Like Costa Rica’s emblematic Sloth, the people here are always smiling and prepared for come what may – even Coronavirus! Feature photois by the Sloth Rescue Ranch, not me, and from Tico Times. Read on to see how better prepared little Costa Rica is than the big ol’ USA and thus we will get over it quicker too! 🙂
Thursday’s Tico Timesedition reminded us of how better prepared we are than a lot of bigger countries for the pandemic, like our great university is already making emergency respirators for when/if needed at only $140 each! (You think the U.S. would ever do that?) People are ready to sacrifice financially for the 25 days we are closed to all outside tourists (and it will be much longer before tourism is back to normal–like by next winter we hope). Here are the specific articles this week in Tico Times about the pandemic’s affects on Costa Rica:
“El gorjeo” or “tweeting” or “chirping” is what many of the birds are doing every morning now and earlier than usual, before sunrise! But none of the birds are singing as much as the Clay-colored Thrush or Yigüirro it is called here (feature photo), the National Bird of Costa Rica. Yigüirros have started their pre-rain singing earlier this year, which is usually in April. This chirping is why it is the National Bird with tradition saying they are calling in the May rains or the “green season” as it is called by many here. Hopefully this earlier singing means the rains will come earlier! Listen to a recording of song 🙂 And soon the wind stops blowing which is almost constantly now. I AM READY FOR GREEN SEASON! 🙂
In one sense it is a little like “Spring” in the north, but maybe a backwards spring as we move from hot-dry-windy to daily rains, cooler temps, greenness & more flowers. It is a tropical paradise that most tourists miss because they want to avoid rain. 🙂 But most of us who live here prefer it to the “dry season.”
“Don’t let the rainy season deter your visions of outdoor adventures! This is Costa Rica’s most beautiful time of the year, when every landscape explodes in vibrant colors, with blooming flowers and blossoming fruit trees, not to mention cooler temperatures.” ~costarica.com
One Tico family picked me up at the airport and took me to la casa de Doña Vera Garcia with a hardy welcome from a very energetic & talkative 4 year old Daniela. Her father, Daniel, was working late tonight at the shoe store in the nearby Mall. There are 2 other boarders here, college-age Tico boys from smaller towns going to trade schools here in Heredia, a very big suburb of San Jose. The students went out and will eat here later as many Ticos do, but I ate at about 6:30 (late for me) and talked the best I could with Vera in my malo español.
The small apartment complex where they live became more lively as it got dark and people came home from work with little Daniela running in and out of the house and relating to all the neighbors and many coming in our house visiting; a close, friendly community, like a big family with everybody talking, in Spanish of course, and usually much faster than I can understand. And who knows where the college boys went? But first, one of them helped me get on the WiFi which Vera didn’t understand. And I settled down in my private room working on my computer. It is much cooler here than in Atenas and noisier because we are near downtown Heredia. I’ll be in bed soon. Hope I can sleep. Big day tomorrow!
And of course I have a “Trip Gallery” of photos from this week, titled:
A dear friend just shared this link to an article in the New York Times that I have to re-share since it has some good ideas and information that might help those of you American readers considering living in another country. The article, How to Be an Expatriate in 2020:
I might check into the two sources they referenced on transferring money from the states to another country, since a regular bank wire of money is too expensive I think. I have my SS check auto-deposited here in my CR bank account which covers my basic living and I get other money from my U.S. Credit Union via ATM here for free at my bank’s ATM which doesn’t charge me and my stateside CU doesn’t charge at that end. When you move anywhere you have to work out these little details over time. “Where there’s a will there’s a way!” 🙂
They also referenced International Living Magazine which I took for two years but found way too commercial for me and I think they are mixed up in real estate, especially in Ecuador which they push a lot, plus their gimmicky ways to get rich on the internet. Be careful of such schemes if you subscribe.
