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Articles about Costa Rica

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Personal experiences with the system. Got something to share? Send it to the Editor. Accompanying photo welcomed.
ARTICLES ABOUT LIVING IN COSTA RICA

Getting your first drivers license in Costa Rica

by Jim Gross

With all the concern about driver’s licenses here in Costa Rica, I’d like to inform the QPG readers about the recent (11/17/2020) experience I had in obtaining my Costa Rica driver’s license.

Marc Mellin is a U.S. ex-pat and a Costa Rica-certified Spanish translator located in Naranjo. He will take your U.S. driver’s license – whichever state - and convert it to Spanish. He makes a certified, wet-sealed and signed copy that you will need in obtaining your Costa Rica license. He charges 15,000 Colones and can usually have it for you a day after receiving a copy of your current U.S. license. His phone number is: 506-2451-0365 and his email is  mellin@ice.co.cr

Adrian Arias is a resident of Naranjo, has lived in the U.S. and speaks very good English. He has a service whereby he drives his client to San Ramon and goes through all that is required to get your license except for obtaining the Spanish-language version of your U.S. license (which you can get via Marc above). 

Adrian will pick you up at your residence and take you to your first stop – the medical examiner. This is a very simple medical exam: height, weight, vision and blood pressure. You’re done in 30 minutes at the cost of 23,000 Colones and given a copy of the report.

Next stop is the very close by Federal License Department. Adrian knows the people here and got me in very quickly. Here you give them all your paperwork (see below), have it processed, pay the 5,000 Colones fee, have your photo taken, wait a while, and are handed your new, hard-plastic Costa Rica driver’s license. Adrian charges 30,000 Colones for the roundtrip from Grecia.

My entire trip from Sarchi was done in slightly less than three hours but Adrian was very surprised at how quickly it went so I wouldn’t expect that to be the norm. 
Adrian’s phone number is: 506-6164-3775.

You must have ALL of the following to obtain your Costa Rica driver’s license:
  • The certified Spanish copy of your U.S. driver’s license (see Marc Merlin above).
  • The just-issued medical report (see above)
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. driver’s license
  • Costa Rica residency card
  • Front AND back copies of your U.S. driver’s license and Costa Rica residency card
  • Copies of EVERY page in your U.S. passport
  • A separate copy of your LAST U.S. passport entry stamp into Costa Rica
¡Buen Suerte!
posted 11/25/2020

Update 2/17/2021
by Diane Cooner
I followed Jim's directions on this process outlined above. It all went off without a hitch. At the Cosevi office aka the 'Federal License Dept' the process did take longer but that is just part of bureaucracy in Costa Rica. You never know what each day will bring! I DID notice, however, that many people showed up without the paperwork requested (mostly Ticos, all turned away), so be SURE you have that together and that you have an appointment to get the license. The computer system is currently only open to make appointments on Thursdays (for the following week). So plan ahead!! Adrian was prompt and courteous and made the adventure pleasant.

Renewing your drivers license in Costa Rica

by Don Davis

  • You can renew your license up to 90 days prior to its expiration at some BCR bank offices or at the driver's license facility in San Ramon. The cost is 5-mil colones and this needs to be paid prior to stepping into the license renewal office. (For an additional 1-mil, you can stop in across the driveway at the San Ramon driver's license bureau and quickly pay an authorized "entrepreneur" there.) If you plan to apply for permanent residency anytime soon, I have been told that driver's license renewal after that effort is slightly different and a bit more complicated. So, we were advised to renew prior to applying for permanent residency. (For an additional $100, permanent residency can be obtained after you have had your initial, temporary residency here for three years.)
  • A "dictamen" (a doctor's "physical" report) is required. The cost, by law, is fixed at 20-mil colones. (If you pay less, your dictamen is probably not legit.) You will get a receipt with a reference number to your dictamen that resides in the government's database--no longer the certificate itself. The dictamen can be obtained at "doctor's offices" near the license office. However, I recommend you get your personal physician to do the "physical." (I put "physical" in perens, because all the doctor will check is to make certain you are still breathing.)
  • I can't vouch for the renewing process at a BCR branch or which BCR branches offer driver's license renewals. No appointment is necessary to renew at the San Ramon license bureau, but some very basic Spanish language skills would be useful for renewing. You'll need, when arriving to renew: a) your old license; b) your current cedula; c) your dictamen receipt; and d) your license payment receipt. Note: If you have any outstanding vehicle/driving citations they will show up when you attempt to pay for your license and must cleared (paid) BEFORE you will be allowed to renew your driver's license.
  • When we renewed in San Ramon, we parked out front, the security guard checked our papers, but did not tell us we had to pay our 5-mil fee prior to and not inside the bureau itself. This required our brief exit, making payment and re-entry with our paid receipts. You'll then be ushered in to a reception area. There was a very short queue when we arrived after lunch. First, you will be asked into one of two offices to get your photo taken. (Hand the official the four items listed in "3" above and don't be surprised if another "renewer" is in the same office completing the process while you are being photographed. This is a Costa Rican attempt at streamlining and increasing efficiency and it seemed to work pretty well) You will also sign your name on an electronic pad, have your right index finger scanned electronically and sign a register. Next, the machine in the office cranks out your new license. You'll get your new license as well as the old license returned to you. Ba da bing, ba da boom and it's over. It took four of us less than half an hour to complete the process (including our exit and re-entry after paying our fees).

We were surprised: our new licenses are good for six years.

