Getting your Costa Rica Legalities in order before it is too late

This is not a fun or happy subject to write about, however, I felt it was an important topic, and if you are considering buying a home in Costa Rica, you should read this. This article is a true life story that happened to a client of one of the agents in my group.  This experience highlights the importance of getting one’s legal affairs in order before deciding to purchase property in Costa Rica.

My associate asked for my help and if I would meet with his clients.  For Privacy reasons, I will only refer to him as the Client and I have obtained full permission to write about this.

The client had been coming to Costa Rica for many years and fell in love with the weather, country and of course the warm and loving people. After years of looking around the country, he realized that the Papagayo area made the most sense for him due to the many services, international airport, great private hospitals, pristine beaches, and warm weather. This client purchased the home of his dream here in Playas del Coco just a year ago. After acquiring the property he set his tasks to update the property and house to suite himself. He added a new patio around the pool, built an outdoor kitchen and BBQ rancho with half bath, added lush landscaping to enhance the beauty of the property and the outdoor living area, painted the house and added all new A/C units. He spent a good amount of money getting the house just the way he wanted it so he could enjoy his life in Costa Rica.

Now comes the horrible and unfortunate part of this story.  What started out nice turned to tragedy.

The client, in all the years he spent here in Costa Rica, meets a wonderful Costa Rican woman that he fell in love with.  They spent almost all their time together. He purchased the house partially because he wanted to take care of her. He did this by giving her forty percent ownership in the corporation that owns the house.  All sounds nice, right? Nice guy! He loves her.

Well just after they got the house the way they wanted it the client was not feeling too well.  Something was just not right. So the client went to see a local doctor that gave him a complete examination.  He had all sorts of blood tests done and, since the client is in his seventies, the doctor asked him if he had ever had a PSA test done or had his prostrate checked by a urologist. The answer was no and the local doctor set it all up for him right away as he could not find anything wrong from the results of the blood tests he ordered. Well, unfortunately for the client, after meeting with the urologist and having the extra blood test completed, it showed that he may have prostate cancer.  His PSA count was off the charts.  After more tests, the cancer diagnosis was confirmed.  After hearing this news the client decided to go back to Canada to get a second opinion. Well, the second opinion was confirmed as well and, sadly, the cancer had already spread to his liver and then metastasized in his brain.

The client, fearing the worst, decided to list his house for sale.  Deep down inside he knew what was coming. That’s when the real problems started. He contacted my associate to have the home listed for sale. However, he put an unreasonable price on it that he would never get a buyer. After 2 months of being on the market, the client called the listing agent complaining that the house has not sold, nor had there been any showings. After the listing agent and the girlfriend tried to explain to him that the price was too high for the current market conditions, he said he wanted to talk to the listings agents’ broker (that’s me).

The Listing agent asked if I would help his client understand the current market situation and what the next steps might be to get the property sold more quickly.  The girlfriend understood clearly what the issues were, so I agreed to a conference call where all of us could discuss this together.

Right off the bat, the client was difficult and defensive.  After some time I was able to calm him down. After asking him many questions, we discovered that even thought his girlfriend had forty percent ownership in the corporation she had no legal authority to act on behalf of the corporation. That was his decision as the buyer and he had every right to decide on that.  However, the task he did not do was to set up a last will and testament in Costa Rica or set the corporations up for his demise.

After a while, he finally agreed to lower the price to a reasonable level to get the house and property in Costa Rica sold. At this point, he tells his girlfriend to go ahead and sign the listing agreement. I informed him that only he could do this as he had the full power of attorney over the corporation that holds the property and that the listing contract would not be valid without his signature. His response was “well I am going to die most likely in the next few months anyway as the doctors don’t give me much of a chance”.

He kept saying “Oh well my Canadian last will and testament can take care of everything when I pass on. To a certain degree he was correct; yes his Canadian last will and testament will take care of the issues of settling his estate. But he had not put his Costa Rica girlfriend on that will, nor does he have a Costa Rica last will and testament. This can cause all sorts of problems when he unfortunately finally passes.

