Work from Your Costa Rica Home

Can I work from home in Costa Rica? Well the answer is yes and no. I will explain it further on in this article. Now that more and more companies, due to the COVID-19 situation, are telling their employees to work from home, Costa Rica is a great location to do it from.
Laptop computerPersonally, I have clients that have purchased properties in Costa Rica, and they love it so much they decided to live here full time and made the move – but they continue to work for the same company back in North America via the internet. Internet service in Costa Rica is very good.  They have broadband service up to 100 megabytes.  Not fast enough?  Then there is a screaming fast fiber optic option with 500-megabytes of service.  The service is only available in select areas at this time but the footprint is growing quickly.
Tourist passport stamp from Costa RicaSo how do others successfully work from home in Costa Rica? Well, after they found the right property in paradise and moved here full time, these folks started the residency process. You cannot legally stay in Costa Rica past the 90-day stamp in your passport, hence, starting the process to become a legal resident is important.  For assistance with this contact me and I will help guide you to the right people to obtain your Costa Rican residency.
Now, because of COVID-19 the world is changing.  We all see it.  Social distancing, wearing masks, and the list goes on. Many companies started work from home programs a few years ago, as there is no real need for a worker to come in and sit in a cubical all day or behind a computer all day in an office environment when in reality the employee does not really need to be there. Companies that do value their employees are making it easier now by having more work from home.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) took a flash poll of its members worldwide, of which I am proud to be a member, to find out what members are seeing with their clients and local markets relating to real estate.
Costa Rica NAR memberFrom the National Association of Realtors:
On May 10th and 11th, NAR conducted a flash survey of members on the impact of the coronavirus on their market. 61% of members have donated to or volunteered with non-profits helping with COVID-19. 75% of members overall said that none of their past clients have asked them about mortgage forbearance. Half (49%) of members expect that, when state and local economies reopen, employers will continue to allow workers to work from home for the near future, or beyond reducing the need for office space. 
work from home in Costa RicaAs you just read above, “reducing the need for office space” basically means more people will be working from home. Why not work from your Costa Rican home? I do. I have a home office with everything – printer, laptop, etc.  Heck, it is where I am writing this blog from! There is no better place to be right now during this COVID-19 pandemic. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I made the move over 12 years ago to live here.
Would you like information on how you can work from your own Costa Rica home? Just drop me an email at JosephEmanuelli@remax.net

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Work from home in Costa Rica

High-Speed Internet, Costa Rica

High Speed Internet in Costa RicaIs high-speed Internet available in Costa Rica? It’s an important question because we live in a connected world. If we lose that connection, even in a beautiful place like Costa Rica, we feel isolated and uninformed. While it’s great to unplug and get away from it all once in a while – and Costa Rica is the place to do that – before long we feel the need to be in touch with our friends and family. We want to know what’s going on around us or back home. Moreover, many depend on a reliable high-speed Internet connection to make a living or accomplish other essential tasks.

Keyboard with Internet and Costa Rica flag buttonsSo, does Costa Rica have high-speed Internet? In a word, yes. The days of sluggish, spotty dial-up Internet are a thing of the past. In the early days, the state-owned ICE (Institute of Costarican Electricity) enjoyed a telecommunications monopoly. That all changed when the Central American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 2010. ICE’s monopoly was broken, and international telecommunications giants quickly established a foothold. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in fiber optics networks, towers, and other infrastructures. As a result, high speed Internet coverage reached more and more regions of Costa Rica. Today, a higher percentage (85.5%) of Costa Rica’s population has access to Internet than in any other country in Central America. That’s good news if you want to stay connected while visiting or living here.

Logo of Cable Tica, a high-speed Internet providerWant to know who are the Internet service providers in Costa Rica? The forerunner, ICE, is still in the telecommunications business, but now they market their cell phone and Internet service under the brand name Kolbi. ICE’s biggest competitors in the cell phone service market are Claro and Movistar. In addition to cell service, both offer wireless residential Internet packages. Cable television operators have also entered the Internet service provider market. They include Cabletica, Tigo, and Telecable, and all offer packages that include high speed Internet, cable television channels, and a fixed VoIP phone.Logo of Tigo, Costa Rica internet provider

 

 

Logo of Kolbi, Costa Rica internet provider

 

 

 

 

I can attest first hand to the quality if high-speed internet in Costa Rica. I need the internet for my business and well, posting blogs like this. My provider is Cable Tica. I purchased a package with 100 megabytes of download speed including over 180 channels of digital TV. This entire package is only $80 USD per month. The service provided is pretty good as well, placed the order and 2 days later I had 2 different tech’s at the house setting it all up.

