Moving to Costa Rica – Things we got wrong
When we were planning our move to Costa Rica we did quite a bit of research; we read blogs, books, asked questions on forums, and made connections with people. We did this for a full year and a half before our move.
We were prepared when we moved.
But still, there were things that we missed, got wrong, or that we misunderstood.
Your Milage May Vary
This could truly be an unofficial Costa Rican motto. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about a border crossing, opening a bank account, or how long it takes to establish residency – everyone has a different experience. Even so, some things should be chalked up to: not paying attention, or misunderstanding a concept. So, for what ever the reason, here are some of the things we got wrong in our move to Costa Rica.
World Class Hospitals and Affordable Socialized Healthcare
These two concepts are often mentioned at the same time, in the same sentence in blog posts and web articles, but they are standalone statements. Costa Rica does have World Class Medical facilities AND Costa Rica’s Caja system can be affordable healthcare for Costa Rica’s residents.
Does Costa Rica have world class, affordable health care? When reading about the affordable’ness of healthcare in Costa Rica online, one is typically reading about Caja – Costa Rica’s compulsory medical and pension plan for residents and citizens.
Some would argue that the private hospitals, in addition to being world class, ARE much more affordable than in the US. That may be true, but it is beside the point. We were looking for healthcare that was complete. We did not want to have the mandatory Caja AND supplemental private health insurance AND why not throw in coverage under the Affordable Care Act… aka ObamaCare.
We were trying to simplify and the reports we read said we could do this, and in style, through Caja. In the year and a half living in Costa Rica we have had 4 friends discover major illnesses and 3 0f those 4 friends went back to the States for treatment even though they were covered under Caja and did not have coverage in the States.
The Cost of Caja
I must admit that the majority of things I got wrong, I got wrong without fully understanding the system. Certainly there are those who “sell” Costa Rica by touting affordable healthcare as a reason to move here. Hell, that was one of our stated reasons for retiring outside the US – cheaper insurance. But we got the Cost of Caja wrong all on our own.
I am not going to argue here that Caja is expensive. However, our costs will be significantly more than what we had budgeted. You see, when we were researching all our sources were saying basically the same thing – we pay about $60 for a couple for Caja.
Two things I got wrong :
First, information online does not have a shelf life. As long as Google’s algorithm finds a site worthy it will rank it in search results without regard to whether or not the information is still accurate. So, you might find yourself, like I did after searching for “Cost of Living Costa Rica,” reading about $2 a gallon gas when it was more like $6 – all because the article came up first in the search results even though it was several years old.
Secondly, I am a different demographic than the typical retiree to Costa Rica. To put it delicately, I am much younger, and for Caja purposes, in a different income category.
Most writers writing about health insurance in Costa Rica are discussing Caja as it relates to someone who is older than 55 and who has established residency via Pensionado status. Caja payments, as I understand them, are based on 2 factors: income and age.
For income, since we are seeking residency based on Rentista status (the only residency type available to us) we are in a much higher category for income than the Pensionado ($1,000 a month versus $2,500 a month). Being in our early 40’s we are also in the category (age wise) that pays the most into the Caja.
How wrong were we? Who knows, we don’t – yet. It is near impossible to get a clear answer from anyone about what our Caja expenditure will be, as we do not yet have our residency and are not yet compulsed to participate. We are expecting it to be between $300 and $400 a month.
Just recently we have heard that the Caja is splitting families and that husband and wife have to participate individually. We are not sure what the landscape will look like once we finally get our Cedulas. Our attorney said we should get them around April, so we should know more about the Caja payments then.
He just didn’t say WHICH April.
Crocs are a Crock
When we first moved to Costa Rica I thought the bland, no style, rubber shoe called Crocs would be the best all-around shoe to wear. They were waterproof, had holes in them for draining and you could wear them as clogs with an open back, or sandals with a rubber strapped back.
All of those things are true. What is also true is that walking in the Central Valley on roads, gravel and uneven sidewalks, the sole wears a hole quite quickly. I imagine if we had chosen a beach area to live the Crocs would be a good fit, if not fashionable.
Bugs at Altitude
If you have had a chance to read the book Jen recently wrote, Costa Rica Chica, you will remember that one of the ways I helped her along with her bug-a-phobia (in moving to one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet) was to, somewhat, convince her that there were not many bugs at the altitude we were going to be living at.
I had just about convinced myself of that as well.
It is just not true though. There are bugs here, even the dreaded tarantula and scorpion, but we are managing. Overall it is not that bad, I think Jen would agree – A small price to pay for the wonderful climate, views, and experiences we are having here.
Breaking the Mold
During the research of our move to Costa Rica we found multiple reports on blogs and forums of mold problems, especially in the Central Valley where we intended to live. Mold, we were told, was particularly cruel to all things leather or paper.
So, of course we chose not to pack any leather or paper things in the 9 suitcases. Jen had the brilliant idea to magnetize important photos (Shutterfly) and bring them to Costa Rica as fridge magnets.
The hardest part for me, was selling our library of books. We had a nice little library going and I had quite a few first editions, signed, and collector books. It wasn’t so much selling the books at a good price – we had a year and a half to find buyers – it was my connection to the books.
Needless to say, we sold them – needlessly.
We have been in Costa Rica, in the Central Valley, at a high elevation, with the cloud forest visiting us daily throughout the rainy season, for a year and a half and still have not battled the mold issues we had read about.
But I know others have. Say to yourself these 2 mantras over and over again, “Micro Climates, Micro Climates, Micro Climates” and “Your Milage will Vary, Your Milage will Vary, Your Mileage will Vary”.
Those that do battle mold take the wetness out of the air with an electric Dehumidifier or many closet sized non-electric dehumidifiers. In our new home, which we moved into 2 months ago, the owner outfitted each closet with the non-electric devices. Originally designed for gun safes these are great for small areas. There is an indicator to let you know the device is saturated. You plug it in to an outlet for a day to dry it out and then it is ready for duty again.
Should you plan your move here with mold in mind? Sure. Will you have to battle mold? Who knows.
Minding the Gap
When we were developing our exit strategy of quitting our jobs and retiring early we knew that we had a gap. We figured we would live off of savings and this would take us through 8 years or so of living in CR, then we would have a gap of another 12 years, or so, before we could access our 401k retirement funds without penalty. We would fill this gap by finding ways to wisely use our money and by turing passions (that we would now have time for) into income.
The time gap was based on the worst-case assumption that we would not find a way to invest or otherwise strategically use that money to further our early retirement cause.
I am happy to say, that after FINALLY opening an account with a bank here, we were pleasantly surprised to find that interest rates, for accounts in colones, are pretty incredible. We have some of our money in a CD at ScotiaBank and we earn just over 6% paid out every 6 months – enough to cover rent.
From this article it appears that interest rates are going up., as the dollar exchange rate drops. Our gap just got smaller.
Once we establish residency and have our Cedulas in hand, we will be able to avail ourselves to some of the favorable rates available at Costa Rica’s credit unions. The last time I checked rates a five year CD returned 12% (only 11.2% with monthly interest payments – insert sad face).
We were unaware of these tools when we were researching and so they were not a factor. We should be able to cover the part of Caja that we miscalculated and close our gap. This is one item I am ok with getting wrong.
The fact of the matter is that things change, words get misinterpreted, one person’s experience is the exact opposite of the next persons, and misunderstandings happen. One thing we did get right when we were deciding what bring? We made sure we packed our sense of adventure, a bit of patience, and a boatload of humor.
So, what did I get wrong about the things we got wrong? I am sure you will let me know in the comments below.
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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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