My dad used to always say, “learn the system.” Great advice when there is a utilized system in place. Steve Friedman shares a real-life experience that demonstrates this, as well as the need for expats in Costa Rica to get a mule. 

You will remember, in addition to graciously contributing to Costa Rica Curious, Steve blogs on his satirical site My Satirical Side. As always, thanks for providing your perspective.

For anyone thinking of moving to Costa Rica, don’t spend your time looking at fabulous homes with spectacular views, or any of the fine tourist attractions. Instead experience what it is like to have something shipped to you from overseas. Then you will know if you can hack living here.

Such is the tale that happened to my friend J.T. who decided that he’d order a replacement part for his security system instead of paying $400 to a local repair guy.

He found a good deal on ebay and the shipper did send the part. Unfortunately they insisted on sending it directly to their residence in Costa Rica rather than thru their shipping consolidator.

So about a month later they received an emailed notice from the aduana that a package had arrived for them from the party on ebay. It came to the aduana in Puntarenas – quite some distance away. Could they forward it to their local post office in Coco, or perhaps the aduana in Liberia? No – they had to go to Puntarenas to retrieve it. Thus began our adventure.

After a 3 hour drive, we arrived near Puntarenas and began looking for the aduana based upon the instructions in the email. Four turnarounds later and stopping for directions, we finally found the place. Such is life in a land without addresses. After signing an enormous ledger book with the security guard, we went inside and found three teller style windows and one man sitting there. He indicated that the Correos man we needed to see had gone to lunch – come back at 1:00.

We took the hint and went into Puntarenas to buy some fish and have lunch at the local Crispy Chicken. At about 1:30 we came back and sat in the queue. It took till nearly 2:00 for the one person to clear, and we approached the window. The Correos man – Johan was very pleasant and spoke very good English. He punched up the number in his computer and “Yes, they had the package”.

He went in back and shortly came back holding the parcel. JT was no stranger to CR ways of doing things. He had brought his Passport and Cedula as well as Hara’s. The man looked at the address, frowned and said,

“Oh, it is addressed to Hara Maderich”.


“She must be the one to pick it up.”

“But I brought her passport, and cedula, and it’s obvious that I am her husband”

“Hmmm I’ll have to talk to my supervisor”

“Look, we just drove three hours to pick this up – they wouldn’t send it to Liberia, so now we are here. We don’t want to have to make a return trip.”

After pondering for a while, the man finally relented and said

“OK, we’ll say that your nickname is really Hara, OK”

“FINE! Anything to get the package !”

Next he poked and prodded the package and asked what it was. JT told him it was a replacement part for their home alarm system.

“Do you have the original purchase invoice?”

“Of course NOT, it was shipped from Europe! How would we possibly have it?”

“Hummmm, I’ll have to talk to my supervisor…..”

After a few minutes his supervisor comes and has another form that he signs, and the Correos guy signs, and then JT signs.

“OK, now wait and my supervisor will bring out the paper telling you how much duty you have to pay for it.”

After about 15 minutes he finally comes back with a form, and says “72”.

“What!???? 72,000 colones!” (about $140)

“No, 72 colones” (about 20 cents)

OK fine – JT plunks down a 100 colones coin worth about 25 cents.

“No, senor, you cannot pay it here, you have to go the Banco National to pay the 72 colones, and then come back here with the receipt to show you’ve paid. The closest one is about 5K down the road.”

Shaking our heads and barely containing our laughter at the absurdity, we head down the road again to look for the Banco National. At the Banco a man stood by our car and offered to “watch it” for us. We paid him 100 colones which he turned up his nose at. That was almost double what we had to pay in customs duty. Thirty minutes later, we returned to the same window and again waited in the queue and then handed him the receipt.

After filling out another form in triplicate, and dutifully stamping each one, he said.

“OK, now you must pay 1400 colones for storage of it while it was here”

“Please tell me we don’t have to go back to the bank to do this too?”

“He pondered a minute and then laughed, no, you can do that here.”

He then took out an enormous ledger that probably went back to the beginning of Costa Rica as an Independent country and had JT sign the ledger.

With package in hand we left the building and then signed out in another enormous ledger that the security guard had.

After nearly a full day of driving and diddling around with the aduana, we finally had our prize, having paid a whopping 72 colones.

Next time, perhaps he’ll use the Mule Network.

As a post script if you havn’t seen this video about being prepared for bureaucracy, do so NOW! 

Until next time,


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