What Internet speeds are available, and how much do they cost? As of this writing the top speeds offered and their corresponding monthly rates (for Internet only) are as follows:

Internet service provider Download speed Monthly fee
Cabletica 100 megabytes $43
Cabletica 200 megabytes $60
Kolbi 50 megabytes $49
Telecable 100 megabytes $45
Telecable 300 megabytes $125
Tigo 100 megabytes $60
Wireless
Claro 4G (14 megabytes) $49*

*Includes downloads of up to 150 Gigabytes per month

Logo of Claro, a high speed internet provider in Costa RicaClaro uses its network of cell phone towers in conjunction with a residential receiver to provide Internet in homes. Unlike the other Internet service providers, Claro is wireless. Although it has slower download speeds than the others, it may be the only option in areas beyond the reach of cable networks. Satellite Internet service is another wireless option, but expect monthly fees to be several times that of cabled Internet service providers. All Internet service providers routinely offer speed upgrades at no additional cost. As their technology advances, they try to stay competitive. Commercial Internet service, offering greater speeds at a greater cost, is available in some areas. Speeds, prices, and coverage are constantly changing, so check for the latest offers in your area when you are ready to sign up.

Internet Costa RicaIs the Internet reliable in Costa Rica? Blazing download speeds aren’t worth much if you constantly lose your connection. Fortunately, most users in Costa Rica report that their Internet is stable. Yes, just like everywhere else in the world, sometimes the internet goes down,  it happens. Some even say it is a better–higher speed and more reliable connection– than they had back home and I can agree totally with that. So, rest assured that you can stay connected on high-speed Internet as you enjoy the wonders of Costa Rica.

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Building a Home in Costa Rica

Home building in Costa RicaSounds like a far-fetched idea? The truth is, building a home in Costa Rica is not as hard as you may think. Actually, it is rewarding.  I know because I have built two in the Playa Hermosa area. It is a great feeling that once you are finished building your home, you can step back and say “See what I did”!
All the photos in this blog are of the last house I built in Costa Rica, it is almost time to move in.

Ok, let’s start with the process, shall we! First things first:
View from my property in Costa Rica

Step 1: Find the right property for you

You need to acquire the land that works best for you. Do you want the big ocean view that is expansive with the sun setting on over the water every day.? Maybe, your preference is a country-style property with lots of land around the house and area to put fruit trees and a vegetable garden. Some folks prefer to be close to their neighbors. Everybody has a different idea of the perfect location. This is where I can assist.  Check out some of the many different residential building lots in the Playa Hermosa area. See something you like, email me.  I will give you the information you are looking for.
Home is almost finished

Step 2: Choose a Builder

Now that you have purchased your lot or land to build a home, you need to choose a builder. We have many good builders and tradesmen here in Costa Rica. I can recommend at least six, most speak English. I have used both a Costa Rican builder and a foreigner that is a legal resident here that speaks perfect English.
Front elevation of my home in Playa HermosaStep 3: Design Your Home

Now comes the fun part, designing the house you want to build. I have seen homes in the area from very traditional Spanish colonial design to ultra-modern contemporary. It all depends on your preference. Designing your home can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months and, again, it depends on you.

Step 4: Finalize, or Localize your Plans

All the builders have architects and engineers on their staff that work with them directly and will coordinate the entire process for you. There is no need to go find one of each on your own unless of course you already have preferred plans from an architect from where you live; then the plans only need to be localized to local building codes.

Step 5: Get all your Building Permits

Once you have finally decided on the final design, the process of getting permits to build a home here in Costa Rica may seem daunting.  However, most builders will handle the whole process for you. Having said that I am still going to give you a list of what is required.

What you will need to get your building permits in Costa Rica

A) Copy of the Plano Catastro for legally registered land survey.
B) Proof you are the owner of the property, “certificacion literal” This is basically a form from the government saying you are the owner of the property.
C) Original “Carte de Aqua Disponible” a Water availability letter from the local supply of water.
D) Original blueprints signed off by the “Colegio de Ingenieros” or College of engineers showing that the planes and construction meet all the structural, electrical, plumbing and sanitary building codes. Your builder architect will take care of this part.
E) A signed letter from the electric provider that there is legal electricity at the property.
F) Proof from “Hacienda” this is the local tax authority that you are up to date on all your personal taxes in Costa Rica.
Driveway

Step 6: Get Approval from your local Municipality

Now that you and your builder have all your permits and paperwork in order, it is time to present everything to the local municipality department of engineering for their approval. This process can take around 2-4 weeks depending on how busy they are. KEY POINT: make sure you have everything in order and all the paperwork required by the municipality.  It is best to check with the builder first to make sure.

Step 7: Build Your New Home in Costa Rica

Now you received your building permits, Great Job you are on your way to building your new home in Costa Rica.

Now the real fun part begins. Even if you are not “on the ground” in Costa Rica when the building begins most, if not all of the builders, will send progress photos to you every week. If you happen to be here in Costa Rica while the home is under construction, even better – but it is not completely necessary.

One thing I have experienced after building a home here, as well as two others in the United States, is: if you have a budget in mind of what you can afford, always add at least 15%-20% on top of that. Now, you may be thinking yeah that’s right – builders like to add extras and hidden fees. Well, although that does happen from time to time, honestly that’s not really the issue.  What really happens is that when the building process starts there are always changes you want to be made.  That is where the extra percentage comes into play.

When you are thinking of building a home in Costa Rica, don’t be afraid of the idea.  It is actually pretty easy.  Feel free to contact me and I will be happy to point you in the right direction.