The article also mentioned some networking organizations which can be good, and the one for women sounds especially good for them. I tried the other one mentioned, InterNations, which is heavier on the younger expats in the big city of San Jose here and it did not meet my needs. One year was enough for me!
Right here in little Atenas we are getting more younger couples with children and jobs coming from the states. Some use local private schools and some home school and the rare one who is “really international” send their kids to the local public schools in español and of course they are the ones who are integrated into the community. 🙂 The young Americans here who are still working do all their work online. The internet has really shrunk the world! 🙂 Of course they are a different breed from us ol’ retirees! 🙂 But in some ways we are a community. 9 million Americans living overseas it says.
Anyway, I like to share things like this I learn about that might help you who are considering a move here or to any other country.
NOTE: This week I’m living with a Tico family in Heredia while in an Spanish Immersion Class at Tico Lingo. I will try to report on some nights about the experience. A little scary! No English for a week! But hopefully a good way to learn Spanish! 🙂
The “Trip Gallery” from my Thursday trip to Rio Tarcoles is ready to view with 35 species of birds photographed out of about 40 species seen. A good birding trip!
Even though I am a legal resident of Costa Rica with a residential card or “Cedula” and thus a national ID number (which I have memorized), I am not a “citizen” which takes longer, is more complicated and is not one of my goals with no particular advantages for me (vote & CR Passport).
Thus I must retain my citizenship in the U.S. and that requires a valid U.S. Passport if “living abroad” (says the U.S.) though I no longer have to have a Costa Rica Visa stamped in it as a legal CR Resident. It just declares where I am a citizen (everyone must be a citizen somewhere), required by both countries, AND is required to travel internationally or even buy an international airline ticket. While I can travel domestically in Costa Rica with only my ID number or resident card, I used my U.S. Passport on those 3 trips I made to Nicaragua and Panama. A U.S. Passport is good for 10 years with my current one obtained in 2010, thus expiring in 2020, this year, on my birthday in July. And most countries require at least 6 months left on your passport to enter, thus needed now! Not as confusing as it may sound. But . . .
Process Before Going to Embassy
So, the first week of January I got on the U.S. Embassy Website to make an appointment for the renewal of my passport which they gave me for 28 January. No one can just walk into the embassy here – you MUST have an appointment first. It is like a huge military fortress of paranoid American bureaucrats surrounded by high concrete & steel walls and razor wire. Once you get in with an appointment, you are checked by dozens of armed guards, remove everything from your pockets and enter with no bag, purse, cellphone or anything but the cloths on your back and required paperwork. My two other experiences there were that once you finally get in, they are fairly efficient and rapid with whatever service you need. For us expats there are even IRS and Social Security offices inside the embassy. Passports are by the Department of State.
Required Paperwork Before Appointment
When I made the appointment on the embassy website I also downloaded and printed a 2-page form to fill out along with the 4 pages of detailed instructions (good grief!). I filled in the form with ink and went to a local Atenas photography shop for my passport photos, attaching one of them to the form as instructed. All of the above was before the actual appointment on 28 January and I will continue this saga after my appointment for which I’m hiring my local driver Walter to take me and wait on me while in the embassy, which shouldn’t take more than one hour. Then I will write the next paragraph and post this to the blog.
The Appointment – 28 January 2020
A Comedy of Errors
Walter picked me up at 8:30 AM this morning, saying that we would be early for my 10 AM appointment because it never takes him a full hour to get to San Jose (but I insisted on 8:30). Well, we zoomed up Ruta 27, our semi freeway to San Jose until about 5-7 km outside the city and we screeched to a halt or slow crawl of bumper to bumper traffic, assuming a wreck ahead and sure enough, about 45 minutes later there was a wreck on the opposite side of the freeway! Good grief! It was “rubber necking” or people slowing down to stare at the huge multi-car pile-up on the other side going in opposite direction! Whew! Then we sailed right into town pulling up in front of the embassy at exactly 10 AM, my appointment time! 🙂
But did I go straight in? No! The armed female guard with bullet-proof vest at door asked if I had a cell phone or any other electronic device? I said, “A cell phone which I expect to put in the locker inside.” (like I did last time there) She then tells me that they no longer have lockers, it was too much trouble and they have too many people entering. Walter was already gone and is not allowed to park near the U.S. Embassy, thus he goes somewhere else until I get out and call him for a pickup.
