Articles About Life in Costa Rica

Helping Sarchi Schoolkids NOW Living Green in El Cajon de Grecia
New Los Chiles VISA border run** Parallel Worlds
Renewing your Cedula residency card

Getting License Plates

Why Costa Rica is NOT a
'Commodity' Co
Renewing your License Plates in Costa Rica
My Moving Tips Truckers Guide to Fuel Efficiency
Sugar Cane in Costa Rica - The Process October for the August
Health - Improving Brain Health Health - Viagra and Melanoma

Paradise Lost?

On Making Friends in Costa Rica
Getting your first drivers license in Costa Rica Renewing your drivers license

Anonymous Corporation - Need for Digital Signature - posted 12/21/2018

Updated info Shareholder Registry - 2/5/2019
- from Lucett Watler

Helping Sarchi Schoolkids NOW

Editor's forward
It's almost time for the children of our area to go back to school. However by law, no youngster without shoes and a uniform will be allowed to attend. It costs about $60 per year per child to make this a reality. Once again, we are asking for our subscribers' support for the three elementary schools in the Sarchi canton with the most-needy children. Money is needed for shoes, socks, uniforms,meat supplements for school  lunches, and books. Act now as school starts in early February. In 2017, 74 uniforms and pairs of shoes and socks were provided by those of us who donated to the cause along with copies of English studies workbooks and a number of miscellaneous school equipment and supplies. Your donations can be given to Tiina Laara, Irina Just, Karen Temple-Davis, Diane Cooner or Donald Davis.

Below is an article from Tiina Laara that exemplifies the typical day and conditions of one deserving student named Elvis.

I just want to go back to school

My name is Elvis, and I´m nine years old. I live in Valverde Vega, here in Costa Rica, you know, where all the coffee is produced. Yesterday, it was our last day of school for this semester. But it was without me, again.

Like last year I didn´t have the appropriate outfit to participate. I also couldn´t pick up my grades or the diploma I received for being an outstanding student. I was sad because my little sister Shirley got to go, but I didn´t.  

Last week, she got a whole bag of beautiful donated clothes, and out of the bag she pulled out a light yellow dress, with a lace bottom. A dress for a princess, my beautiful baby sister, the princess.

Proudly she showed me the dress, and put it on. Mom was wearing an old dress, and put a hand embroidered red rose on its chest, and they both looked like princesses in my eyes.

All I owned was my old heavily worn pair of brownish shorts and a t-shirt full of dirt and holes, and my brown, way-too-small shoes. Full of holes, as well. Nothing you would wear on a last day at school, these were coffee-picker´s clothes, and they were the only ones I owned besides the school uniform I got donated from those nice gringos up on the ridge last semester. I couldn´t pick up my grades in my school uniform and I didn´t want to go in old clothes that look like rags, so I stayed at home.

School is freedom for me, and for many of us kids way up here on the ridge, where all the farmworkers live. The clean white shirt, the shiny black plastic shoes made in China. You sweat in them inn summer and freeze in them winter, and the dark blue soap-smelling pants--both that mom works hard to keep clean every afternoon after school. Most of the stuff has been donated by the people with the strange language we study in school, further down the hill, about where the coffee fields end and the nicely paved road is located.

Up here, we live among the coffee fields in shacks; one of which I call home. Hardly any of the shacks around here have paint or look like a house. They are just pieces of wood barely stuck together with pieces of metal for a roof assembled by my father and his co-workers from the coffee and sugar cane fields.

Near our home there is the small little river, which comes from the volcano above. Up there is where they wash the beans before delivery to the factory. Everything in our neighborhood smells like the coffee cleaning process. Even the water where we take a shower smells the same.

School starts at seven. But I arrive early. I walk to school barefoot so I don’t wear out my Chinese plastic shoes. We don´t have a clock. So, I go by the sunrise and by my stomach that tells me I should have something to eat to start the day. But first comes the three-kilometer walk downhill to our primary school, not far from the green church, recently painted with cupids all over, as if the angels were looking at you day and night. I hope the angels bring me breakfast, was my thought as I passed the church last time.

We are lucky to have a headmaster who brings us a bite every morning from her own kitchen. And of course, I could always ask the teacher, he would see to it that I get a cracker or something to start the day. They keep telling mom to give us kids a small breakfast before coming to school. But my mother says there is no food until dinner, so we have to wait for lunch at school.

Thank God for our lunch. I am always very hungry and I wish I could eat enough to last all day and night. But that ´s not possible. The meal, mostly rice, beans, a coleslaw salad and a piece of plantain and some chicken is our main meal every day and it’s my favorite time of the day.

