Having fun buying a used and new car in Costa Rica

Well, I have to be 100% honest with you. The experience of looking for a car was a pretty good experience. However getting the lease approved was another story which I will get to, and buying the used one was a real treat!

First, let me tell you about my present car, it is a 2006 Hyundai Terracan, I purchased used off of an expat that was heading back to the states, guess he did not do his homework well enough to stick it out, but that’s his problem. That’s was back in 2010 and there was an ad in the local advertising email program called Info El Coco. It is a great way to advertise selling anything. So I called the number and spoke with the owner. We set up a time so I could see the car and hopefully take it for a test drive. I got to the guy’s house and I am not sure why but he was in a pretty foul mood. I mean what the heck buddy you are living in paradise.  If life is so bad here in Costa Rica, where did he think it was going to be better, New York City?!!  So after trying to be friendly and looking at the car, I asked if I could take it for a drive. The guy seemed a bit hesitant. So I said to him “If you don’t let me drive it I just wasted your time and mine” so he finally said ok” but I will drive”. See a pattern here with this guy; I wondered who pissed him off that day. “Now wait a minute buddy I am the one with the cash and what good does it do me with you taking me for a ride” So he caved. The car actually drove pretty well, at first I was thinking whats wrong with this car that he wanted to drive?  When we got back to his house he asked me “well are you going to buy it, I want $23,000 for it”. I said I was very interested but I would like to bring it to my mechanic to give it a once over just to make sure there is nothing majorly wrong that would end up costing me more in a short time. There are some great mechanics here in Costa Rica and I can’t believe how inexpensive it is to get things fixed here. Back to the seller, well you would have thought I asked him for his first born child. This guy went ballistic, at this poin, I just looked at him and said “have a great day and hope you sell your car *^%T head” and started walking away.

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When I got into my car and started to back up, this fool was blocking my way. So I asked is there a problem here? He looked at me and said “ok ok you can take the car to your mechanic to check it out, but I want the keys to your car in case you steal mine”. Really steal his car, he must of thought this was South East LA or something, and my car has real estate marketing magnets on it with my name and number, How many car thieves do you know that advertises on their car, I could not believe what I heard, but this just goes along with this guy’ personality and hatred of life, it is a good thing he was leaving Costa Rica as this is exactly the type of person Costa Rica does not want!

Fast forward I was back at his place within an hour or so and said it passed inspection and haggled price with him for quite a while and to shorten this already long drawn out story, I got the car for $14,000. Plus I paid all the closing and transfer fees. Turns out he was leaving for the States in 3 days and I was the only one with cash money that approached him ready to buy, his loss my gain. It has been a great car for the last 5 years and I just sold it for almost what I paid for it, not too badIMG_3808

Fast Forward 5 years before I sold the Terracan I had to make sure I had something else to drive so off to Liberia I went to visit the Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Kia and Hyundai dealers.  It is great that there are this many options here in Guanacaste. When I first moved here 8 years ago the only options was Toyota and a bunch of used car lots. If I wanted to look at Audis or Land Rover, Mercedes or even Jaguar, I would have to head to San Jose for those and honestly they are out of my price range and not my style. Beside who wants to really drive one of them in Costa Rica? For me it would kind of be like going to Morton of Chicago and ordering a Big Mac. Not happening.

I spent all day looking at cars. One thing I really loved about this experience was the fact that there was no typical CAR SALESMAN, you know the type pouncing on you as soon as I walked on the lot. You know what I mean it happens all the time back in North America the pushy sales guy that after saying hello, says “so are you ready to drive this baby off the lot today”.  I have to say that the process was kind of funny here and not what I was really expecting. There I was, a prospective buyer walking around looking at cars and no one approached me not one.  The funniest of all was at the Nissan dealer, I practically had to beg to ask a question about price and availability of what I was looking for and the “sales” person could barely even look at me when asked a about some of cars, guess he did not want to deal with a gringo? So I left and headed up the road to the next dealership.

