PriceSmart is coming to Liberia!

PriceSmart had announced plans to open its eighth warehouse club in Costa Rica—this time in Liberia! It is expected to open in the summer of 2020. The Good News is it is under construction and right in front of the Liberia International Airport.

PriceSmart Liberia

What is PriceSmart? And why is this exciting news for those of us who live in the northwest region Costa Rica? Because PriceSmart is a membership warehouse and is very similar to Costco or Sam’s Club, and offers similar benefits. One can buy in volume, thereby reducing trips to the store. Often imported items are available at lower prices than in Costa Rica’s other grocery stores. Considerable savings can be found on cheese, pickles, olives, peanut butter, pet food, and so on. And most products are high quality. In many instances, one can get better pricing on items than in other stores in your area.

Membership costs $35 annually, but if you shop wisely, you will recuperate that amount compared to what those items would have cost at local grocery stores.

PriceSmart Playa Hermosa vacinity

With the membership you can shop at the other PriceSmart stores in Latin America. Those living near the Panamanian border often take advantage of the David location. To use your card outside of Costa Rica, head for the customer service counter to see if your card will scan. If it doesn’t, you will be issued a temporary pass. Though PriceSmart and Costco were related at one point in their past history and carry similar products, they are no longer affiliated and your PriceSmart membership will not be valid at a Costco. Conversely, your Costco card is not valid at PriceSmart.

Produce Costa Rica Playa Hermosa

PriceSmart doesn’t have sale or offer discounts. There are no express lines, and the lines can be pretty long on weekends or after pay periods. Completely avoid the place in December if at all possible. There is no hassle with returns and refunds.

Playa Del Coco Shopping

The city of Liberia continues to attract investment; the presence of the Daniel Oduber International Airport and its proximity to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and large expat communities make it an excellent hub for business. Other retailers who have established themselves in the area are DoIt Center and WalMart. PriceSmart is yet another notch on Guanacaste’s belt making it more convenient and liveable—it was always gorgeous!

Liberia

For those that want to know some of the down and dirty of PricemSmart keep reading!

PriceSmart is headquarted in San Diego, California, and owns and operates U.S.-style membership shopping warehouse clubs in Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, it is probably the only U.S.-headquartered retailer without a single outlet in the States. PriceSmart was founded in 1976 by the father and son team of Sol and Robert Price and opened its first store in Panama. The company began its big push into the rest of Latin America in 1996, opening 7 stores that year, one in Costa Rica. In 2009 PriceSmart was on Fortune Magazine’s list of 100 fastest growing companies.

Some negatives are that stocking at PriceSmart is hit and miss. Your favorite item may not always by available. Just like at a Sam’s club or Costco Also, do not expect the inventory to be identical to the warehouse store you frequented back home. PriceSmart tailors its catalog to Latin American tastes and stocks many local brands. For example, you may prefer Philadelphia cream cheese, but you will find Dos Pinos or Monteverde cream cheese in PriceSmart’s refrigerator case.

Either way the important thing is a PriceSmart is going to be close by and no more having to drive to San Jose to do club membership shopping!

Energy Supply, How is Costa Rica’s

Costa Rica’s energy is supplied by using 5 different renewable sources: hydro-power (78%), wind (10%), geothermal (10%), biomass and solar (1%). Recently, the country went 271 days without burning fossil fuels for electricity. More than 99% of Costa Rica’s electricity is produce this way.

As a country, Costa Rica has a geographical advantage over others because of its high concentration per capita of rivers, dams, and volcanoes. Additionally, we come in fourth place worldwide for rainfall with an average of 115 inches of precipitation per year. The rain fall depends on the region, areas to the south and east tend to get substantially more than the Pacific Northwest and the Playa Hermosa area. Plus, we, as I include myself as this is now my permanent home, are a smallish nation with a population of only 5 million and no major industries requiring strong energy infrastructure; hence the lower energy demand.

Costa Rica Hydroelectric Dam

Costa Rica’s largest dams include the Lake Arenal Dam, Lake Cachi Dam, Rio Marcho Dam, Pirris Dam and the Reventazon Dam. Lake Arenal provides enough electricity to power 12% of the country. The other dams are all powered by the Reventazon River and its tributaries. The Reventazon is now the largest hydroelectric project in Central America.

 

Rincon de la Vieja Costa rica

Guanacaste province is home to the country’s geothermal fields powered by the subterranean heat of the Miravalles, Rincon de la Vieja and Tenorio volcanoes. It is a cool concept but costly to get started: Drilling large tunnels into the core of the volcano, extracting the steam which turns the turbines to create electricity. Then the byproduct being water is pumped back down into the volcano to reheat and make more steam.