It's pretty easy to get to the San Ramon facility. Take Ruta 1 (Pan Am Hwy., large sections of which have recently been resurfaced and restriped) to the San Ramon exit and stay on this main exit road all the way through town, the road turns into a two-lane, one-way road at the service station. (You WILL pass the main San Ramon church on your left heading roughly northwest). The road will dead end after about 1 1/2 kms. Instead of turning left to head for the San Ramon Hospital or the road to Arenal, turn right, go about 150 meters straight ahead and take the driveway down to the license office (note: the driveway and the license office is not well marked, but if you stay straight ahead, it is hard to miss).

Fuel in Costa Rica

Depending on where you buy your fuel, the quality of the gasoline you put in your tank can vary greatly (due to the quality of the fuel itself and the age and deteriorating quality of the station's fuel tanks). However, there is one general rule about which every mechanic I've used has been emphatic: "Regular" gas here is generally horrid stuff and to use only "Super" grade gas. It costs a little more, but you'll get better mileage, and it's better for your engine and saves the constant need to have your fuel injectors or carburetor cleaned.

Reminder! Keep your vehicle emergency road kit current

For those who have a vehicle, check that their extinguishers are charged and current (that the expiration date has not been met).The Traffic Police have been making tickets for 22 mil colones (around $35-40) due to the absence of an extinguisher or that it is unloaded or expired.

Also, they are issuing fines if you do not have reflective vests, tire jack and crosspiece tool, and triangles or cones.

Remember that the vest goes forward, in the dash drawer/glove box.

If they tell you to get out to show the required tools etc, you can't get out of the car without a vest, or they will write up another fine.

All seats must have a seatbelt that works, also in the backseat.

updated 10/31/2020

Monthly rent payment of ¢669,300+ colones to be 13 percent more expensive on July 1, 2019

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As of July 1, the Law of Strengthening Public Finances will come into force, creating the Value Added Tax known as VAT that applies in some property rental prices.

The new tax will be due only when the rental price is greater than a Basic Salary multiplied by 1.5.

The Basic Salary amount is ₡426.200 colones this year. This is a measure used by the government as a reference for calculating taxes or fines.

The reference amount for house rentals is the Basic Salary multiplied by 1.5 or ₡669.300 colones. According to the new tax law, monthly house rents over ₡669.300 colones must pay 13 percent VAT tax.

Taking today's dollar exchange rate of Banco Nacional of ₡587 colones for each dollar, a monthly rental amount of $1,140 would activate the VAT tax.

Landlord and tenant must know that if the Colones - Dollar exchange rate changes it will affect the calculation of the minimum amount that will activate the VAT tax. For example, in October 2018, the exchange rate was ₡620.64 colones per dollar. The minimum monthly rent taxable would have been $1,078 at that time.

If a house monthly rent is $1.500, VAT will be equivalent to $195 (13 percent), then  new monthly rent tenant have to pay is $1,695.

The landlord is obliged by law to collect the tax from the tenant and then transfer it to the Ministry of Finance by means of the tax declaration. A sanction applies if the owner does not collect and remit the tax.

In addition, in case the landlord does not want to collect the tax from his tenants, he must assume payment of the sum equivalent to the tax.

The tax must also be charged on the rental of premises for commercial purposes (stores, offices, bars, and clinics, among others).

The renter should request that the owner proved an electronic invoice, approved by the Ministry of Finance, detailing the rental amount, the tax amount being paid and the total required payment.

If a rent is less than ₡669,300 colones per month, the tax is not required. Rentals of under a month do not activate the tax.

Companies or individuals that have registered with the Ministry of Economy or the Ministry of Agriculture under the classification of a small company are exempt from taxes on rent.
On Moving to Costa Rica

My Moving Tips

By Ticonuevo
Read the original blog here.  

I titled this article, “my moving tips” it easily could have been titled “our moving nightmare.” It seems that even when you are careful, get recommendations and follow expert advice, everything still can go to heck in a handbasket. As I have already covered some of our moving to Costa Rica experiences in my previous blogs, I will skip over much of the detail and just hit a few of the relevant “lowlights.” Even though we were careful and went by the book, there are things that happened to us that you may be able to avoid.

After soliciting moving quotes, we selected an experienced Costa Rican international mover given to us by a trusted “recommender.” This C.R. mover was bonded as was their U.S. agent that packed us in California. (We wanted to insure our load and bonded agents are required to allow the client’s possessions to be insured while stored and in transit.)

Bonded movers are required as part of their bond to: pack and box everything; label each item or box with a number; and identify it and its contents on a shipping manifest they create. Our movers were at our house in California for three and one-half days inventorying, packing, crating, labeling and physically moving our belongings out of the house and into their moving truck. One problem we had was Spanish was their first language (only one of the movers spoke some English and he was not the foreman). This proved to be a significant communications obstacle as the foreman had the final say and made all of the decisions for the crew. We were never certain if our questions or wishes were being fully comprehended and acted upon. If you can, insist when contracting with your mover that the moving crew speaks your language. (Here, perhaps, one could argue for our learning Spanish before we left California.)

We watched the process as carefully as we could between interruptions, but as it turned out, our crew loaded 42 items more than were listed on the manifest. When it was finally counted by customs as everything left the container in Costa Rica, there were 42 more items than were entered on the manifest. For instance, there were three bundles of garden tools that had only one number and only one line entered on the manifest. If you do nothing else, be certain that each and every item or box has a separate number and is entered separately on the shipping manifest. Not having this match up when being unloaded caused some of our essential items to be held by customs for an additional six months.

I mentioned our desire to insure our possessions and there are three types of moving insurance coverage available when bringing your belongings here in a shipping container. 1) Basic insurance: is included with your container shipment by the shipping company at no additional cost and covers the whole load, on the sole occurrence that the ship sinks at sea and your whole load is lost. 2) “By weight” insurance where you can insure your whole load for any losses incurred during storage or its transit by sea. This is the most comprehensive and the most expensive. 3) Value inventory covers a specific insured inventory, which you create before the move giving a replacement value to specific items. This list is given to your bonded mover, who arranges for this insurance. Usually, you include in this insured value inventory your most expensive or irreplaceable items and give them each an insured value.