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Financing Property in Costa Rica

Title image about financing property in Costa RicaHow about financing property in Costa Rica? That’s the question on the minds of many who would like to own a piece of paradise. They’ve visited this beautiful tropical Shangri-la, fallen in love with it, and now want to start a life together. But how do you buy a property if you don’t have the cash? Financing seems the obvious answer. But is financing property in Costa Rica an option? There’s good news and bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

Getting a Costa Rica Mortgage

Obtaining a mortgage from a Costa Rican lending institution is a long shot. If you’re not a Costa Rican citizen or legal resident, your chances of being approved for a loan are next to nothing. If you become a legal resident, it’s possible to get a loan, but the odds are still against you. You may have an excellent credit score in your home country, but it may not satisfy the Costa Rican banks. They may have no way to verify your financial information–income, assets, liabilities, and credit history—because all the financial records are kept in another country where they have no access. For that reason, the local credit unions are reluctant to lend.

Even if you do qualify for financing, you may choose not to borrow from a Costa Rican bank. The interest rates are notoriously high, often double the mortgage interest rates in North America. And to make matters worse, you’ll have to fill out a mountain of paperwork.

Does that mean that you should give up on the hope of financing property in Costa Rica? Not at all. The good news is that there are many other options.

Owner Financing

Some buyers have taken advantage of owner financing to purchase a home or land in Costa Rica. It’s an option worth investigating if the seller is a reputable developer. As always, be sure to enlist the services of a trustworthy real estate agent and lawyer. Some sellers are willing to carry the note for qualified buyers for many years. Other owners might offer a payment plan for a few years with a balloon payment scheduled at the end. The latter arrangement allows time for the buyer to sell another property or take the proceeds from another investment in order to make the large final payment. Well-established escrow companies can protect your interests until the purchase is finalized.

Graphic about bridge financing property in Costa Rica

Home Equity Loan

A second viable option, if you still own your home in North America, is a home equity loan or home equity line of credit. If you’ve built equity in your residence over the years, you have a great source of cash at your fingertips. How much will lenders allow you to borrow? Depending on your income and credit status, as much as 75-90 percent of your available equity. And interest rates are often favorable since your original home serves as collateral.

Retirement Fund

A retirement fund is another useful resource. You may be able to withdraw enough to invest in property in Costa Rica. If you’re from the United States, your 401k or IRA (individual retirement account) can be converted into a self-directed IRA which, in turn, can be used to make your purchase. However, the rules are restrictive, so be sure to consult an expert if you’re considering this option. I can offer companies for you to contact if this is an avenue you want to pursue. I personally have helped over 30 people use a self-directed IRA to purchase property in Costa Rica.

Private Lenders

A less common but still workable alternative is to borrow from a private lender. Each lender has its own list of requirements, and the interest rate may be higher than that charged by traditional lending institutions. But if it makes the difference between getting the home of your dreams and missing out, it’s worth considering.
Just remember one thing, 95% of the time there is a solution to any roadblock, financing the purchase of a property in Costa Rica is possible. Contact me to learn more. These are just some of the many options for financing property in Costa Rica. So what are you waiting for?

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Helping Playa Hermosa Community

During times of crisis, like this COVID-19 epidemic the world is facing, it is important to remember to help those in the community that needs it the most. A group of local business owners and ex-pats are helping Playa Hermosa.
Playa Hermosa GuanacasteHere in Playa Hermosa ex-pats who have made Costa Rica their home are helping families that depend on tourism for sustenance.  Helping everyone from fishing and diving tour operators to cooks and maids in the hotels.  From restaurants to landscapers, to tour guides and the list goes on. Helping the community is a good thing, so I am asking you to open your hearts and your wallets.
Sign showing Costa Rica's borders are closedWith the borders closed to foreigners from March 18th until at least May 15, 2020, many of the local families of Playa Hermosa are suffering as there are no people coming to the area to enjoy all the wonderful things that Costa Rica has to offer. These are my neighbors, my friends.  I know many of these families. It is terrible to know that some children may be going to bed hungry with nothing in their bellies. Join me in helping Playa Hermosa.
Bank transfer to help the community of Playa HermosaSome may say, “well that’s great Joe, but what about you”. Well below is the confirmation from my bank of the funds that I sent from my business for the first drive to help the community of Playa Hermosa.
Playa Hermosa Food Drive helpersBelow is the email I received from Pamela Lewis and Bernal Mata, detailing how the efforts to help the community of Playa Hermosa is going and requesting your support as well.
Thanks to all who have helped, and will help, our great little community. Please remember to contact Bernal or Pamela for the Pay Pal information or contact me, Josephemanuelli@remax.com and I will put you in direct contact with them.