Back home in the afternoon, I walk up the ridge again barefoot on the now much hotter pavement. There is hardly anything served for dinner except maybe a bowl of rice and black beans. Our refrigerator, which is nearly always empty, has no power so food does not stay fresh, anyway, even if there should be any there at all.

We have no money until we get our monthly allowance from the government, which should cover our school expenses we are told.

But my mother says, ”First comes food and shelter, then comes school uniforms, shoes and books. You can´t eat uniforms or books, and if the purse is empty, it is empty. And so, we hope for donations”.

Mom says, ”Have faith and do your best - always - at school. One day, you will have a good job if you are a good student. Hopefully by having a good education, you won’t have to beg anymore. ”

Summer is still here for another month, and all of us kids hope we get donated uniforms so we can start school again. Like the uniforms we were given last year. Thanks to the donated uniforms, the 34 of us, coffee- and tomato-worker´s kids from this school and ridge could walk to school the first day of the school year. That hardly ever happens. Until then, I will pick coffee with my family.
I do, however, have faith that good things happen to good people.

Kindest regards,

posted 2/4/2018

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 Grecians 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

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:

2. We rejected seeking to reduce other’s use of water as potentially unpopular:

3. My great ideas, rejected by my dictatorial spouse:

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:

2. Capturing grey water from within the house for garden use:

3. Restructuring the Garden

4. Major possible future projects:

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.

drought womenDiscussing 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.

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

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Tax Ministry Dinner is Still in the LLC's

By Lucett (Lucy) Watler

What´s next is the Ministerio de Hacienda (Tax Ministry or IRS equivalent) on January 16th, 2015 published a "Shareholder's registry creation" project on its website, through an Executive Decree. Actually, such major change should be created by law instead of by Executive Decree; however this is their proposal.

First the IRS came up with the corporation tax. This project is comprised by five articles, the following being the main ones:  posted 1/26/2015

The Temporary "Pensionado" Resident Renewal Procedure Has Changed

Those requiring a renewal of their temporary "pensionado" resident status (cedula or DIMEX) will be subjected to a completely new experience. In some ways, it will be easier and in some ways it may be a challenge. The appointment takes less than ten minutes, but it seems that nowhere in the process has any allowance been made for the fact that not all alien residents are fluent in Spanish. We hope that the word works its way up the command chain to effect a change in the near future, but for now espanol it is--solemente.cedula

First, the phone number, interaction with and appointments at Grecia's or San Ramon's BCR for cedula renewals is no more--except for a required payment made there (only at BCR). From this point forward, the nearest location for renewals will be the Grecia Correos office. You'll still need an appointment and the challenge is that the new appointment phone number (1311, keypad option 2) is only in Spanish and your appointment agent probably only speaks Spanish. Unless your Spanish approaches fluency, it's best to get someone who is fluent to assist you with the call. To get information about what documents are required for renewals, go to: and select English from the flags in the upper right-hand corner of the page (note: the translation you'll see is "imperfect"). Briefly on this page, you will see the requirements for things you need to take to your appointment:
1) your expiring residency card (and a copy of both sides);
2) your current passport (and a copy of the photo/passport number/info page);
3) a current bank statement of three months or more showing recent deposits of social security, pension payment or deposits of, at least, the monthly minimum $1,000 with an official bank stamp (I do not think a statement printout with the bank logo is sufficient);
4) a current pension benefit letter from your embassy, which verifies your monthly social security/pension amount received (the purpose is for determination of your monthly CCSS or CAJA contribution amount, and acquiring the benefits letter for U.S. citizens can be problematic--U.S. Embassy FBU is only open 9-11:30 M-Th--my advice when in the phonetree try the "All Other" keypad "5" to get a real person and punch keypad "4" when transferred--note: keypad option "4" doesn't exist, but it got me to an agent, anyway);
5) if you are a couple renewing, we were also asked to bring proof of marriage (I believe, this may be used in lieu of the embassy letter to verify that the spouse is to be considered under the primary accountholder); and
6) individual receipts of the renewal fee of $123 (paid in colones) and 7,400.00 colones Correos fee for each person renewing their residency--see additional information below.

The $123 payment can only be made at a Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) branch and made only to the account #242480-0. (Take a copy of your spouse's cedula and passport if you are alone and making the payments for each of you at BCR.) Each individual receipt must show the renewer's name and renewer's cedula number--individual receipts for each renewal are required. (We were also asked to include our passport numbers on the receipt, but the teller told me that that was not possible.) You will also need to pay 7,400.00 colones at the Correos in Grecia immediately before your renewal appointment. You will need give this receipt and the BCR receipt to the renewal agent during your appointment.