So I helplessly look at her and ask “There is no one here to give my phone to, so that means I cannot go in and renew my passport?” THEN she tells me that the Catholic church a half block down the street has lockers I can rent. So I hike down the street and after asking someone, find the little church building and go in among statues of Mary, pay my 1 mil colones and get locker #13 key (lucky 13!). I put in my phone and at her suggestion my coins and belt with big metal buckle, but keep my wallet because you have to pay for a passport! 🙂 By then this frustrated foreigner was feeling his two cups of coffee from breakfast and had to pay 600 colones to use the baño! (But my coins are in the locker!) Ohhhhhhh! I hate the American Embassy!
I rush back to the embassy, late for my appointment, feeling like I was entering the embassy in Afghanistan or Iraq with armed guards and bullet-proof vests, and finally, after a severe security check, I get inside and make it to the correct window for passport renewal (not labeled, just window 15), passing crowds of other people there for visas, and who knows what else? But I had an appointment! 🙂
Wow! No one else at the passport window! (In fact the worker there looked bored!) I give him all my paperwork and passport photos (left) which he stared at for a few moments and then said “These will not do. The photographer zoomed in too close to your face.” and he showed me how it was suppose to look. Then he said, “No problem! You can go back out into the lobby to the photo booth and get your photo made properly.” (Grrrrrrrrrr.)
So back out among the throngs of people in the huge open-air lobby with others, mostly Ticos getting U.S. Visas, also waiting to have their photos made. I finally get it and pay the dos mil (about $4 compared to $2 for the Atenas “zoomed in” version).
I take them back to the guy behind the passport window and he asks me, “Now aren’t these much better?” I wanted to say “No” but rather used the local non-committal “Mas o menas.”(more or less) and then asked “Cuanto cuesta?” And he says $110 and I give him my MasterCard and it is basically done. . .
. . . until he gives me a little slip of paper written totally in español explaining how it will be mailed to my AtenasCorreos (Post Office), but only after I go first to that post office and prepay them the equivalent of $7 for their postal services and email to the indicated U.S. Embassy email address a photo copy of the receipt I will receive, saved as a PDF file only. Then he explains in English that it takes them 2 weeks to get the new passport made and the post office 2 days to get it to Atenas. Then I can go pick up my new passport and the Post Office MIGHT even call or send an email when they have it. The embassy will not send it to my PO Box. I guess afraid of theft.
Oh Lord-y was I glad to get out of that place! I go directly across the street to a tiny coffee shop (Coco Cafe) and get a cup of coffee and 4 miniature cinnamon rolls, losrollitos de canela.I call Walter and by the time I’m finished, he is there for me. All total an hour at the armed fortress and about 2.5 hours on the road! But almost done! And Walter dropped me off downtown where I took care of the post office payment today AND I have already emailed the PDF photo copy of post office receipt to the embassy. Waiting is all that’s left to do.
One less thing to think about for the next 10 years! 🙂 So in 2030 I will do it again as a 90-year old (wiser & more experienced) for the passport that will get me to age 100! 🙂 Then I may need someone to go with me in 2040, but the embassy only allows one extra person who is not the applicant! 🙂 And who says retirement is boring?
This is a typical line for getting on the bus to Alajuela or San Jose, at least at the times I usually board them in the mornings or returning in early afternoons. As a senior adult I could go to the front of the line but I don’t. That still feels like “breaking in line” to me. But I do use my residency card for my free passage to Alajuela or discount for San Jose (which I rarely go to – too big & noisy!).