Costa Rica wind power windmills

Windmills are becoming a common sight in Costa Rica. Wind power is primarily used in Costa Rica during the months of December to March. These particularly windy months coincide with a period of decreased rainfall which decreases hydropower output, making wind power the perfect stand-in.

Electric car in Costa Rica

However, the country’s demand for oil is actually growing because of its gasoline-dependent transportation sector. According to Costa Rica’s State of the Region report, the country has approximately 287 cars per 1,000 people, surpassing both the world and Latin American average. In a recent year, more vehicles were registered than births. In a previous blog, I mentioned what the government is doing to promote the purchase and/or importation of electric cars to reduce the carbon footprint.

Solar panels installed in Costa Rica
What alternative energy options are available to you, the homeowner, in Costa Rica? Being located near the equator, Costa Rica has a high amount of sunny days during the entire year, so the country has a huge solar power potential. This is especially true in the drier (read: sunnier) region of Guanacaste, where energy consumption due to air conditioning is high.

Solar power would seem to be a no-brainer. So, why doesn’t everyone have a solar panel on their roof? Solar power has been pushed aside due to political concerns that home-generated power would cut into the state electricity company’s (ICE’s) profits, on which they have a monopoly.

But wouldn’t the cost of installing solar panels be more than the cost of paying your electric bill? Only at first, maybe? It has been estimated that the cost of installing solar panels on a typical 1200 square foot house would be recouped in 5 years through energy savings. Though ICE will not buy your power from you, they will “bank” it for you to use when your consumption exceeds your generation, effectively zeroing out your electric bill from the start. After 5 years, you will be living scott-free, as far as electric bills go.

That said, there are a lot of conflicting thoughts out there on the subject. Some think it is the greatest thing since white bread, until they have to purchase more panels or new batteries and the 5 year payback ends up being much longer. Only time will tell if Solar is the way to go. And not to leave out, the waters are further muddied by sales pitches and marketing, so do your research and calculate accordingly.

People enjoying Costa Rica's natural energy on the beach - the sun

In the meantime, use Costa Rica’s natural resources to fuel your happiness: bask in the sun, bathe in the water, let the wind fill your sails, and soak in the hot springs. You will find yourself re-energized with out the need for Costa Rica’s energy supply!

Costa Rica Nicaragua Border Crossing for the Perpetual Tourist

Costa Rica immigration law allows visitors to stay up to 90 days. However, non-residents are required to leave the country at the end of that period. After a brief stay outside Costa Rica’s borders, they are allowed to return for another 90 day period. Some who choose to live in Costa Rica make a run to the Costa Rica Nicaragua border every 3 months for years. These individuals are what the Costa Rica Immigration department calls perpetual tourists.

Costa Rica Nicaragua borderIs this legal? Well, really no, sometimes it is a necessity when waiting for your Costa Rica resident paperwork to be approved by the immigration department. Do I recommend this? Actually NO! If you decide to make Costa Rica your permanent residence, start the process before moving here. If you need assistance email me at JosephEmanuelli@remax.net and I can assist you.
For those that still want to be a perpetual tourist continue reading this step by step guide to the process of crossing the Costa Rica Nicaragua border at Penas Blancas and back on foot. It will get you to the border, tell you what you need to leave Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua and vice versa, all the fees involved, and finally some safety tips.

You can drive your rental car to the border but that is as far as you can go since rental cars are not allowed to cross the border. There is a house right at the border where the family that lives there will watch your car for $3-5 per day. Do not leave any valuables inside.

Perpetual Tourist Costa Rica

You can take the Transbasa public bus to the border from Liberia which leaves every 45 minutes 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. If you are planning to spend a few days in Nicaragua, you can take a Ticabus and you will do the border crossing with the bus. That process will not be described here–you simply follow the instructions given to the passengers.
To cross the Costa Rica Nicaragua border, you will need a valid passport that is not within 6 months of expiring, a receipt of payment of the Costa Rica exit tax, a plane or bus ticket dated at the most 90 days in advance, and small US bills ($1 and $5).
Upon arrival at the border, you must pay an $8 exit tax. All the tax offices are on your right as you face the border and are well-marked by signage.
Walk towards the border, passing by the lines of trucks and vehicles and enter the Costa Rica exit office. There is usually not a lot of people in line. Hand you passport and exit tax receipt to the officer. He may or may not ask you questions, such as where you are staying.

