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Posted by on Jul 30, 2013 in Bugs, Costa Rica, Healthcare, Residency, Tips, Vehicles | 10 comments

Researching our Move to Costa Rica: Fact or Fiction

Researching our Move to Costa Rica: Fact or Fiction

This is the 3rd and last blog detailing the 3 things I learned during my first 3 weeks in Costa Rica. There is a lot of research that goes into retiring early and planning a move to Costa Rica and some of this research is hit or miss as you are depending on people you don’t know to provide you answers to your questions. So you do your best to sift through the blogs, forums and websites on Costa Rica and hope for the best.

There are so many facets to moving here and so many opinions on how to do it, that until you do it yourself, you cannot be sure how things are going to turn out.  I can tell you that the majority of people we have met on the Internet and through Social Media during our research have been amazing and many are now friends. When we set out on this journey we read books, blogs and participated on forums all to find out how to make the move and what to expect. Some things that we “learned” held true, some did not and some are still up in the air.


No Doubt About It

Here are 2 things we found in our research that, without a doubt, we have found to be true.

Costa Rica Is Buggy

Costa RIcan BugThere are bugs in Costa Rica, lots of them. There are trails of ants everywhere including inside the home. Spiders are common and on my 3rd day here I was stung by a scorpion although one website I read said they would not be present at the elevation where I live (4700 feet).  The bugs for the most part are harmless however both my wife and I have been bit by something that causes a huge bump; I could not tell you if it was a spider, no-see-um or other Costa Rica bug. We had bugs in Texas; we also had quarterly pest control to protect our house. My wife, who is not very bug tolerant, is doing great adjusting to the multitude of new bugs in her life.

Buses Can Take You There and Cars are Expensive

Toyota Land Cruiser TruckThe bus system in Costa Rica is not only diverse but on time (relatively). We had researched purchasing a used vehicle, and I still have my eyes set on an old Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, but have found that the bus system is quite comprehensive as well as being inexpensive to utilize. This coupled with the initial purchase cost of a vehicle, the ongoing expenses (tires, maintenance, Marchamo and Riteve), make the bus system seem an attractive option. There is something to be said for the freedom that a vehicle brings. Our intention is to operate without a vehicle for a few months and make the determination if it is worth the cost to purchase and maintain a vehicle here.

HMMM – I don’t think so

There are only 2 things, thus far, that we have found to be inaccurate as far as our initial research went. Both items can also be attributed to our lack of knowledge and not asking the right or additional questions.

Caja is Cheap

Caja is the socialized healthcare system in Costa Rica that residents are required to participate in. There are 2 main types of residency:  Pensionado – this is for a resident applicant who can show $1,000 a month income for life from Social Security or a Government/Private pension plan; OR Rentista – is a way for someone without a pension to “invest” in Costa Rica to become a resident. The requirement for Rentista is the ability to show an income of $2,500 a month for a 2 year period by opening an account and transferring $60,000 or having a bank letter stating you have the funds to transfer and convert from dollars to colones $2,500 a month. For the expat who is applying for Rentista, once you receive your Cedula the Caja is compulsorily and it is not “cheap”. I understand that it is still less expensive than health insurance in the States, however the Caja tax is based on your income and since income for the Rentista applicant is $2500, as opposed to $1,000 for Pensionado, you are taxed on that amount. Once you become a “permanent” resident (this process can be started in your 3rd year of  “temporary” residency) the monthly income requirement goes away and you are charged the minimum for Caja since you can show you have no income. Our research showed that the cost of Caja was between $50 and $100 for a couple. Once we started our residency process we found out that in our situation the cost would be significantly higher. The majority of retirees to Costa Rica are older than us and most are using the Pensionado program to apply for residency so the information we read regarding cost was correct but not in our case. Because the Caja tax is based on income and the income for Rentista is 2.5 times that of the Pensionado, the amount paid for Caja for the Rentista is much more expensive. This will add about $200 to our monthly budget.


Shipping a pallet cost between $1,000 and $1,500.

By User:PS2pcGAMER (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By User:PS2pcGAMER (Own work)

We flat out found this not to be true. We asked on forums, emailed blog owners etc and, as mentioned in a previous blog post, after talking with 3 different shippers – 2 of which were referrals to companies whose names are mentioned frequently when this subject comes up online, our estimates were between $2,500 and $3,000 all inclusive (palletize, customs and door to door – Dallas to Grecia). From talking with the various companies, it seems that shipping a full container is a much greater value and a pallet is more of a hassle for the companies, both to ship as well as to pass through customs. I have different thoughts as to why we were given the price range of $1,000 – $1,500; the estimates were right and we were getting screwed, they moved here long ago and prices have changed, they shipped a container and are just estimating the costs of a pallet, they shipped under different circumstances than us (from Florida or not door to door, etc). At this point it really doesn’t matter; we went a different direction and made our move with 9 suitcases and shipped them as carry on and check luggage instead of a pallet….the KitchenAid mixer stayed in Dallas – for now.

Who knows?

There are a lot of fuzzy laws and rules here; here is one of them. If you have been in CR for some time, I would love to hear your take on this.

72 Hour Rule for Visa Runs

Us-passportThere are 2 sides to every story and in Costa Rica there are, many times, 2 sides or more to each law. When you enter the country and are being processed through immigration, the agent, in the end, stamps your passport giving you permission to stay in the country for a certain length of time, 90 days being the maximum for a tourist visa. So, if you are in planning to stay in Costa Rica longer than 90 days you must renew your passport stamp by making a border crossing. This can be done at the Panamanian or Nicaraguan borders or by leaving the country by plane. This typically, but not always, results in a new 90-day stamp, although I have heard of stamps of shorter duration.  The question becomes; How long do I need to be out of the country for? The answer is not as clear-cut as one would imagine. You have one faction stating that the rule is 72 hours and another stating you can go across the border, have lunch then come right back as long as you are not declaring anything with customs as the 72 hour rule is a customs rule and not a visa stamp rule. At this point I do not know what is correct, although I did take a close look at my customs form on my last trip back from the States and sure enough it asked have you been out of the country for 72 hours.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments. Please take a moment to sign up for email updates and share the blog.


