May 01 2014

Retire for Less Newsletter – May 1, 2014

Welcome to our Newsletter!

Gloria, Paul, & “Machito” – Yes, that’s a MONKEY on my head!


In This Issue:



Our March 2014 Costa Rica Cost of Living and Relocation Expenses

If you read our last newsletter, you know that we traveled back to the U.S. to finally sell our house and deal with all of the “stuff” we had stored in the basement for the last five years. Therefore, our expenses for March are broken down into our Costa Rica living expenses and our expenses for the trip to Baltimore.

2014_MarFirst, lets talk about our Costa Rica living expenses.

As you can see from the graphic to the right, we lived on less than $1700 for the month. That includes the payment of all of our fixed bills — rent, electricity, internet, water, security system & monitoring, propane, and phone. It also includes variable expenses for the first 17 days as we left for the States on March 18th. Granted, had we spent the entire month in Costa Rica, some of the variable expenses, like food and gasoline for the car, would have been higher. Even so, we’re confident that we would have come in under our goal of $2,000 for the entire month.

Also included in our Costa Rica expenses is our purchase of a Roku box which we actually bought in the States and brought back with us. Since we plan to use it here to enhance our viewing of Netflix, etc. we’ve included it in our Costa Rica expenses for the month.

Now for an explanation of our trip expenses.

We did purchase some basic groceries for the week we spent in our house in Baltimore, including items like paper and cleaning products. The majority of our meals we ate in restaurants as you can see from the whopping $494.42 we spent on “meals out.” This includes meals for ourselves as well as those occasions we took people out for lunch or dinner. This figure would have been even higher if not for the meals various friends and family members prepared for us or treated us to in restaurants — not to mention my sister, Toni, and our friends, Jim & Mandy, who opened their homes to us and made us feel welcome. Thanks everyone!!

EnterpriseLogoOur “transportation” category includes our rental car and gasoline purchases. We rented a mid-size car from Enterprise for almost two weeks for a total of $278. We were VERY pleased with both the rate and their service. We would not hesitate to use Enterprise again in the future.

Healthcare expenses of $136.92 included several prescriptions which I needed to fill due to some emergency medical needs. You can read more about that in our article on travel insurance.

Thanks to our friends, who loaned us their Tracfone, we had access to phone service during our trip. However, since we were so busy the entire trip, we used a LOT of minutes and they were expensive — to the tune of $64.18. Wow! That’s almost three times what we spend for both of our cell phones in Costa Rica for an entire month.

And now for the biggest expense category, “Entertainment/Travel” “Entertainment included an evening at our local 2nd run movie theater and the purchase of a few magazines. The rest of the category covers our travel expenses, as follows:


We got a pretty good deal on airfare, with each ticket costing $462.61 for round trip travel San Jose, Costa Rica to Baltimore, Maryland. Interestingly, had we bought our tickets two weeks earlier, each ticket would have cost about $200 more. Glad we waited!

Luckily, when we purchased our tickets online, we checked off the box for travel insurance. It was inexpensive ($61.10 for both of us) and turned out to be a lifesaver, as we had to use it. Read more about it in our article, below, about our purchase of travel insurance.

The last item to mention in the travel category is the departure tax that Costa Rica charges everyone upon leaving the country by air. It doesn’t matter if you are a tourist or a resident — everyone pays it. The cost is $29 per person and the money supposedly goes towards the upkeep of the national parks. (However, if you are visiting Costa Rica on a tourist visa and you have overstayed your allotted days (usually 90 days), you may be hit with a higher departure tax so be prepared.)

There are some relocation expenses that do not appear in this month’s expenses. There are several expenses associated with our decision to ship 13 boxes of our belongings to Costa Rica. As we did not pay for these charges until after the 1st of April, they will appear in next month’s expenses.

As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months:














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Travel with Confidence When You Purchase Travel Insurance

Allianz_logoFor our recent two-week trip to the U.S., we opted to purchase travel insurance when we were buying our airline tickets on American Airlines. Shortly thereafter, we received a policy from Allianz Travel Insurance which outlined our coverage and confirming the prices we paid — all of $61.10 for both of us. Here is what our policy covered: At the time, we thought it was a great deal, not realizing that we would soon need to actually use it.