Playa Hermosa Boarder run
After exiting the office, you will walk a few hundred yards toward the Nicaragua Entrance Office. Along the way you will pass through checkpoints where they will check for the Costa Rican exit stamp in your passport. The officers are generally friendly–don’t be frightened! Continue to follow the signs leading you to the Nicaraguan Immigration office, a modern white office building. You will pass buy lots of vendors and persons offering to “help”; it is best to just keep walking. DO NOT USE their “service” as it is illegal and the stamps you get could be bogus.

After entering the air-conditioned immigration office, you will need to pay a $12 tax to the immigration officer who takes your passport. After stamping it, you will receive a receipt for safe-keeping. He will ask you where you are staying in Nicaragua. Your bags will be put through a scanner and, after collecting them, you are officially in Nicaragua! Outside the building there are restaurants, taxis, and a bus stop.

Bus at Costa Rica Boarder

Costa Rica requires you to be outside the country 72 hours in order to re-enter with duty free items, as you are allowed up to $500.00 duty free every six months. If you’re just getting a passport stamp for another 90-day tourist visa, you just may want to go to lunch and return. San Juan del Sur is only a 30-minute cab ride and should not cost more than $35.00, so this is a good time to get to know our neighbor to the north. Other popular destinations are colonial Granada, or metropolitan Managua, even Lake Nicaragua.

Costa Rica BoarderTo re-enter Costa Rica, the process is basically the same, just reversed. Upon entering the Nicaraguan immigration office, you will pay a $1 municipality tax at a small booth on your right, and then $2 to the exit officer who checks your passport. Once again you walk along the main road towards the Costa Rica Nicaragua border, and once again there will be checkpoints. Enter the right side of the Costa Rica Immigration office and prepare to stand in line anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours (if there are big bus groups). When you get to the window, you will need to present a plane or bus ticket that shows you will be leaving Costa Rica within 90 days. If you do not have either, you can buy a bus ticket to Nicaragua for about $25 at a booth nearby. Upon being shown proof of departure, the officer will stamp your passport. Before leaving the window, make sure the stamp says 90 days. Then retrieve your luggage after it has been sent through the scanner and Bienvenido! You are back in Costa Rica for another 3 months!

A few words of caution are in order. You will be approached by persons offering to help you, some even say they will do it for free. Of course, it will never be for free. This is not a complicated process. You are completely capable of doing it yourself, and no one can streamline it for you any more than it already is. NEVER give your passport to someone. A few people may be making an honest living “helping out”, but there are many scams and con artists out there, and you cannot possibly know which is which (they don’t wear signs). So just view the process as an adventure and enjoy! If you are traveling alone, join up with others going through, as there is often more ‘safety in numbers.”

 

Costa Rica ImmigrationOr you can avoid all these headaches every 3 month and just apply for your residency. There are many benefits to it. Contact me if you would like more information.

What Does it Cost to Live in Costa Rica?

What does it cost to live in Costa Rica? On average, 100 North Americans and some Europeans ask that question each month. They have the dream of a better life in paradise, and they wonder if they can afford it. One way to answer the question is with the average cost of living.

According to data on the website numbeo.com, the average cost of living in Costa Rica, including food, utilities, health care, and transportation, is 24% lower than North America. Rent is factored separately, and it’s 59% less in Costa Rica (if you average all U.S. cities).

Cost to live in Costa Rica

However, averages can be deceiving. You can drown in a lake with an average depth of one foot. So, what are the depths and shallows, financially speaking, of Costa Rica? What does it really cost to live in Costa Rica?
Some aspects of life in Costa Rica are more expensive than in North American, and some are considerably less. Living in Costa Rica on your budget depends on the life style you want to live and are accustomed to.

 

Playa Del Coco butcher

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite—food. There are plentiful deals to be had, and fortunately, fresh fruits and vegetables are one of them. Many communities have a farmers’ market, known as la feria in Spanish. Each weekend, local farmers display their recently harvested produce as well as eggs and dairy products. The prices are so low that you can fill two big bags for $20-30. And many vendors even offer free samples so you can try before you buy. But you may not want to turn vegan, so there are great butcher shops with very reasonable prices. Just last week I purchased a complete “lomito” or full tenderloin of beef, AKA-filet mignon. The price was $8.75 per pound all cleaned up ready to cut into steaks. Now you can’t beat that!