Email Received from Pamela and Bernal

Hello All,

This provides you a quick update of the successful FOOD for HERMOSA distribution.
Packages of food for local relief in Playa HermosaMany of you have donated money and/or food — Thank you very much! We need to keep this up for many more weeks. Please continue to donate. Our next food distribution is April 30, 2020. Without additional food donations, we would not have been able to accommodate everybody yesterday, but we did. Continue to add to the bin in Super Luperon Hermosa, this is very important.
Last Friday, Bernal Mata, Tico Tours GTE, delivered 10 donated food packages to the 1st priority families.
Volunteers helping Playa HermosaOn Tuesday, April 14, we planned to feed 50 families with comprehensive packages of dry goods, a few personal care items, eggs & fresh vegetables. Instead of 50 families, we actually provided food for 87 families – All in Hermosa. These are housekeepers, fishermen, massage therapists, gardeners, etc. On that note, we also implemented an application and screening process. We are asking important questions: do you live in Hermosa, are you working, is anybody else in your house receiving aid, etc. If you own a hotel, restaurant, or business in Hermosa and are feeding your staff, please let us know, so we can review names on our list. Our process is thorough and organized and will be even more-so for April 30.
Packages of supplies for the Playa Hermosa food driveThe cost to feed a family of four is c25,000 – or basically $50.00 USD. What was distributed on Tuesday the 14th, is sufficient for two weeks, the next Food Distribution is April 30, Escuela Hermosa. PLEASE FORWARD THIS TO YOUR FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS, RELATIVES ANYONE THAT WOULD CONSIDER HELPING OUT!
How TO HELP the Playa Hermosa Community:
– Pay Pal – Contact info@ticotoursguanacaste.com or pamrica2019@gmail.com
http://www.ticotoursguanacaste.com/
– Food – place in the designated bin in Super Luperon (local grocery store) Hermosa, or in Coco, designate FOOD for HERMOSA
Thanks,
Pamela Lewis & Bernal Mata

Please join us in helping Playa Hermosa!

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Expat Moving to Costa Rica

I have been living in Costa Rica for over 12 years now. Why I chose Costa Rica over other “popular” Latin American and Caribbean countries to become an expat, well the list is many. It all started when I decide to make a plan to leave the United States and become an expat moving to Costa Rica. Costa Rica was the third county destination I chose out of seven.
Expat with REMAXAs a RE/MAX agent in Costa Rica I receive many inquiries all the time from people from all over the world. Some of the folks that inquire had already taken a vacation in Costa Rica and wanted more information about possible owning a property in addition to what it takes to moving to Costa Rica and being an expat. Why not? I did it!

 
I also get inquiries from people that say, “I am just in the beginning stages and I am also considering other Latin American countries like Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, and some Islands in the Caribbean” then the next thing they ask is “why is moving to Costa Rica and becoming and expat a better option”.
I am honest with people; I tell them the truth. Costa Rica is not right for everyone, and there are some countries that are actually less expensive to live and purchase property but as always, watch out when something sounds too good to be true—- well you know the saying. I also tell these potential expats, that media sources like the very popular International Living and other travel relocation companies may not always be the best source to gain knowledge, even for Costa Rica. I know firsthand as I almost fell into the same trap, but that is another blog topic.
So I always tell these folk that it is best if you have not been to Costa Rica, or any of the other countries on your list, get moving and check them out, but come to Costa Rica first, don’t stay in a resort, rent a home or a condo and live like an expat would. Make Costa Rica your stating basis point to work from. Go grocery shopping, go to a store to buy a new bathing suit, interact with the locals. I also recommend that when they travel to the potential expat location, talk to as many expats as possible. There will be good and negative responses. The negative ones, not matter what country you visit, are usually from those that did not do their homework first. Based on the amount of people that have taken my advice and wanted to live full time in Costa Rica, almost 85% are becoming an expat moving to Costa Rica.
Here is a list of the top four countries I visited when considering moving to be an expat.
Expat in Costa ricaPanama: Very similar to Costa Rica, closest I found. Panama dose have better tax incentives for moving and becoming an expat, and the government is not as bureaucratic as Costa Rica. However, there is more to living that just taxes, I found Panama City to be a city just like any big city in the world, hence why I live in Guanacaste a bit more remote but still have all the services that I need to live a very comfortable life, and trust me I have some high standards. However, you get outside of Panama City, like being in Guanacaste as an example, and the quality of living goes way down, and the crime goes way up! Then there is the number of COVID-19 cases, as of writing this Panama has 5,166 cases and 146 deaths. Costa Rica on the other hand has 689 confirmed cases and only 6 deaths. MAJOR difference! Most people that were thinking of being an expat and moving to Panama, well they came to Costa Rica.
Playa Hermosa ExpatNicaragua: Beautiful country, beautiful people, I really liked it. However, I would not drop a dime in that country because of the government situation there. It is close to a communist back dictatorship. I won’t go into the uprising that accord last year and the amount of people that were killed. I will say as of 2 weeks ago the government was basically still saying COVID-19 it does not exist and was encouraging mass gatherings. Cost Rica closed it northern boarders to prevent any people coning and spreading the virous.
Playa Del coco expatMexico: Another beautiful county and beautiful people, and what’s not to love about the food!! There are many first world cities in Mexico, while being a world player in the global economy, but many locations are over populated and pollution is an issue. My biggest concern was the growing number of drug wars and the growth of the drug cartels. I would rather not have to ware a flack jacket everyday or be concerned of being kidnaped and held for ransom, which does happen. When it comes to COVID-19 results, Mexico has over 11,000 confirmed cases and over 1000 deaths, that is 15 times more than Costa Rica.