Our policy coverage with Allianz Travel Insurance

Our policy coverage with Allianz Global Assistance

We were pleased with the coverage limits in general, but, to be frank, we were most interested in the emergency medical coverage. Should something happen during our visit to Baltimore, Paul could use his VA benefits and was also covered under Medicare Part A, but I had no other health insurance. Here in Costa Rica, medical costs are more reasonable and we are also covered under the Caja, the national medical system. But if something happened while we were in the States, we knew that it could end up being very expensive if we had to pay out-of-pocket. Purchasing this travel insurance policy gave us peace of mind, and the low cost made it a bargain, even if we never had to file a claim. 

When checking their website, we learned that Allianz Global Assistance offers various plans and, if you travel a lot, you can even purchase an annual policy.They state on their website, “Whether you’re traveling for leisure or business, you’ll appreciate the comprehensive coverage Allianz Travel Insurance provides. We helped over 13 million people last year plan for the unpredictable with financial protection and 24/7 support from our travel professionals around the world. Simply select the plan that best meets your needs, or compare them side by side.”

They go on to explain, “Allianz Global Assistance is one of the world’s leading providers of travel insurance and assistance services. Worldwide, Allianz Global Assistance employs nearly 10,000 travel professionals and has offices in 28 countries. The strength of this global network allows us to deliver the highest level of benefits and services to customers like you. Allianz Global Assistance products are underwritten by BCS Insurance Company or Jefferson Insurance Company depending on the insured’s state of residency.”

We’ve been extremely pleased with the service we’ve received so far from Allianz Global Assistance, since we did need to take advantage of the emergency medical benefits. We’ll report back once our claim has been filed and everything has been paid or reimbursed.

So, here’s what happened. We were working furiously to clean our our house in Baltimore, Maryland to prepare it for the new owners. We arrived on a Wednesday and closing was the following Friday. We had negotiated five extra days after closing to finish up, but we were still stressed because of how much there was to do. I take up my post in the basement where we have stored furniture, clothing, personal and household items for five years while we’ve been living in Costa Rica and renting out our house. For the next week, I was opening boxes, deciding the fate of each of the thousands of items, then Paul took care of dispensing with everything.


Slit lamp examination

Slit lamp examination

We closed on the house right on schedule, held a two-day moving sale, then were finishing up by getting our boxes ready to ship to Costa Rica and doing a final cleanup of the house to ready it for the new owners. My left eye was watering, I thought from all of the dust we had been stirring up, and I asked Paul to go to the pharmacy to get something to wash out my eyes. The pharmacist told him that the best thing for me to do was to stand under the shower and let the water wash out the dust. I followed his advice and an hour later, my eye was even more red and swollen as before. We went to another pharmacy that had a “Minute Clinic and tried to see the nurse. She strongly encouraged us to go to the emergency room to get it checked out with by a doctor with a “slit lamp.” 

That was the last thing I wanted to do but, by now, I was in a lot of pain, so, to the emergency room we went Luckily, we had elected to buy travel insurance when we purchased our airline tickets. I had downloaded the policy on my Kindle and had it with me, so I called the emergency assistance number for Allianz Travel Insurance. They had a nurse on call and she said, yes, definitely go to the hospital and that the policy would cover it. Our policy, among other things, covered up to $25,000 of emergency medical and dental expenses. At the emergency room, the doctor checked out my eyes and told me that there was nothing there to be flushed out, but that I had developed abrasions on my cornea. He prescribed something for the pain as well as an antibiotic ointment for my eye. If it gets worse, he told me, call the hospital’s eye clinic tomorrow.

GBMC ER photoI was a little better in the morning but as the day wore on, my eyes, both of them now, start hurting again. We called the eye clinic and they told me that they couldn’t give me an appointment until the next afternoon but that I shouldn’t wait. Corneal abrasions can be serious, she said.So, back to the emergency room we went. I called the nurse at Allianz Travel Insurance and she approved the second visit to the emergency room in two days. She also asked if it was okay if she called the next day to check on me.  Luckily, I saw the same doctor as I did the night before. He confirmed that my eyes were worse and that whatever the abrasions were has spread to the right eye. He immediately got on the phone to the eye clinic and arranged for me to see an ophthalmologist immediately. “This is the most interesting presentation I’ve seen in six months,” she said and she had two other ophthalmologists examine me. They didn’t know for sure what caused it, but I had developed cysts on my cornea. The reason I was in so much pain was that every time I blinked my eyes, it irritated the cysts. Ouch! She had about 50 photos taken of my corneas, inserted a contact lens “bandage” of sorts on my left eye, gave me some antibiotic drops to use, and made an appointment for me to see their corneal specialist the next morning. Of contact lenscourse, in addition to being worried about my eyes, I also thought, “I can’t even imagine how much this is going to cost.” And again, I was very grateful that we had opted to buy travel insurance which cost all of $61.10 for both of us.

