Remodeling Post Office

20150225_112625In 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!

20191101_103226-WEB
A few days ago workers installing new lights – one ceiling fan still not installed! And the short line of just two people ahead of me is more typical than yesterday (below)!

 

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Waiting in line yesterday for more than an hour while new solo clerk slowly learns her job. The clerk’s ceiling fan is installed but not the one over customers yet and it was hot!

Correos de Costa Rica    (The official postal service website.)

My P.O. Box here is:

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

🙂

¡Pura Vida!

Being Poor in Costa Rica

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:

It is better to be poor in Costa Rica than the United States

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 Photo is 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 . . .  

¡Pura Vida!

“Hardships” Americans Have Here

Christopher Howard’s Blog “Live in Costa Rica” quoted a list of things from still another blog call “Tico Bull.” It is titled:    WHAT IS CONSIDERED NORMAL IN COSTA RICA, BUT NOT ACCEPTED BY FOREIGNERS

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 that he 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.   🙂

¡Pura Vida!

VAT and Other CR Negatives

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   🙂

NEGATIVES

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:

Negative Things About the “Real” Costa Rica
http://www.liveincostarica.com/blog/2019/06/negative-things-about-the-real-costa-rica.html?

Also from that blog is this interesting article, not necessarily negative, but for a lot of negative/critical Americans it is:

How Difficult is it for Retired Expats to Have Costa Rica Friends?      https://www.liveincostarica.com/blog/2019/07/how-difficult-is-it-for-retired-expats-to-make-costa-rican-friends.html

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!   🙂

POSITIVES

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!   🙂

¡Pura Vida!

 

A Timeline on Moving to Costa Rica

Over the last 5 years I have shared many details of my timeline of moving to Costa Rica, but it is always good to see someone else’s especially a couple’s and one of the best I’ve seen recently is

Our Moving to Costa Rica Timeline: All the Steps Along the Way, by Rob Evans

Version 2Now that link should take you directly to the article but if it doesn’t, then note that it is in this month’s or June 10, 2019 issue of the Newsletter from my friends Paul & Gloria: Retire for Less in Costa Rica    which link should take you to the issue of their newsletter with Rob’s article. Just scroll down to the article. And by the way, if you are seriously considering a move here, you need to subscribe to Paul & Gloria’s newsletter for so much of the little nitty-gritty practicalities and also to learn how they save money much better than me.

The Evans’ did not use ARCR like me and did a lot of other things differently. It will inspire you if you are one of my readers considering a move here. Check it out! There are many different ways to get here!  🙂

Good Country Index

Based on United Nations statistics, a group ranks countries on the amount of good they do for the people living there, called the Good Country Index. You can see on the list that though not at top (like those Scandinavian countries) Costa Rica is the highest ranking Latin American country and of course ranks higher than the United States.   🙂    Photo above is one of my shots from the 2018 Oxcart Parade, Atenas.

I learned about this recognition from Christopher Howard’s newsletter/blog in his article More Accolades for Costa Rica.

¡Pura Vida!

The Adventure of New Places

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
-Mark Twain

And many of you know that Mark Twain’s spirit is my spirit. I have visited more than 60 places in Costa Rica and intend to continue until I have visited every park, refuge and reserve along with lodges and hotels that offer birding and nature adventures. The feature photo is my cell phone shot at the Beach Break Hotel in nearby Jaco Beach when the Nashville FBC Group was here.

And what is different about this week is I am going close to home, an hour’s drive away to Hotel Punta Leona with their own private nature reserve and they promise many birds including the Scarlet Macaw they provide nesting boxes for (like Tambor Tropical Resort I’ve already visited). As long as I have the promised WiFi connection I will be doing nightly posts from Punta Leona the rest of this week. Get ready for adventure near my quiet town of Atenas!

I finally figured out how to copy Google Maps via a PDF file converted to jpg. This shows the 1 hour drive from my house to Punta Leona. CLICK to enlarge. Note that I will pass by Tarcoles River & Carara National Park, both good birding places that I can visit from the hotel if desired.

And I have three more similar nature hotels scheduled close to Atenas this year with Macaw Lodge in June, Villa Caletas in July along with a repeat of nearby Xandari Nature Resort. There is adventure close to home!   🙂

¡Hasta mañana de Punta Leona!

See my Punta Leona Trip Gallery

And visit the Hotel Punta Leona Website for more about this nature place!

¡Pura Vida!