Playa Hermosa Options

Have a taste for your favorite brand of beer, chips, or other processed food from your home country? You’ll probably pay a premium if you decide to buy them. Such imported goodies, basically any imported product, cost more in Costa Rica because of the additional costs of transportation and importation tax. Having said that many of the local brands are as good if not better than “favorites” from back home. So buying local is one way to reduce the cost to live in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica transportation

Transportation costs are a mixed bag. Bus service is inexpensive and available in most areas, but the schedule may not be to your liking. But you can’t beat the price. A one-hour bus ride is only about $1. Taxis and Uber are another reasonably priced option if the trip isn’t too long. Would you like the convenience and flexibility of owning your own vehicle? You may be shocked to learn that the purchase price can be almost 40% more and possibly higher, than what you would have paid in your home country for a new car.

So how can you reduce the cost to live in Costa Rica? Some choose to drive a vehicle that’s older than what they used to own. Gasoline is also much more expensive in Costa Rica than in North America and Europe but you may not drive nearly as many miles once you switch to the laid-back Costa Rica lifestyle.

Rent can consume a large share of the budget. How much? Once again, it depends on how and where you live. Rents tend to run higher in popular beach areas, especially if the home offers all the amenities you enjoyed before and has an ocean view. On the other hand, simpler homes within a short drive of the beach can be quite affordable. If you own your own home, property taxes are remarkably low, Only .25% of the assessed registered value. Basically $250.00 U.S. dollars per year for every $100,000.00 of registered value. As a real estate agent, I can help you sort out the options and find the one that’s right for your budget.

Electricity is expensive in Costa Rica, it can be as much as twice the amount per kwh than many places in North America.

Costa Rica health care offers great savings compared to costs in the U.S. As an example, when I visit my cardiologist the fee is $120.00 plus tax. Those who become Costa Rican residents are required to enroll in the national health care system called the “caja”. For a relatively low monthly fee, your visits to the clinic, hospital, and some prescriptions will all be free.

So when you add it all up, what does it cost to live in Costa Rica? In very general terms, a single person could live well on $1,500 a month, and a couple on $2,500. But as the aforementioned examples illustrate, your results may vary. Depending on your lifestyle, those estimates could be high or low for you. So come on down and see for yourself. Costa Rica just might be what you’re looking for.Cost of Living Costa Rica

Costa Rica Turtles Invade the Beach

Picture this: You are walking on Costa Rica’s Ostional Beach on a dark, moonless night in November. As your eyes adjust to the dark, you see an armada of something coming out of the water and starting to approach you.

It is a Turtle Invasion, well not really, it is the female Olive Ridley sea turtle swarming onto the beach in wave after wave.

Costa Rica Turtles

Onshore they are all are in various stages of digging holes in the sand with their back flippers. When the female reaches a depth of about 2 feet, she begins to lay her eggs—around a hundred of them! Fifty days later those eggs will hatch, and the tiny turtles, – only 3 inches long – will scramble toward the waves to begin their own journey. For the females, this journey will bring these turtles right back to this same beach 10-18 years later to lay their own eggs.

Playa Hermosa Turtles

The next morning you head out at dawn to the same beach for your morning walk – remembering the miracle you witnessed the night before – and you are shocked to see local residents digging up the eggs and carrying them away by the hundreds in sacks! What?! You look around for the local authorities to stop them. You want to lecture them on conservation and ethics. Can they do that??

Costa Rica Egg harvest

Yes, they can. But it may not do you any good to try and stop them. Frankly, poachers have been illegally harvesting Costa Rica turtle eggs for years and selling them on the black market, but now it is legal. To be fair to those that harvest the eggs, they should not be called “poachers” any longer.

Why is egg harvesting legal? Isn’t the Olive Ridley turtle an endangered species? Yes, it is. But let me explain why this contradictory situation exists and how concerned citizens have worked to resolve it.

Most sea turtles nest individually and sporadically so that their young hatch at unpredictable times and places, thereby outsmarting predators. But the Olive Ridley turtles’ strategy is to outnumber and overwhelm the enemy by mass nesting. This is called by the Spanish word “arribada”, meaning “arrival.” By instinctively synchronizing their egg-laying, so many hatchlings are produced that predators cannot consume them all.

Playa del Coco TurtlesIt is an excellent strategy, except the beach becomes so crowded with thousands of nesting turtles during the five-day arribada that it is estimated that about 30 percent of the eggs laid are destroyed by subsequent turtles digging them up. Further losses to the amount of eggs left are taken by people and local dogs. The eggs are sold to bars to be consumed raw as aphrodisiacs. The dogs likely have their own reasons.

The market for turtle eggs in Costa Rica has attracted dangerous and even murderous poachers over the years, many of whom have violently threatened and attacked environmentalists and locals who “have gotten in the way.”

