Let’s go Grocery Shopping, In Playa Del Coco

A lot of times when I am touring people around the area looking at some great properties and all the conveniences that the area has to offer, I tell this to  folks in my car all the time. Just this past week Alfredo and Audrey, a great couple from Maui Hawaii, yes that’s right Hawaii. See they decided to make the move to Costa Rica. Over a year ago they had contacted me asking lots of questions about Costa Rica. I told them straight out. “Look you live in Hawaii, a tropical paradise, the best way to describe Costa Rica, and I am a bit biased, is to get on a plane come for a month and travel the whole country. See all the beauty that this small country has to offer. I told them to think about what Hawaii was 30 years ago and you have Costa Rica, except with the exception, IT IS BETTER! Low and behold they took my advice and came for a month, they traveled almost the entire country looking at areas they would consider to relocate to and basically said to me, Well you were right Joe, while many parts of Costa Rica reminds us of Hawaii, we do not want to be off the grid that much. This area you live in would be where we want to live as well there are just so many advantages and services. DUH!! Sometimes no matter how much you tell people the truth they need to find out for themselves.

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So Audrey and Alfredo made the decision to make the move to Costa Rica. They sold both their homes in Hawaii moved all their stuff by container to California as a holding location until they find their dream property in Costa Rica.

Anyway back to the grocery store. Last Friday I had some other folks, Darren and Jacqueline from Canada, closing on an grand ocean front penthouse condo, one just to die for and I wanted to present them with a bottle of champagne to celebrate their new purchase. So I headed in to town to the grocery store. Yes you can buy liquor in the grocery store even at 8am in the morning; got to love Costa Rica! Bet you can’t do that in Hawaii. Any way I walk in and made my way to the aisle with all the booze. I grabbed a bottle Moet Chandon and as I turned I see this woman further down the aisle, she looked really familiar but I am only seeing the back of her. So I casually walk that way to try to get a look at her face. Low and behold with was Audrey. She Alfredo and Bella, their beautiful Rottweiler, had arrived on a red eye from Los Angeles that morning which got in at 6:30 am. We Hugged and I asked her “where is Alfredo?” “Oh he is out in the car with Bella waiting for me. I just wanted to get some things and go back to the condo you helped us rent and crash for the day.” Then Audrey proceeds to tell me that she is surprised that she thought things in the grocery store would be much cheaper then Hawaii.

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So I took a look in her basket and what do I see? A six pack of Heineken, IMPORTED! A bag of Snyders pretzels, IMPORTED! A container of Middle Eastern hummus, IMPORTED! A box of Nabisco Wheat thins, IMPORTED! The list goes on and a bunch of cosmetics. I looked her straight in the eyes and said “Audrey we are going shopping together when you get rested and settled in” She laughed at me said “I know how to shop do you think I made it this far in life with going to the grocery at least once  a week.” I was thinking, yes you may have but you do not know how to shop like a Tico.

This scenario happens often; North Americans come here on vacation, go grocery shopping and then freak out when they get to the cash register. Reason being, they usually purchase item that they know, brands that are familiar and a good many of them are imported. Hence the higher price and sticker shock. The other thing is they are drawn to the fancy big box grocery stores with the bright lights, rotisserie ovens, Sushi station, well displayed produce and deli and eat counters.

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I ended up taking Audrey out shopping once they settled in. I took her to the farmers market in Liberia, a short and easy drive from Playa Hermosa. She was totally blown away by the quality and the supper low prices of produce. See nothing Imported. Then I took her to the Mercado central, what a neat experience this place is, butcher shops, little soda restaurants, shoe stores, flower shop and the list goes on. Again Audrey was pleasantly pleased at the prices. When we headed back toward Hermosa, I stopped at great butcher shop that specializes in beef. Have you ever had the beef from the grocery stores here? You might as well chew your sandals or braise it for hours in a crock pot. We purchased a whole tenderloin of beef, this where the filet mignon comes from. All cleaned up and ready to cut into steaks for a whopping $29.00 USD. She was blown away, she said on Maui that same cut of beef would have been over a hundred dollars. THERE YOU GO!

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Then once back in the area I took her to the full blow grocery store and taught her how to shop locally, Meaning at least for me and it works, reading the labels on the back see where it is made and if made in the US, Canada or anyplace else outside of central America, you can be well assured you are spending more.

So to help my friends and clients get acclimated, I like to take them to the grocery store even before they ask. It is a lot easier to explain when standing there in the aisle comparing products made in Central America and those that are imported verses them asking me while I am driving why things are so expensive.

Most people do not like going to the grocery store, it is a necessity and for most men it is a chore that they don’t like, me on the other hand I like it, as being a retired chef all things related to food interest me, again hence why I like grocery shopping and getting to really experience the Costa Rica way of life.

Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica, a Very Dry Rainy Season

I can remember the first time I was in Playa Hermosa during the rainy season back in 2003 on a vacation. I knew it was the rainy season but with the warm weather, who cared? Not I, as I could still enjoy all the beauty of the area even if I got wet. I remember the day I decided to take a hike around town, it was early in the morning about 7:30 the sun was out and I really enjoyed the quietness of the area, seeing many different tropical birds and the occasional howler calling the troupe and iguanas scurrying for cover. About 2 hours in to the hike it started getting cloudy, than a few drops started falling. So what I thought, I am not that far from the hotel, right! Well within 5 minutes those few drops turned into a torrential down pour.  I was soaked thru and thru but it did not matter, I loved it. It reminded me of when I was a kid growing up in New York and a summer rain storm happened and loved playing in the puddles while splashing and kicking water on my friends and vice versa .

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However due to the conditions of an El Nino affect in the Pacific Ocean the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica; especially Playa Hermosa has been experiencing a drought for the last 2 years. Normally in September and October the area averages close to 25- 35 inches of rain. So far this year, as of October 13th, the area has received only 10 inches of rain, well over 50%, below normal years.  You may be thinking, what is this guy a realtor or a weatherman? Well I have a hobby of measuring rain with real rain gauges, it just something I like to do.

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Reports from the local meteorologists state that the rainy season for Guanacaste is most likely going to end much earlier this year than normal. Not a great thing to hear. Their predictions are the third week of October for the rainy season to come to an end, this is about a month early. I hope not, because the more rain we get the longer the “Green Season” sticks around; meaning the grasses, trees and shrubs stay full and of green.

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One thing that I need to say is even though we have been experiencing a drought the Playa Hermosa area has not had any issues of water shortages or rationing like other parts of the country.

So all I have to say is let it rain let it rain let it rain.

Facts about Social Security for US Expats in Costa Rica

5 lesser known facts about social security that every American expat retiree should know.

Social Security is often the foundation of retirement plans but many Americans have been paying into the system for years without knowing how they system actually works – especially when they retire abroad. Here are 5 lesser-known facts about Social Security that any retiring expat needs to know.

  1. Qualifying for benefits is really easy

To receive benefits at retirement, you must simply earn 40 ‘credits’ over at least 10 years of work. This boils down to about $1,200 a quarter, which is so low that you could probably qualify by working a seasonal job! Many expats contribute to the US Social Security system even when living abroad so the expat status does not ‘exempt’ one from Social Security benefits.

In addition, if you earned money in the US and paid into the US system, the credits you earned will remain on your Social Security record.

  1. You can receive benefits overseas

Eligible US citizens can receive benefits when living abroad, with a handful of small exceptions. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is prohibited from sending payments to Cuba or North Korea but they will send all withheld payments you were eligible for once you leave the restricted country. Note that non-US citizens cannot receive payments for the months they lived in Cuba or North Korea, even if they move to a country where payments are allowed.

There are also a handful of countries where payments cannot be made, but for the purpose of this article we are talking about Costa Rica and yes you can receive your benefits here.

  1. The Social Security system isn’t penniless (yet)

According to the 2014 annual report from the Social Security Board of Trustees on the financial status of the program, without policy changes, the combined Social Security trust funds will become depleted and unable to pay scheduled benefits in full on a timely basis in 2033. After that, Social Security could pay about three-fourths of scheduled benefits through 2089.

Analysts and reports differ as to what year the funds will begin to fall short but the guesstimate has remained between 2029 and 2042 for the past 20 years. Americans are encouraged to diversify their retirement portfolio to ensure they don’t rely too heavily on benefits that may (or may not) be available when they are needed.

  1. Totalization Agreements prevent dual-taxation

The US has entered into agreements with 24 countries to ensure expats are not forced to pay into two Social Security systems. These agreements allow you to choose which system you would like to pay into.

If you are self-employed, this may not the case, as self-employed individuals are generally subject to the US Social Security system. These taxes are included in self-employment taxes, currently 15.3%, and are assessed on net business income. However, in countries with a Totalization Agreement, self-employed individuals who are subject to self-employment tax in the foreign country will be exempt from US self-employment tax. A certificate of coverage must be obtained from the country of residence to provide proof of the individual’s participation in another Social Security plan.

Self-employed individuals will be subject to dual taxation if they choose to live in a country with which the US does not have a Totalization Agreement, as in Costa Rica.

  1. SSA benefits may be taxed

No matter where you go, US taxes will follow! US citizens and residents can expect up to 85% of Social Security benefits to be subject to federal income tax. How much is actually taxable depends on the total amount of your benefits and other income you receive.

Generally, the greater your total income, the greater the taxation. The taxation is as follows:

Up to 50% of your benefits will be taxed if your income is greater than $25,000

Up to 85% of your benefits can be taxable if either of the following situations applies:

  • The total of one-half of your benefits and all your other income is more than $34,000 ($44,000 if you are married filing jointly)
  • You are married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time during the year.

It is important to note that many foreign governments tax US Social Security benefits so we encourage you to check your country’s tax laws to get an accurate picture of your overall taxation.

Note: This article was written by David McKeegan and edited for Costa Rica, all credit goes to David.