The buses are comfortable, on time, and the price is right! 🙂 I am still very happy living without a car and I save money for more fun travel! Plus I read more books riding buses! What’s not to like?
“You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.”
― Erol Ozan
In Atenas the Post Office (la oficina de correos) is being remodeled or sort of freshened up with new mail boxes (apartados) that are not in numerical order (?go figure?!), new tile floor, new counter and paint on walls, etc.
The good rapid clerk (nice young man) no longer works there – with a new one being trained very slowly and she was the only one there yesterday when I go in line behind about 10 persons and waited more than an hour to mail one of my photo books to a hotel I visited recently. Though it is not always this slow, it kind of reminded me of waiting in line at the post offices in Nashville where I also remember some very long waits and similarly inefficient processes, especially around Christmas! Oh well, that’s life! Así es la vida!
Apdo. 441-4013, Atenas, Alajuela, 20501 Costa Rica
Letters take about a week, 10 days, from the states & almost as long in-country! 🙂
Packages take longer depending on Customs.
NEVER send anything to my street address! Carrier will stick it in the fence or gate if I’m not home and it could blow away or otherwise be lost! No home mail boxes here! What’s that? ¿Qué es eso? And most locals don’t have mailboxes like me but use “general delivery.” Part of that line is persons waiting to pick up general delivery mail, or get passport, cédula, visa, pay property tax, etc. I’ve seen a clerk dig through 3 big mail cartons of letters looking for someone’s general delivery letter and sometimes never find it.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Even though Costa Rica does not have all the “safety net” programs of the U.S. (though free medical care & education), plain ol’ regular daily life for Ticos (and most expats) is easier here for the poor than in the states. (And that is even with CR having the highest cost of living in Central America.) I’m first motivated to say this because of the latest article in the “Live in Costa Rica” blog:
Also because I know that there are people from the States living here on no other income than their monthly Social Security check. A person can live solo here on a thousand dollars a month, though very simply. For residency (like Green Card in States) you must prove income of at least $1,000 a month. I think it would be much more difficult to live on that in the states! (And by the way, I meet that requirement by having my SS Check auto-deposited in my Costa Rica bank account. )
In fact there is a whole website & tour/conference program here entitled Retire in Costa Rica on Social Security. George supposedly shows you how to do it. (Disclaimer: I have not participated in his tour/program but like his concepts and his Intro Video!) On his site he quickly refers you to another blog/website that I know from experience helps you with specific budgeting: Retire for Less in Costa Rica. I highly recommend their newsletter/blog as the best for someone retiring here on a tight budget. It just may be my favorite newsletter on retiring in Costa Rica!
Remember that a large number of Ticos live here on less than a thousand dollars a month (even families). They do not travel somewhere every month like me nor have some of the luxuries I have, nor eat out in restaurants, but they are very happy and live productive lives in one of the happiest countries in the world. And like me, most have no car! 🙂 That is one of my biggest savings and helps me to afford my monthly travels, thanks in part to affordable public transportation!
I do not talk budget/expenses much – not the focus of my blog – but it is the purpose of the two blogs linked above. If you are concerned about affording retirement in Costa Rica, you must subscribe to the Retire for Less in Costa Rica blog/newsletter and check out the social security one.
Then come experience the tranquil life of adventure and happiness in the land of Pura Vida – Rich or Poor! 🙂
The Feature Photois a current shot of the fading graffiti on the wall behind our public college-prep high school, Colegio Liceo Atenas. It may not have been intended to represent poverty, but it seems to fit for me. 🙂 The phrase written to the left of the face, No dejemos que los niños pierdan su sonrisa. is roughly translated: “Let’s not let the kids lose their smile.” And the schools along with the Catholic Church work hard to help those in poverty, especially children. I find happy children in the poorest neighborhoods I walk through. As my grandmother used to say, “In life you do the best you can with what ya’ got.” 🙂 And that is . . .
