Retire for Less Newsletter – January 8, 2015

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Welcome to our Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:



Our December 2014 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses

2014_DecDecember is one of those months when we know our cost of living will be higher than normal due to expected expenses.

Transportation – $417.79

First off, we can always count on our car-related expenses to be high in December. This is the month when the Marchamo is due on all cars in Costa Rica. The Marchamo is a combination of yearly registration and mandatory basic liability insurance. The amount you pay is based on the type and age of your car. You can pay Marchamo at most banks and many other locations including the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) and INS offices. INS is short for Instituto Nacional de Seguros  (National Insurance Institute). This year, we paid it at the INS office in San Ramón on December 18th. The deadline is December 31st (though a recent Tico Times article stated that “Nearly one-quarter of car owners fail to pay marchamo on time”).

You would think that the rate would go down as your car gets older but that isn’t always the case. This year, the Marchamo on our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner was 102,916 colones ($195.66.) We thought it would be interesting to see how the expense has, or has not, changed over the years, so here it is for the last four years, complete with conversion to US dollars and the exchange rate at the time. As you can see, as our car has gotten older and, presumably, worth less, our Marchamo has increased.


At the time we paid our Marchamo, we discovered an unpaid parking ticket that we weren’t aware of. Luckily, it was only for 5,500 colones (about $11). We had to pay it in order to pay our Marchamo and get our registration sticker for the new year.

Gasoline has gone down in price to about $4.60/gallon from a high of about $5.50. Other than gas for our car, we had a couple other expenses as well:

  • Oil change & lube: 26,800 colones ($50.95)
  • Car wash: 5,000 colones ($9.52)

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

ayote-ready-to-roastGroceries: $359.59

Despite all of my holiday baking and special foods, our grocery expenses were pretty much in line, just a tad over our normal $350/month. It helps that we stocked up on nuts and chocolate chips on last month’s trip to PriceSmart and that I did so much from scratch — including roasting lots of ayote (a hard orange-fleshed squash similar to pumpkin) for the 15 or so loaves of pumpkin bread I baked, roasting the “pumpkin” seeds, and even making my own ricotta for our Christmas Day lasagna. Luckily, I enjoyed doing all of it!

Rent/Phone/Utilities: $866.35

This category is a bit higher than normal for two reasons. First, Paul’s phone bill was somewhat higher, coming in at just under 20,000 colones ($37.32). and we also put 3,000 colones ($5.71) on my pay-as-you-go phone. Of course, we also had our monthly Vonage bill which is now $31.07.

ChristmasBonusThe other reason this category is higher is due to paying our housekeeper her Aguinaldo (Christmas bonus). Basically, the aguinaldo is an additional month of wages that employers are required by law to pay between December 1st and the 20th.The amount due is calculated by adding the total wages for the year (December 1st of the previous year through November 30th of the current year) and then dividing by 12. Our housekeeper’s Aguinaldo came to just under $50 and she has been working for us for about a year now, four hours per week. Though not required, we also paid her double-time when she cleaned for us on Christmas eve. So, our total cost for housekeeping in the month of December was $115.52.

Miscellaneous: $87.66

This category was also higher than normal due to the holiday season. This is where we noted gifts of cash to individual service workers — parking guys, waitresses, hair cutters, etc. who give us such great service throughout the year. Also included was our gift to the Community Action Alliance’s Animal Welfare Giving Tree.

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 below:


Related Articles:


The Best and Worst of Costa Rica in 2014, According to Everyone Else

by Lindsay Fendt for The Tico Times

Lindsay Fendt/The Tico Times

Lindsay Fendt/The Tico Times

This story first appeared in The Tico Times on December 30, 2014. It is republished here with permission.

Every year travel magazines and survey authorities across the world hurl accolades at Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches and seemingly happy people. This year was no different, but the predicted wave of praise was also accompanied with an unforeseen amount of criticism.