Whether or not he adds the girlfriend to his will, that is his choice, however he should have added the beneficiaries of his will to his Costa Rica corporation and given that person full powers to act on behalf of the corporation or at the minimum just transfer the shares to them now and he still keeps full power, so when he does pass on it will be so much easier for his beneficiaries.

If he does not do this before he passes away, the quagmire to finally get the house turned over to the estate could take almost a year, if not longer, in Costa Rica alone, and this does not include the probate process in Canada nor the time required to get the estate finalized and turned over to the beneficiaries. When the estate of this gentleman is finally settled in the courts of Canada, then the process of transferring the sixty percent share ownership of the corporation to the name if the heirs will start.  This could be a year plus time frame, if not longer.

So when you decide to purchase property in this beautiful country I call home, and you won’t be sorry if you do, just make sure you do your homework and get your legal affairs in order at the same time.  All of them, including what must take place in the event of your death. Make sure you have your last will and testament ready in your home country and in Costa Rica and please make sure you set your corporation up correctly. Do not be afraid to talk about death with your legal advisor.

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Flying like a bird in Costa Rica

One of the things I love about living in Costa Rica is the beautiful array of wild life, especially the vast variety of birds. I remember when I was a kid about 5 years old, I used to look up in the sky when I heard the screech of a hawk and watched as he was soaring on the thermal drafts barely flapping a wing and thought to myself, boy I would love to be able to do that, how cool would it be to fly like a bird.

Hawk Flying

Now I am sure everyone has heard of zip lining, you know strapped to a cable strung over a river or thru the canopy of the jungle. This is a major draw that tourist and locals love to do here in Costa Rica, me too.

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I had been coming to Costa Rica as an investor and vacationer since 1999, and although it was a cool thing to try, I was always hesitant about stepping off of some platform 300 feet in the air over a ravine while my life was dependent on a metal cable. Yes I know it is safe and I am not what you call an adrenaline junkie; I have acrophobia ever since I fell out of a tree when I was 10 and now I tend to be a chicken about stuff like this so I never did it for many years.

About four years ago and client of mine was back in Costa Rica enjoying the home they bought and asked me to go on a full day adventure tour with them. They said they were heading up to the Ricon De la Vieja volcano area to one of the many places that do this kind of stuff; you know horseback riding floating down a river in an inner tube, mud bath, hot springs and of course zip lining. I was a reluctant and finally said sure I’ll go, thinking I can always skip the zip line part.

 Hacienda Guachepelin River Tubing 293498_259920240698630_2712068_n

Ha, that was a mistake in the thought process, we actually rode the horses up the mountain to where the zip lining took place. At this point, I was like “holy crap now what do I do now? What have I gotten myself into?” So after getting all the gear on and asking more questions that you could find in an immigration office, I was somewhat ready to try my first-time zip line.

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One by one the entire group I was with got hooked up to the wire and off they went, just the sound of the wire humming was starting to make my knees weak, Ok you can call me what you want, I told you I was a bit of a chicken. Well after the last person headed off the guide turned to me and said” ok buddy boy estas listo?”  Ready? “Heck no, I am not ready are you sure I can’t just walk back down the mountain and meet you guys at the bottom”. The guide just looked at me and laughed, he said he had been doing this for 10 years and he has never seen one person on this zip line tour get hurt let alone die so don’t be scared.

Scared I said, I am not scared to die, it is the fall that scares the “you know what” out of me.  The Guide looked at me pointed with his finger to the edge and said “ come on you will have a blast”. I hesitantly walked up to him and followed the instructions, all hooked up to the line and his last minute advise was Just have fun.  With his last words of HAVE FUN I felt his hand on my back pushing me off the plate form.
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At first my heart felt like is stopped and I had 3 Adam’s apples in my throat,  as I continued down the line I started to scream and yell with such joy and excitement I felt like that little kid again.  By the time I reached the next platform I was hooked it took only one line to get me over my fear of heights and falling. It was incredible. I now do as many zip lines as possible in the area and am going to tell you about the best one I have ever been on.