Colombia: A huge country and quite beautiful as well. The 2 main cities in my travel were Bogota and Medellin, both first world cities and for the most part clean. But still a city. Personally, I did not get the warm and fuzzy feeling of being welcomed from the locals as I did in Costa Rica. Colombia as well, has seen it share of drug cartel issues, this scared me away as well as the long travel time from the US. Again, it’s current COVID-19 is over 4,500 infected and 215 deaths. I certainly do not want to go there.
Overall Costa Rica is the best option for people to choose to be an expat. Especially with the COVID-19 issues we are all facing, Costa Rica is a great place to be to weather the storm. After this is Over there will be many more expats moving to Costa Rica.

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Here is my latest COVID-19 Update from April 21.

 

Olla de Carne Costa Rica

Olla de CarneEvery nation on earth has its version of a hearty stew-like soup. The Italians have their Minestrone, the French the Pot-au-feu, the Russians Borscht. Costa Rica is no exception. Here it is called Olla de Carne (literally pot of beef). But it is much more than just a simple pot of beef! Olla de Carne is a tasty broth chock full of healthy and filling root vegetables and tender meat.

Ingredients are easy to find and inexpensive, and anyone can prepare it, it’s a breeze. If you can’t handle this recipe below, I recommend just eating out forever. But be warned! Once you try it and make the mistake of telling friends about Olla de Carne you will have to make more. It is a dish for a crowd and if you are lucky there might be leftovers yourself.

Big pot of Olla de CarneFor many years, Olla de Carne was prepared at least once a week in Tico homes, often for Sunday’s lunch. It is practically impossible to prepare in small quantities due to the variety of vegetables called for. It seems to multiply like the proverbial loaves and fishes. So the dish is perfect to share with members of one’s immediate and extended family, and neighbors. If the cook is worried about running short, she (or he) can just add a little more water to the broth and some seasoning and off you go!

Soda Los Pelones in Playas del Coco Costa RicaOlla de Carne can be ordered in most sodas (cafes) around the country. Often there is a sign outside advertising the hearty soup. Often, it is served on Saturdays but some sodas have it available every day. I have tried many in the Guanacaste area, and in the San Jose area as well. Hands down, and take this from a retired chef, Soda dos Pelones right here in Playa Del Coco has the best I ever ate.

Typical vegetables used in Olla de CarneThe assortment of root vegetables and it varies from cook to cook can include yuca, tiquisque, camote, chayote, and ayote sazon, a real belly filler. There is also always a piece of corn on the cob as well. It is not the tender sweet corn you eat all summer in North America. It more closely resembles field corn, you know the type they feed livestock, so don’t be disappointed when you try it.

Here is a recipe if you would like to prepare Olla de Carne at home. Feel free to tweak and customize the recipe, or email me and I will give you my recipe—it is not an exact art as if you are baking cakes and pastries, now that’s a science!

Costa rica Olla de CarneServes 4-6 persons
1 lb (500g) beef, preferably brisket
2 lbs (1 kilo) beef short ribs (the bones add flavor)
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 pepper (chile dulce), chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
A few sprigs of cilantro, chopped
Sprigs of fresh rosemary, oregano, or thyme
Optional: one or more packets of beef consume “Costilla Criollo”

Combine the above ingredients in a large pot of boiling water. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer on low 3-4 hours. When the meat is soft and falling apart, remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool, usually overnight. The next day, skim the hardened fat from the top (if desired) and bring the broth to a boil. If you do not want to skim the fat, you do not have to cool the broth. Simply keep it boiling and add the following vegetables left whole or cut in large pieces:
1 lb potatoes, peeled
1 ½ lb yuca, peeled
1 lb camote (a type of sweet potato), peeled
1 wedge ayote sazon (cook with shell on) (also known as turban squash)
2 tiquisques (taro root), peeled
2 chayotes, halved but not peeled
2 carrots, peeled and halved
2 ears of corn, shucked and halved
1 ripe plantain, peeled and halved
1 green plantain, peeled and halved
Salt and pepper to taste.

Boil together until vegetables are tender. Before serving, add more chopped cilantro. The reason the vegetables are cooked whole or in large pieces is that the smaller pieces will overcook, get mushy and fall apart, especially when reheated as a leftover. The large chunks of vegetables stay intact during the cooking process and can be cut up before serving so that everyone has at least one piece of each vegetable.

Pot of Olla de CarneOlla de Carne is usually served in a large bowl, I mean large enough to hold everything with the broth, meat, and vegetables. Rice is served on the side to be added as desired.

As we say in Costa Rica Buen provecho!