Playa Hermosa Turtle

The unique nesting behavior, or “turtle invasion”, of the Olive Ridleys, coupled with bad elements who were taking control of Ostional beach, catalyzed support for sustainable egg harvesting in the late 1980s. Why wasn’t all egg harvesting simply outlawed and the beaches patrolled by police? Because egg harvesting and sale by the locals (not criminals) is Ostional’s most important economic activity.

In recognition of this very human factor, the Ostional Integral Development Association (ADIO) was created in collaboration with the Costa Rican government to formulate a plan that allows for the collection of eggs that would have been destroyed by the next round of nesting turtles anyway. ADIO is run by local women, and harvesting is only legal during arribadas and only by a member of the association. Now more than a decade later studies suggest that Ostional’s egg harvesting program is one of the few successful conservation and development programs. According to one study the “current egg harvest levels do not negatively impact hatchling production”. Benefits have been equitably distributed and many community members feel that their standard of living has improved because of the egg harvesting program.

Ridley Turtle

As Gaia Vince of The Guardian states, “What makes Ostional beach so extraordinary is that residents have found a way to make use of their natural resource but also to protect it.  And that is the key: we cannot protect the world’s wildlife unless we also protect the needs of the humans that rely on it.”

Today, Ostional remains the only place in the world where people can legally harvest sea turtle eggs.  These kinds of natural wonders, and the opportunity to help protect endangered species, are why I love living in the northern beaches of Costa Rica.

How can you help? Well, why not retire in Costa Rica and live near Ostional beach?  If you can’t move here you can always visit Ostional during the turtle invasion and help shoo away the dogs that dig up the eggs and the vultures who snatch them. Even if you are a culinary adventurer, you can choose to not eat the eggs since you cannot be sure they were harvested legally.

Living in Costa Rica

Hello, my name is Joseph. I’ve had this website for a while but I wanted to welcome new visitors to my blog about living in Costa Rica.

Sunset in Costa RicaI’m a 12+ year full permanent resident of Costa Rica (transplanted native New Yorker) and originally came to Costa Rica in 1999 for the first time.  I started this blog many years ago because so many people were asking me about what it’s like to live in Costa Rica. Personally, I love living here, and by far the majority of people who choose to move to Costa Rica are very happy. I compare it to living in a postcard. It is a laid back place where life can be relaxing and beautiful. The weather is amazing, the people are friendly and your lifestyle doesn’t have to change that much to get acclimatized.

Having said that, Costa Rica is not for everyone. That’s why I created this blog. Here is an example of the many questions I get about living in Costa Rica:

…and many more.

I’ve lived here long enough to know the answers to most questions people ask about living here.  And if I don’t know the answer chances are I know someone who does.

I hope my Costa Rica blog will help you (or someone you love) to make the right decision about whether to live in this beautiful country. If you have any questions just drop a comment below one of my posts and I’ll do my best to help out.

Pura Vida!

Save the Monkeys “SalveMonos”

SalveMonos (which means Save the Monkeys) is a small nonprofit organization in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica (primarily the Tamarindo and Playa Hermosa areas) created in 2004 by two local business women, Patricia Sterman and Simona Daniele, and their husbands, Larry and Pino.

Save the Monkeys Costa Rica

Karol Allard joined the group and started a northern arm of SalveMonos in Playa Hermosa Guanacaste. Horrified by the sight of howler monkeys electrocuted on power lines and hit on the roads, they decided to take action to save monkeys. The five of them came together at a local community meeting and each donated money to cover the cost of printing souvenir T-shirts which were sold and the profits used to build the first monkey bridges bypassing power lines.

salvemono Costa Rica Playa Hermosa



Every year, Karol Allard  sponsors and organizes a “Drumming Circle” on the beach of Playa Hermosa. There is live music and local artist Carlos Hiller, renowned for creating marvelous paintings and sculptures of Costa Rica wildlife and especially creatures of the ocean.  Carlos is always on hand painting live to the music. During the festivities there are performances of fire dancers, various different musicians and more. Best of all, at the end there is a silent auction to see who gets the original Carlos Hiller painting and this raises a lot of money for SalveMonos’. And let’s not forget to mention the many others that help Karol by selling T-shirts and mugs hats and by walking around the event with jars asking for donations.

Playa Hermosa Save the monkeys
“Thirteen years and thousands of T-shirts later, hundreds of bridges have been built and tens of thousands of monkeys have been saved and/or relocated,” reports Sterman.

Carlos Hiller Playa Hermosa
Howler monkeys have a very important presence on the north Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and economic development is threatening their way of life. In what way? The construction of buildings, houses and roads has a negative impact on trees, the howler monkey’s natural habitat and means of travel from one area to another. Development also increases power lines, roads and traffic. In the absence of trees, monkeys use the increasingly ubiquitous streets and electric cables. As a result, car accidents and electrocutions are the main cause of death and injury to howler monkeys in the area.