We chose to insure using insurance option #3, “value inventory.” We first capped our insurance limit at $30,000, for coverage which would cost us about $1,050. We made our list of items we wanted to insure, gave them a value and then pared the list or the item value down until we had an insured list of items with replacement values totaling $30,000. It was surprising when doing this list at how many of our items had to be left off of the value inventory in order to cap the coverage at $30,000.

When everything we were going to receive was finally delivered and compared to the manifest there were a number of items damaged or missing. I suppose when you think that we moved out of our house in February 2013 and our final delivery wasn’t made to our house in Costa Rica until April 2014, it is not all that surprising. Also, our possessions went from our house into boxes, into a moving truck, were trucked 320 miles and unloaded onto shelves and pallets in a bonded warehouse and left for five months, then loaded into a shipping container and transported to the dock in San Pedro, CA, then unloaded for a U.S. Customs exit inspection, reloaded into a container, sent to a bonded warehouse at the dock, loaded by crane onto a ship and sent through the Panama Canal to the port of Limon, Costa Rica, unloaded by customs, sent to a bonded warehouse in San Jose, loaded onto moving trucks and driven 45 kilometers to our house and unloaded. All of this caused or belongings to be moved many times and touched by many hands.

We put together or list of damaged, broken and missing items. Our estimate to replace or repair everything came to $5,600. However, our insured valued inventory included only a part of the missing and damaged items and the “value inventory” claim we have submitted is for $2,800 less the $250 deductible. We made our best effort to negotiate our loss claim and on insurance company's final offer $2,181. 

My strongest recommendations: 1) think hard about how much of your belongings you want to insure, and 2) find the time to take photos and make descriptions of your valued possessions. It will ultimately save you lots of time and grief and put your negotiations with the insurance company, if required,  on much firmer ground.

Surprise: You May Be an Employer and Have Legal Responsibilities 

from the Editor, June 2015. The situation hasn't changed much since then. Be sure you are covered  if you have any regular workers at your home.

Most Ticos try to skirt them, but the laws in Costa Rica regarding the definition of domestic and other employees and insuring them seem to be very clear. People working in the house where the work is not dangerous are considered domestic employees while people working outside, such as gardeners, are not considered "domestic" employees as their work is considered more dangerous. Typically gardeners, housekeepers and cooks, are considered to be your employees even if they only work for you more than three days per month. However, what is not entirely clear is whether this means a full day of work or part of a day. (If you have a housekeeper that comes once a week for five hours a day this is more than three days per month, but less than the equivalent of three full eight-hour work days.) You are required to provide medical insurance, workman's comp and other compensation to anyone employed by you. Anyone working for you less than three days per week is considered an "occasional" worker. The INS Comprehensive Homeowner's Insurance plan covers injury to occasional domestic workers but not employees.

Anyone confused yet?

In addition to gardeners, non-domestic employees can include anyone hired to do work for you of more than three days duration. (They can also be "occasional" workers that require you to have workman's comp coverage.) I was advised that you should have non-gardener workers sign a simple contract relieving you of injury liability as they are private entrepreneurs or even employers themselves and should have their own insurance coverage. Covering gardener employees is more difficult. There is insurance for them, but there are the additional insurance costs as well as other complexities involved. Some good news however: if you employ an illegal immigrant to do your gardening, I don't think you have much liability (but please don't quote me on that).In addition to medical insurance coverage including workman's comp, any employee must be paid the equivalent salary for ten days of vacation per year. You need to figure what part of a year they work for you and pay them the equivalent salary as vacation pay (there is a great calculator in the Que Pasa "Links" section to help you with this). You also need to provide the equivalent of one-month's salary to any employee as a year-end bonus, called el Aguinaldo, (paid at the first of December every year). And, if a worker leaves you (and I believe this means whether they leave voluntarily or if you dismiss them), they need to given one month of wages for every year in your service up to eight years.

Whether legal or not, I have been advised that if a worker or their spouse is enrolled in CAJA, they already have medical coverage that will pay for any injuries sustained while in your employ. If they are injured on job while working for you, you can probably substitute the workman's comp coverage by personally taking them for emergency medical treatment and paying for any medical treatment not covered.

There was a good article in AM Costa Rica on Monday, 25 May 2015, that explained employment descriptions, rules and insurance options. Long-time residents have mentioned to me that the article follows the letter of the law and may introduce an unnecessary scare for expats into the topic of employment. Following the letter of the law when it comes to insuring employees or doing what seems to be common sense is up to you. See the link on the 13 most important things about employment in our Links section. However, the most important employee rules that must not be broken or bent are those of los aguinaldos and vacation and employee termination compensation.

With apologies in advance, I hope this does more to help than confuse, but I thought you should be aware.

Some General Advice on Insect Control

from the Editor

My recent experience with insects reminds me to advise you that while Costa Rica's perfect weather is not only perfect for us, it is also perfect the breeding ground for insects of all varieties. They aren't going away. So, we have to co-exist with them. We just need to minimize uninvited creeping and crawling guests on our own plot of paradise.

To do this, I will pass along the recommendation I was given: spray around your house's footprint inside and out with a dual-purpose (general insect and termite) insecticide every four months including once at the beginning of the green season. Also, keep flora and foliage trimmed to, at least, 25cm away from any walls, gutters and rooflines of your home and other structures. Growing and inanimate things that touch your house create an excellent pathway of entry for unwelcome critters of all shapes and sizes.