 

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Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Living in Costa Rica

I have been living in Costa Rica for over 12 years now. Full time, not a part-timer. Moving to Costa Rica is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Pura Vida over a sunsetI first came to Costa Rica in 1999, as a tourist, as many people do. Something kept drawing me back like a bad cocaine habit.  I could not get enough. When I look back, I can confirm that I was in Costa Rica at least three times a year, and some years four times. I just loved it here.
Living in Costa ricaBack in 2007 when I was returning home from Costa Rica I had an interesting chance meeting with the broker-owner of the RE/MAX Tamarindo office. I had just purchased my 4th property, this time in Playa Hermosa Guanacaste where I still live.  The guy didn’t tell me he was the Owner/Broker of a RE/MAX office – he just told me his name, Chris Simmons. We were sitting next to each other on a plane heading north and we struck up a conversation. At first, it was just general stuff.  But, based on some of the questions this gentleman was asking me, I felt like I was being interviewed. It was a bit weird, but Ok I will go along with it.  What the harm? We talked the entire flight, upon hearing the DING sound and the flight attendant doing their usual, notification for approach and landing, Chris reached in his shirt pocket and handed me his business card. When I glanced down and saw RE/MAX I said thanks but as I mentioned I prefer the Playa Hermosa area. He said, “great – especially since you already own a home there you might as well join our team”. I laughed and said, “well I have to be honest with you I really do not like realtors, at least the ones I have dealt with in the past, nothing personal”.  He laughed as well and said, “perfect, I don’t like them either, they have bad habits. I am looking for positive, energetic and knowledgeable people to join our team.”
To save you time as I can go on about this meeting and how I got here, I won’t boor you. So, let me tell you what it is like in Living in Costa Rica.
Living in Costa Rica98% of the time I am still in love with this country. Of all the countries I have visited in my life ( at last count 25) there is no other place I would rather be. Yes, there can be things that make you want to pull your hair out, like standing in line at the bank when there are 20 people waiting for only 2 windows open but you see another 5-8 employees walking around talking and 3 windows closed. “Come on! get to work! I have things to do!”. Or one of my favorite pet peeves is when I go grocery shopping. It sounds like a pretty easy task, right? You get what you need and go to the checkout line, pay and leave. That’s when it starts.  80% of the time there is a person in front of you right?  Well, that is normally not a problem. When this person in front of you stops putting items on the conveyor and leaves the line and disappears back into the isles looking for things, then comes back and say excuse me I forgot this, that is when my patience starts to get thin. If it only happens once, OK.  But when the same person leaves and goes back for another item – it is enough to make me want to scream.Check out at grocery store in Costa Rica
However, these are just 2% of the things that make me think “why did I move here?” You see, it is cultural.  It is not an issue for the locals. Costa Ricans do this regularly. You have heard the saying “Pura Vida“?  “Pure life” is the literal translation but it means so much more.

Here are my top 5 reasons why I love living in Costa Rica and I promise they are not long so keep reading.
Living in Cr
1- The People:
I have traveled to many different countries and cultures around the globe and by far the sweetest, warmest and most welcoming people are Ticos, Costa Ricans. Even if you do not speak Spanish people will try to understand you and help you, even if you are trying to speak really bad Spanish.

2- The Culture: Family is the key here. Many generations still live together in the same house and there is respect for the elders. There is a strong family bond and if you are lucky like me and have many Tico friends, you are considered part of the family. Costa Rica is a very peaceful place to live, PURA VIDA, if it is not an emergency then its ok don’t sweat it. This is not a first world country but it certainly is not a 3rd world one either.

3- The Weather: As I said I live in the Playa Hermosa area in Guanacaste province in the Pacific Northwest. The weather is incredible, the mornings start out in the low 70” and depending on what time of year, the afternoon can be as hot at upper 90”. But the best part if the dry season, no rain for six months. If I want a cooler climate I can jump in the car and head to the mountains and rain forest and it is only an hour’s drive at best. But the mountains tend to be wetter.

4- Low Cost of Living: If you compare Costa Rica to other Latin American counties, yes Costa Rica may be more expensive to some, to others it is way cheaper than their home country. Due to import taxes and the “Green Energy” used to preserve the environment, some items are very expensive. But when you compare health care quality and price, hands down living in Costa Rica is cheaper. Then there are the property taxes $250.00 USD per year per $100,000.00 USD value. Now that’s cheap.

5- No Army: Costa Rica is the most peaceful country in Central America, the army was abolished back in 1948. Costa Rica is also the most stable democracy in Central America as well. I have no fear of being pulled over by some military guy with a big gun asking me questions. No generals that may try to overthrow the government and then end up with a dictator.

Costa Rica FlagNow, these are just a few of the many reasons I decided living in Costa Rica was right for me. It can be for you are well. Especially now with this crazy COVID-19 virus that has infected the world, Costa Rica is a leader in preventing the spread of the virus. As of writing this April 17, 2020, there are only 648 confirmed cases. In Playa Hermosa 0, in the county of Carrillo, where I am there are only 2 cases. So if your thinking of an escape plan, living in Costa Rica may be the right thing for you.

