Sep 11 2014

Retire for Less Newsletter – September 12, 2014

Welcome to our Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:


Preview of our Upcoming Special Issue

Our next newsletter, to be published later the month, will be a special issue full of information about healthcare and health insurance. Here’s a peek at what will be inside:

  • Costa Rica’s Caja: How it Works
  • In the Mailbag: Regarding Getting Residency in Costa Rica and Joining the Caja
  • New Development: Make Caja Appointments by Phone
  • Update: Travel with Confidence When You Purchase Travel Insurance
  • For U.S. Citizens: How the Affordable Care Act Affects Expats

You won’t want to miss it, so if you are not already subscribed to receive our newsletters, just go to the “Subscribe Me” section of the right sidebar on any page of our website and fill out the form.


Our August 2014 Costa Rica Cost of Living Expenses

In August, we once again met our goal of living here for less than $2,000 per month, even though our spending in some categories was higher than normal. 2014_Aug


We actually spent less than normal for transportation, mostly because we put off some regular maintenance on our car until next month when our schedule will be less hectic. I can guarantee you that next month will be higher than normal, but we’ll give you all of the details then.


We normally spend between $325-$350 per month on groceries (which includes toiletries and paper and cleaning products). Except, that is, for months when we visit the big box stores: PriceSmart and Walmart. And in August, we visited both of them. It’s our chance to pick up items we can’t readily find in San Ramon — parmasan cheese, large bags of almonds and walnuts, etc. In August, just the items in this category came to $40 at Walmart and about $68 at PriceSmart.

Meals Out

Because we were out and about a lot in August, we ate more meals at restaurants than normal, especially lunches which we almost always have at home or at Soda Kendy (AKA  “Paul’s famous $1 restaurant.”) in San Ramon’s Central Market. We also went to a Jazz Brunch to hear a great quintet of local musicians.

FreshStepPet Care

Because of our trip to PriceSmart, our pet care expenses were higher than normal. We go every few months to stock up on “scoopable” kitty litter which we can only get there. We bought two 40 lb. bags of Fresh Step litter and paid about $34.50 (18,590 colones, or 9,295 colones each). Unless we have a trip to the vet, our only other pet expense is usually cat food.

Other Household 

Even though our spending in this category was about normal, there is one expense worth mentioning. We had the repairman by to fix our oven again. While we couldn’t find the part we needed here in Costa Rica, he came by to switch the broiler ignitor with the oven ignitor and I could bake and roast again. (The owners of our rental house have since found the part in the U.S. and my sister will “mule it down” when she visits in November. Then I can bake AND broil. Woohoo!) For this “house call,” the repairman charged us a total of 10,000 colones (about $18.50).

Personal Care

While spending in this category was right on, there was one notable expense. Paul signed up for a couple of exercise classes at the University. We have a campus of University of Costa Rica (UCR) right in San Ramon, and they have a very active senior program. He signed up for a walking class two days a week, and a senior aerobics class two days a week. The term is about 12 weeks and the cost was only 5,000 colones per class. So, for less than $20, he has four hours of structured exercise each week. The class is mostly Ticos, so he gets to speak a lot of Spanish and meet some nice people while getting fit. It’s a chance for integration and Paul really enjoys it. (Since the classes are at 7am, and I am NOT a morning person, I don’t go along. Does dreaming of exercising count?)


This is the stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else in our budget, and in August there were three such expenses. First, another neighbor’s daughter celebrated her Quinceañera (15th birthday), a very important birthday for girls in Latin America. We gave her a couple of little things and a cash gift to buy whatever she wants.

Item #2 in this category was the registration fee ($7ConfRescate0) for me (Gloria) to attend Costa Rica’s first Conference on Wildlife Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release. The three-day conference was held in San Jose and brought together wildlife rescue and rehab centers all across Costa Rica for the first time ever, to meet each other and share all of the valuable experience that each center has gained over the years. The expense was actually only 1/2 of the registration fee ($140 total), the other half being paid by Spider Monkey/Howler Monkey R&R. Thanks Michele and Paul!

