Feb 05 2015

Retire for Less Newsletter – February 6, 2015

Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:




Our January 2015 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses


Groceries – $324.25

Our grocery budget was right on, falling between $300 and $350, just where we like it. We’ve been asked a couple of questions related to groceries that I would like to answer here.

First off, a reader asked for a breakdown between food and non-food purchases so we’ve started to break that down in our more detailed spreadsheet. Here’s the breakdown of the $324.23 total grocery expenditures:

  • Food purchases: $269.24
  • Non-food purchases: $55.02

The non-food items were cleaning products, paper products, toiletries, healthcare items, fresh flowers, charcoal for and fire starter for the grill, etc. The non-food expenses were probably a bit higher than normal since we made our once-every-few-month-stops at PriceSmart, Pequeño Mundo, and Walmart, stocking up on some things we either can’t get in San Ramon or can get much more cheaply there. It will be interesting  to see how this breakdown shakes out over the upcoming months.

One of our readers also asked:

I am in Atenas for a week now. Renting a small casita near town. I have noticed groceries are no less than in the US. Wondering how you only spend $360 per month or thereabouts on groceries month….

Are you eating meat?

Good question. To answer her question, yes, we do eat meat, usually one or twice a day. We don’t buy much in the way of packaged/processed food. I bake most of our bread and cook mostly from “scratch.” Also, groceries seem to be less expensive in San Ramon. There aren’t as many expats, mostly Ticos, and that seems to keep the prices lower. You can read more in our article, “Our Costa Rica Food Budget Breakdown.”

Transportation – $276.23

Car2In January, we had some maintenance done on our car, and we bought a part for some work we were going to have done early in February:

  • Repair a tire with a screw in it: 2,100 colones ($3.93)
  • Wheel alignment: 6,000 colones ($11.24)
  • Balance & rotate tires: 7,000 colones ($13.11)
  • Inspect & adjust brakes: 10,000 colones ($18.73)
  • Purchase a part to fix the “check engine light”: 30,000 colones ($56.50 USD)

The rest of this category is made up of gasoline, parking, tolls, and an occasional taxi or bus fare.

One thing to mention here is that gas prices have been going down in Costa Rica, just like in the U.S. At the highest, we were paying about $5.50 per gallon and it is now down to about $3.60 per gallon (about 95 cents per liter), the lowest it’s been during our 6 years in Costa Rica.

Healthcare – $145.87

As usual, this category is made up of our monthly Caja payment, one prescription we pay for out-of-pocket, and various other over-the-counter items like Paul’s Chanca Piedra which you can read about in the article below. This month, there is only one item of note. Our monthly Caja payment went up slightly for the new year, by about $3.RopaPurchases

Personal Care/Clothing – $21.45

Okay, I admit it…I went on a shopping spree, but at least it was at Ropa Americana! I bought a pair of denim shorts, a cute floral skirt, and four tops and spent a whopping 7,200 colones ($13.56). Also in this category, I bought a new pair of flip flops for the beach for 2,000 colones ($3.75) and Paul had a haircut for 2,000 colones ($3.75).

Office Expenses – $54.97

It was time to stock up on printer ink for our Epson XP printer. It uses 4 separate cartridges (black, cyan, magenta, & yellow) and they can run out at different times, so we try to keep an extra of each on-hand. Cost: 29,355 colones ($54.97).

NOTE: We’re still working on our 2014 Cost of Living Summary and hope to have it for you soon, so stay tuned!

As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months. If you want more information about a particular month, just click on the graphic for that month below:


Related Articles:


Snapshots of Life in Costa Rica

We’re starting a new little feature with photos that show different aspects of life in Costa Rica. Most of them will be our own photos but if you have one you would like to share, send them our way.

Full Service

All gas stations in Costa Rica are full service — no pumping your own gas and attendants (who are sometimes female) will clean your windshield, and check your tires and oil. Remember that??

All gas stations in Costa Rica are full service -- no pumping your own gas and attendants (who are sometimes female) will clean your windshield, and check your tires and oil. Remember that??

Bathroom Etiquette

Seen at a restaurant in Alajuela, the sign says, “Gentlemen, please raise the ring, remember that this service is for ladies also.”


The sign says, "Gentlemen, please raise the ring, remember that this service is for ladies also.




In the Mailbag: Tourist Visas, Driving in Costa Rica, Cost of Living, and the Discussion on Facebook

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

Tourist Visas

From Phil:

I was wondering if you know of any way someone could stay long term or longer at least then the 90 days without leaving. We are a young family and I work online but do not have access to the amount required for investment for visa. Any thoughts?”