 

Bonus Articles for People Planning to Retire in Costa Rica

These Are the Economies With the Most (and Least) Efficient Health Care

This article is about what you get for what you pay for in healthcare. Though not #1, Costa Rica is in the top 25 countries for efficient healthcare (based mostly on our public healthcare) while the U.S. is next to last with only Bulgaria being worse. Some rich expats here from the states still swear healthcare is better there and fly back for every little thing, since money is no problem for them.

The closest public hospital to me is in Alajuela. I spent 2 nights here for my angiogram. Español es necesario!

The rest of us expats have found excellent healthcare here at a fraction of the cost of the states when using private doctors/services (maybe averaging around 1/4 the cost of stateside) and some of us save even more by mixing public healthcare (free though I pay a required tax for it) and private healthcare for which I must pay cash since I dropped my expensive private health insurance here. Yet it is quicker and sometimes more expedient than public healthcare. As shared in earlier posts I use a mixture of both and for private care I belong to a medical discount group called “MediSmart.”.

-o-

The most popular Costa Rica Made Cookies are called “Chiky” and come in many flavors and styles from the most popular chocolate cream-filled to strawberry, lemon, banano and even the tea-time crispy wafers. Mmmm good! The Link above is to Christopher Howard’s article and here is the English-language website of the cookie company here in Costa Rica:

https://pozuelo.com/en/marcas/chikky/

Renewal of Cedula or Residential Card Accomplished Today

This two-year one expires in May
and the new one is also good for two years.
Then I qualify for a “permanent” Cedula
good for up to 5 years.

To get my first Cedula I used a lawyer and spent a lot of money! This time was less complicated but still involved knowing where to go and what to do and all in the Spanish language which I am still not adept at conversationally. So I used a less expensive source whom I highly recommend, who charges a very fair price by the hour and speaks fluent Spanish. I used a local school teacher, Belinda Seabrook, originally from England. It was a delightful and easy half day trip to Alajuela Post Office where I was interviewed and photographed. Doing this at the Post Office is NEW this year and everyone says is easier than renewing at Immigration in San Jose. BUT . . . you must be prepared and here are the six things Belinda asked me to have for the interview:

  1. My current Cedula
  2. My CAJA or health insurance number
  3. Proof that I have paid my CAJA charge each month for the past 3 months (receipts)
  4. “Comprobante de pension” or letter from my Costa Rica bank proving that I have deposited a minimum of $1,000 a month into a bank here. (I have my SS check auto-deposited here,)
  5. Receipt from a different bank, BCR, showing I have paid $123 USD into a given Immigration bank account number in payment for this new Cedula (within 24 hrs off interview).
  6. And lastly come to the interview with ₡7,515 (=$13.23) cash which might be the fee that the post office is charging for the service, but I don’t know for sure. 
Correos de Alajuela – Alajuela Post Office

We waited less than 10 minutes for one of their 2 interviewers and in maybe another 10 minutes we were finished including the photo. It went smoothly & quickly because I had Belinda with me as a fluent Spanish speaker. Without her I would have been a nervous wreck! I highly recommend Belinda for this essential service for you expats here in the Atenas area. And she has a car which made the trip to Alajuela quicker and easier for me who depends on the buses. Call or email me for contact information on Belinda.

And I was informed that I could pick up my new Cedula at the Atenas Post Office on April 2. I then take it to the Clinic to register my new Cedula with the CAJA medical services. And I have a one month cushion since my current Cedula doesn’t expire until May 13. Until this year we had a separate medical card called a Carnet, but now we use the Cedula for everything! A national ID card of sort. Glad to have this bureaucracy requirement behind me for another two years, though I can apply for the permanent one in another one year if I wish. 
¡Pura Vida!
¡Costa Rica!

I’m an Official Resident of Costa Rica Today!

It is a longer number to memorize than my Passport,
but it will become my most important number now.
And of course the typical “bad photo” on all such cards!
But a nice hard plastic card with electronic strip on back.

Next I get a gold card for senior adults to ride on bus for free (Yay!) and other discounts. 