Item #3 was a $50 notary fee, paid to the U.S. EmbassyWe needed to have a letter notarized for the company we used for travel insurance back in March, when we went back to Baltimore to sell our house. Before they would pay our claim, they required a notarized letter (written by us), stating that we do not have any other health insurance in the United States. More about this below in our article, “Update: Travel with Confidence When You Purchase Travel Insurance”. As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months:


Click to read article.


Click to read article.

Related Articles:


Why the Higher Cost of Living in Costa Rica Is Worth It

by Tammy (Originally published by Viva Tropical. Used with permission.) Photos and links by RFLCR.

CRPaintingOxCartCosta Rica has been an increasingly popular destination among tourists and expats for several decades. And, while it stands out heads above the rest for its abundance of untamed nature and the healthy lifestyle it offers, cost of living in Costa Rica is not among its biggest selling points.

While still considerably cheaper than the cost to live a vacation-worthy lifestyle in a comparable North American city (as if there were any that could hold a candle to Costa Rica), the cost of living in Costa Rica is actually among the highest in Latin America. It’s also THE highest in Central America. Yet the number of tourists it draws each year and the hordes of expats who’ve chosen to call it home have hardly dwindled despite the rising costs.

Let’s dig a little bit deeper into what’s really driving the cost of living in Costa Rica and why so many North Americans still think it’s totally worth it.

So, just how much higher is the cost of living in Costa Rica?

Like any other factor, the cost of living in Costa Rica can vary drastically from one area to the next. It also depends entirely on your lifestyle. Live in some relatively unknown place that’s off the beaten path with few amenities and poor BigMacinfrastructure and you can get by on $1500 or less per month for a family of two. On the other hand, if you decide to make your home in a newly renovated high-rise condo in the Central Valley where you dine out every night and shop to your heart’s content, you could easily need double or even triple that amount of money to live. But let’s talk in generalities for a moment. The Economist publishes a study called The Big Mac Index, named for McDonald’s large greasy burger. It compares the purchasing power of different currencies by comparing the cost of like items (i.e. the Big Mac) among countries to see how over- or under-valued their money is. In January 2014, the average price of a U.S. Big Mac was $4.62. In Costa Rica it was $4.28. To reference a few other Latin American nations, Mexico was $2.78, Colombia $4.34, Peru $3.56, and Venezuela a whopping $7.15. (No other Central American countries made the study.)

Not everything is more expensive in Costa Rica.

While this index gives a decent baseline for comparing prices, it’s far from being the definitive word on the cost of living in third-world countries. Sure, a Big Mac might rival U.S. prices, but there are a number of things that still cost considerably less in Costa Rica.

hairscissorsFor example, due to the inexpensive cost of labor, many services can be had for a very reasonable price tag. Domestic help, like a maid or cook, can start as low as $3 per hour. A haircut will only set you back $3 or $4. Even the labor for auto repairs comes at an inexpensive rate. It’s the parts that will set you back a pretty penny. Education in Costa Rica is affordable as is the country’s health care (even at private facilities), which is of the highest quality. Property taxes are also low.

There are also a number of things that generally run about the same as their North American counterparts. Expenses in this category include utilities and services such as internet, cable, cell phone plans, water, and electricity. You can expect to pay about the same for these as you would in the U.S. although, depending on your location, you may have no need for heating and/or air conditioning expenses. Housing is also relatively inexpensive, with nice-size well-appointed accommodations ranging from $500 to $1500 per month.

However, as with all the above, it’s important to consider what you’re comparing these costs to. While much less on average than in the U.S., Canada, or Europe, individual budget items in Costa Rica can run significantly higher than in the rest of Central America.

What are Costa Rica’s big budget busters?