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Located just a short 20 minutes’ drive from Playa Hermosa is the new El Diamante adventure park.  Just email me and I will help you find it.  The park is not totally completed yet as there will be mountain bike trails, and zoo and butterfly farm a botanical garden ATV tours, horseback riding, ocean paddle boarding kayaking and more. However the Zip Line is open and ready to go along with the restaurant and gift shop.

El Diamante

So a couple of weeks ago I took a friend and her daughters to give it a try as they had never done this before either, and they live here full time.  After getting all geared up the guides loaded us into a truck and off we went up the mountain. I mean to top of the mountain. The views of the Pacific from there were incredible just breathtaking you could see all the way to the Santa Rosa National Park across the Gulfo de Papagayo along with witches rock, monkey head rock and the Peninsula Papagayo.

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The superman zip line, as they call it, is almost 1 mile long in length; to be exact they told me it is 1.4 kilometers long so just under a mile. When standing here watching the guy before you get all geared up, there is even more gear just for this run as you are laid out flat in a harness and you have to keep your hands tucked on you sides. I asked the guide so how fast will this get, he looked at me and said “ well we do not have to put weights on you, you got enough so you should do about 50 miles per hour and reach the other side no problem” I felt reassured and then Oh wait a minute,  I have enough weight? I guess it is time for more exercise.

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When it was my time to get set and go I was totally stoked and excited.  Here was the first time in my life I would be able to fly almost like a bird, laid out flat and looking down and all around. The anticipation was unbelievable, no fear of the height at all, just waiting to zoom down the line. After about 5 minutes of getting me ready, and just so you know, these guys checked and rechecked everything twice to make sure all was correct with all the harnesses and cables and such, then called the other guides on the other end to coordinate. Once all was ready the countdown started, Uno, Dos, Tres and they pushed me off the platform.

Diamante Supreman

It was incredible; the feeling of soaring like an eagle was just insane. I have never had the ambition to do hang gliding or jumping out of a plane, but I think I am starting to get the courage to give it a try as this line was just a mind-blower. I wish it had lasted for hours. I could talk about this for hours and maybe write a longer story but this is long enough.

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So when you come to come to Costa Rica, as a vacationer, you have to try this. If you decide at some time in your life that Costa Rica is the place to live, which I have, then you will know there are more so many cool and interesting things to do than you can pack in on a vacation.

So come and fly like a bird with me, you won’t be sorry.

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This New Yorker’s experience of health care in Costa Rica

I know you have probably read many times over how good the medical care in Costa Rica is! Well I am here today to confirm this because of the great treatment I received a while back while living here.  If you do not mind, I would like to tell you my first hand experience.

One late evening I was sitting in the office helping a client sell a beautiful ocean view three bedroom, two bath fully furnished luxury condo, high on the hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I just sent the final draft of the offer to the seller for their acceptance and just hung up the phone with them. While waiting for them to sign the offer and scan back to me, the buyer called me, who got my contact info from the offer. After 20 minutes of listing to the buyer screaming at me and threatening to cancel the offer if the seller did not accept, I Finally told the buyer that I did not like the accusations, statements and the way they were talking to me. Personally I believe Costa Rica was not the right choice for them. It was a bit of a selfish comment as I did not want this ass living near me.

Just as I hung up the phone I felt this pressure in my chest on the left side just above my breast. At first I did not think much of it but as I was driving home I started to feel it again and this time it was moving towards my shoulder. As I walked in the door of my house, I started to feel even worse. Now this is for everyone to remember, these are classic signs of a heart attack, so please pay attention to your body when it tells you.

At that moment, I thought this was a heart attack and I immediately popped to aspirin in my mouth and had my wife take me to the CIMA private hospital, just eight miles from my home. Now some would say why this jerk didn’t call 911. Well, yes there is 911 is available in Costa Rica, but I wanted to live and sometimes it can take up to 30 minutes for them to arrive. Knowing the hospital was so close I knew I could get there quicker than any ambulance.