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Gallo Pinto, The Spotted Rooster

First, I just want to say, I hope that you and all yours are safe during these crazy times we are living in. When all this mess of the COVID-19 finally passes and you come to Costa Rica you have to try Gallo Pinto. Gallo Pinto Costa RicaIf you don’t try it you have not experienced the true culture of Costa Rica. What is Gallo pinto you ask? Well, it is one of the most cooked and served dishes in Costa Rica. But what is it? Why the title Spotted Rooster? Let me put your mind at ease, you won’t be eating a rooster, although rooster is pretty tasty when roasted on an open fire. Gallo Pinto is one of the national dishes of Costa Rica. There is a small feud between Costa Rica and Nicaragua about who invented Gallo Pinto, but that’s another story.

Let me tell you about my first Gallo Pinto experience. The first time I came to Costa Rica in 1999, I ended up staying in a beachfront hotel in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste.  I arrived late and the restaurant was already closed, as the guard informed me upon check-in. So I just crashed in the room for the night. Upon waking early in the morning to the sound of monkeys in the trees, I rolled over, looked at my watch and crap, it was only 5:30 in the morning. Already fully awake, I wanted to go out and see if I could find those darn monkeys that woke me up. Since I did not get a chance to eat dinner the night before I figured on my way out of the hotel I would see what time the restaurant opens. I was famished, but the restaurant was not open yet, the same guard that checked me in the night before – what only seemed like a few hours earlier – looked fresh and alive. I wondered “did he stay up all night or did he sleep as well?” Anyway, even with my lousy Spanish I was able to find out the restaurant opens at 7:00 am.

I know you are wondering: “What about the Gallo Pinto?” Well keep reading, I am getting to it.
Playa Hermosa Guanacaste

With the hotel being beachfront ( and not being able to find those monkeys) I decided to take a walk on the soft sand of the beach. After walking the beach twice (it is only about a mile long) I decided the water looked just too inviting and decided to jump in for a swim. The water was great – warm, no big waves, perfect for swimming and playing. But I was still hungry and I was wondering is the restaurant open yet, “it has to be”, I thought.  The sun is rising fast it’s got to be close to 7:00 AM.

Leaving the clear waters of Hermosa beach I walked back to the hotel to fill my screaming belly with a hearty breakfast. Luis the server greeted me with a big smile and a welcoming “Buenos Dias”.  He invited me to take any table that works for me and would be right back with a menu. I was thinking “just let me go in the kitchen and I will whip something up myself”.

Luis came back within minutes with hot coffee and warm milk, a tall glass of orange juice and the menu. He said I will give you a minute to look over the menu, but have you ever tried a traditional Costa Rican breakfast? I did not hesitate for one second.  Being a chef at the time, and not really knowing the foods of Costa Rica as it was my first time here, I jumped in. “Sure, I will take your suggestion Luis”, I said, “but I would like to keep the menus just in case”. We both laughed.
A plate of Gallo Pinto, Costa Rica's traditional food

Enjoying the freshly brewed coffee with the warmed milk – I assumed was local – I looked at the menu and the first thing I saw was Traditional Costa Rican breakfast.  Below was written Gallo Pinto, scrambled eggs, queso, tortillas, natilla, (whatever that is) and fried plantains. Now it had me thinking “what is Gallo Pinto and this thing called natilla?” I knew the rest of the food items but not Gallo pinto and natilla. As I wrote earlier, my Spanish was not that good but I did work with a lot of guys from Cuba, Dominican Republic and Mexico back in New York, so I knew a few words. Gallo, huh, guess I will be eating some kind of chicken?? Not 100% sure, but what the heck, I was now extremely hungry.
Traditional Costa rica Breakfast with gallo PintoLuis returned with my breakfast, placed the plate in front of me and said “Provecho”. I was thinking “this looks pretty good, but where is the Gallo, or at least what I thought would be chicken”? The eggs looked perfect, softly scrambled and fluffy.  The plantains cut on a slant and fried to perfection; the tortillas looked to have been a pre-bought variety but they were tossed on the grill to add marks and heated up as well. The cheese, I assume was local, so I would for sure try it .  And, there was a small cup of a white substance, I thought it may be mayonnaise until I tasted it ( natilla is sour cream). Then there was this mound of a dark looking rice mixture, with black beans, green and red peppers, onions and what looked like chopped cilantro. Is this Gallo Pinto? It must be!
The first thing I did was grab my fork and dive straight into the rice mixture. I have to tell you, I never tasted anything like it before.  No lie, it was delicious. The rice was soft but a little crispy as well, the beans cooked to perfection still holding their shape and not hard.  The addition of the peppers onion and cilantro really married well with the rest, but there was a taste I could not quite put my finger on. I ate everything, the plate was so clean it looked like it had been licked by a dog.
Luis returned and asked “Amigo, how was your breakfast”. Great I said, but I have a question? Can I order another side of just the rice and bean dish? With a big smile, he said: “Oh you liked the Gallo Pinto”! I responded with a resounding YES it was great but there is a flavor in it I can not tell what it is. It has almost a little curry flavor to it. Luis smiled that big smile again and said I’ll be right back. Upon his return he has a small plate with more Gallo Pinto and a very small cup with this brownish/greenish stuff it in. I looked at it, then looked at him, and took one more look at the small cup and said “what is this”?
Bottle of Salsa LizanoAt this point, you could tell Luis was very proud to share the secret ingredient. He said “try it first before I tell you, dip your fork in it”, and of course I did! What a wonderful surprise, a burst of flavor across my lips and on my tongue and there was a soft, somewhat curry flavor. I did not hesitate one second, I took the small cup and proceeded to pour what was in it on the Gallo Pinto, just a few drops at first, of course, I did not want to ruin it. As I looked up Luis was gone but I could see him close to the kitchen with a bottle in his hand. As he returned, he showed me the magic juice. Salsa Lizano, the Costa Rican condiment of choice.