To answer this question, it’s important to consider a few important factors about the country. First of all, Costa Rica is a small country that must import a large number of the items people use for daily living. Add up the cost to get the items brought over plus the hefty import taxes the government loves to tack on, and things like automobiles and appliances can become incredibly expensive. On a smaller scale, the same is true for everyday items like imported wines or brand name peanut butter. So, to save considerably on your household expenditures, avoid anything imported. The country’s rGasPumpselatively high utility costs are another big contributor to the higher cost of living in Costa Rica. They’re due to the monopoly held by government-run ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, or the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity). Phone charges are based on usage, so you’ll pay depending on the amount of talking you do. Any vehicles brought into the country carry an extremely high import tax. Car tags are quite pricey as well. Gas in Costa Rica is also expensive, generally $1 to $2 more per gallon than in the U.S., which adds even more to the cost of owning a vehicle in Costa Rica. The poor driving conditions on Costa Rica’s subpar roads create additional wear and tear on vehicles, which creates the need for frequent mechanical work. In short, if you’re budget-conscious, don’t try to own a vehicle in Costa Rica. Public transportation is a much more affordable option.

What about food costs in Costa Rica?

This category also varies quite a bit depending on what and where you eat. Dining out, as evidenced by the Big Mac study, Sarchi-Soda_300pxcan get expensive fast. That is, unless you dine at “sodas,” which are small, locally-run eating establishments. You can eat at local restaurants for $2 to $4 per person instead of the $15 to $20 you could expect to pay for a nice restaurant or chain franchise.

If you like to cook, your best bet is to shop at local markets or do business with street vendors. You can choose from a great variety of locally-grown produce, beans, rice, and meat for a fraction of what you’d pay at the big box supermarkets, which closely resemble and even trace their roots back to some well-known U.S. chains. At the local street fairs you can buy big bunches of bananas for $40 and large pineapples for only $1. You can also get freshly baked bread much cheaper (around $1.25 for a large loaf) from the local bakeries. On average, you can save about 30% on your grocery bill by avoiding the supermarkets. {RFL NOTE: that’s about what we save on our grocery bill.) You might expect great deals on fish and other seafood, but even these can get a little pricey, especially the further you get from the coast. Your best bet here is to make the occasional trip to the coastal areas to stock up at lower prices.

Why pay more to live in Costa Rica?

BreezyBeachDayThat’s an easy question to answer. And, no, we’re not going to say that you get what you pay for. Although you do. The fact is that putting the cost of living in Costa Rica up against other Central American countries is hardly an apples to apples comparison. Sure you can find cheaper places to live, some even awfully close by. But Costa Rica offers so much more.

In Costa Rica, you get a well-educated strong middle class population who are friendly and welcoming to outsiders. You get low crime and political stability. And, dare we forget to mention, you get one of the most amazingly beautiful settings on the entire planet. Most importantly, though, you get choices. With so many options available, in terms of housing, consumer goods, and services and amenities, you can pick and choose what’s important to you in Costa Rica. If you want to live, eat, and dress like a local so you can save up most of your dollars for travel throughout the region, you can totally do that. If you’d rather live like a king in the big city so that you never have any desire to go anywhere else, then that’s also an option.

So if this top expat destination is on your short list of countries you’re considering, don’t let the marginally higher cost of living in Costa Rica dissuade you.

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:




We’ve received quite a few testimonials lately, about our newsletters and customized tours of the western Central Valley. Thought we’d share a few and “toot our own horn” a bit.

From Eric and Marie P., about the customized San Ramon/Palmares tour they took with Paul:

 Hi Paul and Gloria,

We just wanted to keep in touch with you two. We had a great time meeting you guys. The tour you gave us Paul, was amazing and filled with so much info. We really appreciated the chance to visit your home. We have decided, after our trip, and tour with you, that Costa Rica is where we will land after we retire.

