May 08 2015

Retire for Less Newsletter – May 8, 2015

Welcome to our Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:



Our April 2015 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses

2015a_AprIn April, we almost made our goal of spending under $2000, ending the month at $38.90 over. We had some extra “maintenance”kind of expenses which can be both unexpected and costly. Here’s the scoop.

Groceries – $339.30

Nothing unexpected here, coming in between $300 and $350, as usual.

Transportation – $423.50

To get our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner ready for the rainy season, Paul had some regular maintenance done:

  • New pair of windshield wipers –  $15.21
  • Tune-up – $95.06
  • Oil change, filter, air filter – $65.26

Other expenses were the normal: gas, tolls, and parking.

Meals Out – $102.72

Though we ate lunch quite a few times at Paul’s famous $1 restaurant, we discovered a Mexican restaurant that we kept going back to, even though it doesn’t fit in with our goal of having inexpensive lunches. Luckily, we are usually so full from our lunches there, we don’t want dinner.MariaBonita

Located in Belén, not too far from the Cariari Mall, is Restaurante Maria Bonita, named in honor of the famous Mexican actress, Maria Felix. It is one of three restaurants of this name, the others being in Santa Ana and San Jose. These restaurants are owned and run by a family originally from Puebla, Mexico, and their menu is chock full of tasty dishes commonly seen on menus in Mexico restaurants – tacos al pastor, chilaquiles, enchiladas with salsa verde, even mole poblano. It’s definitely not your regular Tex-Mex. For the two of us, including beverages and a shared dessert, we spent $25-$30 each time.

Healthcare – $131.87

All the normal stuff here — Caja, one prescription that we pay for privately, and some supplements.

Rent, Phone, & Utilities – $824.18

This category was a bit higher than normal in April because it was our turn to pay our housekeeper’s Caja. Covering her and her children, her monthly Caja payment is under $40 (20,300 colones). She cleans our house one morning a week for four hours and we pay her 7,000 colones plus bus fare (a little over $13). Several of our friends and neighbors also use her services and we share the cost of her Caja. With our rotation, we each pay every 5 months so it works out for all involved, and we’re happy to do it.

All other expenses in this category were pretty normal. You can read our breakdown of this category in our article, “Rent, Phone, & Utilities: A Budget Breakdown” which we recently updated.

Other Household Expenses – $46.39

This relatively small amount was due to continuing problems with the fridge in our rental house. The repairman actually came by our house three times. The first time, he charged 15,000 colones, the second time he didn’t charge us anything, and the third time he wasn’t going to charge us but we insisted he at least take money for gas (5,000 colones).

So that's what a defrost timer looks like!

So that’s what a defrost timer looks like!

The new defrost timer he installed last month wasn’t working and everything in the freezer has thawed out. We had to toss some stuff and I went on a cooking spree with the rest. The refrigerator part wasn’t cool enough either, so we bought lots of bags of ice (4,400 colones) to keep food from spoiling. He ended up taking parts from the new timer he’d installed and used them with the old timer (that I luckily had not thrown away yet) and he got things working again. It’s amazing what this resourceful guy can do. Bottom line, the fridge is working again but we don’t know for how long. So, we’re shopping for a new one that, thankfully, the owners of our rental house will pay for. Refrigerators are very expensive here as they are imported items. We’ll let you know what we end up with even though it won’t be included in our monthly expenses.

Entertainment & Travel – $84.78

witopia_logoThe only item of note in this category is the annual renewal of our VPN service, Witopia, for $49.00.  While we mainly use our VPN connection to allow us to access U.S. programming (Netflix, network television, Hulu, etc.), there are a lot of other reasons you may want to consider signing up for a VPN connection which you can read about here.