Playa Hermosa Monkey
SalveMonos’ goal to save monkeys in Costa Rica is defined by their mission statement: “to protect and rescue wildlife–especially monkeys–through actions that reduce the threats to their way of life, create the environment needed for the survival of their species, and guarantee assistance to monkeys that have suffered accidents or are in danger.” To that end, they established 5 main goals, some of which have been reached while others are ongoing.

They are as follows:
Reforestation and regeneration of biological corridors: Tree nurseries with native species were established and initiatives begun to plant the seedlings in deforested areas. Several areas along the coast have been reforested, reestablishing safe corridors for monkey travel.

Accident prevention: More than 500 bridges have been installed by the electric company for the monkeys to use instead of electric cables. SalveMonos and ICE (national electric company) worked together to design the bridges, and now the company manufactures and installs the bridges free of charge. Also, cone-shaped devices have been installed that prevent monkeys from climbing electric poles. Signs are being placed along roads alerting drivers to the possibility of monkeys crossing the road and setting lower speed limits.
Monkey rescue and shelters: Assistance has been given to more than 600 injured monkeys and 100 orphaned babies. Two shelters have been established to receive the monkeys, get them veterinary assistance, and care for them until they make a full recovery.

Playa Del Coco Monkeys
Community awareness: More than 2,300 persons have shown their support of the SalveMonos’ project by donating money, reporting trouble spots, and calling to report injured monkeys. Twenty-five events have been organized to raise money and awareness and recruit volunteers. Local schools have participated in educational workshops.
Influencing local authorities and electric companies: The electric company has committed publicly to hang bridges in the areas SalveMonos deems necessary, to insulate the cables that result in electrocutions, and to lop off the branches near electric poles so monkeys are less likely to climb them. The association continues to work with the electric company to insulate transformers and at least one of the two “hot” wires. This could reduce mortality rates by 90%.

playa hermosa monkey
Every year the communities’ involvement and support has increased–a key to the project’s effectiveness. SalveMonos draws inspiration from the words of Jane Goodall, a world-renowned animal welfare activist: “Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.”
Would you like to help save monkeys in Costa Rica? Donations can be made via PayPal on the SalveMonos website. There you will find contact information if you would like to report injured monkeys, volunteer to rescue and transport injured monkeys or help in one of the shelters.

 

Safety in Costa Rica

Many people ask about safety in Costa Rica.  So, is it safe? The answer is yes, very safe. Costa Rica is safer than most countries in the Americas, including major areas of Canada and the United States. So, should I be concerned for my safety?

That said, however, there is crime in Costa Rica, as is in most parts of the world. Petty theft is the most common crime that affects tourists.

Safety in Costa Rica

Let me give you the most important item to be aware of that will make your time in Costa Rica an enjoyable one and protect you from petty crime.

safety

First and foremost, for safety reasons always familiarize yourself with the surrounding area.  This means even where you live. If it looks shady, and I don’t me from trees, then most likely it is! Costa Rica is not a gun-toting country, and mass shootings are all but unheard of here. That doesn’t mean Costa Rica is the end-all utopia—common sense and basic precautions are still needed. Yes, I’m sorry, even on vacation. I have an expression I always used when visiting a new location or even a favorite spot I returned to, “Don’t leave your brain on the plane”.

costa rica

According to the Tico Times newspaper, in 2018, tourists filed 1,785 criminal complaints. “That marks a 27% increase from 2014, though there has also been a 19% increase in the number of tourists in that time,” the newspaper notes. Thefts and robberies account for more than 95% of reported crimes, according to law enforcement reports.

To help improve safety in Costa Rica, the country’s tourism board (ICT) and the Public Security Ministry (MSP) are joining forces to increase police presence in most of the tourist areas. Their agreement provides funding, training and equipment for more than 300 Tourist Police.

costa rica police

This is all very reassuring, but let’s get back to your best protection, common sense and alertness. Any vacation destination can turn into a nightmare if you zone out and don’t take simple, reasonable precautions. Here are a few other examples to just be aware of:

With few exceptions, most crimes take place at night. So don’t be out alone after dark. Be aware of rowdy bars or in isolated locations. If driving, try to arrive at your destination before nightfall. People and animals roam the roads in Costa Rica, and at night they can be almost impossible to see.

