja expense. Since we were gone the entire month of July, we were under the impression that all we had to do was show our passport with exit and re-entry stamps and we wouldn’t have to pay for the month we were away. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Evidently, the rule is that you must be out of the country for at least three consecutive months and be able to prove it by the stamps in your passport. Therefore, we had to pay for the Caja for the months of July and August, a total of $96.00.

The balance of the spending in this category was to stock up on Chanca Piedra which Paul takes on a regular basis to prevent kidney stones. It was originally recommended to him by his urologist shortly after we arrived in Costa Rica more than eight years ago. He had not had a kidney stone in all of this time. (Note: if you suffer from kidney or gall stones and would like more info, check out Paul’s article, “Paul’s Story – No More Kidney Stone Pain!”

Rent, Phone, & Utilities – $38.86

Since our friend has been renting our apartment during our absence (and graciously allowed us to stay there while we were in town), we didn’t have any expenses for rent or utilities. We did, however, put funds on our pay-as-you-go Kolbi cell phones as well as paying for our Vonage line.

Personal Care & Clothing – $151.44

When we returned to Costa Rica after seven weeks in Mexico, we were both ready for hair cuts, and for me, color to wash away the gray. It cost Paul 2,500 colones ($4.39) for his hair cut. My cut and color and the salon near our apartment cost 10,000 colones ($17.54).

We also did some shopping while we were home, including having a pair of dress pants made for Paul at our neighborhood tailor shop. Here’s the breakdown:

  • two pairs of reading glasses for Gloria – $5.26
  • two pairs of shoes for Gloria – $44.25
  • two dress shirts for Paul at a local Ropa Americana – $9.82
  • a new Costa Rica ball cap for Paul – $7.02
  • a tailor-made pair of dress pants for Paul – $61.40
  • a repair made to one of Paul’s shirts by the tailor – $1.75

Entertainment – $119.58

After watching Food Matters TV’s 10 Day Sleep and Stress Summit, we were so impressed that we decided to sign up for a year’s subscription for Food Matters TV. The regular cost is $9.99 per month but by signing up for a year, we got 12 months for the price of 10, or $99.00. We have been enjoying their meditation videos and documentaries and I like their recipe videos as well. If you are interested in natural health, we definitely recommend it!

For our other television and movie watching interests, we paid our monthly Netflix subscription of $10.59. Though we can no longer get U.S. Netflix, we are mostly satisfied with Latin American Netflix.

And Paul has been enjoying his subscription to Spotify. He had initially taken advantage of a very low introductory rate for the first three months, but in August, the regular rate of $9.99 took affect.

You may notice that, on the spreadsheet, this category is called “Entertainment and Travel.” We have elected not to show our Mexico travel expenses at this time as we will be writing a separate article in the future about our costs to travel to and live in Mexico.

That’s about it for the month of August. Since we were not in Costa Rica for the month of July, following are our Costa Rica cost of living expenses for the two previous months. If you want more information about a particular month, just click on the graphic for that month below:

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Cooking 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!

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

    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.

The Kindle version is available now on and a print version is in the works. I will let you know as soon as it is published. In the meantime, you can buy the Kindle version through 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_008

We’ve lived in Costa Rica for over eight 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 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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