We hope to take advantage of the health care tour after we move down next October.  We will be in touch.
Eric & Marie

From Sylvie and Pierre-Yves from Canada, regarding their customized Central Valley Tour with Paul:

My husband an I took a tour with Paul. Not only did we get a look at Atennas, Grecia, Palmares and Sarchi but San Ramon, where he lives, was explored in-depth, on foot. His knowledge of the town shows thru our visit of Cultural Center, Museum, pharmacies, markets, shoe stores, sodas (restaurants where you order yummy casados) and his interactions with Ticos and expats alike gave us a sense that Paul has really called San Ramon, Costa Rica his home…..showing us that you get what you put in: friendships wherever you are.

I recommend spending time with Paul if Central Valley, Costa Rica is on your radar. You will get a pretty good feel of what it’s all about: embracing the life of your fellow citizens and taking the time to interact with them. The personal rewards await you.

Big Thank you Paul and Gloria.

Sylvie and Pierre-Yves from Canada

From Jackie T. about our August 27, 2014 Newsletter:

I just wanted to say that I think this was one of your best newsletters ever! I loved the story about the monkey adventure, and I think the information you shared about living in Costa Rica was very helpful.

Community Action Alliance – September 2014 Newsletter

People always ask us, “What do you do all day?” They are so used to doing and producing in North America, they just can’t imagine having a future that’s so open-ended. Well, we have a good answer: VOLUNTEER. It’s something you can do all over Costa Rica. Practically any town of any size will have some sort of volunteer opportunities just waiting for you.

In our town of San Ramón, it’s especially easy to get started with the Community Action Alliance. The Community Action Alliance is ”an organization of expats and Costa Ricans in the greater San Ramón area, volunteering together for community enrichment…It enables members to realize a personal opportunity to redefine and recreate their lives.” The Alliance has volunteer opportunities available in many areas. So what do you do all day? It’s easy, with the Community Action Alliance.

To read about what’s been happening with the Community Action Alliance, click on the graphic below. You will be able to read the latest newsletter (September 2014), subscribe to receive future newsletters, as well as read past issues.


Related Articles:


Monthly Weather Report for San Ramón, Atenas, Nuevo Arenal, & Quepos – August 2014

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

You’ll notice that we are now showing rainfall and temperatures for four towns in Costa Rica. This isn’t weather forecasting. We report after the fact to give you a much better picture of the weather in each of these areas.

You can still click on the map to the right to enlarge it and check out the average rainfall for the towns you are interested in. Remember that the areas shaded in darker blue tend to be higher and also the places most expats choose to live.

Paul’s San Ramón Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for August:

  • As you can see, the rain picked up in August (10.2″).
  • Remember, we live 3 miles outside San Ramón at 3000 ft. elevation, 500 ft. lower than the town of San Ramón.
  • The town of San Ramon tends to get less rain than we do.
  • It’s been an excellent rainy season month, with sunny mornings, clouding up late (11am-noon), and rain in the afternoon (the way it should be).
  • costa-rica-map_cropped4Total rainfall in 2013 was 110.95 inches in our area of San Ramón.

Lance T’s Atenas Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for August:

  • My main observation for August is that the rainfall on August 23 was a record (3.8 inches / 9.7 cm) since the time in May 2013 when I started to keep records. The day began with a partly cloudy morning. It clouded up in the afternoon and then dumped about 3 of the 3.8 inches within the span of 1 hour. A true deluge. The remainder dribbled down over the next 2 hours or so. Then the sun broke through before sunset arrived. The temperature on this same day ranged between 69°F and 86°F without any uncomfortable level of humidity. Despite the deluge, the day was a nice day. The deluge was tropically novel, rare in Atenas, but made the day interesting.
  • Total rainfall in 2013 was 63.84 inches in our area of Atenas.

John’s Nuevo Arenal Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for August:

  • We hosted a group of veterinarians from Florida who visit Costa Rica twice a year to participate in our local spaying and neutering program, along with several of our local vets. They “fixed” a total of about sixty animals over a two-day period. They spent one of their leisure days on a local tour-guided sailboat, cruising the length of Lake Arenal and getting to view the Arenal Volcano up close.
  • Total rainfall in 2013 was 164.75 inches in our area of Nuevo Arenal.