CIMA GTE

As I walked in the emergency room, I said to the first nurse that approached me (and it was as soon as I walked in) that I thought I was having a heart attack. Well, holy crap, this little Tica, and mean she was small at best five feet tall and all of a hundred pounds, grabbed me and practically carried me to a gurney all the while screaming something in Spanish that I did not fully understand. Before I knew what was going on there were 4 people by my side, one putting a oxygen  tube in my nose, another cutting my shirt off, another saying to me  “Sir can you hear me? Did you take any drugs”? I responded that I had taken two full strength aspirins and she immediately said “open your mouth take these now” she handed me a cup of water and down they went.

CIMA Emergency Room GTE

The nurse that cut off my shirt was now putting electrodes on my chest and some contraptions on my fingers, while another was working to take blood samples and another was taking my blood pressure.

It was incredible how fast and accurate these people were working on me, at least, that’s the way it looked to me. What do I know? I am a retired chef and now a real estate broker.

Within a few minutes a doctor walked up (I found out later he was the on staff emergency room doctor that night) and he asked me if I still felt any pain in my chest. I felt totally safe and in good hands, this doctors English was perfect, I responded and said the pain had subsided. He asked me a bunch more questions and turned and looked at a machine that was printing out a long strip a paper, I later found out it was a EKG they had done immediately. I also found out the drugs they stuffed into me that night were nitro glycerin and a blood thinner.

He looked at the results and said to me. “Sir, you are going to need heart surgery” At that point I thought hell if the event doesn’t kill me that statement is surely scaring the life out of me.

He continued to tell me that I had a blockage in one of the arteries and needed emergency angioplasty and possibly stents installed, depending on what the surgeon determines.  I asked him straight forward, “ so I had a heart attack” he looked at me a smiled and said “actually no you did not – close but did not because you did the right thing by taking the aspirin and getting here ASAP we were able to stop it before it happened”. He called it some medical term that was like talking Chinese to me, but who cares. That was some relief, so I said ok let’s do the procedure and when will it be. The doctor then said that they do not do that at this hospital however we can air transport you to San Jose and our main hospital and they will do the procedure tomorrow some time.  I looked at him with a bit of a curious eye and said how do you know, tomorrow, he responded and said he was already on the phone with the main hospital and the cardiologist on duty had advised that I get there ASAP and if agreed would see to it that it took place in the morning. Go for it I said.

Within thirty five minutes nurses were moving me to a portable gurney and shifted all the tubes and wires to the post on that bed, getting me ready for transport. Then within another fifteen minutes, they were rolling me out the back door and there was an ambulance there waiting for me with two technicians and the drive. Once loaded into the ambulance the doctor jumped in the ambulance with me and said “I just want to make sure all is ok once we get you on the plane”. Really, Ok whatever?

CR Medical air transport

So off to the Liberia international airport we went, lights flashing and siren screaming and driving like hell, The drive pulled right onto the runway and pulled up to a small plane. This was totally out of this world for me; these folks were right on it and really took away any fear that one would have.

Once loaded on the plane the emergency room doctor grabbed my hand and said “sir, you are going to be alright, have no fears you are in great hands”. Then he introduced me to another doctor that was on the plane already waiting for me. This doctor actually flew up from San Jose on the transport plane so there would be a doctor with me on the way back to San Jose. This is incredible, I could not believe it. In the back of my head I was thinking, “Cha Ching $$$$$” you know the sound a cash register makes; boy is this going to cost a boat load I thought. I will get to that later.

The doctor on the plane monitored all my vitals during the 40 minute flight asking every five minutes or so “sir are you feeling any pain or discomfort” he was a great. Upon arriving at the airport on San Jose there was already an ambulance waiting there with lights flashing. I was starting to think, “holy crap, am I going to make it?” I don’t care what that other doctor said.

Once in the emergency room in CIMA’s main hospital, which only took about 15 minutes from the airport, the cardiologist on staff walked in and introduced herself. Again this doctor spoke perfect English and started another EKG. After reading the results she looked at me and said,” Joseph, you were pretty smart getting to the hospital in time, I am going to move you to the front of the list for cardiac procedures in the morning and have no fear, we will take great care of you. She said “the Plumber is the best in all of Costa Rica”. The plumber! What the heck was she talking about? So I asked and she laughed, and said “Oh sorry, that’s what we call the cardiac surgeon that does angioplasty and stents, he cleans out people pipes and puts in supports if needed”.  It was nice to see that this doctor was actually human and had a bit of a sense of humor.

