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
There 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
The 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.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.
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
There 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.
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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:
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