Comejen, Termitos y Otros Insectos

We discovered that the little, round wood balls (smaller than a grain of sand) that we started seeing as far back as a year ago was the sign of an infestation of comejen and probably other termite varieties as well. Every morning, the little wooden balls would be on the floor, on the dining table and on the sofa. The only thing above these "droppings" was our vaulted wood ceiling about 20 feet up. We learned from our online investigation and queries that while these pests are a common problem, they are also very difficult to battle and eradicate.

We immediately called an exterminator from San Jose we had used in the past. After seeing the droppings, the exterminator also said he thought we had comejen and he sprayed in the usual places exterminators spray as well as spraying the ceiling as best he could using a tall ladder we had borrowed. In about six weeks, the droppings began to reappear.

We again contacted a bunch of our Tico friends and other long-time ex-pats. We got lots more advice and referrals. One avenue took us to a contractor recommended on the Que Pasa website. After two inspections, he said the only way for him to guarantee not having me angrily approach him in two years and tell him that the critters had returned, was to remove the mission tile, the galvanized sub-roof, metal roof support structure, wooden rafters, wooden ceiling and wooden eaves and replace every wooden piece with all new, dried hardwood and, then put the rest of the roof elements back where they belonged. He said it would take about six weeks to complete and would cost $30,000. I am certain that he was being honest and sincere about it being the only way he could guarantee results for our job, but the solution seemed extreme, as did six weeks of camping out in our home, and that quote figure was out of the question. So, we continued to look for an alternative solution.

Enter our friend, Ivo Henfling, owner of GoDutchRealty and a 30-year resident of Costa Rica and the late Tom Rosenberger (read about his roof observations here), who both recommended we contact Jose Pedro Sanchez. Jose Pedro is a licensed engineer and owns Habitat Xeropiagas in Atenas. Jose Pedro belongs to several national and international pest control associations and is a member of an international pest control council. He's spent time working in the pest-control industry in Argentina and the States, speaks English and is one of a few formally trained pest management engineers in Costa Rica. He came out to our house with his assistant inspected and took samples (mostly for his daughter, I think, who is a biologist). Jose Pedro told us of one type of termite here that sports four identical wings. It flies fly about until it finds some nice edible cellulose, drop its wings, calls its friends. They all start dining and finally pick one of them to be transformed into the queen and, hence, a new colony of termites begins in a new location.

Jose Pedro is much in demand as our problem is common in houses of a similar wooden ceiling construction. A week after his inspection, I was finally able to reach Jose Pedro by phone again after repeated attempts and he set a tentative treatment date. I wasn't able to reach him again until the day before his crew showed up. He sent his crew without him due to unforeseen issues. Up went enough scaffolding to reach the highest 20-foot peak of our ceiling. The treatment included techniques and equipment Jose Pedro brought with him from the States and the solution was fairly high-tech. It included: sonar detection; micro drilling; injection of a special insecticide; and a cavity expansion material. We left the house for a few hours before a cloud spray was used to also treat the inside and outside of our eaves. The total cost of the treatment was much less than 2% of the $30,000 quote for the radical solution we had previously received. We are to keep our eyes open and if we have any further sign of the critters, the crew will return for an additional treatment.

Jose Pedro also recommended setting up a regular pest control program to discourage future infestations. With a recommendation from Que Pasa subscriber, Linn Engler, we also have hired Lawrence Delgado, a pest-control specialist from Grecia to come every four months to spray our roadpie (baseboards) and our home's exterior footprint. The first spraying was a week ago and based on all of the dead ants, spiders and even a large, deceased scorpion on the inside of our front door, the first treatment is working quite well.

What Could The End Of Globalization Mean For Costa Rica?

By Chris Clarke   22 February 2020

I always seem to see the most dismal future. They used to call economics the dismal science. Maybe they were right.

At business school in the early 1970s they taught us that manufacturing would inexorably move towards globalization. The reasons seemed obvious:
It made sense to buy the production of both finished items and components from countries that could produce them at a lower cost.

  • International shipping was becoming faster and less expensive due to ever bigger ships, containerization and air transport.
  • In many countries, strikes disrupted local production. Imports might help avoid such issues.
  • The revolution in IT and communications offered instantaneous transmission of designs, orders and shipping information.
  • Interest rates were high, so it made sense to reduce stock holding at every point in the production and shipping process. The concepts of "lean manufacturing" and & "lean logistics" were learned from the then-dominant emerging economy, Japan.
  • International consumer tastes seemed to be converging and global brands were becoming dominant.
  • Economists, free-market politicians, and the World Trade Organization were pushing for ever-lower trade and tariff barriers.
  • Outsourcing services, telemarketing and the emergence of the dotcoms speeded all this up.

A seamless, ever-growing paradise of low-cost efficiency beckoned.

I became a partner in a global consulting firm that helped multinationals around the world to realize this dream. We made hundreds of millions and clients saved billions by globalizing supply chains.

Fast forward to the chaos we face today. Everything has gone into reverse.

  • Interest rates are persistently close to or below zero when inflation is taken out. The cost of holding stocks of raw materials and finished goods is much reduced.
  • Populist politicians play to those demanding protection for local jobs. The military arms race has moved towards interference in free trade, through embargos, subsidizing local production and protective trade barriers. Cyberwarfare causes further disruption.
  • Supply chains suffer from wars, pandemics and computer hacking. Carrying no inventory has become a recipe for corporate suicide.
  • Shipping costs are under pressure from fuel prices, environmental concerns and even piracy.
  • The spread of robotics and artificial intelligence, coupled with new manufacturing technologies like laser printing, mean that small batches of anything can be made less expensively, closer to end markets.
  • Mass tourism is under threat from environmental and transportation disruptions. The great trend to globalization will never be totally reversed, but we have entered a new age. Uncertainties remain. What might be different?
  • Traditionally economists have argued that labor released by more efficient production will be redeployed in growth industries. That may not be the case given the shortages of high tech skills and the threats to lower-tech jobs from things such as driverless transport, GMO, agricultural robotics and the like. Persistent low wage levels for less killed work support this argument.
  • Do those who own most of the world’s wealth need consumers in the long term? Their tastes and lifestyles may not require keeping the lower-skilled employed. We are already seeing cutbacks in keeping the masses healthy in the USA. Many ex-pats coming to Costa Rica cite lower healthcare costs as a reason.