CIMA San Jose

At five am a team of four nurses came in and started prepping me for surgery, they gave me a shot of something and a good part of the rest was a blur. The last thing I remember was being rolled into the operating room and meeting the “Plumber”, he said to me don’t worry I do this every day. I later found out he was the top in his field in all of the Costa Rica as the other cardiologist had said. I remember him telling me, we have two options to do this, one through the vein in your thigh, or the other through the vein in your wrist. That was the last thing I remember. Turns out they went thru the vein in my wrist.

Well I guess the surgery went well because here it is almost 2 years later and I am still here and feel great. The next thing I remembered was being rolled down some hallway and someone was talking to me. I looked over and thought “holy crap, I did not make it this is my attorney standing next to me saying something”. Actually I have to say this; how many attorneys do you know that actually would take the time out of his day to go over to a hospital to visit a client that is not worth millions of dollars. I could not believe that he cared enough to actually find out how I was doing first hand. I have to say he is more than an attorney but a good friend. He told me if I need anything at all have a nurse call him and he would make sure I was taken care of no matter what, and slid his card into my hand and said “just hold on to this if you need it”.

Later that day the first cardiologist I met the night before came in and proceeded to tell me that I was going to be alright and the surgery was a complete success. She said I had to stay here in the hospital for a few more days of observation as she wanted to make sure I was totally ok before she released me. She informed me that the surgery was perfectly done and that the Plumber found four blockages and put stents in all of them after cleaning them out. Little did I know I was actually in intensive care for the first three days. I guess it was true this was serious crap!!

CIMA Hospital Room

I have to tell you the care I received was unbelievable, there were nurses and other doctors checking on me every few hours, and if I needed anything they were there in seconds.  A dietician came in to talk to me about eating habits for the future to make sure this does not happen again. Then the day before they discharged me, a physical therapist came in and said get out of bed because your new exercise program starts now. She was great showing me exercises I had to do at first and where I needed to be over time to make sure my heart gets back to where it should be.

The day my cardiologist discharged me, she spent almost 2 hours with me going over the entire process that happened and what was done to me and what I needed to make sure I did in the future so she did not have to see me again in the hospital. Actually she was the one that ordered all the others to come in and visit and teach me new habits.

Every four to five months I go back for a checkup and am happy to say the care is still as good as the day it happened.

Here is the real kicker as I mentioned earlier in this article. The cost! The entire thing, emergency room, the air transport, the surgery, the hospital stay and follow up was $56,000.00 USD. Now I know that’s a lot of money in anybody’s book, unless you happen to be filthy rich which I am not.  I did some checking and if this had happened in the US, the cost would have been easily TEN TIMES more and higher. However I did have private health care insurance that I purchased in Costa Rica and that is a whole other subject I will write about next time.

So when you read on many web sites about the quality of health care in Costa Rica. Believe it, it is top quality and I am happy to say it is true. Contact me if you would like more information and references, as I would be happy to supply them.

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Christmas Season in Costa Rica

This year will be my eight year celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica. I have to be 100% honest with you, I am so totally happy that I am here and not back in the Big Apple or the US. Let me give you some of my top reasons, kind of like a David Letterman top 10 list, but a bit shorter. They may be warped, but they are still my reasons.

8) I am so happy I do not have to shovel snow and dig a trench out to the mailbox just to get Christmas cards.  They are nice to receive and send but really what do you do with them after the Christmas season is over? If you happen to be like me you may just through them away and what a waste of good lumber.

Shoveling Snow

7) Costa Ricans are generally happier at Christmas.  I remember living in the states with all the bright lights and ads on TV and newsprint screaming at you need to buy this and buy that so you have a great Christmas. Hog wash, all this does is cause a lot of people undue stress in their lives. I am sure, if you have been here or have been reading about Costa Rica, the term “PURA VIDA” Pure Life comes up. Yes it has a lot of different connotations however you really get the feeling of what it means around the Christmas season.