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Our Costa Rica Food Budget Breakdown

Updated 5/7/2015

2015a_AprSince we just published our 2014 Cost of Living Summary, it’s time to update our Costa Rica food budget breakdown.Last month, in April 2015, we spent $339.30 on groceries. And following are our monthly averages for the last several years:

  • 2014 groceries monthly average: $301.00
  • 2013 groceries monthly average: $379.81 (a 10% increase over the previous year)
  • 2012 groceries monthly average: $345.96 (an 8% increase over the previous year)
  • 2011 groceries monthly average: $319.09

It’s important to say that our 2014 monthly averages for groceries were abnormally LOW. We traveled for two months out of the year and therefore our grocery spending went down while our “Meals Out”spending went up. However, if you take our total grocery spending for the entire year of 2014 ($3375.05) and divide it by 10 months instead of 12, our monthly average comes to $337.55, still significantly lower than the previous two years!

Originally, we thought we would buy food, paper products and cleaning aids for a max of $300/month, so in 2014 we got closer to our goal. We still think we’re saving about $100/month over our U.S. grocery expenses, as prices have increased there as well. We manage to keep it close to $300 most months because we rarely go to the big box stores in Alajuela – Auto Mercado, PriceSmart, and Walmart. When we do go there, we have the tendency to buy in bulk, including some U.S. products which are imported to Costa Rica and can’t be found at our local stores in San Ramon. The imported products can cost two to three times what they would in the States due to the high import taxes, so we buy as little of these as possible.

We eat about the same as we did in the U.S. – lots of fruits and veggies, with meat usually only at the evening meal. Rather than breaking down the individual costs of every little item – broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, etc. — let’s just say it’s less, a lot less, in Costa Rica for fruits and veggies. One reason is that we are not buying things like bagged salads and frozen vegetables, instead buying fresh, local, and in-season. We’re so lucky here to have a year-round growing season for most things.

Our Food Budget Breakdown

So what does our $339.30 include? It includes almost everything – food, wine, and flowers, paper products (paper towels, toilet paper, wax paper, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil, zip lock bags, etc.), cleaning products (dish soap, laundry soap, Clorox, sponges, disinfectant, etc.), charcoal for the grill, and personal care products (bar soap, shampoo, razors, powder, etc.). All in all, not bad for $339.30. As of January 2015, we started breaking out our non-food items from food items when we tally our monthly grocery spending. Here’s how it’s been shaking out:


We’re spending 87% of our money on food and the other 13% on non-food items as described above. A good goal for the rest of the year is to decrease the percentage spending on non-food items. If you have any tips to do this, let us know and we’ll share them with our readers.

This category does not include cat food and litter, nor does it include eating out in restaurants. We have separate categories for those things and will break these, and other categories down, in future months. We eat great and we’re not suffering.

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Dental  Tourism in Costa Rica: My Experience – Part 1

by Vikki Riggle

My "before" picture

My “before” picture

Picking out a new dentist can be a scary experience, right? Well, imagine doing it blindfolded, while throwing darts at a map on the wall and you’ll have some idea of how I felt when I decided to look for a dentist in Costa Rica. I mean, I’m not at all dental-phobic but let’s face it, dentistry can be a scary proposition. I know this from first-hand experience, having met and suffered from the attentions of a very bad dentist earlier in my life. As a result, I have lost nearly all of my natural teeth and suffered with serious gum disease that could have been prevented. Bottom line: I want and need to know that I’m getting GOOD dental care. Let the search begin.


Over 11 Million Results!

First I Googled “dentist in Costa Rica” and was immediately overwhelmed.  I spent hours checking out websites, reading reviews, and emailing everybody I knew in Costa Rica to get recommendations. Still overwhelmed, I turned to a website I’ve been reading for years, and saw an ad for a recommended dentist who is approved by Blue Cross. I emailed for more information. At the same time, I emailed three other websites whose presentation and information seemed professional and promising and contacted a couple of the providers recommended by my friends.