The next day, the corneal specialist diagnosed that the cysts were caused by some type of toxic substance. Maybe it was mold spores from the boxes of books that we had throw away because they had gotten wet over the years and were covered with black mold. Maybe it was exposure to some of the old cleaning supplies that I had been going through and discarding. Maybe it was something else in the air down in the basement. We’ll never know for sure. The good news was that there was significant improvement in the size of the cysts as a result of protecting my left cornea with the contact lens. The bad news was that my right eye had gotten worse. This time, they put contact lens “bandages” on both eyes and told me to come back on Monday. Since we were leaving to return to Costa Rica on Tuesday, they wanted to make sure I was good to go. For the next four days, I religiously used the antibiotic drops and was without any real pain. Things were looking up. That afternoon, the nurse from Allianz Travel Insurance called and I filled her in on my treatment. We made plans to talk again on Monday after my final appointment with the ophthalmologist.

On Monday, we were relieved to learn that the cysts had cleared up on both eyes and that I was now left with a bad case of dry eye due to the contact lenses and after effects of the cysts. I was instructed to continue using the antibiotic ointment in both eyes and to use eye drops without preservatives throughout the day for the next 10 days.

I updated the nurse from Allianz Travel Insurance who then said she would call me at home in a couple of days to be sure we got home safely and that everything was all right. Sure enough, two days later she called to check on me. Then she transferred me to someone to start the paperwork to file a claim. Our policy should cover everything except for a $50 deductible, so some of the cost for the prescriptions I needed will be reimbursed. I don’t know yet what the two emergency room visits will cost, nor what the three visits to the eye clinic will cost as we haven’t received bills yet. We are hopeful that the claim process will go as smoothly as the rest of our experience with this company. But we’ll update this post once everything has been processed, paid, and reimbursed. Fingers crossed.

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Remembering Jo Stuart

We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend, Jo Stuart, last Thursday, April 24th, 2014. Her death was reported the following morning by A.M. Costa Rica in an article entitled, “A.M. Costa Rica columnist dies in the city she loved.” Jo is perhaps best known for her column, “Butterfly in the City: Musings from San José.” which was published every Friday in A.M. Costa Rica. We, however, were lucky enough to know her as a friend.

Jo championed our cause & mentioned us periodically in her column. We also championed her and, with her blessing, put many excerpts of her book, “Butterfly in the City” in our newsletters to boost it’s sales, but also because we agreed with her on so many topics. She was an inspiration for us, about how to live a simpler life. She “walked the walk.”

We’ve been to her apartment on multiple occasions. It was only $400 per month unfurnished & her simple furniture was like that of a student. After all, her last regular job was that of a house mother at San Jose State University in San Jose California. How prophetic! She’d been to our place, too, in San Ramón, and also gave a talk for the Community Action Alliance about her favorite topic: San José, Costa Rica. Jo also made an incredibly decadent hot fudge sauce which Paul would often eat by the spoonful, right out of the jar!

Jo, we will miss you. But we are grateful that we can still hear your voice each time we read your book or one of your past columns. Thank you for sharing your love of this beautiful country and it’s capital city, for sharing your observations and insights, your humor and zest for life. You saw the beauty in common, every day things and helped us to do the same. We are proud to have known you.

Here’s a review we did of her book a couple of years ago:

Butterfly in the City by Jo Stuart is one of the best books I’ve read on Costa Rica. As the name implies, she is the “butterfly” and the city is San Jose, Costa Rica.

Most other books on Costa Rica are guide books about its natural beauty – waterfalls, beaches, flora and fauna – with recommendations on hotels, B&Bs, hostels, attractions, and restaurants. But this book is about how to adapt to the culture. It’s the story of Jo Stuart’s day-to-day life, of her city, and of the people of Costa Rica as seen through her eyes — the eyes of a single woman who wanted a new experience. She retired and settled here over 20 years ago, in the early 1990’s. She had been looking for a place where she could live simply, within a limited budget, and without “owning anything.” After a couple of visits, she chose Costa Rica, feeling comfortable in a country without an army, and at home with the culture and people.

Jo Stuart Loves San Jose’s Pedestrian Boulevards

She tells the story ofJosafinos(residents of San Jose) in particular, and Costa Ricans (also called Ticos) in general. I consider it a must-read for anyone living in Costa Rica or considering moving here, as it provides great insight into the Tico personality, way of life, values, attitudes, how to adapt, and provides many other interesting and helpful tidbits of information.