Christmas Stress

6) Tamales!! Sure you can get them all year long and the types that are made here in Costa Ria are different than the Mexican variety. Tamales are a traditional Costa Rica treat for Christmas, made with care and love. Trust me it is not an easy process, usually the whole family gets involved which brings the family together to share good talk drinks and fun.  I look forward to this time of year to indulge in some, with a cold beer and some” Lizano” salsa and hot sauce!! Yum, but I digress sorry.

Tamales

5) The Beaches.  Yep Christmas week, seems like most of the San Jose and the Central valley leave for the beaches of Guanacaste and Puntarenas. I love it, families having a great time at the beach enjoying the surf and sand, a pickup game of sand soccer for anyone to join, not like the crazy days of Jones beach in New York where I grew up, at least here I can still find a place to lay a blanket and not have the guy next to me practically sitting on me. Beside have you ever tried to go to the beach in December in New York, don’t think I could wear my swim suit, unless I was part of the Polar Club, NOT!!!

Crowded CR Beach

4) When it is Christmas time in Costa Rica the local folks like to decorate their houses with beautiful tropical flowers and some with traditional Christmas lights as well.  A model of the nativity scene, called the Pasito or Portal, is the center of the display.  What best of all NO ONE IS OFFENDED by the nativity scene. I get a bit crazy when I hear people from up north say, well that offends me and you should not have a nativity scene or a Manohar for Hanukkah in your yard. I guess they must be related to scrooge.

nativity scene

3) The true gratitude of people. I have to say I have been blessed in this life with a good job, great parents and the opportunity to make something for myself.  However there are people that are not as fortunate as I am here in Costa Rica and I love giving back not just at Christmas time but all year long. This year there was a Christmas campaign like Toys for Tots, in the playa Hermosa area and I was more than happy to help out with lots toys for underprivileged boys and girls in the area. There is nothing better than seeing the smiling face of a small child getting a toy when they never had one. It really warms the heart and makes me grateful for what I have.

Smiling child

2) Parades, festivals, rodeo and topes. Guanacaste, being originally a farming and cattle producing area of Costa Rica and still is, horses play an important part of people lives.  Hence the rodeos and topes, a tope is a horse parade like you never seen before. If you have never been to one you need to get on a plane and come down and experience it. Tons of people and vendors line the streets and it is a wild party atmosphere with live traditional bands all anticipating the arrival of the horse parade. Some topes are as large as 5000 riders with the rider all decked out in cowboy ware and the horse groomed to perfection, it is a blast!

Tope

1) My number one reason for loving Christmas time in Costa Rica is being able to freely say “ FELIZ NAVIDAD”  — “ MERRY CHRISTMAS” to anybody and 99% of the time you are greeted back with the same salutation!! In eight years I have had only one “A*****e” say to me and reprimanded me that I offended him with my greeting. So I ended up giving him whats called a “New York Bronx Cheer” , can’t tell you what it really is but you may get the idea. I am so sick and tired of all the political correctness of North America that at least I have the freedom here to say almost whatever I want without the fear of some pansy crying foul play.

political correctness

Christmas in Costa Rica is a wonderful time of year. Happy people great weather as the rains on the Pacific side of the country is at an end and just a great overall feeling of joy and happiness. Join me won’t you?

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Having fun buying a used and new car in Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

muddy car

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can’t get exotic foods in Costa Rica?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s go Grocery Shopping, In Playas Del Coco

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

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

Anyway back to the grocery store. Last Friday I had some other folks, Darren and Jacqueline from Canada, closing on a grand oceanfront penthouse condo, one just to die for and I wanted to present them with a bottle of champagne to celebrate their new purchase. So I headed into town to the grocery store. Yes, you can buy liquor in the grocery store even at 8:00 am in the morning; got to love Costa Rica! Bet you can’t do that in Hawaii. Anyway, I walked in and made my way to the aisle with all the booze. I grabbed a bottle of Moet Chandon and as I turned I see this woman further down the aisle, she looked really familiar but I am only seeing the back of her. So I casually walk that way to try to get a look at her face. Low and behold it was Audrey. She, Alfredo, and Bella, their beautiful Rottweiler, had arrived on a redeye from Los Angeles that morning, which got in at 6:30 am. We Hugged and I asked her “where is Alfredo?” “Oh, he is out in the car with Bella waiting for me. I just wanted to get some things and go back to the condo you helped us rent and crash for the day.” Then Audrey proceeds to tell me that she is surprised that she thought things in the grocery store would be much cheaper than Hawaii.