At the Ford dealership all they keep trying to sell me was old used cars, I kept saying I don’t want a used car tell me about this one, the guy said “Ah you don’t want that car it is a lemon” well I did not stick around there too long but I was treated respectfully and they even offered me something to drink. Besides you know what FORD stands for right “Fix Or Repair Daily” which is what My ford was like back in the sates or the other meaning “Found On Road Dead”

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The Hyundai dealership in Liberia was great; the sale person did come up to me after a bit of time with a big smile and asked if I had any questions and if he could assist me with any questions I might have. When I asked him if he spoke any English he said “how can I help you”. David was very accommodation and offered me the opportunity to test drive any one I wanted. Not bad.

The Toyota dealership was almost like the Nissan deal, at first at least. I walked in and the few people sitting behinds desks looking at their cell phones almost could not be bothered. One gentleman Gustavo, actually got up came over to me and asked if he could help. I asked him if he happened to speak a bit of English as my Spanish is not as god as it should be, especially for negotiating for a new car and he responded, “Of Course, how can I help you”! So we sat down and I told him what I was looking for. Within minutes Gustavo was presenting me with different options, color choices and warranty information. I was very pleased with the service. So I asked him “Gustavo, if I was to pay cash cash, “efectivo” what type of a discount can you offer. I was totally shocked he said if and only if I was to buy the car cash I would also have to buy the extended service plan, which costs another $1500.00 and then he could give me a $1,000.00 discount. Hum, did not sound like a deal to me and after Gustavo must of saw the look on my face he said “do you want to test drive a car first to see if you like it” sure is said, let’s try the Fortuner. Gustavo explained to me that there is only one test drive vehicle for each model and the Fortuner was in San Jose. San Jose!! You mean I have to drive 4 hours to go test drive a car, can you believe it! Gustavo laughed out loud and said “no sir I will have the car here in 2 days for you, is that ok? Now that’s what I call service. As promised 2 days later I get a call from Gustavo saying the car is here and when would I be by to take it for a spin.

The next day I was at the dealer and Gustavo was ready with the Fortuner and off we went. Of course he said turn here and then head up the highway. Of course the highway was newly paved through Liberia, I looked at him and said, “Ok this is great but let’s try some traditional Costa Rica roads and he laughed again. I found one up the inter-Americana highway and you want to talk about rough, heck a horse would be tip toeing down this road. The vehicle handled great, good suspension and sounded tight not like a tin cup. As we were on this horse path of a road I saw another dirt road to the side with lots of puddles and what looked like mud so I quickly made a left before Gustavo could say a thing.

This was the perfect road to test the four wheel drive. Gustavo was very knowledgeable about the car and proceeded to explain how to engage the 4×4. Once in gear I proceeded right to the mud doing about 35 Kilometers per hour. I wish to you could have seen the look on Gustavo face when the mud splashed up all over the car, it was priceless. I know he was thinking “this crazy gringo is trying to get me fired by destroying the test drive car.” I hit the brakes hard to see how it would react on the wet and muddy surface and low and behold I was extremely happy. Not sure if Gustavo was.  I took the car out of 4×4 while still in the middle of the water and mud and proceeded to give it gas trying to bury the rear tires in the mud, this way I could really check the 4×4 low. At this point poor Gustavo was three shades of white with fear of losing his job. I looked at him and said No fears my friend if this car is as good as you say we should have no problems, ad true to word it was a piece of cake, the car came right out of the mud hole as if it was on dry pavement.  We left this area and started to go back to the dealership when I saw a car wash and turned in just to have the mud dirt hosed off before we brought it back. Gustavo just smiled at me and said thanks.

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Once we got back to the dealer I said OK I want to buy it. That’s when the real negotiations started. I looked at Gustavo and said look, no one pays full price especially in Costa Rica, and just because I am a gringo do not think I do not know the way of the land. He started to laugh and said ok  Mr. Joseph if you agree to buy the car and are willing to put a deposit down today I will see what I can do.

Of course I agreed and off he went to speak to the boss I guess. A few minutes later Gustavo returned with a big smile on his face and said they the dealership was willing to give a $2000.00 discount. Then I started laughing. Really only $2K off of a $60K car give me a break, well after about 15 minutes of back and forth I got them down another couple of thousand, not too bad, and gave them my credit card to make the deposit. Once he came back with the card slip for me to sign, which I did, we then filled out all the paperwork and final price to buy the car. Then Gustavo said I will make sure the car you drove is good and clean for when you come to pick it up. Oh No I said I don’t want that car it is used now and I do not want a black car, if you are willing to give me another $5,000 off I will buy it and drive it off today. I tried but this did not fly to well, I mean what the heck you do get anything unless you ask. That’s when I thru the curve ball at Gustavo when I said, “this is great now I will go to my bank to get a lease.”