Here are some issues facing Costa Rica in this emerging new order.

  • The economy here is inflexible. This is due to the burden of high wages, super pensions, and inefficiency in the dominant state sector. The tendency to strike and disrupt any attempt at reform and the vested interests of those in all branches of government mean that adaptation to new conditions will be slow and painful. High debt burdens at both the state and personal levels expose Costa Rica to the risk of any global recession.
  • If remittances from the US and elsewhere and the ability of Ticos to work in the US are diminished, there will be less cash flowing into our economy.
  • Mass tourism has been an important driver for growth and employment for some years. It runs counter to Costa Rica’s image as an ecologically friendly country. There are ecological, virus and recessionary threats to this sector.
  • There are lower cost agricultural producers around the world of everything grown here. This threatens the profitability and employment in this important sector.
  • Any trends towards less outsourcing to developing countries like ours and high costs of employment might cause further unemployment.
  • Trade agreements and promises of support from the US and elsewhere can no longer be relied on.
  • Given the above and the increasing security threats from narcos and addicts, expats may increasingly feel exposed. This could impact the economy in multiple ways, from falling property prices, lower employment of those working for expats and less hard currency remittances from the US and elsewhere.

Chris Clarke is a writer living in Grecia, Costa Rica and contributor to QPG. Since settling here, 8 of his works of fiction, written under the name of Aaron Aalborg, have been published on Amazon. They are available as e-books and in paperback. Clarke describes as a retired economist and international businessman. His interests include current affairs, global geopolitics, and economics.

Why Costa Rica is NOT a 'Commodity' Country

By Ticonuevo (republished courtesy of GoDutch Realty)

Read the original blog  here.

In this blog, I’d like to recount an experience I had recently that is indicative of the way you’ll find product availability in this country. My story is about buying lumber. It is not particularly important taken at its face, but it exemplifies why “MacGyver-ing” is so prevalent, even a way of life here, why you may sometimes wonder why Ticos are resigned to settling for the second-best solution and, perhaps, why Costa Ricans can be counted among the world’s most patient people.

If you were to buy wood for a project in North America, you’d most likely head to the lumberyard or big box building materials store. There you would find a wide selection of all kinds, sizes and lengths of lumber. Except for EPA, there aren’t many big box stores in Costa Rica and the local ferreterias will typically have even fewer choices; some carry no lumber at all. At these stores, your selection will be much more limited. Some stores do carry Douglas fir, pine, redwood or cedar, but since it is not commonly grown here, it is likely to be imported (probably from another country such as the U.S.). In any case, you will discover that the selection of pre-cut woods you are used to is going to be in shorter supply, you’ll have fewer choices, and your purchase will be quite a bit more costly. Some stores do carry native pre-cut woods. Most of them will be hardwoods, because that is what predominately grows in Costa Rica and you should understandably be prepared to pay more.

I promised my wife to build her a pyramid wooden planter as a location for all of our starter herbs and vegetables. Instead of heading to a big store or a ferreteria, my cabinetmaker, and now good friend, said he would take me to where buys the wood for constructing his furniture and cabinets. We got in his truck and drove about a kilometer, turned down a driveway and stopped in the midst of a complex of homes. There in the back of one was a large supply of rough-sawn hardwood planks of all various odd shapes and sizes. This wood was cut directly at a mill, probably near the forest where the tree had been harvested, many cut into rough 2” thick flat planks of all shapes, and trucked to this vendor’s backyard. These were not dried woods and many were in varying dimensions of around 115” long by 22” to 27” wide. They contained knots, checks, cracks and voids of unusable areas. The price was determined by rough measurement, “eyeballing” the unusable area, and subtracting the unusable area from the end price. I was told the wood was “similar but harder than Guanacaste.” (I still don’t know exactly what I bought.)Using my planter plans and with my friends' help, I bought two large planks for a bit under $200. These two pieces were so heavy and awkward that my friend decided to return with his trailer to allow us to transport it safely and so as not to damage his truck. We are talking about two pieces of wood that could easily have weighed 700 pounds total. We got help loading it on the trailer, tied it down and returned to his shop.

Once at the shop, it took four of us to unload each plank and place it on a workbench. We had to then examine each plank to determine the best way to get the most out of what I’d purchased. We ripped the planks into 2” x 6” boards (some cuts with a power handsaw and the rest on a tablesaw). Then, we cut the boards into the sizes I needed for my planter and individually planed one side of each piece to make it easier for me to handle, seal and build. This process took three of us another 90 minutes and cost me an additional $15. In sum, I now had $200 worth of custom-cut lumber to size.

Here is the point I am trying to make. Costa Rica is a country of 5 million souls total (smaller than many metro U.S. areas). In the world market, it is not large enough to have much leverage or choice in the products available for its merchants to stock or sell. It certainly isn’t large enough to carry and sell a large selection of anything that is imported or isn’t readily available, grown or produced here. It’s a matter of basic economics, of supply and demand. It is why many things you may be used to buying back home are unavailable in Costa Rica or if they are available they are very hard to find and fairly expensive when you do find them. It is also why Costa Ricans are used to finding or creating alternative solutions or substituting one product for another, adapting it and making it work for their application. For many things, they’ve never seen or had them, so they don’t miss them and/or they use or create something else to give them the result they are seeking.