I always thought of this book as an ethnography of sorts, perhaps an inadvertent one, but one nevertheless. It’s practically a reference book for me as I’ve gone to it several times for confirmation of something I was thinking or wanted to express. It’s a quick and easy read, so if you want to understand Costa Rica and Costa Ricans, read this book.

(Click here to buy this book on

Although being retired is a happy condition in itself, living in Costa Rica has a great deal to do with our sense of well-being. I’ve been thinking about what I have here: a beautiful and peaceful country unlikely to be threatened by another world power, large or small, a host country whose citizens are gracious and charming, a climate that requires no air conditioning or heating, a great variety of good food at reasonable prices. These are all conditions that contribute to the good life…Yes, it is very easy to be content in Costa Rica.”

– Jo Stuart, Butterfly in the City, p. 214

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Starting in June and July: Our New Ultimate Healthcare Tour!

We’re putting the finishing touches on our newest tour, the Ultimate Tour on Healthcare in Costa Rica. We’ve lived in Costa Rica for 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 because we’ve had yearly checkups, 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. Our tour is designed to save you both time and money, packing a lot of information into a short period of time.

Our tour lasts two days and 1 night and includes lodging, transportation, meals and non-alcoholic beverages.

HospitalMexicoSample Itinerary: You’ll visit:

  • Two private hospitals in San Jose area
  • Hospital Mexico, the largest and best public hospital (they even do open heart surgeries there)
  • 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 clinic
  • A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
  • A dentist
  • 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.

Cost $550 for a couple, $450 for a single.

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


Featured Property – Finca La Puebla

frank-homeIn our April 17th newsletter, we wrote about the sudden deaths of two expat husbands which shook up not only their wives and loved ones, but also our expat community. One of those deaths was Frank Thompson, who passed away suddenly in his sleep early on March 10, 2014. Frank was also the owner, for nearly 20 years, of Finca La Puebla, a tropical organic farm, located in the Costa Rica’s southern zone, just outside of  San Isidro de El General. He is survived by his wife, Jan Hart, who is now managing the sale of the farm.

While the asking price of the farm ($250,000 USD) is over the $150,000 limit we recommend Costa Rica home buyers spend, we wanted to let you know about this opportunity for several reasons. First, it’s because of our friendship with Jan and our desire to support her in this difficult time. It’s also because the farm needs to be sold, sooner rather than later, and taken over by someone dedicated to preserving and continuing what has been created there. And the third reason is because it’s such a special place. Frank wrote about his farm, “In 1995 we bought 12 acres of abandoned pastureland. Over the last 19 years the land has been lovingly transformed into a tropical paradise studded with fruit trees and gardens all interconnected by a trail network.” This is truly a unique property and a unique opportunity for sustainable living.

It also has an ideal location and climate. Located in southern Costa Rica at an elevation of 820 m (2700 ft.) the climate provides ideal year round growing conditions. Temperatures generally range between high 60s and low 80s. There is no need for either heating or air conditioning. The land fronts on the Buena Vista River and rises into the hills behind providing a variety of building options and growing conditions. A half mile access road along the river keeps the property private, yet accessible.

It is Certified Organic, with twelve acres of flatland with excellent soil. This farm has been totally free of agrochemicals for 19+ years. We grow everything from tropical fruits and root crops to tender greens. A partial list of producing fruit includes: mulberry, avocado, pineapple, orange, grapefruit, lime, lemon, mandarin, mango, starfruit, miracle fruit, zapote, mangosteen, cacao, birriba, and guava. For many of these fruits, they have 2 – 6 different varieties.

Their year around garden crops include a wide variety of lettuces, beans, corn, onions, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots, mung beans, peanuts, sesame seeds, black pepper, turmeric, ginger, yucca (casava), squash, chayote, hot peppers, various herbs.

They also have an endless supply of fabulous bananas that they eat, use to make power bars, banana vinegar, and dried bananas.

gardens_FincaLaPueblaThe property includes:


There is a large central garden surrounded by fruit trees. We also have covered gardens, a solar drying house and a food processing area. In addition there is a plantation with coffee, chocolate and black pepper all growing in the shade of fruit trees. There is an abundance of fresh spring water for irrigation year round.



There is one main house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms and two independent cabins. All of the buildings have drinking water and electricity. There is also a covered camping area. In addition there is a small spring fed swimming pool. The structures are rustic, about 15 years old and currently used for housing for 3 – 8 volunteers/month who work on the farm through various international programs. There are several good building areas on the farm that would be easily accessible and could provide nice views as well as cooling breezes during the summer months.


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