Within 24 hours, I had responses pouring in. Reading through them was a lot like sorting a can of mixed nuts. There were high prices and low prices, excellent English and basic English, slick presentations and ordinary emails.  How on earth was I supposed to make sense out of any of this? All I could do was trust my instincts and start eliminating offers. The first few were pretty easy; after all, if I was going to pay U.S. prices, why would I fly to Costa Rica and incur the travel expenses? Out went the ones who seemed more interested in hype or promises than in actually talking to me about my specific needs. Gone were the guys who insisted that I bring panoramic x-rays from my U.S. dentist. Really? I couldn’t even imagine asking my dentist here to give me x-rays so I could have work done elsewhere. Nope, not for me.

My list was winnowed down to three possible dental providers. Two of them worked through representatives who are American and easy to communicate with. The dentists work from clinics in or near San Jose and offer incentives for travel, hotels, transportation, and discounts. The third was a dentist far from San Jose where I would be on my own for all those accommodations. Nice as he was, I chose to eliminate him as well. Finally, I’m down to two choices and I’m communicating with both of them, asking for estimates and treatment recommendations over and over. One of them, Bob Reardon, happily hung in there with me the whole way. One very late night, while I was tossing out emails full of questions, he actually called me to help me sort out my options. Nice touch, Bob.

So, after chatting with Bob for nearly an hour, and covering so many options I was getting confused, I told both Bob and the Other Guy that I really needed to step back and give myself time to think about my choices. A few months went by until I knew I couldn’t delay any longer. After contacting both men, and telling them I was ready with a final treatment plan decision, I asked for one last estimate. Bob never flinched, just jumped in there with a “great to hear from you” and gave me the new estimate. Other Guy also gave me an estimate but it was quick and curt and didn’t have the feeling of personal attention that I was getting from Bob. Plus, it was higher in cost. My decision made, I let Bob and Other Guy know. Other Guy snapped back, told me I was a “huge waste of time” and made me realize I truly made the right decision.


Suites Cristina Apartment Hotel, San Jose, Costa Rica

Tickets were bought and Bob had arranged everything else. All I had to do is get on the plane and catch a cab to the hotel. We checked in about 2:00 a.m. no problems, and my taxi is waiting to take me to the clinic at 8:00 a.m. The driver’s name is Wagner (he says his mom was a huge Robert Wagner fan) and he speaks self-taught English amazingly well. We hit it off and chat the whole way. I arrive at the clinic where Wagner tells me he’ll pick me up when the clinic calls him. The clinic itself is in a small shopping center in Escazu, a very Westernized part of San Jose. When I open the door, I see that the clinic is spotlessly clean, cool, modern, and simply but comfortably furnished. The manager greets me and within 10 minutes I’m in the chair, meeting the rest of the staff. My dentist is Dr. Chavarria, a soft-spoken young man, who tells me most people call him Dr. “Chava.” Works for me.


The Staff at Nova Dental

Dr. Chava explains that he and his assistant will speak Spanish to each other as he examines me but I can ask questions at any time. He is so gentle, and I am so tired, that I keep dozing off in the chair. I apologize but he just laughs and says it is a compliment to him. Come to think of it, it is a compliment. I’m so relaxed and comfortable I can actually sleep. Who would’ve thought it?

After a thorough exam and panoramic x-rays, Dr. Chava reviews the treatment plan proposed through Bob. That plan is to have partial dentures made both top and bottom, possibly using implants to anchor them on the bottom. He also tells me he has another option for me and talks about implants vs. dentures. He expresses concerns about my satisfaction with bottom dentures (the same as my dentist back home) and gives me the price for both options. Not only do I trust this man’s advice, the price is so reasonable that I would be foolish not to go for the better treatment plan. I decide, right there on the spot, to have implants done on the bottom. We take impressions, set up the rest of my appointments, and I’m ready to go. Wagner is there within minutes to return me to the hotel.

Back at the hotel

Back at the hotel

At my next appointment, I meet the surgeon, Dr. Obando. He, too, is a lovely young man with a great chair-side manner and sense of humor. My surgery is scheduled for 4:30 p.m., a time when most U.S. dentists are ready to close. I have started my antibiotics, and he starts the numbing process. Would you believe me if I told you I fell asleep again? No? Smart person you are! No, I didn’t sleep during the surgery; too much happening in my mouth for that. But I have to say I was as relaxed and comfortable as I’ve ever been in a dental chair. No problems at all.

