Cajero Automático & Musical Chairs Again

Atenas Branch of Banco Nacional de Costa Rica

Okay, I’m moving to a new rental and they need a deposit plus first month’s rent (in other words 2 months rent) which is expected – no problem – except my French Canadian landlord wants it all in U.S. Dollars Cash! After this I can pay my rent online through my local Costa Rica bank online, but not now. So what’s the big deal you ask?

The ATM is called  “Cajero Automático” or loosely translated “Automatic Cashier.” They are scattered around town and operate just like in the states except they are more security conscious and have a limit you can get out in one 24 hour period. So to get my new house keys Thursday, I need to make withdrawals on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from an ATM that gives out only Costa Rica colones of course. Then after my Wednesday afternoon third withdrawal, I take several hundred thousand colones into the bank to have them converted to U.S. Dollars for the next morning event. And another interesting fact is that the largest colones bill is just c20,000, which is about $40 USD. I’m talking about big wads of money needed before I can trade them for $100 bills in dollars. Glad I feel safe and secure here!

I did go inside with the musical chairs trip to a teller and learned I can get the money all at once from my U.S. debit card at a 3% fee which I refused to pay. (I’m beginning to wish now I had paid and gotten it over with!) So I went back outside to the Cajero Automático and got my first of three installments. In the meantime, I told myself that this is crazy when I have a local bank account but still have most of my money in the credit union in Nashville. So I got the form Erik gave me from the credit union to wire a large amount of money to my Costa Rica account. Should have already done this but been busy.

So today after the second installment of cash from the ATM I went inside the bank for a game of musical chairs twice! If you missed my earlier report on the bank, you wait in line for a teller or desk agent by sitting in a row of chairs. When the next person is served you all get up and move over one chair towards the front of the line. Really! (One time I sat in 24 chairs before I got to a teller.) Well, I headed for Ricardo’s desk who supposedly speaks English and helped me open my account. He was at lunch, so I read a chapter in my Happier Than a Billionaire digital book on my phone’s Kindle App while others wondered what I was laughing about. I finally get to Ricardo  and he has suddenly forgotten how to speak English. Seriously. This time he only spoke in Spanish and acted like he did not understand what I said in English. I think he misunderstood and thought I wanted to wire the money from the account here and told me I didn’t have enough. But anyway, after a bit of charades and broken Spanish from me, Ricardo sends me across the lobby to another desk where I start the musical chairs game again! I’m only number 3 in line this time, but the customer being served (who looks like a woman prison guard) has some complicated business that takes another 30 minutes while a read a couple more chapters in this book. (I’m taking a break from Lord of the Rings with something lighter and funny about Costa Rica). At least the second customer ahead of me didn’t take very long and I’m up again with another Spanish only person. “Necesito dos números por favor,” pointing to the empty spaces on the form for a Swift Code and an IBAN number. She has to take the wire transfer form back to another office and talk to someone, then returns and asks if the money is going into my colones or dollares account (Yes, I have two accounts here.) which I’m able to answer “dollares.” Then back into the office she goes and returns later with a computer printout of two numbers I can use for the transfer, so next month’s rent can be paid from my local bank account, assuming these numbers work! Whew! Another exciting afternoon! Everything’s an adventure!
But you know what? I’m learning the systems around here and even though it may not sound like it, life is simpler, more relaxed, and much more spontaneous. The birds are singing happier today it seems, maybe because of the rain. And a flock of squawking parrots just flew over! What a place!

It is also cooler since Sunday’s first rain of the season. It looked like more rain today (Tuesday) but hasn’t happened yet. And today’s laundry is already dry!  🙂  Hey! By Thursday I’ll have an electric dryer! Let it rain! 

More adventures to come!  🙂

The Humble and The Proud

Atenas Correos (Post Office)

Atenas Banco Nacional

Both the post office and this particular bank are government owned and operated. (There are some private banks and courier services in Costa Rica.) But the contrast in these two government businesses is great in my opinion.

My service was quicker, simpler, and more friendly in the humble post office, an old building on a side street between small businesses. My PO Box was secured in less than 15 minutes while the friendly clerk helped other customers who came in. He even showed me how the envelopes should be addressed as I demostrated yesterday. And he smiled!