To acknowledge this, The Tico Times has adapted last year’s “The Best of Costa Rica in 2013, according to everyone else” to include not just the good, but the bad and the ugly as well.

Bing’s list praises Costa Rica’s natural beauty and calls the country a “dream destination” for beach lovers and adventurers. (Screengrab via Bing)

Bing’s list praises Costa Rica’s natural beauty and calls the country a “dream destination” for beach lovers and adventurers. (Screengrab via Bing)


As always, Costa Rica was recognized this year as a top tourist destination.

International Living Magazine still ranks Costa Rica a top retirement destination, and the country was ranked the most recommended travel destination by the Global Tourism Monitor Survey. In 2014, more people searched for Costa Rica on the popular search engine Bing than any other vacation destination. TripAdvisor included Costa Rica in its Traveler’s Choice Awards, ranking Manuel Antonio as one of the best beaches and the Nayara Hotel in Arenal as one the best hotels in the world.

But not every traveler was enamored in Costa Rica in 2014. The editors at Ethical Traveler dropped Costa Rica from its list of top ethical travel destinations due to perceived transgressions in human rights and environmental protection.

Untreated runoff from businesses and homes and untreated sewage are the leading causes of pollution in San José’s Río Torres. Alberto Font/The Tico Times

Untreated runoff from businesses and homes and untreated sewage are the leading causes of pollution in San José’s Río Torres. Alberto Font/The Tico Times


Costa Rica’s green image took a hit in 2014 as the country tumbled from fifth place to 54th in Yale’s Environmental Performance Index due to changes in the index’s criteria. But, at the same time, according to Costa Rica topped the region in the University of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Index, which ranked the country’s ability to adapt to climate change.

Human rights and quality of life

As in years past, Costa Rica ranked as the world’s happiest country in 2014, according to the Happy Planet Index. The country also ranked near the top of America Quarterly Magazine’s Social Inclusion Index, beating out the United States, and Costa Rica beat out a number of European countries in the Social Progress Index. The country’s capital of San José was also shockingly ranked the second-best city in the region for doing business, according to the World Bank.

But while Costa Ricans are supposedly happy, their reporters are not. Reporters Without Borders dropped Costa Rica’s press freedom ranking three spots and recent government spying scandals will likely warrant an even more significant drop next year.

Related Article:



In the Mailbag-Shipping, a Restaurant Review, and 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.


As a followup to one of our recent posts about shipping, Ann & Philip H. wrote,


Not long ago, you asked for people to share their experiences shipping household goods to Costa Rica during their moves…

“In the Spring of this year, we moved to Costa Rica and shipped a small amount of household goods. About 500 pounds, in fourteen boxes totaling less than 72 cubic feet, stacked up on one pallet. We used heavy-duty boxes purchased from Home Depot, which we packed ourselves as we would for any long-distance move. They held up very well during the transport via land and sea, and during the unpacking and repacking done by the Costa Rican Customs authorities.

We used Charlie Zeller’s company, Ship to Costa Rica, and followed his instructions exactly. We could not have been any more pleased with the way everything about our shipment was handled. We got a pallet from one of our local “big box” stores in Georgia. We stacked our boxes so nothing protruded beyond the edges of the pallet up to about 6 feet high. We strapped it down, wrapped it in the plastic Charlie suggested (also bought from Home Depot), and we were done! The inventory was simple since we were shipping used household goods with very few electronic items (their serial numbers need to be recorded) and Charlie’s instructions were very easy to follow. He advised us to complete his forms, but only put our name and a box number on the outside of each box.

Charlie arranged for a local curbside pickup from our home in the Atlanta area (actually from inside our garage) and we didn’t have to deal with our shipment in any way until it was delivered to us in Grecia, Costa Rica. It arrived on time, with nothing missing or damaged and no additional cost beyond what Charlie had quoted us. Based on what we’ve heard from other people about their shipments, his cost was very reasonable. Charlie handled all the details of getting our shipment through customs in Costa Rica (including paying all required fees and duties within his quoted cost) and held it in his bonded warehouse until we were ready to have it delivered. All in all, a painless process for us and one of the easiest things we’ve done during our move!

