Mar 13 2015

Retire for Less Newsletter – March 16, 2015

Welcome to our Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:





Our February 2015 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses

We really blew our budget in February! 2015_FebThe overages are mostly in the transportation category but they are in a couple of other categories as well.

Transportation – $1,158.08

First off, here’s the breakdown:

  • Gas, tolls, & parking: $173.14
  • Replace engine light sensor: $28.25 (15,000 colones)
  • Replace clutch: $941.62 (500,000 colones)
  • Car wash: $15.07 (8,000 colones)

The biggest expense, as you see, was to replace the clutch on our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner. Paul drives about 9,000 miles per year, which probably doesn’t seem like much. But driving these mountain roads, with all the hills and curves, is tough on a clutch. The car is 18 years old and we’ve owned it for six years. This may be the first time the clutch has had to be replaced, we don’t know for sure. So, big expense, yes, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. Without needing to get a new clutch, our monthly expenses would have been low, $1,783.61. But things happen and we’re grateful we have a reserve for emergencies.

Earlier in the month we had problems with the check engine light coming on. After checking the car, our mechanic confirmed that the engine is fine, we just had to replace the engine light sensor. He called his parts supplier, got a new one, and replaced it. The next day the light came back on. We went back to the mechanic, who checked and told us that the new part was faulty. He got another one from his supplier and replaced it again Car2(at no extra cost to us) and it was fine…until the next day when the check engine light came on again. He called his supplier who admitted that he had some problems with these parts and sent a new one over. When our mechanic replaced the clutch, he installed the 3rd new sensor. And, guess what? The next day the check engine light came on again. So now we’re waiting for another new sensor, this time from another supplier — who hopefully gets his parts from somewhere else!

Gas, tolls, and parking were right in line so no comments needed there. Well, maybe one…several months ago we were paying about $80 to fill our tank with gas, and now, after the price decreases, it’s costs about $50.

The only other car-related expense was a car wash. During the dry season it gets really dusty here and this year it’s been especially windy also, so it’s been hard to keep the car clean. Paul usually washes the car himself but he wanted to have a really thorough job done so he took it to one of the car washes in town. Usually it costs 5,000 colones but for this more thorough wash, it cost 8,000 ($15.07). The car looked great! But the wind blew all the dust around and it’s time to wash it again. I’ll take that any day over dealing with snow, ice, and freezing rain!

Rent/Phone/Utilities – $792.72

The reason this category fell under $800 is our water bill which was only $11.85 (6,295 colones). Even with watering our flowers and plants every day during the dry season, our bill has gone down as a result of replacing the inner workings of one of our toilets which had been leaking.

Personal Care/Clothing – $170.48

The breakdown:

  • Personal Care products: $103.72
  • Clothing & jewelry: $31.98 (16,990 colones)
  • Haircut & color (Gloria): $22.56 (12,000 colones)
  • Haircut (Paul): $3.77 (2,000 colones)

We had a friend coming to visit in February so we took the opportunity to order some things from that we can’t find here. One such thing is Braun Oral-B brush heads for our electric toothbrush. In the past, we were able to find them at Walmart here in Costa Rica but they no longer carry them. So we ordered a bunch — some “genuine” Oral-B brush heads and some knock-offs which were much less expensive. Hopefully they will work as well.


My “ankle candy”

Also in this category is clothing. I purchased two new bathing suits at a local store (Ekono) for a total price of 12,990 (24.46). They were on sale for 50% off as Costa Rica’s summer is winding down. While they aren’t the same quality as I could buy in the States, they are pretty and fit okay. Another purchase in this category was some “ankle candy” made by our friend, Jen Beck Seymour (the “Costa Rica Chica”). So with my new bathing suits and anklet, I’m ready for the beach!

Paul and I both had haircuts, though his was substantially less expensive than mine at only 2,000 colones — less than $4. However, I’m not complaining as my hairdresser does a great job cutting and coloring my hair at only 12,000 colones — less than $24.

Entertainment/Travel – $80.46

No traveling in February so this was just pure entertainment. In addition to our normal expenses like Paul’s online subscription to the Baltimore Sun, our hometown newspaper, and our monthly Netflix bill, we did some fun things in February.