Then I will get a Costa Rica Driver License and I’m done for two years! 
In two years I renew this residency card, called a CEDULA here, and then three years after that I renew a second time for what will become my permanent residency card or Cedula. 
Note that my card says “Residente Pensionado” which is for retired foreigners who have a particular set of requirements. There are other categories of residency that have different requirements with people coming here to start a local business having the most complicated requirements. For me, I just had to promise to not take some Tico’s job (I cannot work for a local business) but I could earn money on the internet if I wanted to. And secondly I have to prove that I have income of at least one thousand dollars a month which is done with a Social Security form from the U. S. Embassy. Then the usual paperwork and red tape stuff and qualify for the government healthcare program which I am required to participate in whether I use it or not (called CAJA). It is all done now for me and I’m a legal resident! And fully covered for all medical expenses! Not a worry in the world!  🙂
For those considering it, I can’t imagine doing it without an attorney! And I really needed him today! I was suppose to bring the receipt where I paid for the first month of CAJA and forgot it! He managed to smooth talk the girl in inmigración and she let it slide. I couldn’t have done that! Plus my Spanish is not good enough to carry on this kind of business by myself.

Questions about renewing visa every 90 days

As I stated earlier this trip was primarily to renew my visa in Costa Rica. I get occasional letters from people considering a move to Costa Rica with questions of all kinds. Well, just today, a regular reader of this blog asked the following questions about getting the visa renewed every 90 days. The questions are in blue and my answers in black. Maybe you have had the same questions? These photos are not from this week’s trip, but a group trip I did December 30, 2015. This week’s trip was solo and much more than just getting a visa! This week in two days I birded in two reserves and photographed colonial churches in Leon. A lot more fun than just a border run! But both give you the 90 day visa needed:

Has the 90 day visa situation worked okay for you? 
One of several “Visa Run” groups I was a part of – at border.
It has worked fine for me for a year and a half now, but I’m kind of hoping today’s is the last visa I have to get as I am completing residency requirements and will then be able to get a CR Driver License. I do not have a car but rent one occasionally, mainly for birding trips. You have to have residency before you can get a Costa Rica Driver License, so I have to use my Tennessee Driver License which requires a current Visa. Once my residency was in process I could have lived here without renewing the visa, but could not drive (legally). It is interesting to note that there are actually a lot of expats who, for whatever reasons, do not want to fool with residency application red tape and elect to be permanent tourists, living here legally on tourist visas. There have been rumors about the government “putting a stop to that,” but since it brings money into the country I doubt they will. If we could just get a Tico Trump for president of Costa Rica, he would put a stop to these damn yankees! 🙂  Fortunately, Ticos love Americans and Canadians and are all very welcoming of us and all foreigners, all races and all religions. 

A reasonable wait in line coming out of Nicaragua.
How many times have you had to leave and return? I think this week was number 6. The first 4 times I used a local tour operator who organizes “Visa Runs” for local expats. We left at 5 AM, stopping for breakfast and then in Liberia for the exit tax certificate. At the Nicaragua border town of Penas Blanca we cross over and then turn around and come back. About $25-$30 of border fees plus tipping a local Nica expediter. We payed the tour guy $150 for the drive, technical assistance and two meals enroute. It was a 12-14 hour day with some good fellowship, but I got tired of that and for two times now I have made it into birding trips.  

Did you ever have any problems returning (as some online sources say you are at the mercy of the agent and the agent doesn’t have to let you back in for a full 90 days). I’ve heard of that and agents do have that power, but it has never happened to me (or anyone in our groups). Well, one time a lady was given 30 days and our tour leader went back and talked to the agent and he changed it to 90 days. I always get 90 days. Now you do have to show proof that you can leave the Costa Rica within the 90 days and that is easy by purchasing an open-ended bus ticket at the border for just $25. It is good for 12 months.  

I also read that you cannot depart to the same country two times in a row. Not true. It is funny to hear rumors like that and wonder how they get started. 🙂 I just departed Nicaragua 6 times in a row with 90-day visas every time. I go there because it is closer from Atenas than Panama or other country further away. If I have to do it again, I plan to go to Panama next time, which I will do anyway at some point. Birding is very good in several spots along the canal which I have done, but I haven’t been to northern Panama yet or seen Boco Toro which is mainly snorkeling I think, but sea birds I’m sure. 

Many of the “Snowbirds” only stay here 3 months or if longer take one trip out. And there are Americans with a lot of family who go home to the states every 3 months or so, which gives you the visas. So there are many angles, but if you are really going to make it your retirement home, I recommend getting residency. It will make life here easier. And of course I already have a bank account with debit card, have my SS check deposited here, attend a local church, joined clubs and made friends; all of which makes it more like home. 

***

I’m back home from the Nicaragua trip but too busy to process photos, so this little break in my photo blog by answering questions. And remember that the SEARCH box top right will help you find answers like this somewhere in my blog!