Residency in Costa Rica

Residency in Costa Rica

Hi Phil,

Unfortunately, as a tourist (non-legal resident) you are limited to the amount of time granted by the immigration agent when you enter Costa Rica. It can be a little as 30 days and as much as 90 days but to my knowledge, it’s never over 90 days. We had heard that tourists can extend their visas by paying $100 but we didn’t have the specifics. We consulted our recommended residency expert, Javier Zavaletta, from Residency in Costa Rica. He states,

If you were granted a 30 day visa and would like to extend it, here is a link to the form from Micracion which explains what is required. The only other option is to leave the country, perhaps to visit Nicaragua or Panama, for a few days and then get a new tourist visa (another 30-90 days) when you reenter.

Driving in Costa Rica with an International Driver’s License

On a related topic, Don writes,

Drivers license is always interesting as the International Drivers License is never discussed. Costa Rica was a late signer to the International Drivers License but they do recognize it and it is valid for one (1) year. I have not found a single person in CR that can tell me why nobody seems to know this. Not lawyers, tour operators on residents seem to know this, so I do not expect the local cop to know this if I get stopped. Maybe someone you know will be able to shed some light on this so we don’t need to hop the border every 90 days.

Thanks for the newsletter!”

international-driving-permitHmmm. It IS accurate that you don’t need an international drivers license to drive in Costa Rica. According to the Costa Rica Tourism office (ICT) website, “You are allowed to drive with your normal drivers license for three months.” Of course, now that tourists no longer automatically get 90 day visas, your drivers license is only as valid as your tourist visa.

But what if you DO have an international drivers license? Does that change the rules? In researching the answer, it seems to be another of those gray areas those of us living in Costa Rica are so familiar with. According to AAA’s International Relations webpage,

Our conclusion is that this gray area is one you probably don’t want to cross, even though the IDP states that it is valid for one year. Since the IDP is not a separate drivers license, and in Costa Rica your home country drivers license is only valid for 90 days, our best guess is that your IDP would only be valid for 90 days unless you exit the country and reenter.

Cost of Living

John B. wrote,

I love that you show the many benefits economically of C.R. But you leave out many savings, like almost no property taxes and caja savings here.Low car insurance, low legal cost. The truth is the soft cost are the biggest savings of all. Tell the whole story its worth telling.”

Thanks, John, for helping us tell the whole story. As renters, we don’t think about the low property tax here so we appreciate your input.

And from Patti,

magicJackLogoHi Gloria I noticed you made reference to using Vonage, and the cost was 31.00 something a month. We have been using Magic Jack which covers all of North America for 35.00 per year. We have found the service to be excellent with very few droped calls, for Costa Rican calls we use our cell phones. One of the things I like about Magic Jack is that when we go traveling it comes with us and we can use it any where there is wifi (via our computer) or at home we just plug it into our modem and hook up a phone (wireless phones work too.) We lent the system to our neighbour for the Xmas holidays and they had a try, now they have one too. Even though you are in Costa Rica you just set it up using your (or a friends) North American address, set up is easy through your computer. Canadians have to pay an additional one time fee for the phone number of $10 usd, and Americans can transfer an already existing number. Your friends and family can call you just as if you were at, the address you registered with. Since most have free North American talk with their landlines and/or cell phones their is no cost to them.

Hi Patti,

Thanks for the info. We’ll be sure to share it with our readers. We started out with Vonage in the States and were able to keep our old phone number. You couldn’t do that with Magic Jack at the time. We wrote about it here. Even though it’s more expensive, we’ve stayed with Vonage because they have such good customer service and we need reliability for our business. But Magic Jack has gotten better over the years. If we could keep our same phone number we would probably change.


And on Facebook…

Arroz Con Mango Review

Recently on facebook, we posted our last “In the Mailbag” column which included a very positive restaurant review of Arroz con Mango near la Garita. Turns out some of our readers have had not-so-positive experiences at that restaurant. So, in the spirit of showing the good, the bad, and the ugly, here are their comments as well:

Dina writes:

We had been there twice – pretty good. Third time, I cannot tell you how incredibly bad our experience was, how terrible the food was, and just on and on…..consistency here is hard to find.”

And from Tricia:

I was surprised at the glowing review because I had heard just the opposite from several people.”

Despite some negative reviews, I think we will go back and give it another try in the near future.


Taking the Bus

Here are a few facebook comments in response to our article, “Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Taking the Bus:”

From Judy:

Another perk from taking the bus and walking and not having a car….3 months after we arrived in Costa Rica, we lost 20 pounds!!”