I encourage you to follow the above link to his original article and maybe get acquainted with his blog. BUT, I wanted to “update”or add my comments to the list in dark red thathe copied from Tico Bull below:
The following list is a generalization, though, so obviously doesn’t apply to all Americans and Canadians.
Not being able to pay a bill by mail (send in a cheque). In the past, you had to go to a particular business to pay a bill, now it can be paid online or at the bank or supermarket, but no check in the mail. Through my local bank I have all my regular bills “auto debit” paid automatically except my rent because my landlord uses a different bank.
Not being able to receive mail at your home, six days a week.
Not being able to send mail from your home, six days a week.
There is periodic home mail delivery in Atenas (and some other towns), but if you are not home the carrier will often just stick it in the gate and wind can blow it away, thus I have a moderately priced post office box for my mail address to avoid worrying about being home when the mail carrier comes. Plus I have a U.S. Address in Miami through Aeropost.com for some mail which I pickup at the Aeropost office in Alajuela when I am notified by email. Going there on a free bus.
Not having Amazon Prime. Similarly Netflix is hugely different here with not nearly as many movies included because Hollywood wants each country to pay some outlandish fee to “license” the showing of their movies in that country. Here you get lots of Spanish language movies with a limited number of usually older American films plus lots of TV shows and fortunately a lot of nature shows, Nat Geo stuff, etc. Some of it is in verbal Spanish with English subtitles available, though more is in the original English with Spanish subtitles available. My personal default setting on Netflix CR is verbal English with Spanish subtitles which helps me a little in learning to speak Spanish.
Knowing that even if you order something online, there is a good chance that someone in customs will decide they want it and confiscate it. Using a service like Aeropost.com for internet orders solves that problem as they walk it through customs and have insurance on your orders. It is expensive, but most of the cost is the customs charges or import taxes. Worth the cost to me. I order everything on the internet sent to my Miami address at Aeropost.
Having to pay very high import taxes on any package that gets through, including items confiscated out of it. Import taxes & Sales Taxes are high here, but there is no income tax nor much property tax, so it kind of evens out for most people.
High priced cars. I have no car here and walk or use taxis locally and buses to other towns which are free or discounted for a senior adult. I go to Alajuela regularly by bus totally free!
Towns and villages that have either dirt or gravel roads. This is changing rapidly! i.e. Atenas Central is all paved, though a few rural roads out of town are still gravel. “Backwoods” or out of the way places are still not paved and the popular tourist town of Monteverde is one example, but they are paving the highway to there as we speak! 🙂
The necessity to have very good home security, either through iron bars at the windows, high walls, dogs, security guards, or all of the above. Americans and Canadians typically don’t wall their properties; dogs are pets; and enjoy large, plate glass windows with no need for security bars over them. I’m in a “gated community” called Roca Verde with an entrance gate and 24 hour guard service and we rarely have a problem. I’m in a “casita” or little rent house on the fenced & gated property of a big house and I have no bars on my windows and no dog and have never activated the built-in burglar alarm. I used to leave everything open and unlocked even at night, but one evening someone walked into my house while I was there and grabbed my cell phone and left. That and a backpack being taken from the floor of a touristy sidewalk cafe in Puntarenas my first year here are my only two robberies. Common sense helps, like I lock my doors by nightfall now and hang on to my backpack.
The need for women to hold their purses at all times, never putting them on a bench or a chair beside you or it might get stolen.
The assumption that if a repairman comes to your home, he will speak to the man of the house, rather than the lady of the house—even if she knows more about what needs to be repaired than her husband. This is changing now with so-called chauvinism frowned upon by all generations, especially the younger. There is a high respect for women and all older people.
The extreme caution one must take before letting someone (repairman, employee, new acquaintance) into your home because he/she might come back and steal from you later.