We cannot speak highly enough of Charlie’s service, he was easy to contact, responsive to questions and a pleasure to deal with. He can be reached toll free at (866) 245-6923 from the USA and Canada, or at (506) 2431-1234 inside Costa Rica. His email address is [email protected] for correspondence.”

A Restaurant Recommendation

On an entirely new topic, Lynn T. wrote,

ArrozConMango1Would your blog be an appropriate place to make an endorsement? Liva J. and I recently discovered an incredible restaurant. It’s called Arroz con Mango, right off the pista exit at La Garita, on the same road where all those fantastic viveros are located. If so, here goes:

While shopping at the viveros at La Garita, my friend and I took a chance and had lunch at Arroz con Mango. I learned early in life that in order to have the best experiences, one has to step off the curb once in a while. That’s why my husband and I are here, but that’s another story.

We drove down a long lane to a well-shaded and well-kept parking area dominated by guanacaste trees, with an understory of color. A parking attendant greeted us with the typical friendly Tico welcome.

The dining rooms are large and very simply but tastefully appointed, with a play room for the kiddies in the back. There is a massive view of the mountains and valleys beyond. There is room to roam among the gardens while you wait for your food, which are spectacular and where one can get some ideas as to how to integrate different varieties into one’s own environment.

But it’s all about the food. During our first visit there I had the chicken with chapotle sauce on ciabatta with the best fries I’ve ever tasted (they even hold up if you take them home and nuke them). The chipotle sauce had just the right kick to make the chicken sit up and take notice, but did not dominate the meal, which is exactly what I wanted, even though I didn’t know it at the time I ordered it. My friend is a vegetarian and asked if they could make a meat-based sandwich vegetarian, and voila, it was done! She loved it.

After lunch my friend and I shopped till we dropped at more viveros, and decided to go back to Arroz con Mango for coffee and cake before we headed for home. We split a chocolate cake, she had coffee and I had a lemonade (they have several varieties – you must try the lemonade with basil!). Delicious.

We went back there yesterday, and I had the Hawaiian sandwich with ham, roasted pineapple and carmelized onions and a mango smoothie. The flavors were incredible.

Arroz con Mango grinds its own hamburger (which I plan to try on my next visit, as there will be many) and buys its bread and other ingredients from local vendors.

If you want Olive Garden or any other chain, then don’t go to Arroz con Mango. But if you want true artisan food, give it a try.


ArrozConMango2Thanks for the recommendation, Lynn! Arroz con Mango sounded so good that we decided to try it out on my birthday. It was just as Lynn described it, with beautiful views and an extensive menu.

We each ordered limonadas (lemonades), Paul’s was plain and mine was with fresh mint, both were refreshing and delicious. I ordered the Filet de Pescado Caribeño (Caribbean Mahi Mahi) which was delicious — I would definitely order it again. Paul ordered the Meatball Sandwich with fries (Sandwich Italiano) which he liked but didn’t love, though the fries were done perfectly. And since it was my birthday, I got a free dessert which we shared. We are looking forward to going back to Arroz con Mango next time we are in the area.

And on Facebook…

Here’s a comment about Paul’s article, Integration 101: Being Bien Educado from Kat B.:

Yes Paul! It’s all about courtesy and acknowledging your fellow man. I have been stopping too, to listen to their stories. Because we’ve “stopped” and greeted, we have a diverse, new family. Looooooove it.

And in response to Paul’s article, Simple Pleasures: My Morning Walk, Alfred R. wrote:

I can relate. I am also up at 5:30 a.m., every day, walking to the beach, running the length of the beach, and cool off by swimming or snorkeling. It does not get any better than that. Pura Vida.