On the same day (Tuesday) I spent two hours at the bank (after an hour of preparation and taking an attorney and a stack of documents with me). There were few smiles and many demands. I was scheduled to be trained today in using my account but that was postponed until Monday because Ricardo, who does the training in English, had to substitute for a cashier out sick. But the proud building is new, modern and beautiful! It is located on the square or central park opposite the old catholic church, easy to find, and at the center of the town’s activity. Money rules here too! I already like the Post Office better!  But I need both!   🙂
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,  
and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.    
Jesus in Matthew 23:12

2 Month Anniversary: Bank Account & PO Box

Boyero Monument
A National Monument to the early years work of oxcarts and their drivers
It is on the old highway from San Jose to the beaches where many saw it
as they entered Atenas, home of the Annual April Atenas Oxcart Parade.
Expect oxcart photos in April!  🙂

I arrived in Atenas on December 24, 2014, two months ago today! I celebrated in two ways:

  1. I OPENED A BANK ACCOUNT at Banco Nacional to include a debit card and electronic banking. I get my debit card and electronic account connection tomorrow along with training in how to use both (“bring your laptop”). Neat! Never got training in the states! It took nearly two hours at the bank, my local lawyer with me, stacks of paperwork, plus I still have to provide proof of income which I was not told earlier. 
  2. I GOT A P.O. BOX at the Atenas Post Office which I now prefer you to use instead of the one I gave before arriving. It was the apartment’s PO Box and works, but the apartment management has to deliver mail to me which could be another delay :-)!  Below is the exact way the Post Office asks that you address letters to me. So you understand the strange order and double-Atenas: Atenas is a pueblo (small town) in the Canton of Atenas, in the District of Atenas, in the Province of Alajuela in the country of Costa Rica. And yes, they say put the postal code BEFORE the country name of Costa Rica. Mail did get to me with the other address form, so don’t worry. And I prefer that you not use the Miami address since letters are costing me $1.50 each and I have to travel to Alajuela (the city) to pick them up. And packages via Miami require an invoice to declare the customs value (or you send me a scan of invoice). I’m not sure yet how Customs and the Post Office work together here, but I will find out! Others do get packages via Post Office. The Miami address is perfect for my internet orders which may be the primary use and for some other U.S. businesses. The U.S. Post Office now has one international postage stamp (round) that costs $1.10 for any country in the world for most letter weights. Letters can arrive in one week or four weeks, who knows why?  UPS or FedEx packages will have to go to the Miami address for now until I learn how to get them locally. Here’s my new postal mail address
Sr. Charlie Doggett   (The P.O. put that “Senor” in front of my name! 🙂
Apdo. 441-4013
Alajuela, Atenas, Atenas
How’s that for an anniversary celebration? I forgot to take my phone this morning, so no photo of bank or post office yet, but I may add those tomorrow, as both buildings are revealing. 
And if you didn’t get MY PHONE NUMBER from an earlier post, it is still 011-506-8410-9916 with the 011 getting you out of the U.S., 506 the country code, and though some instructions say use a cell phone code, don’t – it is just the first four digits of the number. The above # should work. 
Well, not as pretty tonight as all the bird photos, but that is life!

The Bother of Security

Apartment Front Gate

The gate is not bad looking, but the compound wall is ugly and I hope with all the improvements they are making, they will paint the walls soon. We all now have a clicker for the drive-through gate which means we can have a taxi take us up the hill to the apartments at night.You can barely see them through the trees in upper left, about 300 meters uphill! In addition to the clicker for the big gate we each got a key to the pedestrian gate in the green tower in the photo below. I use it more as a walker. They were locking the big gate only at night, but say they will start locking it all day, we’ll see.

Walk-through Gate in tower. First building is complex office, Hours: 7-4.


I decided it was time to get a local bank account now that I’ve been here 7+ weeks. But for a non-resident, it requires a lawyer and a bit of effort and time. Trying to avoid the big city as much as possible, I’m not going to use Jose Pablo in San Jose for that, but just secured a local lawyer here in Atenas. She is the attorney for the apartments also and I’m impressed with her. 
So, a half hour in her office today and two hours at the bank next Thursday morning at a hundred dollars an hour! (Many tell me “You can’t do it on your own.” While a few have said you can with patience and multiple trips to bank with the long waits.) It is worth the cost to me to get it done in one week, plus I don’t speak Spanish yet, making her my translator. She will also translate my letter of recommendation from my Nashville bank (Remember, everything is in Spanish here!), she provides required local letters of recommendation, and processes the other papers like three months of bank statements from Nashville and my rental contract here. We meet at the bank at 8:15 AM Thursday and expect the bank to take about two hours including wait time. (The attorney sends an assistant at 7:30 to save us a place at front of line.) In banks there is always a line for any service and it is a type of “Musical Chairs” with one or two rows of chairs. When one person is received, everyone moves up one chair. Cute, isn’t it? I can hardly wait! 🙂
But when finished, I will have a checking account with a checkbook, a debit card, a “Quick Pass” card for the Autopista Toll Gates, and access to a lock box, savings account, CDs, loans, and other services. I will start feeling like I really live here!   🙂    Pura Vida!