Once your appointment is complete, you will be asked which Correos office to send the new DIMEX (Grecia, Sarchi or Naranjo). You do not need a P.O. box and your new card(s) should arrive in 30 days.

Another note: our renewal agent spoke absolutely no English. Be prepared to take a fluent Spanish speaker with you or have someone available to interpret by phone on your behalf during your appointment. This was our experience and is meant only as guidance. Your experience may vary. For "rentero" and "permanente" resident renewals the procedure is similar, but with some different requirements. So, check the URL above for your specifics.

Fuel Efficiency Guide

One of our readers suggested we consider adding this link, which among other things addresses fuel efficiency techniques. Even with five price reductions in gas prices AND a 10% colone devaluation this year, Costa Rica's equivalent price of gas per gallon is still over $5.00. So, you may find this link to be of value.

In a related bit of fuel info, "Did you know?..." that 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.  

Truckers Guide to Fuel Efficiency

Why Costa Rica is NOT a 'Commodity' Country

By Ticonuevo (republished courtesy of GoDutch Realty)
Read the original blog at

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 perhaps only 4.5 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.  

October for the August  seniors

This October 1st is the celebration, of, the International Day of the elderly established by the United Nations twenty four years ago. 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.

Licda. Lucy Watler, Legal Business consultant:  

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My Moving Tips

By Ticonuevo
Read the original blog at

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.) moving 1

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.

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Getting your first drivers license in Costa Rica

By Judy Burnham

You must first have been approved for Temporary Residency and once you have your cedula, you can get your drivers license.

UPDATE - 7/20/2017: It used to be you could go any day, but now apparently this service is only offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, per an expat that was recently turned away on a Friday. Take Note!

To continue, now, make sure your license from where ever you are from, has not expired. In California, they will send you an extension if you call Sacramento DMV, and it is on a card that looks like a business card, with all the legal DMV stuff on it, and it is an extension for 1 year.

So, I took all the copies of items that were needed to bring to Cosevi in La Uruca. You must go to the main office in La Uruca to get your first Costa Rica drivers license.

You must have 2 copies of each:

Then take all your paperwork, separated (you have 2 copies of most things) and go to Cosevi in La Uruca.

I can't give you the exact directions because they are in my GPS, but there is a parking lot on the same block, just park there and walk to Cosevi.

From the front of the building it is a long walk to go to the end where you will start the process. There will be a line of people waiting to get in, just walk past them and go to the door. A man will check that you have all your paperwork and direct you to the right where there are chairs lined up agains the wall.

The first cubicle on the right towards the front door is where you will go when the light goes on and off above his cubicle. The light means (next in line).

There is a gentleman there that does not speak english. He will look through your paperwork, ask to see your foreign drivers license and passport and cedula. Have those ready for him when you see him. He will ask you for your address in Costa Rica- just give him the paper which you wrote your address on.

If everything looks good to him, he will stamp and sign off on all the paperwork, and then have you sign the top paper. You will then be directed upstairs.

Once up there, there is a man who also does not speak english. Now, I handed him all my paperwork and he wanted to look at my extension on my foreign drivers license. At this point he was rattling off something that I didn't understand, so I asked a person that was outside the room to translate for me. Apparently he thought my extension was not real and that I had made it myself on the computer. So after listening to my translator, I was going to have to go to the American Embassy, get an apostile, and I had to write in my own words on a piece of paper that they gave me - that the drivers license extension came from the state of California in United States and was a legal extension. After I received these documents, I would have to go to a lawyer, have the paperwork translated and have the lawyer put his stamps on the paperwork also. Since it took a week to get all this done, I made 2 copies of everything and started from scratch at Cosevi.

If your license is not expired, you won't have to do all of this.

So after about $100.00 to get all the documents Cosevi needed, I was signed off by the man downstairs, sent again up stairs and the man looked through everything and decided it was all o.k. He then started to complain about all the stamping and signatures that he had to do on each page. I laughed and told him in Spanish that it was as much paperwork as buying a house. What I really wanted to say was "it's your own fault that there is so much paperwork now!", but being polite - (you never want to make any Tico angry who makes the decision if you are going to get a drivers license), I offered to give him a hand massage. He chuckled. Once he finished signing and stamping everything, he told me to go downstairs to the left and go to cubicle number 2. Before I left, the man stood up and I gave him a big hug and thanked him. He was very embarrassed and looked around the room to make sure all his co-workers saw me give him a hug. I knew he would always remember me.

So off to cubicle number 2.