And Kat B. checked in with:

 My simple pleasure is walking down a familiar street being greeted, hugged, and kissed ( have to kiss everyone) followed by a GREAT cup of coffee at a little cafe……where I hug and kiss everyone there. Perfect way to start a day… love.

And finally, Margaret S’s response to one of our Cost of Living articles:

I lived In Boquete, Panama for 6 month prior to settling in Grecia. The x-pates I talked to in Boquete warned me that the cost of living in CR was much more expensive than in Panama. Everything in life is a trade off. I chose to pay a little more each month for clean streets where trash isn’t strewn all over the place, where the native inhabitants are gracious, friendly and helpful and where I felt like I could still live within my budget. In a way I’m happy for CR that the cost of living has gone up in the last 5 years because, in my opinion, that means the standard of living for the average TICO has risen also. While it is true that the CR deficit and long term government debt has cause Moody to downgrade their bonds to junk status, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the country is on the verge of an economic downturn. If we were living in the states and the cost of consumer items such as groceries, gasoline, insurance whatever went up, we’d bitch, complain and then pay the piper and start looking for a more economical friendly country in which to live.. What’s the difference. It is still cheaper here if you are diligent about living within your budget.


Alajuela to San Ramón, Another Adventure

by Norman Siegal

Norman & Frankie Siegel were both born in Pa. (Norman – Scranton, Frankie – Philadelphia). They have lived in NJ, FL, Ga, and AZ, which lead to their adventurous life. They have owned every type of RV made, and have also had two boats. To see all the states, they took a job as team drivers in an 18-wheel truck, going cross country for seven years. In 2006, while managing properties, Norman wanted to move to CR. Frankie was not ready to leave the States, so all he could do was study and read up on all there was to offer here. Then the Retire for Less in Costa Rica newsletter started, and he followed it every month. One morning last fall, Frankie woke up and said, “Why Not Now?” That’s all it took. They found an apartment in Alajuela online and booked a flight. On Jan.28,2014, they arrived and have been living the “Pura Vida” ever since. In December, they moved to San Ramón to better enjoy their life and moved the Cabinas where Paul & Gloria spent their first four years in CR.

Siegels2After moving to Costa Rica the end of January 2014, on “Blind Faith”, (having never been here before) and living in a great apartment in the La Giralda suburb of Alajuela, we decided to start looking for something more in our life. As we looked into the towns further out in the country, we were not able to find a suitable apartment. We looked at Atenas, Sarchi, Grecia, Ciuadad Casada, and a couple other places, but wherever we looked, we said “but our apartment is so much nicer, and close to everything.”

Cabinas of Costa Rica

Cabinas of Costa Rica

Little did we know that when a cabina in San Ramñn became available where Paul and Gloria lived for the first four years in this country, that we would find paradise. We had read about the cabinas in their newsletter. We came to look at the cabinas, and when we stepped out of the car (Cesar, the manager, had picked us up at the bus station) a toucan flew over our head, Wow!


Our Cabina

At first we thought the road up the hill would be too much for us, but after discussing our options, we said that we will make it work for us. So we packed up our bags, and moved on the 1st of December. Wow, what a transformation in our lives. It is like living in a campground, which we love. The air is so clean and fresh, and there are many birds and animals around. We are managing to walk down the hill to the bus stop, and if we do a lot of shopping, we take a taxi home.

We have joined the Community Action Alliance, which does many things to help the community, and will be starting their Spanish classes this month. Since moving here, we have met so many new couples who have become friends. We have such a busy social calendar it is hard to keep up.

We can’t thank Paul and Gloria Yeatman enough. It is due to them that we are here meeting all these new people and making such good friends. Having read every newsletter since 2011 when it started, they helped us make this great move.

All good things happening. What a way to start off the New Year!

Our awesome adventure in Costa Rica continues.


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_008We’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_004But, 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.

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