Needless to say, that first time experience of Gallo Pinto was great. After Breakfast I got in the car to find the closest grocery store to stock up on bottles to bring back to the US.

I enjoy it now almost every day, minus the natilla (sour cream). Living here in Costa Rica for over 12 years now, I could almost (again I emphasize ALMOST) be called a “Tico”. When you come to Costa Rica, and you will – if not you are really missing out – be sure your first breakfast is a “tipico” breakfast. I am sure there will be Gallo Pinto on the plate. Enjoy!

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Playa Hermosa, Update Costa Rica COVID-19; April 9, 2020

Hello from beautiful Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica.  First, I want to say “please be smart, be safe and be well!”. I am hoping that you and everyone you know has not been afflicted with this COVID-19 virus.  If you or someone you love has been infected, I am sending my best wishes your way.  I wanted to share and give you a small update as to what is going on in our area and the new driving restrictions that have been put in place as of today, April 9, 2020.

Make sure to watch the video at the end:

Chart of Covid-19 cases in Costa Rica
As we all know (and if you don’t your head must be in the sand) the entire world is facing this pandemic. Some countries are being hit extremely hard by the virus.  Some, like Costa Rica, a lot less. Most of this has to do with the actions taken by the government of Costa Rica. I am proud to say I am a permanent resident of this small but well-run county, and happy I am living here.

 

Details about the Spanish Flu
About 100 years ago, when the Spanish flu killed more than 2,300 people in Costa Rica, the government instituted an emergency action plan. This action plan has been updated many times over the years to reflect current conditions and demographics. Fortunately for the people of Costa Rica, the government reacted fast to limit the spread of the virus by enacting this emergency plan (note the photo – Costa Rica is at the top of the list with the least amount of fatalities).

Chart showing the growth of Coronavirus after the 100th case
As of April 8, 2020, the official count from the Ministry of Health is 502 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, 3 people have died. The majority of the cases are in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, comprised of San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago.  This represents over 90% of the confirmed cases. Here in the Playa Hermosa area, especially our county of Carrillo, there have been only 2 confirmed cases.

As of the 6th of April, 2020, the government has extended the travel ban that was put in place on March 18th. They have decided to continue to keep Costa Rica’s borders closed to all nonresidents arriving at airports or through land crossings and seaports until May 1st. Flights coming into Costa Rica are also banned, except emergency airlifts. The main reason is that most of the visitors to Costa Rica come from the United States and Canada where cases are high.

Chart detailing driving restrictions in Costa Rica
This is Easter week, a huge time of celebration for the people of Costa Rica.  Costarricans love coming to the beaches of Guanacaste but the government installed strict driving restrictions.  These restrictions started Saturday the 4th and up till the 7th people can drive between 5 AM to 5 PM. Restrictions are based on the last number on the vehicle license plate. Then, starting on Wednesday the 8th, people are only allowed to drive to the grocery store, pharmacy or medical services – again depending on the day that corresponds with the last number on their license plate. Mine happens to be 1.  Yesterday was the only day this week I could go grocery shopping, and I did. The main reason the government instigated these driving restrictions was to keep the virus confined to the central valley and not let it spread out to say the Guanacaste region, where all the best beaches of the country are at least in my humble opinion.

As of yesterday, the local police forces handed out over 600 tickets to the ( excuse the expression but I can’t help myself) “IDIOTS” that did not follow the mandated driving restrictions. I want to give a big call out THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to these men and women that are on the front lines fighting this. Along with all the doctors, nurses, hospital workers and anyone that is fighting the fight to help those in need and those infected. You have to give them credit for what they are doing to keep the spread down and protecting you and me ultimately.

Because of the driving restrictions, I will say it looks a bit like a ghost town.  Hardly any cars are on the roads. The other day when I went grocery shopping I noticed that there were only a few cars on the road.  So, for the most part, it is working! April 9, 2020, almost looks like a day in October when very few people visit Playa Hermosa.

Costa rica helping
As of today, April 9, 2020, the government has also announced that all persons in Costa Rica that have lost their job, were laid off, are self-employed or have no income because of the shut-down, whether citizen or legal resident, can apply online at www.proteger.go.cr for a financial benefit paid directly to the individual for the next three months.

All I can say, and I have said it before, I am so happy that I decided to relocate to Costa Rica and get my residency. It’s not as hard as you think, and this is a much better place to be right now. Its sure beats sitting at home in say NYC, or Edgewood KY, or Fayetteville AR or any of the other places I lived in the US of A.

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