It is easy here to become impatient or frustrated when you can’t find something you want, but it helps to put things into perspective. Costa Rica doesn’t generate the economic demand of much larger countries and so you won’t always find a huge selection or multiple options in the items you purchase. Costa Rica isn’t a “commodity” economy and that’s likely to be the way it will remain. You would do well to understand this fact and get comfortable with it or you are likely to be more uptight than will do your health or state of mind much good.    .

Parallel Worlds

by Christopher Clarke

Our world - My wife and I drove to a lunchtime party at Los Sueños, (The Dreams), an enormous luxury housing development on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast. We passed through an imposing and intimidating security gate, continuing for maybe a mile through a complex dripping with money. After a pristine golf course, were meticulously maintained palm lined boulevards with regularly manicured tropical plants and flowers on either verge.

Eventually, we were checked through a second security gate and on up to our host's place, a duplex perched atop a cliff with spectacular ocean views. There are swimming pools and a private beach within the development.

Someone mentioned that a larger house nearby was for sale at around $6 million.

We understand that most of the properties are owned by wealthy foreigners as holiday homes for occasional use or by the Tico elite, as weekend retreats. Many gringos here in Costa Rica have second homes elsewhere and travel on luxury vacations.

The gathering was a pleasant opportunity to mingle with the usual middle class white retirees, mainly from the US and Canada, with a scattering of Europeans. A good feed and lots of drink lubricated our conversations about the state of the world, recent operations and illnesses, (Yawn!), and other inconsequential matters that educated folk chatter about. 

The unseen world - On rare occasions, we leave our house above Grecia around dawn. Sometimes, we pass trucks or tractors towing trailers packed tightly with coffee pickers or sugar cane cutters desperately hanging on and ready to begin their day's toil at first light. As we dodge the potholes and the suicidal or homicidal local drivers, we have noticed a handful of semi derelict hovels here and there, without giving them much thought. Those living in cities and gated communities never see these things.

My wife had agreed to help collect presents and funds for a Christmas Party for the poor children on our street. We were told that without this event they would get no presents. About half the gringos on our road kindly contributed.

On the evening of our visit to Los Sueños, we drove off in the dark to the children's party, held in a primary school, about a mile down the mountain. We were surprised to see several family groups emerging from previously unnoticed gaps in hedges very near to our home, beginning their long walk down the unlit, steep and uneven road.

Nearing the school, the groups swelled into a river of families. On parking our car, we could see mothers, often no more than children themselves, carrying swaddled babies with older children tagging along.

The school seemed like a paradise to many of them, with its shiny Christmas decorations and gaily painted walls. The solidly built play area, with climbing nets, slides and swings, was swarming with kids, who had obviously rarely experienced such luxury. The security fences around the school ensure that amenities are only for the pupils. We worried that some children might fall, as it was now extremely dark.

Along the corridor was the meeting hall. We found families waiting, huddled outside. They spoke in quiet tones and seemed too timid to enter, until we pushed a few through the door to take their seats.

There were striking racial differences between these people and the Costarricenses that we know. They seemed smaller, with much darker complexions. A few were more like the indigenous peoples one sees in western Guatemala, with high cheekbones and broad faces.

The children had been scrubbed up to prepare them for their event. The passivity and humble timidity of these people was astonishing and a little sad. Unlike privileged children they did not run forward or tear off the wrapping paper to get at the presents as soon as they received them.

We left them to it, feeling ashamed that we had never thought there were so many poor people nearby. Maybe subconsciously, we did not want to see them. They are the invisible ones from a world in a parallel dimension.

People tell us that the children travail in the fields too. It is clearly hard work; often without shoes; at high altitude and under the oppressive heat of a merciless sun. They have no social safety net. Some eke out an existence here year round. Others must trek back to even poorer homes in Nicaragua.

We discussed our experience afterwards. We concluded that every ridge in Costa Rica is teeming with people from a much poorer world than the locals who serve us as gardeners and housekeepers. Those Ticos are already poor in contrast to we gringos. We heard that some of the Nicaraguan children had never tasted cake before this party.

Extrapolating from our locale, there are coffee, sugar and other plantations worldwide. All are dependent on cheap and compliant labor. In other places there is no work and minimal food. Some estimates put the total of poor people at over 1bn.We have seen much more desperate poverty in Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and China. We realize that we cannot save the world, but everyone should do what we can. We are shamed and must do more especially at this festive time of year, but not only now. Poverty knows no seasons.

If we, you or Bill Gates had been born into a poor family in a developing country, where would we be now? What can we do? We can consider the human cost of our profligate lifestyles, of our coffee and the other things we consume. We can reduce spending on luxuries, travel and high end living to donate more to charities that develop projects to reduce poverty.

posted 12/17/2015 and still reality.

On Making Friends in Costa Rica

by Christopher Clarke

There have been surveys mentioned in the media as to why people leave Costa Rica. The main issues are as expected. Key problems included: missing family members, crime, health and medical difficulties, bureaucracy and infrastructure conditions. Many mention the cost of living as being higher than some parts of the US. Recently, I met a gringo family struggling to live on $650 a month. To make ends meet, they banned food shopping for a week, deciding to live on what was already in the house.

Some folk said it was hard to make real friends in Costa Rica. Here are some observations on that:

There is a huge cultural difference between Ticos and Gringos. Language is only part of it. Another is the extended family here, which is uncommon in developed countries. It had largely disappeared in developed countries by the 1950s. Unless Ticos share the same interests in music, bridge, drumming or whatever, there is little basis to get to know them other than through commercial activities or a friendly wave in the street. They have their time full with their extended family relationships.