QueposLance M’s Southern Pacific Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for August:

  • We got all moved and are still unpacking trying to figure out where to put every thing since this house is about half the size of the one on the beach. It is a great place since we are in the middle of forty acres with a large pond and a shooting range, along with lots of trails through the pastures to beautiful streams and a river.
  • We get visited every once in a while by a burro named Houdini since he is an escape artist. Our house is behind a palm grove and he is one of the burros that pulls the wagons for the palm nuts. He comes over to the pastures here and runs with the horses that our landlord boards.
  • The Quepos area of the Central Pacific receives approximately 140 inches of rain per year. 

Click to enlarge.

Rain-2014-08 PaulHubPhoto

Our San Ramón Weatherman, Paul Yeatman

Meteorology has been Paul’s lifelong hobby.  As a child, he devoured books about the weather and earth sciences vigorously. Later, he took a few college courses in meteorology, and still later, he served as a meteorologist for the U.S. Army in Vietnam.  Now, Paul gets to practice his avocation in Costa Rica, albeit on a very small scale with just temperature and rainfall data, probably the two most important factors regarding the weather. He wanted to include weather info on our website to help people decide where to live, although weather is just one of many factors to consider in determining where to relocate. Current weather data is from our current home at about 3,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón. Weather data prior to December 2012 is from our previous home at about 4,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón.

Our Atenas Weatherman, Lance Turlock

Lance and his wife, Diana, moved to Costa Rica about 2 years ago after living 30+ years in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (Vancouver and environs). They live in the Central Valley near the town of Atenas and are at an elevation of about 2700 feet. They have no need for air conditioning or heating. Overnight low temperatures are comfortably cool (low 60’s). Daytime highs can be relatively hot (high 80’s, low 90’s), but rarely uncomfortably hot.Lance started to keep track of daily temperatures and rainfall in order to have factual ammunition to help disabuse friends, relatives and acquaintances of any misconception that the weather must be like that of a tropical jungle.

Our Nuevo Arenal Weatherman, John Nicholas

After many visits to Costa Rica, John and Cathy Nicholas moved from New York to Costa Rica in 1991.  They chose Arenal for its sacred, majestic beauty, its lush wildlife, its relaxing lifestyle, and its proximity to activities and sites such as the Volcano Arenal and the beaches. They own the B&B, Chalet Nicholas, which has been in operation since 1992. Temperatures and rainfall are measured at Chalet Nicholas which is located at approximately 2,200 ft. elevation and 1 mile west of the town of Nuevo Arenal.

Our Playa Mantapalo Weatherman, Lance Miller

LanceM2 I was born in a very small town in northwest Iowa and raised on a farm. When I was 18, I joined the service, in which I spent 22 years before retiring in 1990. For the next twenty three years my family and I lived in south central Pennsylvania. After having a stroke in 2012, I was unable to work and that is when my wife and I began talking about retiring. Thanks to your newsletter and a website we found about San Isidro, we began looking at Costa Rica. We came down in March 2013 and looked around for a week. Went home, packed up, and moved here in April. We settled in a small village called Playa Matapalo which is located between Quepos and Dominical. We later moved to Quepos. The word Playa means beach. It is so nice to lie in bed and listen to the ocean. Pura Vida. We will continue the weather info next month.

Related Articles:


Interested in Living in San Ramón?

We don’t normally advertise rentals in our newsletter, but this is an opportunity that doesn’t come along often. Many of you know that we lived at El Castillo de Relajamiento Cabinas for almost four years, before moving into the house we are renting. We loved our time there and never hesitate to recommend it to folks interested in living in San Ramón. Several long-term residents are moving out for various reasons — one couple bought their own house, and another resident is moving back to the States for medical concerns. There will finally be vacancies at the Cabinas over the next few months! If you’ve tried to make reservations there, you know this doesn’t happen often. For more information, to watch I video we made of our time there, and to contact the Cesar, the English-speaking property manager, click here. 


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