Poor Gustavo, you would have thought I stuck a knife in him. He looked like he was going to cry. I said have no fears if the bank does not finance the car I have the cash to buy it outright, this is strictly a business decision to lease it as the tax benefits for leasing here in Costa Rica are very good.

On my way out Gustavo asked me who long I thought it was going to take, I said that all depends on my bank. But if within two weeks they do nothing or do not approve the lease, I will just wire the balance to you and come and get the car.

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I immediately left the dealership and drove straight to my bank. I sat down with the branch manager and told him my plans. I wanted to lease the car thru them as I know they do that and I want an answer in two weeks or less. I have to tell I am not usually a pushy person but when it comes to business and dealing with purveyors and vendors, I go for it.  The branch manager, Sergio, said “well Mr. Emanuelli, you need to supply us with the criteria and information we need to decide if we will grant the lease.” That’s when I reached down into my brief case and pulled out everything they would need. Sergio looked completely shocked; I handed him three years of CPA certified financials of my corporation, corporate shareholders certification of my corporation, deposit slip for the car, full cost breakdown for the car, make model VIN number, motor number and copies of my full without restriction residency card, everything they would need. Sergio took all the info and reviewed it quickly, said it looked good, but asked “how did you know what to bring”. I smiled and said “I called the main branch in San Jose and asked them to send me all the requirements to apply for a lease.” So I was ready.

Sergio looked at me in disbelief and was a bit dumfounded, he said he would submit all the paperwork to the credit department and it should not be more than a week to get an answer. We shook hands and off I went.

Fast forward another two weeks, I promise this article is almost over, trust me it pains me as much to write this as it must be for you reading it, HAHAHA. So two weeks pass I called the dealership and spoke to Gustavo telling him I am still waiting for the bank to decide and I should know any day now. Gustavo said no problem the actual car you want is here waiting from you. Gustavo really is a good guy once he warms up to you and I highly recommend him if you getting a new Toyota in the Liberia dealership.

Well the two week deadline passed and I sent an email to Sergio the branch manager asking what the status is of the lease. Sergio was quick to reply and said he had heard nothing to this point, than he New Yorker in me came out. Polite but very strongly I replied, “Hello Sergio, thanks for the fast reply, however if the bank does not want my business I understand to some degree, so If I do not hear from them or you by end of the business day today I will just buy the car outright myself, then I will lease it to my corporation and I will make the interest and profits instead of the bank. No hard feeling but I have waited long enough and it is just a simple lease. Oh and by the way if this is the case that I have to do all this I will then close all of my accounts and move all my money over to a different bank, Have a great day Gustavo, and feel free to send this note to whomever at the bank.

It is kind of funny how sometimes living here in Costa Rica you have to be politically forceful to get some things done and if you do it right you will be quite surprised of the results. Well it was amazing, twenty minutes after hitting send, my phone rings and it was Sergio the branch manager. “Hello Mr. Emanuelli, This is Sergio, I have good news, you have been approved for the lease, I just need to know where you are now, so I can come to you with the paperwork you need to sign and then we will wire the funds to the dealership.”

Amazing how that worked Huh?? Well I am happy to say that the next day a friend dropped me off in Liberia and Gustavo was there waiting with the rest of the paperwork to sign off on. Gustavo did a great job again going over every detail of the car from filling the windshield whipper solution tank to the location of where you put the jack in the event of flat. From top to bottom he went over the car.

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So buying a car in Costa Rica can be a fun and rewarding task, just don’t let emotions get in the way, have a bit of patience and never, I mean never, fold at the first price.  Just be polite, respectful and you can get I done.

Can’t get exotic foods in Costa Rica?