Nova Dental Accredidation

Nova Dental Accreditation

After my final appointment, I left my new dental clinic with seven brand new, beautiful crowns on my bottom teeth and a follow-up plan to crown the implants and have the upper partial denture delivered.  I would have to wait at least three months for the healing process to finish. Back in the States, I had a different dental issue come up and went to see my U.S. dentist. When he saw the work in my mouth he was both impressed and glad I had changed my mind about the partial on the bottom. I asked him if he would like to give me an estimate to finish the work and he jumped at the chance. While his assistant worked up the price, I wrote down my cost to have the work done is Costa Rica. Including hotel, airfare, meals, and dental work, my costs would be a little less than $6,000. My dentist’s estimate FOR THE EXACT SAME WORK, was over $12,000. Sadly, he told me he can’t compete, that he has to pay his staff and his landlord in American dollars. I thanked him anyway and headed home to tell my husband the news.  All he said was “Well, I guess you’re going back to Costa Rica, huh?”


My “after” picture

Yes, yes I am. My appointments are set for the first two weeks in September. Once again Bob has made all the arrangements and the dental clinic has given me all my appointment dates and times so I can plan to do some day-tripping on the days I have no visits. I couldn’t be happier with the doctors, the clinic, the hotel, and Bob. The whole experience has been a positive one for me. I hope to be able to do another visit in the future and repeat the implants on the top but for now, I’ll be happy just to have TEETH again. I’m so excited that I’m counting the days. When it’s all over, I’ll let you know how the finished product has turned out. In the meantime, if you’re interested, let me encourage you to contact Bob Reardon at his email address: and to visit these websites and to see the places I’ve mentioned. If you decide to contact Bob, please feel free to let him know you learned about him from me.

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Questions and Answers-Joining the Caja


“How long must I live in Costa Rica (and must I be full time) to qualify for Caja? And, when I do qualify, what does it cost? I continue to get very different answers to these questions. Can you set me straight?” – Sherry B.



To best answer Sherry’s question, we consulted our Costa Rica residency expert, Javier Zavaleta with Residency in Costa Rica. Here’s his answer:

To qualify for Caja you must be a legal resident of Costa Rica. Once you get your paperwork that shows your residency has been approved, you will have about one month before your one and only residency appointment at Migracion to have your resident ID card (your cedula) issued. During this time, you will have to go to CCSS and apply for Caja.

You will pay for the first month and be given a receipt. When you go for your appointment at Migracion, you will show that receipt to prove that you are signed up for Caja.

You do not have to be living in Costa Rica full time to qualify for Caja. It goes by the terms of residency which, I believe, is to be in-country for at least one (1) day out of the year. FYI, the old requirement of 4 months, or 122 days per year, was replaced with at least one day per year when the new Ley de Migracion took effect back on March 1, 2010.

The cost of your monthly Caja depends on several factors, including the residency program used for the application, monthly income and age. Will you be coming as a Rentista or Pensionado? How old are you (or your spouse if you are applying as a dependent under his/her name)?

If you are coming as a Pensionado, the fee is charged based on how much money from Social Security or pension you receive per month. In general, Pensionados pay about 8% of their monthly pension; and Rentistas, whose income is set by law at $2500 per month, and if under 55 years of age pay about $400, which is reduced to about $300 once they turn 55.

These fees are only an estimate and are subject to change. It’s important to keep in mind that Caja does not charge additional fees to cover a spouse or dependent children under the age of 18. Thus, a single Pensionado applicant, age 62, with a monthly pension of $1200 would pay about $96 per month for Caja coverage. If married, that same applicant and the spouse would both be covered by Caja for one fee of $96 per month. If that same couple had children also applying for Caja coverage, the fee would remain the same, $96 per month for the entire family.”

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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_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.



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 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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