DO NOT!! And I REPEAT DO NOT!! leave your possessions unattended—even in a locked car—at any time. Not when you go to take a picture of an animal you have spotted. Not when you are in a restaurant. Not when you are at the beach. Never. It’s the #1 rule for safety in Costa Rica because Smash and Grab is the most common crime that affects tourists.

smash and grab costa rica

One of the more elaborate but still pretty simple set ups is to bump the victim’s car from behind. The unsuspecting victim stops, believing he or she is involved in a minor accident, and the car is robbed by one assailant while the other is distracting you.

Another tip to ensure your safety in Costa Rica is to be wary of strangers offering to help with car problems. Use extreme caution if you have a flat tire. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching their valuables at all times. This is another form that the bad guys like to use. However, do not be surprised if a good-hearted Tico offers to help you, because Ticos are very helpful people.

Do not carry around a lot of cash, expensive equipment or jewelry. Leave your passport in the safe at the hotel and carry a photocopy of the picture page and the page stamped when you entered Costa Rica. Keep a list on paper as well as a digital list of the contact information for your bank and credit cards as well as plane tickets and other travel documents in a safe place. Because you could accidentally lose your wallet or purse. Remember “don’t leave your brain on the plane!”

costa rica ATM

When you leave your hotel or the beautiful villa you rented for your vacation, lock everything up.  Don’t leave things like your computer, iPad, iPod and other valuable items just sitting on the table or bed.

Only exchange money at banks. There are two reasons: 1- you will get the best exchange rate and 2- you are not flashing cash around. Reserve tours online through reputable tour agencies and don’t make a deal with the “guy on the corner or on the beach”. Be alert to what is going on around you when using ATMs. If you are going to use plastic to pay for things, it is better to use your credit card than a debit card. These are some basic things that you would do back home, so it’s good to practice the same safety in Costa Rica.

costa rica banks

Please don’t let this scare you. Those of us who live here year round can attest to the fact that absolutely nothing has happened to us without a single criminal incident in our lives. In over eleven years, almost 12 now living in Costa Rica and especially Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste, I have never has one thing stolen from me. I sleep safely and soundly because I have taken precautions. You will, too!

See you soon and remember “Safe today, here tomorrow”, no matter where you are in the world.

Costa Rica Property Taxes on Capital Gains

Costa Rica property taxes underwent a change on July 1, 2019.  A 15% tax on the capital gains is now imposed when a property is sold. The new tariff is part of the broader “Law to Strengthen Public Finances” that was passed the previous December. Why was the new law enacted? Costa Rica real estate has developed rapidly for many years. However, the infrastructure in many regions has not kept pace.  Costa Rica property taxes are extremely low—just 0.25% of the declared value—so municipalities have had little funding to use for improvements. The new law is designed to bring in more tax money to address the ever increasing infrastructure needs.

Costa Rica property taxes on capital gains

Are there any exceptions to the new capital gains tax? Yes. Residents of Costa Rica who sell their primary residence are exempt. If you reside in Costa Rica at least 183 days in a year and the home you sell is your habitual residence, the sale will be exempt from paying capital gains tax. However, if you sell any additional property in Costa Rica—commercial or investment real estate–the capital gains tax would be collected. If your primary residence is outside of Costa Rica, and you sell a vacation home in Costa Rica, you will have to pay the tax. If that’s the case, you should apply for a tax exemption in your home country so that you don’t pay the capital gains tax twice.

Playa Hermosa

What if you sell a property that is subject to capital gains tax but you owned it before the new law went into effect? In this special case, the law allows you to pay a one-time alternative tax. Instead of paying 15% of the increase in value, you could choose to pay 2.25% of the total sale price. Each seller will determine which option results in a lower tax bill. For example, suppose you bought a vacation condo for $200,000 before July 1, 2019. Some time later, after the new law has taken effect, you sell it for $250,000. Your capital gain, assuming no improvements were made to the property, is $50,000. Your options are to pay 15% of the gain (15% x $50,000 = $7500) or 2.25% of the sale price (2.25% x $250,000 = $5625). In this scenario, the alternative 2.25% tax is lower.

What are the implications of the new law? For example, could a Costa Rican resident sell his primary residence, buy another, and then sell it without paying capital gains? Theoretically, yes. The law does not stipulate how often or how many times someone can apply for the exemption. As long as the two requirements of Costa Rican residency and primary residence are met, the transaction should be tax free.