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Greg Seymour is a quitter. At 41 Greg and his wife Jen quit their jobs, sold damn near everything they owned and became Intentionally Unemployed and retired early to Costa Rica.
In addition to writing on this blog, Greg has written for other online publications and has written two popular books about living in Costa Rica:
Greg Seymour Amazon Author Page

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  1. Well, you can fall for the ignots who claim that everyone has to stay out of country for 72 hours, or you can do like almost everyone and cross the border, make a u-turn and walk right back. Our neighbors even found an airline service which will take you from San Jose to Nicaragua, get the visa stamp and have you back in San Jose, all in the space of a few hours. The 72 hour rule is ONLY for people buying goods in the other country and bringing them back into CR.

    • Thanks for the info John – I too have heard of the same day trip. The confusion for us was before we moved we found very many references to a 72 hour turn as a blanket rule and very few references to 72 hours only if you are returning with goods. I am on your page.

  2. Gregorio,

    There is another side to Caja that you haven’t researched yet. Yes, the premiums sound cheap, but how is the service? See our take on it here: Also, the system is very broke so expect premiums to rise.

    I can recommend a partial load shipper to you that will cost you about $7 per cubic foot. Comes by container and is stored in a bonded warehouse near Cartago. Have used him several times, it’s a great deal for larger items. Price includes everything.

    Re: the 72-hour rule. Just another example of what the law says and what reality is here. My sister and her friends regularly make shopping trips to Panama, but tons of stuff, and return in far less than 72 hours, no hassles.

    • Thanks for your comments Casey,

      I will check out your post on Caja. I have heard about the inefficiencies of the system and expect, to a large degree, normal dr. visits and minor issues to be paid out-of pocket.

      I will look you up if I ever need a partial load shipped. As for now, we have everything here that we need.


    • Who is/are the shipper(s) you can recommend? Thinking way ahead of possibly living in Costa Rica.


  3. Comments… ten years incountry and seen it all .
    1. the 72 hour rule… go across the border in Panama, they are much more flexible and speedier than Nicaragua. Talk to other expats about which is better .
    2. CAJA… it is doubtful rates will go up as the entire country uses CAJA. Broke, yes, but primarily because the central government did not pay its bills and the hospital administration never had to worry about money until now. It is also easy to upgrade with a supplemental policy.
    3. shipping from the States… all Ticos in the States have inexpensive ways of shipping back home. There is an airfreight company based in Naranjo, ten minutes from Grecia, which will allow you to cram everything you possibly can into a large shipping box ( cardboard ) for a flat rate… and delivered right to your door. Estimated weight at least 100 lbs. and cost is less than $100. Bring a little at a time in your suitcases when you go back and forth.

  4. If you plan on doing a Panamanian border crossing, they now have some “new” requirements for U.S. citizens.
    1) Have printed proof of a flight back to the U.S. (can be a ticket or itinerary if you don’t have the ticket yet). Also, if you cross at Paso Canoas, they require proof of transportation back to Costa Rica assuming your flight back to the U.S. is from Costa Rica – a bus ticket is the cheapest. Crossing at Rio Sereno, they don’t seem to care about the bus ticket, just the proof of a flight back to the U.S. Rio Sereno used to not care about any proof of transportation, but that has recently changed.
    2) Proof of $500. This can be in cash, a print out of your credit card account showing the available funds (in dollars), or a print out of your bank account balance – I’m not sure if it can be a U.S. based bank or not. We’ve only dealt with the $500 cash and using a print out of the credit card balance.
    3) Rio Sereno (Paso Canoas doesn’t require this) has always required two photo copies of the main passport information page, which can be obtained in town down the dirt road a couple blocks at the stationary store. However, it is obviously safer (the store may not be open when you need it) to get these copies before making the trip.

    Of the two Panamanian border crossing options, Rio Sereno is by far the least stressful. It’s a beautiful drive to San Vito, usually no lines at the immigration offices, and more friendly staff (although they do not speak english). Rio Sereno is a longer drive though with the last 10 minutes on a very bad dirt road. It can also be hard to find if you’ve never been there before. I’d recommend asking a local in San Vito for directions if you drive. They do have buses that go to the border crossing from San Vito, but I’ve never tried riding them so I cannot attest to the ease of getting tickets or pick-up locations. I’m fairly certain it is possible to take buses all the way to Rio Sereno from wherever you are in the country, but who knows how long it would take in between bus transfers.

    • Thanks for the detailed information on these border crossings. We are good for a while but I am sure it may help some readers immediately and maybe us down the road. Great information – thanks again for taking the time to share your knowledge.

  5. I also wanted to point out that the 72 hour rule only applies if you need to reset your $600 personal tax exemption. Otherwise, just wait a few hours in between entering Panama and exiting Panama in Paso Canoas.
    In Rio Sereno, the usual Panamanian border office worker will enter you and exit you in the same office visit. I’m fairly certain Costa Rica requires that you are “out of the country” at least 2 hours before entering back in again. We usually walk around town, shop a little, and eat at one of the local sodas during that time.
    In Paso Canoas, it’s easiest to enter Panama, then shop at one of the big malls along the border for a couple hours, and then go back to exit Panama (and then enter back in to Costa Rica).

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