From Greg:

It’s been a year and a half for us with no car. I love the fact that we get to know our tico neighbors, who also ride the bus and of course the cost savings. It does add to the time it takes you to do anything – but hey, I have more time than money.”

And from Sheilah:

No one mentioned that senior citizens ride the local buses FREE!”

A San Jose Pedestrian Boulevard

A San Jose Pedestrian Boulevard

San Jose

Here are a few comments on facebook about our article, “Costa Rica’s Museums: A Great Way to Spend the Day in San Jose:”


Michelle B. wrote:

I actually love walking downtown. It’s just a short bus ride from my home. I mostly go so I can buy fabric but we often take the family and grab lunch, sometimes go to the market (especially for fresh ground coffee), visit the Ropa Americanas, etc. Also, if you’re going to take the bus almost anywhere you kind of have to go there for your connection. We’ve embraced it.”

Judy S. wrote:

Yes, we loved San Jose and did many day trips there last winter since we were living in a village in the country. The Columbian Gold museum was awesome and there is a historical area walking map that was also fun on a warm day. Restaurants on the main boulevard walk are great. Lunch at the old Grand Hotel was a step back in history because John Kennedy was there in the 60’s. Costa Rica has so many different things to see from jungles to big cities.”

Charles M. had this to say:

I’m very optimistic on the future of San Jose. There is tremendous opportunity. Warren Buffet is famous for saying to buy when there is blood in the streets. That applies to investment in San Jose. Everybody shuns it but if you pay attention you can see how it is transforming in to a world class city. Remember it is the capital after all of the biggest tourist destination in the region.”

And Daniel L. wrote:

It’s sad when travelers to CR , and many of the gringos here, get advice to stay away from San Jose completely. San Jose has much to offer in the way of historic buildings. various museums and so much to experience there. People watchers paradise with a lot of natural beauties.”

follow your bliss4



And last, but not least, here are some facebook comments about Gloria’s article, “Reinventing Yourself in Retirement:”


From Robert F:

Great perspective; a journey not a destination, I like that thanks.”

From Joao:

True. I need to feel useful. If I don’t work I feel guilty.”

From Lori Ann:

People would ask me this before we moved. I worked a lot in the states. I have had zero issues adapting to not working. I love it.”

And we (Paul) posted:

I’ve asked Ticos, “Is it ok to do nothing?” They’re cumulative reply has been something like “sure, it’s part of life” In other words they don’t feel guilty about being non-productive. I also speak to the pensionados in the park, many of whom had good jobs during their working careers, & they don’t seem to feel guilty at all. A few younger ones work at part-time jobs to supplement their CR pensions.”

Related Articles:


Our Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica

Our newest tour is the Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica. When asked what he liked best about June’s 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 five 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.

HCTOUR_004 But, while it is focused on healthcare, you will learn a lot more about living and retiring in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Most of the second day of the tour takes place in the town of San Ramón where we live and use the services. And you will come to our home for lunch that day to listen to two of our featured speakers. Our tour is designed to save you both time and money, packing a lot of information into a short period of time. Our goal is to show you the possibilities and to try to demystify Costa Rica’s healthcare system. Our tour lasts two days and 1 night and includes lodging, transportation, meals and non-alcoholic beverages.

Sample Itinerary: You’ll visit:

  • At least two private hospitals in San Jose area
  • Hospital Mexico, the largest and best public hospital (they even do open heart surgeries there)HospitalMexico
  • An insurance broker for a presentation on the various supplemental health insurance options, including public, private, and international plans
  • A senior living retirement community
  • CPI language school for a presentation about how learning Spanish increases your options for healthcare and some basic medical Spanish.
  • Our local hospital here in San Ramón
  • A local EBAIS (community clinic)
  • A local private medical and dental clinic
  • A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
  • A pharmacy
  • A health food store (macrobiotica), and more!

EBAISStaffYou’ll learn:

  • If the Costa Rican healthcare system could meet your needs and put your mind to rest, once and for all, about this sensitive subject.
  • About the public system and how it works, about the private healthcare system, and how you can use a combination of both to your advantage.
  • About the EBAIS – where healthcare starts in Costa Rica.
  • Approximately how much you would pay for Caja.
  • About medical tourism in Costa Rica.
  • About home health care in Costa Rica.

Introductory prices: $550 for a couple, $450 for a single.

Please contact us if you are interested in booking this tour. Space is limited.

Related Articles:


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What’s New on the Website

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