Capital gains tax Costa Rica

Another effect of the new tax law is that it is now it is much more important to document the value of any property that is not exempt from capital gains tax. In the past, official property values were kept as low as possible, sometimes artificially, in order to minimize property taxes. Now that the capital gains tax is in effect, the strategy changes. Property buyers should ensure that their “escritura” (deed) reflects the true purchase price. In addition, they should keep receipts to document the cost of any improvements they make such as remodeling or additions. If the property is later sold, these expenses will be added to the purchase price of the property to determine the cost basis for calculating the capital gain. Keeping track of the cost of improvements is imperative in order to reduce the tax burden.

A further consequence of the new law comes into play if a foreign property owner sells his Costa Rica property. The law requires that the buyer set aside 2.5% of the purchase price. This measure ensures that the capital gains tax is paid by the non-resident property owner.

Costa Rica Tax

What effect, if any, will the new tax law have on the Costa Rica real estate market? It’s still too early to tell. But one thing that won’t change is that Costa Rica is a great place to live and own property – as well as vacation!

New Costa Rica Tax Laws

New Costa Rica tax laws went into effect on July 1, 2019. What is it, and how does it affect you? The law is officially known as law 9635 or the “Law to Strengthen Public Finances”. Many refer to it as the IVA (impuesto de valor agregado) for its initials in Spanish. This value added tax is the aspect of the new law that will have the greatest impact on the average person in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Tax, Hermosa

Since 1982, Costa Rica has imposed a 13% sales tax on most goods and products. The new IVA replaces the general sales tax. Under the new regimen, not only goods but also more services will be taxed at the 13% rate. Any individual or commercial entity, whether public or private, is now responsible to collect and remit to the government 13% of the value of any goods or services they produce, sell, or distribute.

Playa Del Coco, Tax is cheap

What do the changes mean for the average resident or even visitor to Costa Rica? The new tax law means that when you contract the services of a professional—for example, doctor, lawyer, engineer or realtor, you’ll be obligated to pay an additional 13% for their services. By the same token, anyone providing such services is required by law to withhold the IVA and remit it to the tax authorities (in Costa Rica, the Ministerio de Hacienda). Realtors, by the old law, were already required to do this.  I have been filling out these forms for over 11 years now on a monthly basis, whether I collect the 13% or not.

Costa Rica taxes

Are there any exceptions to the new tax law? A few. Water and electricity consumption, if below the amount used by a small household (30 cubic meters and 280 kWh respectively) are exempt. So is housing rental if it’s less than $1000 per month. Certain organizations, including the Red Cross and the Fire Department, aren’t required to collect the new tax. Free trade zones, care for the elderly, and public university tuition are also tax free. So are public transportation and books. Livestock auction services will not be taxed, so that prize bull you’re planning to buy won’t cost you any extra. Other services will be taxed, but at a reduced rate. Some examples are: airline tickets and healthcare services 4%; medical products, insurance premiums, and machinery used for production 2%; basic food staples and equipment used in agriculture 1%.

Living in Playa Hermosa, Tax

I wanted to know to about cross border services, that is, services provided by an entity based outside Costa Rica, like the web hosting service that hosts this web page. They are also subject to the new IVA. Accordingly, Netflix, Amazon Prime and similar international services are required to pay the tax regardless of the medium or technological platform. I wonder if GoDaddy knows this??

Playa Hermosa, Propety tax

Why we the tax laws in Costa Rica changed? Many have asked, and some Costa Ricans have protested its recent implementation. As indicated by its name, the Law to Strengthen Public Finances was designed to increase tax revenue and control costs. The law also includes lesser known modifications to the capital gains tax, (which will be a completely different blog) public administration salaries, and fiscal responsibility laws. The objective of all the aforementioned changes is to reduce the government’s deficit from 6% to 4%.

The new IVA law stipulates that the collected taxes be remitted monthly by the 15th. How will Costa Rica ensure compliance? Businesses and individuals who provide services must register with the government if they have not already done so. In 2018, a requirement to issue electronic invoices (facturas electronicas) and report them to the tax administration went into effect. Though the old tax law hadn’t changed yet, it provided the authorities with a means to track commercial transactions. In addition, credit and debit card processors and Costa Rican banks are tasked with cooperating with the new law.
Noncompliance can be punished with fines and/or interest. Authorities are also empowered to close a business found to be in violation. In extreme cases where tax fraud is suspected, criminal prosecution is a possibility.

Costa Rica Taxes

So what’s the bottom line? Well, if you own a property in Costa Rica it will cost a bit more. If you only purchased in Costa Rica because it was less expensive than where you live, well then you purchased for only one reason and it is the wrong reason. Nice thing is property tax is still only 0.25% of the registered value. What are your property taxes back home? So as I have told many that have been freaking out “build a bridge and get over it”. Here the reality of life in Costa Rica will continue as usual with little change, it will just cost a bit more.