Gringos here live in neighbourhood enclaves. They often have little in common with each other. Despite this, we have to rub along and mix, unless we seek isolation. Some do. Some tell me they have ‘frenemies’, people they don’t like much but need to get along with to stay connected in the social scene. Some BBQs, lunch groups etc are a bit forced. People who would not mix much in their home countries, tend to do so more here. Being a 'threatened' minority is part of that. Another strong magnetic force that leads gringos to form friendship groups in CR is the one of sharing information on common problems. Knowledge and ideas of how to make life work here can be passed on and that has value. A simple example is where to find rare shopping items. Ways of dealing with the shifting sands of bureaucracy is another example. Hobbies and shared Interests help to find friends for many. This is normal in all expat societies. Birding, gardening, writers’ groups and book clubs are all examples.

A big issue about friendship motivating people to leave was not covered in the recent news reports. When others leave, it pricks our bubble of seeing the bright side of living here. It leads us all to question our own positions and to check our list of likes and dislikes. If it is a close friend, then it removes part of the attraction of living here. We have recently been through exactly this. Our conclusion was that Costa Rica is very far from paradise, but it has many attractive features.

The other issue is whether there is any place a whole lot better.

Paradise Lost? Drought in Costa Rica

by Aaron Aalborg, Grecia

Our idyll in Costa Rica has been waning for some time, due to departing friends, bureaucracy, bad infrastructure, insane drivers and security concerns. In just twenty-four hours, it received a further body blow.

We live at 5,000 feet on the edge of a cloud forest. When we arrived over four years ago, water seemed plentiful. With considerable investment of time, effort and money, we began to create a large tropical garden. It is somewhat admired by visitors, a vanity, of course.

To cope with the dry season, which seemed to last a month or two, we had a large and complex sprinkler system installed. Last year, we received a wake-up call. A longer dry spell elicited a request from the water authority to use the sprinklers only at night, as some villagers below us were suffering very low pressure. We gladly complied and continued gardening.

At the beginning of March this year, we received an evening visit from a water engineer. He delivered a brief letter, politely asking us to end irrigation altogether, so that the local community can receive essential services. The current infrastructure cannot cope with the demand. One excuse is that local youths on motorcycles damage the plastic water pipes on the forest trails. More likely, years of unbridled housing development, without a thought for sufficient tank storage is the true culprit Of course, abandoning irrigation is a sensible and fair step, so we ended watering forthwith. We went to bed foreseeing us watching the slow death agony and drying up of four years’ effort, exotic beauty and associated birdlife.

Next morning and somewhat unhappily, I set off to revive my spirits with my customary predawn, one-mile swim in the Olympic pool in Grecia. On arrival, there was a note on the gate, “Closed, no Water”. That makes sense too. Gloomily, I drove back up the mountain dodging the suspension destroying potholes, maniac drivers and the perilously unaware pedestrians and cyclists.

As I drove past the local sugar refinery, it was pumping out vast amounts of water spray. Another possible cause of water shortages? I puzzled as to how a country with so much water had contrived to be so short of it. The consequences for those living here, the massive agricultural use of water and the determination to build ever more houses and to develop the water-guzzling tourist industry gave me pause for thought.

Over breakfast, we decided that we still want to remain in Costa Rica. We began to brainstorm how we might deal with the drought, avoiding the idea of just letting the whole garden die.

The following approaches were rejected as being unethical and unfair to the local people.

1. Cheating: 
  • We could ignore the polite request and keep splashing away with the sprinklers, maybe using drip irrigation to avoid detection. We could do this at night wearing black balaclavas. 
  • It would be easy to use a hose to fill innumerable watering cans.
  • In true Costa Rican style, we could seek to bribe those needed to turn a blind eye to the sprinklers, or make an illicit connection into the water main.
2. We rejected seeking to reduce other’s use of water as potentially unpopular:
  • Reporting neighbors’ watering, filling swimming pools etc. (Except for the leader of the drug cartel up the hill of course).
  • Campaigning against waste of water by those who pay least for it, the farmers and the sugar plant.
  • Lobbying the authorities to refuse building permits to the many new homes that seem to be envisaged for our street. (Officials might well be linked to the developers).
  • Devising Machiavellian schemes to displace the other inhabitants, for example, raising killer bees, spreading ghost stories and zika virus rumors.
3. My great ideas, rejected by my dictatorial spouse:
  • Drinking only beer and cocktails
  • Showering only monthly
  • Showering in beer
  • Wearing clothes for a week before washing them, (in beer)
  • Mopping the floors annually
  • Spending millions on bottled water for the garden
  • Dropping in on others for bathroom breaks
I am still pushing the idea of showering together, as potentially adding spice to our debates.

We concluded that we could reduce our water use and still save some of the garden, by:

1. Ending our previous profligacy:
  • Showering at lower pressure and faster
  • Ending use of the bath tub.
  • Turning off water rather than letting it run
  • Ensuring full loads in washing appliances
2. Capturing grey water from within the house for garden use:
  • We have already connected the washing machine, to a holding tank.
  • Adding water from small receptacles near each faucet and catching any water before it runs hot.
  • Using washing up bowls to wash crockery and other items
3. Restructuring the Garden
  • Focusing on drought resistant plants
  • Abandoning the lawns
  • Covering the composting system with plastic to speed the process and reduce evaporation 
4. Major possible future projects:
  • The possibility of our own well
  • Collecting water run-off from the roofs, appliances and garden in the wet season and storing for the dry season.

We have spent five days on a lean water regime and are astonished and guilty at how much we have been wasting. We have reduced our internal water usage by at least 50%. We are saving a large part of the remainder to put on the garden. Perhaps we are beginning to live as we always should have done?

We now have the slightest glimmering as to how the poor struggle in drought stricken countries. At least, we do not have to carry unclean water for many miles on our heads on a regular basis.