Lets face it, we all need to eat to be alive right? Some eat just to survive and then there are people like me that find great pleasure in eating for many reasons, not just survival. When I retired from the hospitality industry and first moved to Costa Rica over eight years ago, this was something that was a bit of a concern for me. Being a retired chef, food and exotic food products are more than just a way of life, it is the life for a chef, once a chef always a chef.  The options for great products here in Costa Rica are unending you just have to look closely.

Many times on my travels here before making the move to live here full time, I dined in a lot of typical “SODA” restaurants as I wanted the local feel and learn about the customs of dinning. Basic simple food prepared from fresh ingredients, wholesome and delicious. But always in the back of my mind was the thought, can I get things like portabella mushrooms, how about some basic Asian staples like toasted sesame oil and or hoi sin sauce, or even one of my favorites Thai curry pastes, and the list goes on and on. I was thinking well I cannot live just on rice, beans, plantains, salad and some kind of meat which is a basic “casado” the national dish of Costa Rica meaning the marriage. I also dined at a lot of “Tourist Restaurants” as well; you know the ones in popular beach destinations or close to one of the national parks or the international airports, but most those types of places offered the same old stuff, hamburgers, pizza, griddled fish with garlic butter and not a lot of imagination. Granted they were good but just how hum food for people that truly enjoy eating, trust me they were nothing that you would write home about or remember for years to come.

So I made a pledge and a promise to myself, I am going to be adventurous and try as many local things as possible and use my past culinary skills to turn local products into something really cool or at least delicious for me and people I invite to my house.

That was eight years ago, now things have changed for the better in a big way. I still love cooking and cook at least 4 nights a week, the rest of the time I like to go out to one of the many good restaurants in the Playa Hermosa and Playa Del Coco area. I will get to those in I minute as it all relates to this topic.

When I go grocery shopping I take my time, I look for products that I could use in many different ways to create some unique dishes. One of the funny things about retailers here and what I love about Costa Rica is the placement of products in the grocery stores. As an example, I love to use dried Italian porcini mushroom, yes you can get them here, to make sauces for meats and pastas and add to rice dishes, well you would think they would be in the section with the imported Italian pastas and canned sauces, or maybe even in the spice sections. But not here in Coco, I find the porcini mushrooms in the section that has all of the Asian foods. Another funny example is just plain old tomato juice. You can search the juice section and won’t find it, but head over to the liquor isle and you will find it by the vodka!! Bloody Marys’ anyone?

Heck just last night is a great example, I bought a kilo ( 2.2 pounds) of some beautiful fresh red snapper filets, skinless, boneless and ready to cook for only $12.00 US, caught in the morning that day. I wanted something a bit exotic and not totally local so off to the Mercado I went and picked up, sweet red chili sauce, Nori sheets, (for those that do not know what this is, it is basically seaweed used in making sushi rolls) natural coconut milk, fresh ginger, green onions, yellow Holland bell pepper and dried Vietnamese rice paper used for fresh spring rolls. Took everything home and created a great dinner of snapper spring rolls with sweet red chili coconut sauce.  This sounds hard but really easy to make even for a person with no culinary experience.

With the addition of a wider range of products available now, this has turned into a real plus for area restaurants. Again no more just plain burgers and pizza and Buffalo wings, granted they are good when the hankering calls with a cold beer watching the NFL or the World Series at a local sports bar which we have here as well, but again who wants to eat that all the time. In the area there are some really good restaurants to choses from, if you are into sushi you are in luck and I mean good fresh fish with nori ginger and wasabi, to Middle Eastern falafels with creamy garlic yogurt sauce and hummus with grilled pitas. Too out there for you, how about fantastic fresh made pastas at Italian restaurants or French crepes filled with all sorts of goodies. There is a great German restaurant very close by and if you ever have been to a traditional October Fest you will love this place.  Do you like true Spanish Paella? You know the rice seafood and sausage dish, well we have a great family run business featuring typical and classical foods from the region of Spain the family comes from.  The choices are ever growing and getting better and better all the time.

The amount of great food products available here in Costa Rica and the area I call home has made the transition for me well worth it. These restaurants would not b opening and serving great food if the products were not here to start with. The area really is not a gourmand’s destination but if you love to eat, like I do, you won’t be disappointed.  By the way the “Casado” is still one of my favorite dishes. Come on down and I will show you around and the how to eat well.  Pura Vida!