If something is accidentally left somewhere, you can know that someone else took it. There is no going to lost and found to see if the item was turned in. Depends on the place or people there. I’ve returned to a business for an umbrella left and it was still there and once briefly left my wallet and got it back.
Each culture is different. American and Canadian culture has a few things that other cultures view negatively. But there are always reasons behind cultural differences.
As an Italian, for example, we are loud, especially among a group of friends. Americans and Canadians love their large personal space. Costa Ricans and most Latin Americans can’t understand stand. Nor Europeans for that matter.
In addition, the majority of Americans, Canadians and Europeans have a level of personal honesty and integrity not always seen in Costa Rica, despite Ticos adopting much of North American and European cultures. An example of that is eating at a mall food court, but ladies won’t hang their purse or he his backpack on the back of the chair.
Living in a home with huge windows with no bars is unheard of, unless living in a gated community, but even then it won’t be surprising that someone will put up bars. For example, as I write this, I am looking out of my big glass window onto my yard, about 30 meters from the street. The window has bars, but I refuse to put up razor wire on the metal fence. I have dogs.
In closing, generalizations can be helpful, but they need to be understood for their limitations. Each culture has beauty if you’ll take the time to look, adapt and adopt the “pura vida”. Maybe his most important statement!
Much of this sounds like a typical “negative American” who criticizes everything not American and thus really has no business living here. Most of the above is true to some degree, though the dishonesty and thievery by Ticos is greatly exaggerated and in my small town I find almost everyone to be honest and very helpful to or accommodating of foreigners. And remember that you are the foreigner, not them. 🙂
It is essential that one adapt to the local culture when they move to another place anywhere in the world and recognized that it is yourself that is “abnormal” not the locals. You try to speak the language and go with the culture and they will love you and help you in every way possible! I’m amazed at the many Americans who in the states expected Mexicans and Cubans to learn and speak English there, but they don’t even try to learn Spanish here! They become “The Ugly American” of the 1958 novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. 🙂
The featured photo today has nothing to do with the article, but I liked it and never found the right place to use it in all my reports on Xandari. It is a Rufous-capped Warbler peeking around a leaf in the Xandari Gardens. Now my post on both negatives and positives of living in Costa Rica 🙂
This last month we got a new tax in Costa Rica, as if we didn’t have enough, the “Value Added Tax” was passed by the legislators to replace a 13% Sales Tax on a limited number of items which in essence just expands the sales tax to almost all items and even services now, still at 13%. For example, my National Healthcare Insurance fee (based on my income) was 13% more this month with the VAT as was my meal in a restaurant last night. The Costa Rica Star English Language online newspaper had this article: Crazy New Tax Laws in Costa Rica That you Need to Know About. And remember that this is on top of one of the highest import taxes (Trump would love) making cars very expensive here. BUT, we have no income tax and one of the lowest property taxes in the world. So, maybe it evens out?
Yet Christopher in his “Live in Costa Rica Blog” had this to say recently with his biggest specific complaint being the economy of Costa Rica:
It really boils down to your attitude towards locals as an expat. One reason I liked Costa Rica better than Panama for retirement is because the retired Americans are not quite as segregated into English-speaking groups here as in Panama, nor is the country as “Americanized” as Panama, but unfortunately we do have segregation here too and some Americans who never intend to even try learning Spanish. (I’m not very good, but I try daily.)
Now as one who also tries to stay positive I cannot complete this article on negatives without at least two positive! 🙂
Two stories of interest for anyone considering a move to CR or any other country: (1) About a man who came 50 years ago as a Peace Corp worker and still lives here and (2) Another useful article on “Why move to Costa Rica?”
This link takes you to the online English Language Magazine, El Residente, for the organization Association of Residents of Costa Rica, ARCR that has articles like these in every issue. It is free for members and if thinking of moving here, I encourage you to join ARCR. They will be your biggest help when you finally take the big step! And that’s another positive! 🙂