Discussing this over brunch with friends, they remarked that some folk had been living a lean lifestyle for a long time. What took us so long? Fanaticism has taken hold. So now I  look forward to washing in an egg cup full of water each day.

The swimming pool has reopened. (I think I’ll sneak a bottle of water out when I visit). Every time I see water running down the street from leaks, my blood pressure rises.

Aaron Alborg is a novelist living here in Costa Rica. His book of tongue in cheek short stories Doom Gloom and despair includes tales about Costa Rica. His books are available in kindle and paperback from Amazon.
ARTICLES ABOUT LIVING IN COSTA RICA

Living Green  in El Cajón de Grecia

By Dorell Migliano 

As the airplane descended and approached the Juan Santamaria International Airport, a majestic mountain range rose in the distance. I was both excited and anxious, as I anticipated landing in Costa Rica after a ten year hiatus. It was a lot different then. I was the wide-eyed tourist who couldn’t wait to see Arenal Volcano with my young family. Luckily we had an amazing view and hike before it was enveloped in clouds the next day. Our visiting Manuel Antonio National Park and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve were indeed some of the highlights back then. Why did I wait so long to come back? 

The American couple I met on the plane was going on a yoga retreat. On this trip, I was travelling solo and staying with someone I never met before. Hmmm, if my contact didn’t show, I’d be glad to go on an organized vacation, with meals, yoga, and excursions included! Nonetheless, my mission was more offbeat than that; I wanted to live like a local! Since I had a solid recommendation from a trustworthy friend, I was going to encounter the unknown. A local woman or “tica” and her Canadian, ex-pat friend, greeted me at the airport. We hugged and I sighed with relief! 

First and foremost, I was taken to the local bank in downtown Grecia to exchange money. With my passport in hand, the local clerk acknowledged that I was trying to speak my high school Spanish and answered my “preguntas” or questions back in his native tongue. Was that fifty-five thousand or fifty-five million colones? “¡Ayudame!” Help me! 

We were on our way to verdant Grecia, with its near-perfect climate, friendly citizens, and home to many ex-pats in the Central Valley. The “casa” or house that I resided in for the week was placed high on the ridge in El Cajón With an incredible view of the abundant coffee and sugar plantations below, I was mesmerized! A hiker’s paradise, I couldn’t wait to trek these fields. My new friends hike at 6:30am; I have trouble being ready at 8! The good news was that still being on New York time, I was ready to go at 6:30. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables abound at the local “feria” or farmer’s market. As I sampled the ubiquitous pejibaye or peach palm, I tasted a squash-like food. After boiling, peel the skin, slice, and if desired, add mayonnaise or salt and lemon to taste. Even eaten plain, it was savory. The freshly ground coffee grows plentiful and was truly amazing. Stay locally and you won’t be disappointed. 

While living in Grecia, I learned how composting is fundamental and can be accomplished with great care. Less waste is produced by decomposing organic material. Composting also provides essential nutrients for plants and improves the soil. This planet needs all the help it could get and Greigos do it right! 

With my new friend, we ventured to the beach. Since I didn’t want anything too touristy or crowded, I asked if we could go to one where the locals frequent. The calm, crystal clear water on the south Pacific side was everything I hoped for. We relished in a two-hour swim. A woman selling homemade empanadas on the beach convinced us that it was time for lunch. Spinach and cheese with just enough gusto satisfied my palate. What a bargain at two dollars! 

 Spending one week in this resplendent community, I had definitely “dipped my toes” in the water. Yet, I am eager to return, fully immersed! 

posted 5/31/2018
ARTICLES ABOUT LIVING IN COSTA RICA

October for the August

by Licda. Lucy Watler, Legal Business consultant: asklucycr@gmail.com 

October 1st is the celebration of the International Day of the elderly established by the United Nations. Costa Rica honors this day with respect, promoting the rights that elderly have to enjoy an adequate lifestyle. In order to strengthen the human rights of the elderly, they should have effective access to preventive health care programs and prompt admittance to hospitalization when it is required. Moreover, obtainable bonuses for housing programs, substitute homes, adequate governmental pension, social security, and active participation in the productive process of the nation, by gaining credits to develop entrepreneurial programs, must be of utmost priority.

Knowledge regarding elder legal protection is key to avoid abuse from their loved ones. Hence, divulging the National Elder Law No. 7935, approved since 1999, and its recent modifications, is an absolute must. One of the most common scenarios I have experienced is that of many senior citizens who have been, without full consent, induced to dispose of their assets. This wrongful action typically happens to those who are vulnerable (special care, disability or disease) which, ultimately, affects his or her direct dependents too.

Did you know that, under the same law stated earlier, you have the grounds to restore wrongfully transferred estates? In fact, all Costa Rica inhabitants have the right to access the criminal and/or domestic violence court to file a complaint.

Due to a recent enrollment of an international convention, pending approval by the United Nations, elderly around the world are pursuing better and increased exposure of their human rights. Regardless, together we can all promote love, honor and respect to our elders from our homes, marketplace and pulpits as our public debt in recognition for their sacrifice, acquired wisdom, and commitment to this nation’s overall well-being and our own.

On October 1, the International Day of the Elderly, I pay due respect and extend my deepest congratulations to all seniors.
ARTICLES ABOUT LIVING IN COSTA RICA

Sugar Cane in Costa Rica: The Process

By Corrine Anderson

I arrived in Costa Rica in the late spring of 2009, and on my first ride up to the town of San Isidro, above Grecia, where I rented a charming house on the top of a ridge that looked both ways for miles, it was pointed out to me that San Isidro and Grecia are surrounded by miles of sugar cane and coffee, the mainstays of the economy in this region.