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

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

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I ended up taking Audrey out shopping once they settled in. I took her to the farmers market in Liberia, a short and easy drive from Playa Hermosa. She was totally blown away by the quality and the super low prices on produce. Nothing Imported. Then I took her to the Mercado central.  What a great experience this is.  Butcher shops, little soda restaurants, shoe stores, flower shops, and the list goes on. Again, Audrey was pleasantly surprised at the prices. When we headed back toward Hermosa, I stopped at a great butcher shop that specializes in beef. Have you ever had the beef from the grocery stores here? You might as well chew your sandals.  To get it tender you will have to braise it for hours in a crockpot. We purchased a whole tenderloin of beef; this where Filet Mignon comes from. All cleaned up and ready to cut into steaks for a whopping $29.00 USD. She was blown away.  She said on Maui that cut of beef would have been over a hundred dollars.

THERE YOU GO!

Costa Rica supermarket aisle

Then once back in the area I took her to the full blown grocery store and taught her how to shop locally, Meaning: read the labels on the back, see where it is made and, if made in the US, Canada or anyplace else outside of central America, you can be assured you are going to spend more.

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

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

When you are ready to come down for a visit and do some serious local grocery shopping be sure to drop me a message and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

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Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica, a Very Dry Rainy Season

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

partly cloudy day  Playing in the rain

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

Drought

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

DSC00223 waterfalls

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

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

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Facts about Social Security for US Expats in Costa Rica

Here are 5 lesser-known facts about US Social Security the every Ex-Pat should know.

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

Qualifying for Social Security benefits is really easy

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

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

You can receive Social Security benefits overseas

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

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

The Social Security system isn’t penniless (yet)

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

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

Totalization Agreements prevent dual-taxation

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

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

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

SSA benefits may be taxed

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

Generally, the greater your total income, the higher the taxation. The taxes are calculated as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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Costa Rica’s Caja, a basic understanding

Once you receive your official residency in Costa Rica, you become a “voluntary” member of Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS or Caja).  This enables you to access the socialized medical system here in Costa Rica.  By voluntary, this means you are choosing to become a resident of Costa Rica and therefore are a voluntary member of the CCSS system. You are charged a certain amount each month based on your residency category.  Married couples pay as one unit.  In return, you are allowed to use the medical system in Costa Rica called Caja.  This is also a requirement of our residency.

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To Americans or other foreigners who are not familiar with socialized medicine, this can be a huge adjustment.  The main reason is that CCSS does not have fancy offices or waiting rooms that many of you are accustomed to seeing.

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With this said, I have found that once you learn how the system works it is quite easy to use.  The hardest visit is your first visit.  You will need to be fluent in Spanish or take someone with you that is fluent.  This is when they will set up your folder and develop a medical plan for you.  All your background information is taken and recorded.  If you are on high blood pressure medicine, are diabetic, have high cholesterol, etc., they will set you up with an appointment every six months to monitor your condition.  They will go over what medications you are taking and what medications they have that are either the same or similar.  At this time the doctor will give you a script for blood and urine tests, x-rays, mammograms, EKG or any other test they deem necessary.  The Doctor will prescribe any medications necessary and you can pick them up at the pharmacy there in the clinic.  Medications usually take a few hours to fill so you must be patient.  This is not Walgreens!  Go grab a bite to eat or run some errands.

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If you still have private health insurance in the country you are moving from you may want to take all CCSS results and let your family doctor review them.  I have been very pleased to find out that my test results have been spot on.

One thing you may hear about Caja is that it is a slow process if you need an MRI or other diagnostic procedures.  This is can be true depending on the situation, so you will have to decide if you feel you can wait or if you need to seek private screening.

All in all, the system does work.  You just have to be patient, literally, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Have a few questions about Costa Rica?  Feel free to drop a comment below or contact me via my main website.

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