LaLigaFirst off Paul went to a futbol (soccer) game in San Jose with some Tico friends and our friend, Peter, who was visiting from the States. It was Paul’s first time at the new stadium and his first time at a professional soccer game. Tickets cost 15,000 colones ($28.20) for some of the best seats in the house. He and our friends were rooting for La Liga, Alajuela’s team, which, unfortunately, lost 2-0 to Saprissa, San Jose’s team.


Playa Doña Ana

We also visited Playa Dona Ana twice in February. We’re back to doing regular beach days with friends and have really been enjoying them. The cost to enter is very reasonable:

Adults 65+: 750 colones (about $1.50)
Adults: 1,500 colones (about $3)
Parking: 1,000 colones (about $2)

We bring our own food, cookout on the grill, visit with each other, play with the dogs that some friends bring with them, swim and play in the waves, and just have a relaxing day. We live about 50 minutes from the beach and are usually home by 4pm.

RickBaylessAlso in this category is the purchase of a Rick Bayless DVD from his cooking show, Mexico One Plate at a Time. We’re planning another trip to Mexico this June and will spend most of our time in Oaxaca so we bought his Season 9 DVD which features the cuisine of Oaxaca, one of the culinary capitals of Mexico. It will be fun watching it both before and after our trip. Once again, we are taking advantage of a visiting guest — this time, my sister — who “muled” it to us from the States.

Office Supplies – $35.43

This category actually includes things other than office supplies. It also includes photocopies and faxes, shipping, postage, and our post office box rental. February is the month that the annual PO Box fees are paid and we found that they went up again this year from 14,000 colones in 2014. When we moved to Costa Rica six years ago, it cost 9,000 colones (about $18) for the year. This year, the cost is up to $15,000 colones if you pay by February 1st and if you paid late but before the 28th, there would be a 50% surcharge according to the notice in the Correo (post office). I had lost track of when payment was due and we hadn’t received any notification in our box, so I was unhappy with myself about the extra expense as I waited in line for about 30 minutes. But when it was my turn, the postal clerk only charged me the 15,000 colones ($28.20) for the year. Maybe because I smiled at her instead of complaining? Who knows?

All in all, despite being over-budget for the month, we did a lot for the $2,725 and we feel good about that. We took care of our car, ourselves, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Pura vida!


Related Articles:


It’s All Costa Rica!

by Jeni Giles Evans

Jeni Giles Evans

Jeni Giles Evans

While staying in San Jose, my husband and I met another couple who had recently flown in from a quick visit to the US.  We were enchanted to discover that they lived in a remote jungle community on the Osa Peninsula, a place we have not yet visited.  Although they were quite friendly and willing to talk, we noticed that their warmth increased after discovering that we live in San Ramón—not in town, but in a cabin in the mountains. They “approved” of our choice of a place to live, but were quick to tell us that too many expats are not experiencing the “real Costa Rica” because they live in Escazu or Atenas. Ok, I let them get away with it, but I would like to dispel that myth right here and now.

How can we judge anyone else’s Costa Rican experience? We all have our own reasons for coming here, so what I want from my experience may not have any relation to what you want. If I like living on a mountainside and if you like living on a beach, is either one of those places NOT Costa Rica? Are the Ticos who live in San Jose not real Ticos because they don’t live in a jungle with the monkeys?


One of the pedestrian boulevards in downtown San Jose.

Two of our friends chose to live downtown in San Jose near Sabana Park. They are city folks from the US who came here for the health care. They have no interest in living with the monkeys or giving up their concerts and plays and city noises. They vacation where they can see and hear the wildlife and the surf and throw their toilet paper in the trash, but they return home to an adorable two-story house on a quiet street near the park. They are learning Spanish and how to cook gallo pinto and to live with razor wire and locked gates. Contrary to their life in the US, they are walking more and using public buses and taxis. They no longer think in terms of how much they accomplished in one day, and instead they contemplate how many neighbors they talked with and how much further they managed to walk before tiring and what new foods they have tried. Are they not experiencing Costa Rica?


Fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers from the feria

We have other friends who live in Central Valley communities popular with expats, such as Grecia and Atenas. Some of them knew little or no Spanish when they moved here and lived hurried lives with long commutes and little time for family and friends. They worked themselves into a state of unhappiness and poor health at jobs they hated. Some of them had done very little traveling outside of the US, but they heard that life was slower paced here and they took a chance on a whole new lifestyle. They are finding their way here, learning what they really love and how they can make a living at it. They are eating fresh fruits and vegetables bought at ferias instead of from cans at the grocery store. So, some of them have “American” plumbing and can flush their toilet paper, but they are learning to live with the scorpions and army ants. Some of them are using the bus, but others are negotiating the Costa Rican bureaucracy and are buying cars and houses and learning how it’s done here. Their daily experiences are helping them to learn the language. Is this not the “real” Costa Rica?


A beach on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica

Life on the Caribbean for some of my friends means daily walks or horse rides on the beach with their dogs (in contrast to my hike up the side of a mountain) and sipping wine on the beach in the moonlight. From her bedroom window, one of my friends can see only jungle canopy all the way to the ocean. It’s Caribbean cuisine and snacking on roasted cacao beans, babying new orchids, and kayaking for them. Are they living the “real” Costa Rica?

The Cabinas in San Ramón de Alajuela

Cabinas of Costa Rica

We live in the Central Highlands on the edge of the Central Valley. We wanted a community that was still predominately native Costa Rican, but we liked the fact that there were enough expats here that we could learn from their experience while our Spanish skills are still in the elementary stages. And yes, our neighborhood is all expats because we chose a place where the rent was all-inclusive for the sake of convenience. It is also beside the highway and a short walk to the bus stop, so it’s easy to get into town. But we talk to the Ticos we see at the bus stop. We struggle through our limited Spanish to ask about their families and to tell them about ours and about how we love this country. We are navigating the CAJA system, exploring the country by bus, discovering natural remedies, growing avocados (or trying to), and having our boots repaired instead of throwing them out and buying new ones. And may I just add, I handled that last one with absolutely no English and no receipt for my boots or for the down payment—something I would never have done in the States. Are we experiencing Costa Rica?

Sí, por supuesto, we are all experiencing the varied offerings of this lovely country. Beaches, jungles, mountain villages, and cities—we’ve got them all, and it’s all Costa Rica!

Snapshots of Life in Costa Rica

Do you have any photos you would like to share of different aspects of life in Costa Rica? If so, send them our way and we will give you photo credit. These are two of ours.

Bicycle Boy

What some people will do to save the $3 entry fee into Playa Doña Ana.



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In the Mailbag: Cost of Groceries and Renewing Your Tourist Visa

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

Cost of Groceries

Margaret P. responded to another reader’s comment/question about the high cost of groceries in Atenas after reading our January cost of living article.

In answer to the woman who just arrived in Atenas – we have been here for a couple of months. I do find Atenas more expensive than Orosi. I haven’t kept track as closely as you do Gloria but I think we spend around $300 which is less than 1/2 of what we spent in Canada. This is my advice: Start with the Friday Feria. There is a free bus at the park. What you can’t get there, get at the municipal market. That’s all your fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat at very reasonable prices. Get cleaning products and such at El Rey. Then go to the grocery store for your beans, rice, oats etc. Eat local cheese instead of European cheese. Whole wheat bread is very expensive but we buy it anyway. Kleenexes etc. are very expensive so we just try to be more careful about their use.”

Renewing Your Tourist Visa

And this, from Javier Zavaleta, our residency expert, in response to our February 9th “In the Mailbag” column where we quoted him as stating, “US, Canadian and most Western European tourists who enter Costa Rica on a 90-day tourist visa DO NOT qualify to renew their visas by paying the $100. That method of renewal is available ONLY to tourists who enter Costa Rica on a 30-day visa.”

Thanks, Gloria. That’s still accurate. One thing I would change is that I no longer recommend traveling to Panama to renew the 90-day tourist visa. Panama is likely to ask for an airline ticket out of Panama, or credit cards or who knows what. Nicaragua is still the only way to renew. In and out, no special requirements.

Another issue with the 30-day renewal is that it may take up to 30 days to get the new visa!! The process sounds great on paper. In practice though, truth is that other than a few Chinese, I don’t know of any one getting a 30-day renewal.”

Related Articles:

  • Read all of our “In the Mailbag” columns at this link.


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 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_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 needsand 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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