I waited my turn, and once I sat on the chair in the cubicle, I told the woman that I loved her glasses. They were deep red and matched her shirt. She was very friendly after that compliment and she spoke very good english. (what a relief). She looked through all the paperwork, checked my passport and cedula, and opened a book and had me sign on a line that had my information on it. Then handed me a slip of paper to take to Banco Nacional which is located next to Cosevi, so you must walk back out to the entrance of Cosevi, turn right and walk a little ways to the bank.

At the bank, go to any available teller and pay your 4,000 colones, and take the receipt. Leave the bank, go back to Cosevi and walk all the way back to the license building, and then go back to cubicle number 2. The same person who was helping you before you went to the bank, will look at your receipt and then ask you to sit straight in the chair so your picture can be taken. Don't try to move the chair, it is chained in place so it can not be moved. You will need to sign again in the book, and they will either give you your license right then, or you will need to wait a minute or two on the chair outside the cubicle until they call you and give you your license. That's it.

It is fairly simple (if your license has not expired) and should only take 2 or so hours.

Renewing your drivers license in Costa Rica

by Don Davis

We just renewed our C.R. driver's licenses (May 2017) and here's the latest info:

  1. 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. (For renewals, there's no need to go to main license bureau in San Jose where you received your first Costa Rica driver's license.) 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.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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, expiring in 2023.

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).

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An Occasional Column on Health

Health Tips for Que Pasa Grecia by Beverly Jensen

Improving Brain Health - 6/18/2014

If we need yet another reason here in Costa Rica to learn Spanish, this would be it--learning a language exercises the brain and diminishes cerebral aging...See you in class? Watch this video, mis amigos, and learn what the research shows. Bev

Beverly Jensen, Ph.D.
President, www.WomensMedicineBowl.com

 Viagra & Melanoma - 5/31/2014

A study reported this week from Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) is particularly relevant to our demographic group in Costa Rica and, especially, because we’re living in a sunny climate.

The study (25k subjects, average age of 65) found that men who took the little blue pill (sildenafil, sold as Viagra) had a whopping 84 percent higher probability of developing melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer,  than did men who never used it

And if you took it for awhile but have since quit, your chances of being diagnosed with melanoma were STILL 50 percent higher than those who never, ever used the drug.

To add to this bad news, the little blue pill is effective only half the time. That’s a high-priced risk to take with, perhaps, no benefits. There are many excellent all-natural products to take to enhance the libido and bedroom antics as we age. I recommend products from Northstar Nutritionals, but your favorite health food store may have others, too.

For the full story, see

This will be an occasional column about health items particularly relevant to our lives in Costa Rica—sometimes gleaned from my natural health website. Please send in questions and make suggestions based on your experience here.

To your health, Salud!

Beverly Jensen, Ph.D.


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Getting License Plates

by Jerri Dobbs

In Costa Rica, license plates stay with the car. So if you buy a used car, the tag comes with it. For this reason the tag on our car had probably been there for years. But shortly after purchasing our car, the government of Costa Rica decided it was time to change plates. Tags with numbers that ended in 1 were the first that had to be changed. Guess what, mine ended in one. OH GREAT, I thought, what kind of bureaucratic red tape am I going to have to go thru to accomplish this. Turns out it may well have been the easiest transaction I have made since moving here.

  1. I took the paperwork for car and my cedula (if car is in a corporation, also take corporation papers) to the Post Office.
  2. Paid fee - 15,000 to 20,000 colones
  3. In a couple of days the Post Office called me and said plates (placas) were ready
  4. Drove downtown, parked and removed my plates.
  5. Took plates to the Post Office, signed some papers, and off I went, new plates in hand.

If only residency could be so simple!

Thanks to my yoga friend Mark for telling me how to get the plates in the first place.

posted Jan 1. 2014

Renewing Your License Plates in Costa Rica

by Chris Clarke

Thanks to all those who advised me on how to change my car plates in Costa Rica. I am pleased to tell you that for a change the bureaucrats made it a lot easier. No need to involve lawyers, drive to far parts of the country or to go to the bank.

Now the steps are:

1. Go to the post office with the vehicle's license plate number, (Leave the existing plates on the car); the ID you used when you bought the car and 20k Colones. They have your car in the system and give you a receipt and a form to bring back when you collect your plates in 5 days or less. They phone you when the plates are in.

2. Park off the road, take your plates in with the completed form and the receipt. They give you the plates and a window sticker.

Just when you think they got everything right for a change, you discover the slots for fastening the plates to the car are now closer together. You have to make a new hole.

No doubt they will make a more complicated system by the time you need new plates again. This one is way too simple. 

posted 5/9/2015

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Sugar Cane in Costa Rica: The Processcane

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.

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